I'm running a plpgsql script in Postgres 8.3 - I would like to pass arguments to this script via psql. I'm currently executing the script like:

psql -d database -u user -f update_file.sql 

I came across This link which explains PGOPTIONS environment variable, but that doesn't work for "custom" arguments. i.e. I receive an error because the setting isn't listed in the postgres.conf file.

-bash-3.2$ export PGOPTIONS='--pretend=true'
-bash-3.2$ psql -d my_db -f update_database.sql
psql: FATAL:  unrecognized configuration parameter "pretend"

Any other ideas? Ideally I'd like to avoid environment variables...

  • 1
    I think you are looking for the -v argument of psql. Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 20:54
  • I tried that - to retrieve it in the script, I'm calling "SELECT current_setting('pretend') INTO _result" - no success.
    – Jmoney38
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 21:28

6 Answers 6


Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a "plpgsql script" - PL/pgSQL is the default procedural language of PostgreSQL. It's either an SQL script or a PL/pgSQL code block - inside a function / procedure or a DO command. Your example seems to indicate an SQL script.

You could create a (server-side) plpgsql (or sql) function instead, that takes any number of arguments. It's very simple as long as the arguments are values. It gets a bit more complicated if the arguments include identifiers or syntax elements. Then you have to use PL/pgSQL with dynamic SQL and EXECUTE.

PL/pgSQL is pre-installed by default since Postgres 9.0. Install it once per database in Postgres 8.3, though:


Consider upgrading to a current version. Postgres 8.3 reached end-of-life in 2013.

Demonstrating an SQL function, a simple dummy function with two integer arguments:

  RETURNS void 
    UPDATE tbl1 SET col1 = $1 WHERE id = $2;
    UPDATE tbl2 SET col1 = $1 WHERE id = $2;

Find many more sophisticated examples for PL/pgSQL here on dba.SE or on SO.

You can call this function and pass parameters in a shell script: Basic example call with integer parameters (no single-quotes around the value needed):

psql mydb -c "SELECT func($1, $2)"

Or with any data type:

psql mydb -c "SELECT func2('$1'::text, '$2'::numeric)"

-c executes one command string and then exits. More about command line arguments of psql in the manual.

  • Thanks for the response - I'm actually quite aware of plpgsql - This script I'm referring to is a file that contains numerous functions. I have a "main" function in the sense of C-oriented programming. The last 2 lines within the script/file are 1) calling the "main" function and then 2) dropping the function. So, in this setup, I essentially have a self-contained script that can be run to do work (psql -f). I like your point about calling a function with the "application args" via psql -c. I'll probably go that route, because I can't go the route of adding values to the postgres.conf file.
    – Jmoney38
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 11:52

To add another functionality for -v... If you're trying to add the quotation, add it in the command line:

psql -v action="'drop'"

and this will run the code for:

select * where :action;

The same as

select * where 'drop';
  • FYI you can do :'action' and define it as action="drop"
    – Rafs
    Commented May 2 at 15:27

Try -v:

$ psql -U postgres -v something=\'blah-blah\'
psql (9.1.3)
Type "help" for help.

postgres=# select :something;
(1 row)

If you want to use current_setting and SET or setval, you have to append a row to postgresql.conf to add the option.

  • What I want to run a DO block inside psql and pass a -v variable inside the dynamic sql block? the variable is a database name, and the query is to alter that database and set timezone.
    – Rafs
    Commented May 2 at 15:20

From my experience, dereffing a psql variable inside a plpgsql declaration such as in CREATE FUNCTION BEGIN or DO BEGIN results in a syntax error:

/tmp $ psql -U jmindek -v action=drop
psql (9.3.4)
Type "help" for help.

jmindek=# select :'action';
(1 row)

jmindek=# DO $$ BEGIN RAISE INFO 'The value in variable action is (%)',:x; END $$;     
ERROR:  syntax error at or near ":"
LINE 1: ... RAISE INFO 'The value in variable action is (%)',:x; END $$...

My solution is to create a temporary table with a single column and store the value in it. This temporary table is accessible via plpgsql and thus I can pass psql variables used with in DO blocks.

 ~ $ psql -v action=drop
psql (9.3.4)
Type "help" for help.

jmindek=# create temporary table actions (type text);                                                             CREATE TABLE
jmindek=# insert into actions values (:'action');                                                                 INSERT 0 1
jmindek=# do $$                                                                                                   declare                                                                                                            action_type text := null;                                                                                        begin                                                                                                               select type from actions into action_type;                                                                        raise info 'Hello, the action is (%)',action_type;                                                              end $$;
INFO:  Hello, the action is (drop)

To use additional psql variables in CREATE FUNCTION or DO declarations you may create a column per variable needed.

  • I was trying to do that; too bad there is no way to pass the var into DO blocks, dynamic SQL can't be used then
    – Rafs
    Commented May 2 at 15:21

This approach will provide you will full run-time resolution of the env vars ... so as soon as your script sets before-hand all the shell variables bellow it will work ( has been ran thousands of times against different dbs and hosts ) :

    -- start run.sh

       # 01 create / modify the app user
       PGPASSWORD="${postgres_db_useradmin_pw:-}" psql -q -t -X -w -U "${postgres_db_useradmin:-}" \
          -h $postgres_db_host -p $postgres_db_port \
          -v ON_ERROR_STOP=1 \
          -v postgres_db_user_pw="${postgres_db_user_pw:-}" \
          -v postgres_db_name="${postgres_db_name:-}" \
          -f "$sql_script" "${postgres_db_name:-}" > "$tmp_log_file" 2>&1
       cat "$tmp_log_file" ; cat "$tmp_log_file" >> $log_file # show it and save it
       test $ret -ne 0 && sleep 3
       test $ret -ne 0 && doExit 1 "pid: $$ psql ret $ret - failed to run sql_script: $sql_script !!!"
    -- stop run.sh

    -- start fun.sql
               IF NOT EXISTS (
                  FROM   pg_catalog.pg_roles
                  WHERE  rolname = 'usrqtoapp') THEN
                     CREATE ROLE usrqtoapp
                       WITH PASSWORD :'postgres_db_user_pw' LOGIN ;
               END IF;
            ALTER ROLE usrqtoapp
              WITH PASSWORD  :'postgres_db_user_pw' LOGIN ;

    -- eof run.sql
  • Shouldn't it be :'postgres_db_user_pw' etc.?
    – Rafs
    Commented May 2 at 15:23

This is not very elegant but it works (pseudocode):

cat <<EOF
   UPDATE tablename SET field=$arg1 WHERE field = $arg2;
EOF | psql database
  • A variant of one line here documents: psql database <<< "UPDATE tablename SET field=$arg1 WHERE field = $arg2;"
    – yurenchen
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 21:13

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