Oracle DatabaseHandling NULL values

Introduction

A column is NULL when it has no value, regardless of the data type of that column. A column should never be compared to NULL using this syntax a = NULL as the result would be UNKNOWN. Instead use a IS NULL or a IS NOT NULL conditions. NULL is not equal to NULL. To compare two expressions where null can happen, use one of the functions described below. All operators except concatenation return NULL if one of their operand is NULL. For instance the result of 3 * NULL + 5 is null.

Remarks

NULL can't appear in columns restricted by a PRIMARY KEY or a NOT NULL constraint. (Exception is a new constraint with NOVALIDATE clause)

Columns of any data type can contain NULLs

SELECT 1 NUM_COLUMN, 'foo' VARCHAR2_COLUMN from DUAL
UNION ALL
SELECT NULL, NULL from DUAL;
NUM_COLUMNVARCHAR2_COLUMN
1foo
(null)(null)

Empty strings are NULL

SELECT 1 a, '' b from DUAL;
AB
1(null)

Operations containing NULL are NULL, except concatenation

SELECT 3 * NULL + 5, 'Hello ' || NULL || 'world'   from DUAL;
3*NULL+5'HELLO'||NULL||'WORLD'
(null)Hello world

NVL to replace null value

SELECT a column_with_null, NVL(a, 'N/A') column_without_null FROM
  (SELECT NULL a FROM DUAL);
COLUMN_WITH_NULLCOLUMN_WITHOUT_NULL
(null)N/A

NVL is useful to compare two values which can contain NULLs :

SELECT
    CASE WHEN a = b THEN 1 WHEN a <> b THEN 0 else -1 END comparison_without_nvl,
    CASE WHEN NVL(a, -1) = NVL(b, -1) THEN 1 WHEN NVL(a, -1) <> NVL(b, -1) THEN 0 else -1 END comparison_with_nvl
  FROM
    (select null a, 3 b FROM DUAL
     UNION ALL
     SELECT NULL, NULL FROM DUAL);
COMPARISON_WITHOUT_NVLCOMPARISON_WITH_NVL
-10
-11

NVL2 to get a different result if a value is null or not

If the first parameter is NOT NULL, NVL2 will return the second parameter. Otherwise it will return the third one.

SELECT NVL2(null, 'Foo', 'Bar'), NVL2(5, 'Foo', 'Bar') FROM DUAL;
NVL2(NULL,'FOO','BAR')NVL2(5,'FOO','BAR')
BarFoo

COALESCE to return the first non-NULL value

SELECT COALESCE(a, b, c, d, 5) FROM 
    (SELECT NULL A, NULL b, NULL c, 4 d FROM DUAL);
COALESCE(A,B,C,D,5)
4

In some case, using COALESCE with two parameters can be faster than using NVL when the second parameter is not a constant. NVL will always evaluate both parameters. COALESCE will stop at the first non-NULL value it encounters. It means that if the first value is non-NULL, COALESCE will be faster.