Initialising PL/SQL associative arrays in 18c and later

I can never remember how to initialise PL/SQL associative arrays and thought I’d write a short post about it. This is primarily based on an article on Oracle’s Ask Tom site, plus a little extra detail from Steven Feuerstein. Associative arrays were previously known as index-by tables, by the way.

Associative arrays before 18c

Prior to Oracle 18c, you had to initialise an associative array in a slightly cumbersome way, like so:

DECLARE
    TYPE array_t IS
        TABLE OF VARCHAR2(100) INDEX BY PLS_INTEGER;
    v_the_array   array_t;
    v_index       PLS_INTEGER;
BEGIN
    v_the_array(1) := 'one';
    v_the_array(2) := 'two';
    v_the_array(3) := 'three';
    v_the_array(9) := 'nine';
    v_index := v_the_array.first;
    WHILE ( v_index IS NOT NULL ) LOOP
        dbms_output.put_line('v_the_array(' || v_index || '): ' || v_the_array(v_index));
        v_index := v_the_array.next(v_index);
    END LOOP;
END;
/

There are slight variations to the theme as explained in example 5-3 of the Oracle Database PL/SQL language reference you might find interesting. You end up having to repeat yourself a lot, as you can see immediately below the BEGIN keyword.

Oracle 18c simplifies this task

With 18c the syntax reminds me a little of Perl, as in you define the type first; in the next step you add a variable to your anonymous code block, which you initialise in the same step:

DECLARE
    TYPE array_t IS
        TABLE OF VARCHAR2(100) INDEX BY PLS_INTEGER;

    -- this is new for 18c, see Steven Feuerstein's article here:
    -- https://blogs.oracle.com/oraclemagazine/easy-initializing-for-records-and-arrays
    v_the_array   array_t := array_t(
        1 => 'one', 
        2 => 'two', 
        3 => 'three',    -- note gap here ;)
        9 => 'nine');

    v_index       PLS_INTEGER;
BEGIN
    v_index := v_the_array.first;

    WHILE ( v_index IS NOT NULL ) LOOP
        dbms_output.put_line('v_the_array(' || v_index || '): ' || v_the_array(v_index));
        v_index := v_the_array.next(v_index);
    END LOOP;

END;
/ 

This way you can define the array in a much nicer looking way and with less code. I also find it more readable.

You are of course not limited to using PLS_INTEGER for indexing the array, you can index differently:

DECLARE
    TYPE capitals_t IS
        TABLE OF VARCHAR2(100) INDEX BY VARCHAR2(100);
    v_capitals   capitals_t := capitals_t(
        'France' => 'Paris', 
        'Belgium' => 'Brussels', 
        'Austria' => 'Vienna');

    v_index      VARCHAR2(100);
BEGIN
    v_index := v_capitals.first;
    WHILE ( v_index IS NOT NULL ) LOOP
        dbms_output.put_line('The capital of ' || v_index || ' is ' 
                             || v_capitals(v_index));

        v_index := v_capitals.next(v_index);
    END LOOP;

END;
/ 

Once I wrapped my head around this it all made sense, and I think I’ll use this syntax from now on.