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PL/sh Procedural Language Handler for PostgreSQL

PL/sh is a procedural language handler for PostgreSQL that allows you to write stored procedures in a shell of your choice. For example,

CREATE FUNCTION concat(text, text) RETURNS text AS '
echo "$1$2"
' LANGUAGE plsh;

The first line must be a #!-style line that indicates the shell to use. The rest of the function body will be executed by that shell in a separate process. The arguments are available as $1, $2, etc., as usual. (This is the shell's syntax. If your shell uses something different then that's what you need to use.) The return value will become what is printed to the standard output, with a newline stripped. If nothing is printed, a null value is returned. If anything is printed to the standard error, then the function aborts with an error and the message is printed. If the script does not exit with status 0 then an error is raised as well.

The shell script can do anything you want, but you can't access the database directly. Trigger functions are also possible, but they can't change the rows. Needless to say, this language should not be declared as TRUSTED.

The distribution also contains a test suite in the directory test/, which contains a simplistic demonstration of the functionality.

I'm interested if anyone is using this.

Peter Eisentraut

Database Access

You can't access the database directly from PL/sh through something like SPI, but PL/sh sets up libpq environment variables so that you can easily call psql back into the same database, for example

CREATE FUNCTION query (x int) RETURNS text
AS $$
psql -At -c "select b from pbar where a = $1"

Note: The "bin" directory is prepended to the path, but only if the PATH environment variable is already set.


In a trigger procedure, trigger data is available to the script through environment variables (analogous to PL/pgSQL):

  • PLSH_TG_NAME: trigger name
  • PLSH_TG_TABLE_NAME: name of the table the trigger is acting on
  • PLSH_TG_TABLE_SCHEMA: schema name of the table the trigger is acting on

Event Triggers

In an event trigger procedure, the event trigger data is available to the script through the following environment variables:

  • PLSH_TG_EVENT: event name
  • PLSH_TG_TAG: command tag

Inline Handler

PL/sh supports the DO command. For example:

DO E'#!/bin/sh\nrm -f /tmp/file' LANGUAGE plsh;

If data do not fit command line

In some cases you may hit the limitations of command line passing data to PL/sh. In that case you may find useful plsh2 language which is similar to plsh with the first argument of a function is passed via stdin to the shell while the second and next arguments are passed as $1, $2, etc.


You need to have PostgreSQL 8.4 or later, and you need to have the server include files installed.

To build and install PL/sh, use this procedure:

make install

The include files are found using the pg_config program that is included in the PostgreSQL installation. To use a different PostgreSQL installation, point configure to a different pg_config like so:

make PG_CONFIG=/else/where/pg_config
make install PG_CONFIG=/else/where/pg_config

Note that generally server-side modules such as this one have to be recompiled for every major PostgreSQL version (that is, 8.4, 9.0, ...).

To declare the language in a database, use the extension system with PostgreSQL version 9.1 or later. Run


inside the database of choice. To upgrade from a previous installation that doesn't use the extension system, use

CREATE EXTENSION plsh FROM unpackaged;

Use DROP EXTENSION to remove it.

With versions prior to PostgreSQL 9.1, use

psql -d DBNAME -f .../share/contrib/plsh.sql

with a server running. To drop it, use droplang plsh, or DROP FUNCTION plsh_handler(); DROP LANGUAGE plsh; if you want to do it manually.

Test suite

Build Status

To run the test suite, execute

make installcheck

after installation.


PL/sh is a procedural language handler for PostgreSQL that allows you to write stored procedures in a shell of your choice.



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