DBD::Sybase – Driver and Database Characteristics

Driver Name, Version, Author and Contact Details

This driver summary is for DBD::Sybase version 0.18.

The driver author is Michael Peppler and he can be contacted via the dbi-users mailing list, or at [email protected]

Supported Database Versions and Options

The DBD::Sybase module supports Sybase 10.x and 11.x, and offers limited support for accessing Microsoft MS-SQL 6.x (but not 7.x) server. Assuming that OpenClient 10.x or 11.x is available DBD::Sybase can be used to connect to Sybase 4.x servers.

Connect Syntax

The DSN for DBD::Sybase is of the general form “dbi:Sybase:attr=value;attr=value”. The following attributes are supported:

Specify the Sybase server to connect to.

Specify the database within the server that should be made the default database (via “use $database”).

Specify the client character set to use. Useful if the client’s default character set is different from the server. Using this will enable automatic character conversion from one character set to the other.

Set the network packetSize. Setting a larger packet size can increase the network throughput. See the Sybase documentation on how to use this as it may require changing the server configuration values.

Set the hostname that will be stored in the sysprocesses table for this process.

Specify the number of seconds that DBI->connect() will wait for a response from the Sybase server. The default is 60 seconds. (This was added in the 0.14 release.)

Specify the number of seconds that DBD::Sybase will wait for a server response. If no response is received within that timeframe the command fails with a timeout error and the connection is marked dead. The default is to not timeout. Setting a timeout of 0 is the same as no timeout. (This was added in the 0.14 release.)

Specify the location of an alternate interfaces file:

Specify the name for this connection that will be displayed in sp_who (ie in the sysprocesses table in the program_name column).

Specify the hostname that will be displayed by sp_who (and will be stored in the hostname column of sysprocesses)..

Specify the TDS protocol level to use when connecting to the server. Valid values are CS_TDS_40, CS_TDS_42, CS_TDS_46, CS_TDS_495 and CS_TDS_50. In general this is automatically negotiated between the client and the server, but in certain cases this may need to be forced to a lower level by the client.

I have heard rumors that setting this to CS_TDS_42 enables DBD::Sybase to connect to an MS-SQL 7.0 server, although I can’t confirm that firsthand.

    $dbh->DBI->connect("dbi:Sybase:tdsLevel=CS_TDS_42", $user, $password);

NOTE: Setting the tdsLevel below CS_TDS_495 will disable a number of features, ?-style placeholders and CHAINED non-AutoCommit mode, in particular.

Numeric Data Handling


All but the NUMERIC/DECIMAL datatypes are hardware specific, but INTEGER is always a 32bit int, SMALLINT is 16bit, TINYINT is 8bit.

Precision for numeric/decimal is from 1 to 38, and scale is from 0 to 38.

Numeric/decimal values are returned as perl strings by default, even if the scale is 0 and the precision is small enough to fit in an integer value. All other numbers are returned in native format.

String Data Handling

DBD::Sybase supports CHAR/VARCHAR/BINARY/VARBINARY, all limited to 255 characters in length. The CHAR type is fixed length (blank padded).

Sybase automatically converts CHAR and VARCHAR data between the character set of the server (see the syscharset system table) and the character set of the client, defined by the locale setting of the client. The BINARY and VARBINARY types are not converted. UTF-8 is supported.

See the OpenClient International Developer’s Guide in the Sybase OpenClient manuals for more on character set issues.

Strings can be concatenated using the + SQL operator.

Date Data Handling

Sybase supports the DATETIME and SMALLDATETIME values. A DATETIME can have a value from Jan 1 1753 to Dec 31, 9999 with a 300th of a second resolution. A SMALLDATETIME has a range of Jan 1 1900 to Jun 6 2079 with a 1 minute resolution.

The current date on the server is obtained with the GETDATE() SQL function.

The Sybase date format depends on the locale settings for the client. The default date format is based on the ‘C’ locale:

  Feb 16 1999 12:07PM

In this same locale Sybase understands several input formats in addition to the one above:

  2/16/1998 12:07PM
  1998/02/16 12:07
  1998-02-16 12:07
  19980216 12:07

If the time portion is omitted it is set to 00:00. If the date portion is omitted it is set to Jan 1 1900. If the century is omitted it is assumed to be 1900 if the year is <50 and 2000 if the year >= 50.

