DB-Library for the Tenderfoot

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.

Mark Twain


Below is a complete working DB-Library program, presented as a series of examples.

Features of sample code

  • Processes command-line options to select the server, database, username, and password

  • Remaining arguments on the command line comprise the SQL query to execute

  • Installs error and message handlers

  • Illustrates correct row-processing

  • Illustrates correct error detection and handling

Other sample code may be found in the distribution, in the cleverly named samples directory. A complete program, heavily commented for your perusal, is apps/bsqldb.c.


How to Get and Build the sample code

  1. Run doc/grep_sample_code to extract the C code from the User Guide XML source.

  2. Compile

  3. Link

Files Required to Build the Sample Code

Your library's extension may vary according to your operating system.

The source code may be built with commands similar to these. The precise options and paths depend on your particular system. The commands below work with the GNU compiler and linker on an ELF system with dynamic linking, common on Linux and BSD systems.

Example 11.1. Building the Sample Code

	$ ../doc/grep_sample_code ../doc/userguide.xml > sample.c
	$ cc -I /usr/local/include -Wl,-L/usr/local/lib -Wl,-R/usr/local/lib sample.c -lsybdb -o sample

where /usr/local/include and /usr/local/lib are respectively the locations of your header files and libraries.

We now proceed to the code proper.

Header files


We need two header files to use DB-Library. We need a few others to deal with I/O in C, as you know. Also declare the error and message handler functions, more about which later.

Example 11.2. Sample Code: DB-Library header files

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <assert.h>
#include <errno.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <libgen.h>
#include <sybfront.h>	/* sybfront.h always comes first */
#include <sybdb.h>	/* sybdb.h is the only other file you need */

int err_handler(DBPROCESS*, int, int, int, char*, char*);
int msg_handler(DBPROCESS*, DBINT, int, int, char*, char*, char*, int);



Nothing special here. Collect the command line parameters. We do this with the standard getopts(3) function. Cf. man 3 getopts for details.

Example 11.3. Sample Code: DB-Library prolog

	extern char *optarg;
	extern int optind;
	const static char syntax[] =
		"syntax: example -S server -D db -U user -P passwd\n";
	struct {
		char *appname, *servername, *dbname, *username, *password;
	} options = {0,0,0,0,0};
	main(int argc, char *argv[])
		int i, ch;
		LOGINREC *login;	1
		DBPROCESS *dbproc;	2
		RETCODE erc;		3

		options.appname = basename(argv[0]);

		while ((ch = getopt(argc, argv, "U:P:S:D:")) != -1) {
			switch (ch) {
			case 'S':
				options.servername = strdup(optarg);
			case 'D':
				options.dbname = strdup(optarg);
			case 'U':
				options.username = strdup(optarg);
			case 'P':
				options.password = strdup(optarg);
			case '?':
				fprintf(stderr, syntax);

		argc -= optind;
		argv += optind;

		if (! (options.servername && options.username  && options.password)) {
			fprintf(stderr, syntax);

Prolog Notes


LOGINREC is a structure that describes the client. It's passed to the server at connect time.


DBPROCESS is a structure that describes the connection. It is returned by dbopen().


RETCODE is the most common return code type for DB-Library functions.



Initialize the library. Create and populate a LOGINREC record.

Example 11.4. Sample Code: DB-Library Initialize

		if (dbinit() == FAIL) {
			fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbinit() failed\n",
			options.appname, __LINE__);


		if ((login = dblogin()) == NULL) {
			fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: unable to allocate login structure\n",
			options.appname, __LINE__);

		DBSETLUSER(login, options.username);
		DBSETLPWD(login, options.password);


Initialization Notes


Always make dbinit() the first DB-Library call.


Install the error- and mesage-handlers right away. They're explained in more detail later.


dblogin() almost never fails. But check! No point in trying to use a null pointer.


