32.10. Functions Associated with the COPY Command

The COPY command in Postgres Pro has options to read from or write to the network connection used by libpq. The functions described in this section allow applications to take advantage of this capability by supplying or consuming copied data.

The overall process is that the application first issues the SQL COPY command via PQexec or one of the equivalent functions. The response to this (if there is no error in the command) will be a PGresult object bearing a status code of PGRES_COPY_OUT or PGRES_COPY_IN (depending on the specified copy direction). The application should then use the functions of this section to receive or transmit data rows. When the data transfer is complete, another PGresult object is returned to indicate success or failure of the transfer. Its status will be PGRES_COMMAND_OK for success or PGRES_FATAL_ERROR if some problem was encountered. At this point further SQL commands can be issued via PQexec. (It is not possible to execute other SQL commands using the same connection while the COPY operation is in progress.)

If a COPY command is issued via PQexec in a string that could contain additional commands, the application must continue fetching results via PQgetResult after completing the COPY sequence. Only when PQgetResult returns NULL is it certain that the PQexec command string is done and it is safe to issue more commands.

The functions of this section should be executed only after obtaining a result status of PGRES_COPY_OUT or PGRES_COPY_IN from PQexec or PQgetResult.

A PGresult object bearing one of these status values carries some additional data about the COPY operation that is starting. This additional data is available using functions that are also used in connection with query results:


Returns the number of columns (fields) to be copied.


0 indicates the overall copy format is textual (rows separated by newlines, columns separated by separator characters, etc). 1 indicates the overall copy format is binary. See COPY for more information.


Returns the format code (0 for text, 1 for binary) associated with each column of the copy operation. The per-column format codes will always be zero when the overall copy format is textual, but the binary format can support both text and binary columns. (However, as of the current implementation of COPY, only binary columns appear in a binary copy; so the per-column formats always match the overall format at present.)

32.10.1. Functions for Sending COPY Data

These functions are used to send data during COPY FROM STDIN. They will fail if called when the connection is not in COPY_IN state.


Sends data to the server during COPY_IN state.

int PQputCopyData(PGconn *conn,
                  const char *buffer,
                  int nbytes);

Transmits the COPY data in the specified buffer, of length nbytes, to the server. The result is 1 if the data was queued, zero if it was not queued because of full buffers (this will only happen in nonblocking mode), or -1 if an error occurred. (Use PQerrorMessage to retrieve details if the return value is -1. If the value is zero, wait for write-ready and try again.)

The application can divide the COPY data stream into buffer loads of any convenient size. Buffer-load boundaries have no semantic significance when sending. The contents of the data stream must match the data format expected by the COPY command; see COPY for details.


Sends end-of-data indication to the server during COPY_IN state.

int PQputCopyEnd(PGconn *conn,
                 const char *errormsg);

Ends the COPY_IN operation successfully if errormsg is NULL. If errormsg is not NULL then the COPY is forced to fail, with the string pointed to by errormsg used as the error message. (One should not assume that this exact error message will come back from the server, however, as the server might have already failed the COPY for its own reasons.)

The result is 1 if the termination message was sent; or in nonblocking mode, this may only indicate that the termination message was successfully queued. (In nonblocking mode, to be certain that the data has been sent, you should next wait for write-ready and call PQflush, repeating until it returns zero.) Zero indicates that the function could not queue the termination message because of full buffers; this will only happen in nonblocking mode. (In this case, wait for write-ready and try the PQputCopyEnd call again.) If a hard error occurs, -1 is returned; you can use PQerrorMessage to retrieve details.

After successfully calling PQputCopyEnd, call PQgetResult to obtain the final result status of the COPY command. One can wait for this result to be available in the usual way. Then return to normal operation.

32.10.2. Functions for Receiving COPY Data

These functions are used to receive data during COPY TO STDOUT. They will fail if called when the connection is not in COPY_OUT state.


Receives data from the server during COPY_OUT state.

int PQgetCopyData(PGconn *conn,
                  char **buffer,
                  int async);

Attempts to obtain another row of data from the server during a COPY. Data is always returned one data row at a time; if only a partial row is available, it is not returned. Successful return of a data row involves allocating a chunk of memory to hold the data. The buffer parameter must be non-NULL. *buffer is set to point to the allocated memory, or to NULL in cases where no buffer is returned. A non-NULL result buffer should be freed using PQfreemem when no longer needed.

When a row is successfully returned, the return value is the number of data bytes in the row (this will always be greater than zero). The returned string is always null-terminated, though this is probably only useful for textual COPY. A result of zero indicates that the COPY is still in progress, but no row is yet available (this is only possible when async is true). A result of -1 indicates that the COPY is done. A result of -2 indicates that an error occurred (consult PQerrorMessage for the reason).

