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I am using a construct like this very often:

SELECT *
FROM
    my_table,
    my_srf(my_column)

for example here:

CREATE TABLE my_table (
    my_col text[]
);

INSERT INTO my_table VALUES
('{a,b}'),
('{c,d,e}');

SELECT
    *
FROM
    my_table,
    unnest(my_col);

The result is as expected:

my_col    unnest
{a,b}     a
{a,b}     b
{c,d,e}   c
{c,d,e}   d
{c,d,e}   e

demo:db<>fiddle


Now I thought about this construct a little bit and got confused. The comma notation is the shortcut for as CROSS JOIN. In fact, this works as well:

SELECT
    *
FROM
    my_table
CROSS JOIN
    unnest(my_col)

But because this is a cross join, this result would look more logical to me:

my_col    unnest
{a,b}     a
{a,b}     b
{a,b}     c
{a,b}     d
{a,b}     e
{c,d,e}   a
{c,d,e}   b
{c,d,e}   c
{c,d,e}   d
{c,d,e}   e

A cross join joins all records from one part with all records of the other.

Although I am using this SRF joins as described above, I am now not sure anymore why it works in detail. So, I think that I obviously did not understand the complete functionality of SRFs so far.

Because the documentation made it not clearer to me, I would like to ask you to explain the behaviour.

1

The piece that you are missing is, that this is not a regular cross join, but a "LATERAL" cross join.

So the fully written equivalent is:

SELECT *
FROM my_table
   CROSS JOIN LATERAL unnest(my_col);

The keyword LATERAL is implicitly assumed if the join is done against a set returning function that's why cross join unnest(my_col) or even from my_table, unnest(my_col) works as well.

The LATERAL will change the cross join such that it takes one row from my_table and does a cross join of that (one) row with all rows returned from the set returning function. Then it does the same with the next row and so on.

So it generates the cross join between the row containing array {a,b} and all its elements. And then another cross join with the row containing the array {c,d,e} and all its elements.

The manual explains it this way:

When a FROM item contains LATERAL cross-references, evaluation proceeds as follows: for each row of the FROM item providing the cross-referenced column(s), or set of rows of multiple FROM items providing the columns, the LATERAL item is evaluated using that row or row set's values of the columns. The resulting row(s) are joined as usual with the rows they were computed from. This is repeated for each row or set of rows from the column source table(s)

  • Ah, ok, thanks. I didn't know about it! – S-Man Jun 25 at 14:41
  • 1
    @S-Man: I added the link to the relevant section in the manual – a_horse_with_no_name Jun 25 at 14:43
  • Thanks so far. One detail is not clear after one discussion I had today: Using the explicite CROSS JOIN or CROSS JOIN LATERAL syntax yields in the same result. dbfiddle.uk/… Will the LATERAL keyword be added implicitely to the explicite CROSS JOIN? – S-Man Aug 15 at 20:40

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