The LOGIN record isn't directly accessible. It's populated via macros like these. There are other fields, but these two are essential. Look for SETLsomething in the documentation.

Connect to the server


dbopen() forms a connection with the server. We pass our LOGINREC pointer (which describes the client end), and the name of the server. Then, optionally, we change to our favored database. If that step is skipped, the user lands in his default database.

Example 11.5. Sample Code: DB-Library Connect to the server

		if ((dbproc = dbopen(login, options.servername)) == NULL) {
			fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: unable to connect to %s as %s\n",
				options.appname, __LINE__,
				options.servername, options.username);

		if (options.dbname  && (erc = dbuse(dbproc, options.dbname)) == FAIL) {
			fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: unable to use to database %s\n",
				options.appname, __LINE__, options.dbname);


Send a query


DB-Library maintains a command buffer to hold the SQL to be sent to the server. Two functions — dbcmd() and dbfcmd() — build up the query from strings of text. The command buffer is reset after the query is sent to the server.

We left the SQL on the command line. We fetch it now and send it to the server.

Example 11.6. Sample Code: DB-Library Send a query

		for (i=0; i < argc; i++) {
			printf("%s ", argv[i]);
			if ((erc = dbfcmd(dbproc, "%s ", argv[i])) == FAIL) {
				fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbcmd() failed\n", options.appname, __LINE__);
				exit(1);	1

		if ((erc = dbsqlexec(dbproc)) == FAIL) {
			fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbsqlexec() failed\n", options.appname, __LINE__);
			exit(1);		2

Initialization Notes


Failure at this juncture is rare. The library is merely allocating memory to hold the SQL.


dbsqlexec() waits for the server to execute the query. Depending on the complexity of the query, that may take a while.

dbsqlexec() will fail if something is grossly wrong with the query, e.g. incorrect syntax or a reference to nonexistent table. It's only the first of a few places where an error can crop up in processing the query, though. Just because dbsqlexec() succeeded doesn't mean you're in the clear.

Fetch Results


A query may produce zero, one, or more results. The application normally provides buffers to DB-Library to fill, and iterates over the results a row (and column) at a time.

Kinds of Results

Results is a special term: it means more than rows or no rows. To process the results means to gather the data returned by the server into the application's variables.

Table 11.4. Kinds of Results

TypeMetadataRegular RowsCompute RowsReturn StatusExample SQL
NoneNoneNoneNoneNoneAny INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE statement
Empty1 setNone0 or moreNoneSELECT name FROM systypes WHERE 0 = 1
Simple 1 set 0 or more None None SELECT name FROM sysobjects
Complex 2 or more 0 or more 1 or more None SELECT name FROM sysobjects COMPUTE COUNT(name)
Stored Procedure 0 or more 0 or more 0 or more 1 or moreEXEC sp_help sysobjects

As the above table shows, results can comprise ordinary rows and compute rows (resulting from a COMPUTE clause). Stored procedures may of course contain multiple SQL statements, some of which may be SELECT statements and might include COMPUTE clauses. In addition, they generate a return status (with a RETURN statement or else automatically) and perhaps OUTPUT parameters.

Data and Metadata

Observe that a row is set of columns, and each column has attributes such as type and size. The column attributes of a row are collectively known as metadata. The server always returns metadata before any data (even for a SELECT statement that produced no rows).

Table 11.5. Result-fetching functions

dbresults()metadataSUCCEED, FAIL or, NO_MORE_RESULTS. SUCCEED indicates just that: the query executed successfully (whew!). There may be metadata (and perhaps data) and/or stored procedure outputs available.
dbnextrow()data REG_ROW, compute_id, NO_MORE_ROWS, BUF_FULL, or FAIL. Places fetched data into bound columns, if any.


Each time dbresults() returns SUCCEED, there is something to retrieve. DB-Library has different functions to deal with the different kinds of results. The functions are of two kinds: those that convert the data into a form desired by the application, known as binding, and those that return the data in native form.