When async is true (not zero), PQgetCopyData will not block waiting for input; it will return zero if the COPY is still in progress but no complete row is available. (In this case wait for read-ready and then call PQconsumeInput before calling PQgetCopyData again.) When async is false (zero), PQgetCopyData will block until data is available or the operation completes.

After PQgetCopyData returns -1, call PQgetResult to obtain the final result status of the COPY command. One can wait for this result to be available in the usual way. Then return to normal operation.

32.10.3. Obsolete Functions for COPY

These functions represent older methods of handling COPY. Although they still work, they are deprecated due to poor error handling, inconvenient methods of detecting end-of-data, and lack of support for binary or nonblocking transfers.


Reads a newline-terminated line of characters (transmitted by the server) into a buffer string of size length.

int PQgetline(PGconn *conn,
              char *buffer,
              int length);

This function copies up to length-1 characters into the buffer and converts the terminating newline into a zero byte. PQgetline returns EOF at the end of input, 0 if the entire line has been read, and 1 if the buffer is full but the terminating newline has not yet been read.

Note that the application must check to see if a new line consists of the two characters \., which indicates that the server has finished sending the results of the COPY command. If the application might receive lines that are more than length-1 characters long, care is needed to be sure it recognizes the \. line correctly (and does not, for example, mistake the end of a long data line for a terminator line).


Reads a row of COPY data (transmitted by the server) into a buffer without blocking.

int PQgetlineAsync(PGconn *conn,
                   char *buffer,
                   int bufsize);

This function is similar to PQgetline, but it can be used by applications that must read COPY data asynchronously, that is, without blocking. Having issued the COPY command and gotten a PGRES_COPY_OUT response, the application should call PQconsumeInput and PQgetlineAsync until the end-of-data signal is detected.

Unlike PQgetline, this function takes responsibility for detecting end-of-data.

On each call, PQgetlineAsync will return data if a complete data row is available in libpq's input buffer. Otherwise, no data is returned until the rest of the row arrives. The function returns -1 if the end-of-copy-data marker has been recognized, or 0 if no data is available, or a positive number giving the number of bytes of data returned. If -1 is returned, the caller must next call PQendcopy, and then return to normal processing.

The data returned will not extend beyond a data-row boundary. If possible a whole row will be returned at one time. But if the buffer offered by the caller is too small to hold a row sent by the server, then a partial data row will be returned. With textual data this can be detected by testing whether the last returned byte is \n or not. (In a binary COPY, actual parsing of the COPY data format will be needed to make the equivalent determination.) The returned string is not null-terminated. (If you want to add a terminating null, be sure to pass a bufsize one smaller than the room actually available.)


Sends a null-terminated string to the server. Returns 0 if OK and EOF if unable to send the string.

int PQputline(PGconn *conn,
              const char *string);

The COPY data stream sent by a series of calls to PQputline has the same format as that returned by PQgetlineAsync, except that applications are not obliged to send exactly one data row per PQputline call; it is okay to send a partial line or multiple lines per call.


Before Postgres Pro protocol 3.0, it was necessary for the application to explicitly send the two characters \. as a final line to indicate to the server that it had finished sending COPY data. While this still works, it is deprecated and the special meaning of \. can be expected to be removed in a future release. It is sufficient to call PQendcopy after having sent the actual data.


Sends a non-null-terminated string to the server. Returns 0 if OK and EOF if unable to send the string.

int PQputnbytes(PGconn *conn,
                const char *buffer,
                int nbytes);

This is exactly like PQputline, except that the data buffer need not be null-terminated since the number of bytes to send is specified directly. Use this procedure when sending binary data.


Synchronizes with the server.

int PQendcopy(PGconn *conn);

This function waits until the server has finished the copying. It should either be issued when the last string has been sent to the server using PQputline or when the last string has been received from the server using PQgetline. It must be issued or the server will get out of sync with the client. Upon return from this function, the server is ready to receive the next SQL command. The return value is 0 on successful completion, nonzero otherwise. (Use PQerrorMessage to retrieve details if the return value is nonzero.)

When using PQgetResult, the application should respond to a PGRES_COPY_OUT result by executing PQgetline repeatedly, followed by PQendcopy after the terminator line is seen. It should then return to the PQgetResult loop until PQgetResult returns a null pointer. Similarly a PGRES_COPY_IN result is processed by a series of PQputline calls followed by PQendcopy, then return to the PQgetResult loop. This arrangement will ensure that a COPY command embedded in a series of SQL commands will be executed correctly.

Older applications are likely to submit a COPY via PQexec and assume that the transaction is done after PQendcopy. This will work correctly only if the COPY is the only SQL command in the command string.