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Cursor management: nested and parameterized cursors

Cursors in SQL offer a powerful way to process data row-by-row, providing greater control and flexibility compared to traditional set-based operations.

However, managing complex cursor operations can become challenging.

This is where nested and parameterized cursors come in handy.

1. Nested Cursors

Nested cursors allow you to define and use one cursor within another cursor.

This is useful when you need to iterate through data in a hierarchical structure or perform multiple levels of data processing.

For example,

Consider a table of orders where each order includes a nested table of order items. A nested cursor can be utilized to iterate through all orders and, for each order, iterate through its associated order items.

Example syntax for a nested cursor

  order_cursor CURSOR FOR SELECT * FROM orders;
  item_cursor CURSOR FOR SELECT * FROM order_items WHERE order_id = order_cursor%ROWTYPE.order_id;

  OPEN order_cursor;
    FETCH order_cursor INTO order_record;
    EXIT WHEN order_cursor%NOTFOUND;

    OPEN item_cursor FOR SELECT * FROM order_items WHERE order_id = order_record.order_id;
      FETCH item_cursor INTO item_record;
      EXIT WHEN item_cursor%NOTFOUND;

      -- Process each order item
    CLOSE item_cursor;
  CLOSE order_cursor;

2. Parameterized Cursors

Parameterized cursors enable the passing of dynamic values as parameters during cursor opening. This enhances flexibility and adaptability to various scenarios, eliminating the necessity to modify the cursor definition for each distinct query.

For example,

A parameterized cursor can retrieve employees based on a department ID passed as a parameter. This facilitates the effortless retrieval of employees from various departments without the need to modify the cursor code.

Example syntax for a parameterized cursor

  employee_cursor CURSOR (department_id NUMBER) IS
  SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department_id = employee_cursor.department_id;

  OPEN employee_cursor(10); -- Open the cursor with department ID 10
    FETCH employee_cursor INTO employee_record;
    EXIT WHEN employee_cursor%NOTFOUND;

    -- Process each employee record
  CLOSE employee_cursor;

  OPEN employee_cursor(20); -- Open the cursor with department ID 20 and repeat the process

Benefits of using nested and parameterized cursors

  • Improved code modularity and organization: Complex logic can be broken down into smaller, reusable units.
  • Enhanced flexibility and adaptability: Dynamically handle different data sets and scenarios.
  • Reduced code duplication and maintenance: Avoid repetitive code for similar tasks.
  • Greater control and efficiency: Process data row-by-row for specific needs.


  • Increased complexity: Nested and parameterized cursors can be more difficult to understand and debug.
  • Performance considerations: Cursor operations can be less performant than set-based operations for large datasets.