You can use the special _date_fmt() private method (accessed via $dbh->func()) to change the date input and output format. The formats are based on Sybase’s standard conversion routines. The following subset of available formats has been implemented:

  LONG        - Nov 15 1998 11:30:11:496AM
  SHORT       - Nov 15 1998 11:30AM
  DMY4_YYYY   - 15 Nov 1998
  MDY1_YYYY   - 11/15/1998
  DMY1_YYYY   - 15/11/1998
  HMS         - 11:30:11

Use the CONVERT() SQL function to convert date and time values from other formats. For example:

   UPDATE a_table 
      SET date_field = CONVERT(datetime_field, '1999-02-21', 105)

CONVERT() is a generic conversion function that can convert to/from most datatypes. See the CONVERT() function in Chapter 2 of the Sybase Reference Manual.

Arithmetic on date time types is done on dates via the DATEADD(), DATEPART(), DATEDIFF() Transact SQL functions. For example:

  SELECT DATEDIFF(ss, date1, date2)

returns the difference in seconds between date1 and date2.

Sybase does not understand time zones at all, except that the GETDATE() SQL function returns the date in the time zone that the server is running in (via localtime).

The following SQL expression can be used to convert an integer “seconds since 1-jan-1970” value (‘unix time’) to the corresponding database date time:

  DATEADD(ss, unixtime_field, 'Jan 1 1970')

Note however that the server does not understand time zones, and will therefore give the ‘server local unixtime’ and not the correct value for the GMT time zone.

If you know that the server runs in the same timezone as the client then you can use

        use Time::Local;
        $time_to_database = timegm(localtime($unixtime));

to convert the unixtime value before sending it to Sybase.

To do the reverse, converting from a database date time value to ‘unix time’, you can use:

  DATEDIFF(ss, 'Jan 1 1970', datetime_field)

The same GMT vs localtime caveat applies in this case. If you know that the server runs in the same timezone as the client you can convert the returned value to the correct GMT based value with this perl expression:

        use Time::Local;
        $time = timelocal(gmtime($time_from_database));

LONG/BLOB Data Handling

Sybase supports an IMAGE and a TEXT type for LONG/BLOB data. Each type can hold up to 2BG of binary data, including nul characters. The main difference between an IMAGE and a TEXT column lies in how the client libraries treat the data on input and output. TEXT data is entered and returned “as is”. IMAGE data is returned as a long hex string, and should be entered in the same way.

LongReadLen and LongTrunkOk attributes have no effect. The default limit for TEXT/IMAGE data is 32Kb, but this can be changed by the SET TEXTSIZE Transact-SQL command.

Bind parameters can not be used to insert TEXT or IMAGE data to Sybase.

Other Data Handling issues

The DBD::Sybase driver does not support the type_info method yet.

Sybase does not automatically convert numbers to strings or strings to numbers. You need to explicitly call the CONVERT SQL function. However, placeholders don’t need special handling because DBD::Sybase knows what type each placeholder needs to be.

Transactions, Isolation and Locking

DBD::Sybase supports transactions. The default transaction isolation level is ‘Read Commited’.

Sybase supports READ COMMITED, READ UNCOMMITED and SERIALIZABLE isolation levels. The level be changed per-connection or per-statement by executing a “SET TRANSACTION_ISOLATION LEVEL x”, where x is 0 for READ UNCOMMITED, 1 for READ COMMITED, and 3 for SERIALIZABLE.

By default a READ query will aquire a shared lock on each page that it reads. This will allow any other process to read from the table, but will block any process trying to obtain an exclusive lock (for update). The shared lock is only maintained for the time the server needs to actually read the page, not for the entire length of the SELECT operation. Note that 11.9.2 and later servers have various new locking mechanisms that I’m not familiar with yet.

There is no explicit LOCK TABLE statement. Appending “WITH HOLDLOCK” to a SELECT statement can be used to force an exclusive lock to be aquired on a table. It is usually called within a transaction. In general this call is not needed.

The correct way to do a multi-table update with Sybase is to wrap the entire operation in a transaction. This will ensure that locks will be aquired in the correct order, and that no intervening action from another process will modify any rows that your operation is currently modifying.

