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Using slices with Go’s pq and SQLx libraries.

700 Words | Mon, Apr 4, 2016

I ran into an interesting problem today when developing a data retrieval service for work.

Take the following Postgres SQL statement:

SELECT * FROM people WHERE id = 1;

It’s about as simple as it gets, retrieve rows from the people where the person’s identifier is equal to one. This translates into a golang equivalent of:

rows, err := db.Queryx("SELECT * FROM people WHERE id = $1", id)

(Using sqlx)

However, what if we need to expand the id matches? The statement would change to:

SELECT * FROM people WHERE id IN (1, 2, 7);

Once again, it appears to be a simple statement, I believed this to translate into golang as follows:

rows, err := db.Queryx("SELECT * FROM people WHERE id IN ($1)", ids)

Where ids is a slice of integers, however upon running the program I received this lovely error message:

converting Exec argument #0's type: unsupported type []int, a slice

That’s a worrying one, unsupported type of slice? It seemed like fairly basic functionality to include in a sql library. Upon further investigation I found that the driver I was using (pq) utilised Go’s database/sql default ValueConverter to understand the parameters. Unfortunately it has no ability whatsoever to handle slices!

Ruh roh.

Further investigation revealed that this is an ongoing issue in the Go database driver world.

My first horrible, hacky solution was to spoof the input array using a joined array of strings:

rows, err := db.Queryx(
	"SELECT * FROM people WHERE id IN ($1)", strings.Join(ids, ", "))

However this proved to be a fools errand as it was being interpreted as a string input, rather than sequential integers.

”1, 2, 7” instead of 1, 2, 7: indicating it was interpreting as a string.

That pesky typing! This was going to require a bit more elbow grease.

Postgres allows for an Array Value Input to be passed in to expressions using the ANY function comparison. To a noob like me this appeared to just be a formatted string, ding ding. This alone would not do though, as if we passed in a string it would, as before, interpret it as one. Therefore we have to go a step further and implement the Valuer interface, which is what the ValueConverter (the part that interprets it as a string) spits out, skipping the middleman.

The solution was as follows:

// Int64Array is a type implementing the sql/driver/value interface
// This is due to the native driver not supporting arrays...
type Int64Array []int64

// Value returns the driver compatible value
func (a Int64Array) Value() (driver.Value, error) {
	var strs []string
	for _, i := range a {
		strs = append(strs, strconv.FormatInt(i, 10))
	return "{" + strings.Join(strs, ",") + "}", nil

Here we create a new type of Int64Array and make it conform to the Valuer interface, allowing us to pass it through to a db.Queryx() function call as it evaluates our variable as a Valuer which does not need to be converted. Our Go function call then becomes:

rows, err := db.Queryx(
	"SELECT * FROM people WHERE id = ANY ($1)", int64IDs)

End result: it worked. Hooray!

Reading into the unsupported slice issue further I found that slices are not natively supported in order to improve cross-driver support (due to the large syntactic differences between database query engines). It makes sense, but is a bit disappointing. Go is ultimately a young language in the grand scheme of things so problems like this do happen. However the strength of the interface system has meant that so far I haven’t experienced anything that I’ve been outright unable to solve.

Thank you for reading, I hope it has helped if you are currently encountering this problem.