To understand binding, it may be easiest to examine two primitive functions, dbdata() and dbconvert(). dbdata() returns a pointer to the column's data. The data to which it points are in native form, 4 bytes for an INT, 8 bytes for a DATETIME and so on. dbconvert() converts between datatypes; you can hand it an integer and get back a character array (or a C double. You might think of dbconvert() as atoi(3) on steroids). dbbind() combines these two functions. The application indicates in what form it would like to use each column, and the library converts them on the fly as each row is read.

To bind a column is to provide a buffer to DB-Library for it to fill, and indicate which datatype the buffer is meant to hold. [29]

It may be well to pause here to observe the three ways a datatype is described in a DB-Library program.

DB-Library Datatype Descriptors

Sever Datatype

Describes the data as an abstract type, not representing any particular kind of storage. SYBREAL, for example, doesn't imply any particular arrangement of bits; it just means a floating-point datatype corresponding to the T-SQL REAL type on the server. These all begin with SYB, e.g. SYBINT4.

Program Variable Datatype

Defines a C variable in a machine-independent way. Because a C defines its int type according the CPU architecture, it may have 2, 4, 8, or some other number of bytes. A DBINT on the other hand, is guaranteed to be 4 bytes and, as such, assuredly will hold any value returned by the server from a T-SQL INT column. These all begin with DB, e.g. DBREAL.

Bind Type

Prescribes a conversion operation. Indicates to dbbind() the Program Variable Datatype defined by the target buffer. Sybase and Microsoft call this the vartype. These all end with BIND, e.g. STRINGBIND.

Typically it's convenient to have DB-Library convert the data into the desired form. The function that does that is dbind(). So: after fetching the metadata, and before fetching the data, we usually prepare the bound columns.

Fetching Data

Table 11.6. Data-fetching functions

TypeRegular rowsCompute rowsReturn statusOUTPUT parameters
Meta dbnumcols() dbnumcompute(), dbnumalts(), dbaltop(), dbbylist() dbhasretstatus() dbnumrets()
Binding dbbind(), dbnullbind() dbaltbind(), dbanullbind() dbretstatus() none
Native dbdatlen(), dbdata() dbadlen(), dbalttype(), dbaltutype(), dbaltlen(), dbadata() none dbretdata(), dbretlen(), dbretname(), dbrettype()

The paradigm may now perhaps be clear: Query, fetch results, bind columns, fetch regular rows, fetch compute rows, fetch stored procedure outputs. Repeat as necessary.

Table 11.7. Putting it all together

Step Function Once Per Many Times Per
Query dbsqlexec() QueryProgram
Fetch metadata dbresults() SQL statement Query
Prepare variables dbbind() ColumnStatement
Fetch regular data dbnextrow() Row Statement
Fetch compute data dbnextrow() Compute column Statement
Fetch output parameters dbretdata() output parameter Stored procedure
Fetch return status dbretstatus() Stored procedure Program

[Important]Fetch All Rows!

Now, at last, some sample code that fetches data. In the interest of simplicity, we don't bind anything except regular rows.

Example 11.7. Sample Code: DB-Library Fetch Results

		while ((erc = dbresults(dbproc)) != NO_MORE_RESULTS) {
			struct COL 						1
				char *name;
				char *buffer;
				int type, size, status;
			} *columns, *pcol;
			int ncols;
			int row_code;

			if (erc == FAIL) {
				fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbresults failed\n",
				options.appname, __LINE__);

			ncols = dbnumcols(dbproc);

			if ((columns = calloc(ncols, sizeof(struct COL))) == NULL) {

			 * Read metadata and bind.
			for (pcol = columns; pcol - columns < ncols; pcol++) {
				int c = pcol - columns + 1;

				pcol->name = dbcolname(dbproc, c);		2
				pcol->type = dbcoltype(dbproc, c);
				pcol->size = dbcollen(dbproc, c);