No-Table Expression Select Syntax

To select a constant expression (one that doesn’t involve data from a database table or view) you can select it without naming a table:

  SELECT getdate()

Table Join Syntax

Outer joins are supported using the =* (right outer join) and *= (left outer join) operators:

  SELECT customer_name, order_date 
  FROM customers, orders 
  WHERE customers.cust_id =* orders.cust_id

For all rows in the customers table that have no matching rows in the orders table, Sybase returns NULL for any select list expressions containing columns from the orders table.

Table and Column Names

The names of Sybase identifiers, such as tables and columns, cannot exceed 30 characters in length.

The first character must be an alphabetic character (as defined by the current server character set) or _ (underscore). Subsequent characters can be alpha, and may include currency symbols, @, # and _. Identifiers can’t include embedded spaces or the %, !, ^, * or . symbols. In addition, identifiers must not be on the “reserved word” list (see the Sybase documentation for a complete list).

Table names or column names may be quoted if the set quoted_identifier option is turned on. This allows the user to get around the reserved word limitation. When this option is set, character strings enclosed in double quotes are treated as identifiers, and strings enclosed in single quotes are treated as literal strings.

By default identifiers are case-sensitive. This can be turned off by changing the default sort order for the server.

National characters can be used in identifier names without quoting.

Case sensitivity of like operator

The Sybase LIKE operator is case sensitive.

The UPPER function can be used to force a case insensitive match, e.g., UPPER(name) LIKE ‘TOM%’ (although that does prevent Sybase from making use of any index on the name column to speed up the query).

Row ID

Sybase does not support a pseudo ‘row id’ column.

Automatic Key or Sequence Generation

Sybase supports an IDENTITY feature for automatic key generation. Declaring a table with an IDENTITY column will generate a new value for each insert. The values are monotnonically increasing, but are not guaranteed to be sequential.

To fetch the value generated and used by the last insert, you can


Sybase does not support sequence generators, although ad-hoc stored procedures to generate sequence numbers are quite easy to write. See techinfo.sybase.com/css/techinfo.nsf/DocID/ID=860 for a complete explanation of the various possibilities.

Automatic Row Numbering and Row Count Limiting

Sybase does not offer a pseudocolumn that sequentially numbers the rows fetched by a select statement.

Parameter binding

Parameter binding is directly suported by Sybase. However, there are two downsides that one should be aware of:

Firstly, Sybase creates an internal stored procedure for each prepare() call that includes ? style parameters. These stored procedures live in the tempdb database, and are only destroyed when the connection is closed. It is quite possible to run out of tempdb space if a lot of prepare() calls with placeholders are being made in a script.

Secondly, because all the temporary stored procedures are created in tempdb this causes a potential hot-spot due to the locking of system tables in tempdb. I’m told that this performance problem will be removed in an upcoming release of Sybase (possibly 11.9.4 or 12.0).

The :1 placeholder style is not supported and the TYPE attribute to bind_param is currently ignored, so unsupported values don’t generate a warning. However, trying to bind a TEXT or IMAGE datatype will fail.

Stored procedures

Sybase stored procedures are written in Transact-SQL, Sybase’s procedural extension to SQL.

Stored procedures are called exactly the same way as regular SQL, and can return the same types of results (ie a SELECT in the stored procedure can be retrieved with $sth->fetch).

If the stored procedure returns data via OUTPUT parameters, then these must be declared first:

  $sth = $dbh->prepare(qq[
     declare \@name varchar(50)
     exec getName 1234, \@name output

Stored procedures can’t be called with bind (?) parameters – so this would be illegal:

  $sth = $dbh->prepare("exec my_proc ?");

so use

  $sth = $dbh->prepare("exec my_proc 'foo'");


Because Sybase stored procedures almost always return more than one result set you should always make sure to use a loop until the syb_more_results is 0:

  do {
    while($data = $sth->fetch) {
  } while($sth->{syb_more_results});

Table Metadata

DBD::Sybase supports the table_info method.

The syscolumns table has one row per column per table. See the definitions of the Sybase system tables for details. However, the easiest method is to use the sp_help stored procedure.

