libpqxx  7.7.4

Most of the time it's fine to retrieve data from the database using SELECT queries, and store data using INSERT. But for those cases where efficiency matters, there are two classes to help you do this better: stream_from and stream_to. They're less flexible than SQL queries, and there's the risk of losing your connection while you're in mid-stream, but you get some speed and memory efficiencies in return.

Both stream classes do data conversion for you: stream_from receives values from the database in PostgreSQL's text format, and converts them to the C++ types you specify. Likewise, stream_to converts C++ values you provide to PostgreSQL's text format for transfer. (On its end, the database of course converts values to and from their SQL types.)

Null values

So how do you deal with nulls? It depends on the C++ type you're using. Some types may have a built-in null value. For instance, if you have a char const * value and you convert it to an SQL string, then converting a nullptr will produce a NULL SQL value.

But what do you do about C++ types which don't have a built-in null value, such as int? The trick is to wrap it in std::optional. The difference between int and std::optional<int> is that the former always has an int value, and the latter doesn't have to.

Actually it's not just std::optional. You can do the same thing with std::unique_ptr or std::shared_ptr. A smart pointer is less efficient than std::optional in most situations because they allocate their value on the heap, but sometimes that's what you want in order to save moving or copying large values around.

This part is not generic though. It won't work with just any smart-pointer type, just the ones which are explicitly supported: shared_ptr and unique_ptr. If you really need to, you can build support for additional wrappers and smart pointers by copying the implementation patterns from the existing smart-pointer support.


Use stream_from to read data directly from the database. It's faster than the transaction's exec functions if the result contains enough rows. But also, you won't need to keep your full result set in memory. That can really matter with larger data sets.

And, you can start processing your data right after the first row of data comes in from the server. With exec() you need to wait to receive all data, and then you begin processing. With stream_from you can be processing data on the client side while the server is still sending you the rest.

You don't actually need to create a stream_from object yourself, though you can if you want to. Two shorthand functions, pqxx::transaction_base::stream and pqxx::transaction_base::for_stream, can each create the streams for you with a minimum of overhead.

Not all kinds of queries will work in a stream. Internally the streams make use of PostgreSQL's COPY command, so see the PostgreSQL documentation for COPY for the exact limitations. Basic SELECT and UPDATE ... RETURNING queries should just work.

As you read a row, the stream converts its fields to a tuple type containing the value types you ask for:

tx, "SELECT name, points FROM score");
std::tuple<std::string, int> row;
while (stream >> row)

As the stream reads each row, it converts that row's data into your tuple, goes through your loop body, and then promptly forgets that row's data. This means you can easily process more data than will fit in memory.


Use stream_to to write data directly to a database table. This saves you having to perform an INSERT for every row, and so it can be significantly faster if you want to insert more than just one or two rows at a time.

As with stream_from, you can specify the table and the columns, and not much else. You insert tuple-like objects of your choice:

std::vector<std::string>{"name", "points"}};
for (auto const &entry: scores)
stream << entry;

Each row is processed as you provide it, and not retained in memory after that.

The call to complete() is more important here than it is for stream_from. It's a lot like a "commit" or "abort" at the end of a transaction. If you omit it, it will be done automatically during the stream's destructor. But since destructors can't throw exceptions, any failures at that stage won't be visible in your code. So, always call complete() on a stream_to to close it off properly!