				if (SYBCHAR != pcol->type) {			3
					pcol->size = dbprcollen(dbproc, c);
					if (pcol->size > 255)
						pcol->size = 255;

				printf("%*s ", pcol->size, pcol->name);

				if ((pcol->buffer = calloc(1, pcol->size + 1)) == NULL){

				erc = dbbind(dbproc, c, NTBSTRINGBIND,	4
				pcol->size+1, (BYTE*)pcol->buffer);
				if (erc == FAIL) {
					fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbbind(%d) failed\n",
					options.appname, __LINE__, c);
				erc = dbnullbind(dbproc, c, &pcol->status);	5
				if (erc == FAIL) {
					fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbnullbind(%d) failed\n",
					options.appname, __LINE__, c);

			 * Print the data to stdout.
			while ((row_code = dbnextrow(dbproc)) != NO_MORE_ROWS){	6
				switch (row_code) {
				case REG_ROW:
					for (pcol=columns; pcol - columns < ncols; pcol++) {
						char *buffer = pcol->status == -1?
						"NULL" : pcol->buffer;
						printf("%*s ", pcol->size, buffer);

				case BUF_FULL:
					assert(row_code != BUF_FULL);

				case FAIL:
					fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d: dbresults failed\n",
					options.appname, __LINE__);

				default: 					7
					printf("Data for computeid %d ignored\n", row_code);


			/* free metadata and data buffers */
			for (pcol=columns; pcol - columns < ncols; pcol++) {

			 * Get row count, if available.
			if (DBCOUNT(dbproc) > -1)
				fprintf(stderr, "%d rows affected\n", DBCOUNT(dbproc));

			 * Check return status
			if (dbhasretstat(dbproc) == TRUE) {
				printf("Procedure returned %d\n", dbretstatus(dbproc));


Data-fetching Notes


As soon as dbresults() reports SUCCESS, the row's metadata are available.


DB-Library columns start with 1.


dbcollen() returns the sizeof the native data (e.g. 4 bytes for a T-SQL INT). We'll use dbbind() to convert everything to strings. If the column is [VAR]CHAR, we want the column's defined size, otherwise we want its maximum size when represented as a string.


NTBSTRINGBIND null-terminates the character array for us. NTB might perhaps stand for null terminating byte.


A zero-length string is not a NULL! dbnullbind() arranges for the passed buffer to be set to -1 whenever that column is NULL for a particular row.


Each time dbnextrow() returns REG_ROW, it has filled the bound buffers with the converted values for the row.


Computed rows are left as an exercise to the reader.

Messages and Errors


Errors may originate on the server or in the library itself. The former are known as messages (because they are: they arrive as messages from the server); the latter are termed errors. Their handling is a little intimidating. It requires writing and installing a callback function (whose parameters are predefined by DB-Library), and thinking about how to handle different types of errors.

Kinds of Errors


Messages arise because the server has something to say. [30]. They usually describe some problem encountered executing the SQL. Perhaps the SQL refers to a nonexistent object or attempted to violate a constraint. But they can also be benign, indicating for instance merely that the default database has changed.


Errors arise either because the application has misused DB-Library in some way — say, passed a NULL DBPROCESS pointer or tried to issue a query while results were pending — or because some trouble cropped up in communicating with the server (couldn't find it, say, or didn't hear back from it).

Why these two require distinct handling is lost in the mists of time. But it does help to keep them distinct in your mind, especially while reading the documentation.

To have DB-Library use your handler, pass its name to the appropriate dberrhandle() or dbmsghandle() function immediately after calling dbinit().