The easiest way to get detailed information about the indexes of a table is to use the sp_helpindex (or sp_helpkey) stored procedure.

Driver-specific attributes and methods

DBD::Sybase has the following driver specific database handle attributes:

If set then the current statement is included in the string returned by $dbh->errstr.

If set, then extended error information is included in the string returned by $dbh->errstr. Extended error information include the index causing a duplicate insert to fail, for example.

NEW Note that the syntax for the error handler is experimental and may change in future versions.

This attribute is used to set an ad-hoc error handler callback (ie a perl subroutine) that gets called before the normal error handler does it’s job. If this subroutine returns 0 then the error is ignored. This is useful for handling PRINT statements in Transact-SQL, for handling messages from the Backup Server, showplan output, dbcc output, etc.

The subroutine is called with 7 parameters: the Sybase error number, the severity, the state, the line number in the SQL batch, the server name (if available), the stored procedure name (if available), and the message text.


    %showplan_msgs = map { $_ => 1}  (3612 .. 3615, 6201 .. 6225);
    sub err_handler {
        my($err, $sev, $state, $line, $server, $proc, $msg) = @_;
        if($showplan_msgs{$err}) { # it's a showplan message
            print SHOWPLAN "$err - $msg\n";
            return 0;    # This is not an error
        return 1;
    $dbh = DBI->connect('dbi:Sybase:server=troll', 'sa', '');
    $dbh->{syb_err_handler} = \&err_handler;
    $dbh->do("set showplan on");
    open(SHOWPLAN, ">>/var/tmp/showplan.log") || die "Can't open showplan log: $!";
    $dbh->do("exec someproc");    # get the showplan trace for this proc.

If $dbh->{syb_flush_finish} is set then $dbh->finish will drain any results remaining for the current command by actually fetching them. The default behaviour is to issue a ct_cancel(CS_CANCEL_ALL), but this appears to cause connections to hang or to fail in certain cases (although I’ve never witnessed this myself.)

This is a read-only attribute that returns TRUE if the dataserver you are connected to supports ?-style placeholders. Typically placeholders are not supported when using DBD::Sybase to connect to a MS-SQL server.

If set then we use CHAINED transactions when AutoCommit is off. Otherwise we issue an explicit BEGIN TRAN as needed. The default is off.

This attribute should usually be used only during the connect() call:

    $dbh = DBI->connect('dbi:Sybase:', $user, $pwd, {syb_chained_txn => 1});

Using it at any other time with AutoCommit turned off will force a commit on the current handle.

And the following driver specific statement handle attributes:

See the discussion on handling multiple result sets above.

Returns the numeric result type of the current result set. Useful when executing stored procedurs to determine what type of information is currently fetchable (normal select rows, output parameters, status results, etc…).

One private method is provided:

Set the default date conversion and display formats. See the description elsewhere in this document.

Positioned updates and deletes

Sybase does not support positioned updates or deletes.

Differences from the DBI specification

Note that DBD::Sybase does not fully parse the statement until it’s executed. Thus attributes like $sth->{NUM_OF_FIELDS} are not available until after $sth->execute has been called. This is valid behaviour but is important to note when porting applications originally written for other drivers.

Concurrent use of multiple handles

DBD::Sybase supports an unlimited number of concurrent database connections to one or more databases.

It is not normally possible for Sybase clients to prepare/execute a new statement handle while still fetching data from another statment handle associated with the same database handle. However, DBD::Sybase emulates this by opening a new connection that will automatically be closed when the new statement handle is destroyed. You should be aware that there are some subtle but significant transaction issues with this approach.

Other Significant Database or Driver Features

Sybase and DBD::Sybase allow multiple statements to be prepared with one call and then executed with one call. The results are fed back to the client as a stream of tabular data. Stored procedures can also return a stream of multiple data sets. Each distinct set of results is treated as a normal single result set so fetch returns undef at the end of each set. To see if there are more data sets to follow the syb_more_results attribute can be checked. A typical loop making use of this Sybase specific feature looks like:

  do {
    while($d = $sth->fetch) {
      ... do something with the data
  } while($sth->{syb_more_results});

Sybase also has rich and powerful stored procedure and trigger functionality and encourages you to use them.