Understanding the Postgres ISNULL and ISNOTNULL Conditions

postgres isnull

We’ll discuss the Postgres ISNULL (IS NULL) condition in this article. We’ll explain what this function does and show examples of how to use it.

This operator is more than just a tool for identifying gaps in data. It’s a versatile function used in various contexts and scenarios, allowing for more comprehensive data exploration and analysis. The power of IS NULL truly shines when it’s paired with its antithesis – the “IS NOT NULL” operator. Together, these two functions offer unparalleled control in data querying.

Understanding PostgreSQL

Postgres is a powerful, open-source object-relational database management system. It’s a versatile platform, offering a myriad of capabilities to handle complex data types and operations with finesse.

In the context of databases, null values are often misunderstood. They don’t represent zero or an empty string. Rather, a null value signifies the absence of known value, a kind of placeholder for information that isn’t currently available. The importance of null values in databases cannot be overstated. They serve as vital indicators, highlighting the missing pieces of information in our data puzzles.

So, how does Postgres handle these null values? With the prowess of a seasoned magician, it elegantly uses operators such as “IS NULL” and “IS NOT NULL”. These operators not only identify null values but also work as gatekeepers, ensuring that these elusive values are handled appropriately in data operations. For example, consider the following Postgres command:

SELECT column_name
FROM table_name
WHERE column_name IS NULL;

This command fetches all the rows from ‘table_name’ where ‘column_name’ is null, enabling us to precisely locate the missing data. This nuanced handling of null values is one of the many reasons that makes Postgres a preferred choice for database management.

postgresql is null, is not null

Diving Into the “IS NULL” Operator

The Postgres “IS NULL” operator is like an expert detective that specializes in locating missing pieces of information in a dataset. It checks whether a certain column’s value is null or not, providing precise control in the filtering of your database records.

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The syntax is straightforward: you use “IS NULL” in the WHERE clause of your SQL statement. For instance:

SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department IS NULL;

In this query, “IS NULL” fetches all records from the ’employees’ table where the ‘department’ column has null values. The impact of “IS NULL” on search results is significant, giving you an eagle-eye view on the data vacancies.

Let’s say you want to find out all customers who haven’t provided their contact information. A simple query like this can do the trick:

SELECT * FROM customers WHERE contact_no IS NULL;

By identifying these gaps, the “IS NULL” operator enables you to maintain a high level of data accuracy and completeness in your Postgres databases.

Practical Applications of “IS NULL” and “IS NOT NULL”

In the vast landscape of data management, the “IS NULL” and “IS NOT NULL” operators find applications in a multitude of real-world scenarios. They are the trusted tools for both data retrieval and maintaining data quality.

Suppose you’re a data analyst for an eCommerce business. You might want to analyze the buying behavior of customers who have not specified their age. Here, “IS NULL” comes in handy:

SELECT * FROM customers WHERE age IS NULL;

On the other hand, if you’re interested in customers who have provided their age, “IS NOT NULL” gets the job done:


These operators are especially useful in data cleaning and pre-processing, often performed before data analysis. By identifying the records with missing data (“IS NULL”) or complete data (“IS NOT NULL”), you can decide whether to fill in the gaps or exclude them, ultimately leading to more accurate data analysis. It’s this nuanced application of the Postgres “IS NULL” and “IS NOT NULL” operators that set apart exceptional data handling from the ordinary.

What is the Postgres Coalesce function?

In PostgreSQL, the COALESCE function provides a smart way to handle null values. It takes a list of arguments and returns the first non-null value.

For instance, let’s assume we have a ‘users’ table with columns ‘first_name’ and ‘nickname’. Some users might not have provided their nicknames. In such cases, we can use the COALESCE function to display their first name as a default.

SELECT COALESCE(nickname, first_name) AS preferred_name FROM users;

This command will display the nickname if it exists; otherwise, it will display the first name, preventing null values from appearing in our result set.

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Consider an example where you have a ‘sales’ table with a column ‘revenue’. Some entries might be null because there were no sales, and you want these to display as ‘0’ instead of null. Here is how you can do it:

SELECT COALESCE(revenue, 0) AS revenue FROM sales;

This command will display the ‘revenue’ if it exists, and if it’s null, it will display ‘0’. This technique is often used in financial and statistical calculations to handle null values.

What is the PostgresQL NULLIF() function?

In PostgreSQL, the NULLIF function is a conditional expression that compares two expressions. If they are equal, the function returns null. If they are not equal, it returns the first expression.

Consider a table ‘divisions’ with columns ‘numerator’ and ‘denominator’. If we want to perform division but avoid division by zero errors, we can use the NULLIF function. Here’s how:

SELECT numerator / NULLIF(denominator, 0) AS result FROM divisions;

In this command, if the ‘denominator’ is 0, NULLIF returns null, so the division operation is null (i.e., not performed), thereby avoiding an error. If ‘denominator’ is not zero, it returns ‘denominator’, and the division is performed as expected. It’s a handy tool for maintaining data integrity during operations.

Using the ‘case’ Statement as an Alternative

In PostgreSQL, the CASE statement can also be used as an alternative to IFNULL or COALESCE from other SQL dialects. CASE can return a value when the first non-null value is met in a sequence.

For example, suppose you have a ‘products’ table with columns ‘sale_price’ and ‘regular_price’. You want to display the sale price if it exists, but if it’s null, you want to display the regular price. Here’s how you can do it:

    WHEN sale_price IS NULL THEN regular_price
    ELSE sale_price
END AS display_price
FROM products;

This command will display ‘sale_price’ if it’s not null, and if it is null, it will display ‘regular_price’. This use of CASE provides great flexibility in handling null values.

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