Example 11.8. Sample Code: DB-Library Error and Message handlers

	msg_handler(DBPROCESS *dbproc, DBINT msgno, int msgstate, int severity,
			char *msgtext, char *srvname, char *procname, int line)
	{									1
		enum {changed_database = 5701, changed_language = 5703 };	2

		if (msgno == changed_database || msgno == changed_language)
			return 0;

		if (msgno > 0) {
			fprintf(stderr, "Msg %ld, Level %d, State %d\n",
					(long) msgno, severity, msgstate);

			if (strlen(srvname) > 0)
				fprintf(stderr, "Server '%s', ", srvname);
			if (strlen(procname) > 0)
				fprintf(stderr, "Procedure '%s', ", procname);
			if (line > 0)
				fprintf(stderr, "Line %d", line);

			fprintf(stderr, "\n\t");
		fprintf(stderr, "%s\n", msgtext);

		if (severity > 10) {						3
			fprintf(stderr, "%s: error: severity %d > 10, exiting\n",
			options.appname, severity);

		return 0;							4
	err_handler(DBPROCESS * dbproc, int severity, int dberr, int oserr,
			char *dberrstr, char *oserrstr)
	{									5
		if (dberr) {							6
			fprintf(stderr, "%s: Msg %d, Level %d\n",
			options.appname, dberr, severity);
			fprintf(stderr, "%s\n\n", dberrstr);
		} else {
			fprintf(stderr, "%s: DB-LIBRARY error:\n\t", options.appname);
			fprintf(stderr, "%s\n", dberrstr);
		return INT_CANCEL;						7


Handlers are always called before the function that engendered them returns control to the application.

Error Handling Notes


When first writing a handler, pay careful attention to the precise type of each parameter. Only by carefully matching them will you convince a modern C compiler that the address of your function is of the type accepted by dbmsghandle(). [31]


Some messages don't convey much, as though the server gets lonely sometimes. You're not obliged to print every one.


Severities are defined in the server documentation, and can be set by the T-SQL RAISERROR statement.


Message handlers always and only ever return zero.


When first writing the handler, pay careful attention to the precise type of each parameter. Only by carefully matching them will you convince a modern C compiler that the address of your function is of the type accepted by dberrhandle(). [32]


Some messages are so severe they provoke DB-Library into calling the error handler, too! If you have both installed — and of course you do, right? — then you can skip those lacking an error number.


While INT_CANCEL is the most common return code, it's not the only one. For one thing, the error handler's return code can control how long DB-Library keeps retrying timeout errors. See the documentation for details.


No matter what the error handler says or does, it can't remedy the error. It's still an error and usually the best that can happen is that the function will return FAIL. The exception is timeout conditions, when the handler can stave off failure by requesting retries.

You may be asking yourself, OK, fine, I can print the error message. But what if I want to communicate something back to the line in my program where the error occurred? How to do that? First of all, remember the calling function — that's your application — will learn of an error from the return code. If it needs more detail, though, there are two ways to pass it.

  1. Set a global variable.

  2. Use setuserdata() and getuserdata().


If your application is written in C++, you may be tempted to use throw(). Don't! Your handler is a C function and, more important, it's an extension of DB-Library. You can put a throw() in your handler and it will compile. But when it executes, it's going to rip through DB-Library's stack. Your application will be unuseable at that point, if it doesn't cause a segment fault.

Last Remarks

We've reached the end of our DB-Library tour. The almost 300 lines of C above constitute program with these features:

Sample Code features

  • Accepts command-line parameters and SQL.

  • Checks for errors and server messages.

  • Processes any number of results..

  • Prints results in columns of suitable widths.

There are things it doesn't do, in the name of simplicity.

Sample Code nonfeatures

  • No BCP (bulk copy) mode

  • No RPC (remote procedure call) mode, preventing it from retrieving output parameters.

Your humble author hopes you found it worthwhile. Happy Hacking.

[29] This is the sort of thing C++'s type system does so much better

[30] Just one more way in which databases differ from files.

[31] Back in K&R days, that wasn't such a problem. But there were other problems, some much worse.

[32] If that advice sounds familiar, it's because it bears repeating.