PostgreSQL Tutorial: PL/pgSQL Function Parameter Modes: IN, OUT, INOUT

August 4, 2023

Summary: in this tutorial, you will learn about parameter modes of functions including: in, out, and inout.

Introduction to PL/pgSQL parameter modes

The parameter modes determine the behaviors of parameters. PL/pgSQL supports three parameter modes: in, out, and inout. A parameter takes the in mode by default if you do not explicitly specify it.

The following table illustrates the three parameter modes:

The default Explicitly specified Explicitly specified
Pass a value to function Return a value from a function Pass a value to a function and return an updated value.
in parameters act like constants out parameters act like uninitialized variables inout parameters act like an initialized variables
Cannot be assigned a value Must assign a value Should be assigned a value

The IN mode

The following function finds a film by its id and returns the title of the film:

create or replace function find_film_by_id(p_film_id int)
returns varchar
language plpgsql
as $$
   film_title film.title%type;
  -- find film title by id
  select title 
  into film_title
  from film
  where film_id = p_film_id;

  if not found then
     raise 'Film with id % not found', p_film_id;
  end if;

  return title;


Because we didn’t specify the mode for p_film_id parameter, it takes the in mode by default.

The OUT mode

The out parameters are defined as a part of the argument list and are returned back as a part of the result.

The out parameters are very useful in functions that need to return multiple values.

Note that PostgreSQL has supported the out parameters since version 8.1.

To define out parameters, you explicitly precede the parameter name with the out keyword as follows:

out parameter_name type

The following example defines the get_film_stat function that has three out parameters:

create or replace function get_film_stat(
    out min_len int,
    out max_len int,
    out avg_len numeric) 
language plpgsql
as $$
  select min(length),
  into min_len, max_len, avg_len
  from film;


In the get_film_stat function, we select the min, max, and average of film length from the film table using the min, max, and avg aggregate functions and assign the results to the corresponding out parameters.

The following statement calls the get_film_stat function:

select get_film_stat();


The output of the function is a record. To make the output separated as columns, you use the following statement:

select * from get_film_stat();


The INOUT mode

The inout mode is the combination in and out modes.

It means that the caller can pass an argument to a function. The function changes the argument and returns the updated value.

The following swap function accepts two integers and their values:

create or replace function swap(
	inout x int,
	inout y int
language plpgsql	
as $$
   select x,y into y,x;
end; $$;

The following statement calls the swap() function:

select * from swap(10,20);



  • PL/pgSQL support three parameter modes: in, out, and intout. By default, a parameter takes the in mode.
  • Use the in mode if you want to pass a value to the function.
  • Use the out mode if you want to return a value from a function.
  • Use the inout mode when you want to pass in an initial value, update the value in the function, and return it updated value back.
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