Month: July 2021

Fancy SQL Result Set Display

A while ago I noticed a
forum with tips for changing the colour of some results of the mysql utility. They’re nifty but tricky and don’t look appropriate for ordinary users. So I’ll concentrate on what a GUI can do instead. I illustrate with ocelotgui but any good product should be similar.

My example table is

CREATE TABLE elements (atomic_number INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, name VARCHAR(20));

Obvious and simple things with a Settings menu

Of course there will be a menu item for Settings that puts up a dialog box.

result set 1

The important items on it will be for changing background colour and font. For example these three displays show what happens after the settings menu has changed background colours and fonts.

result set 2

I prefer to use the dialog box initially and then make the changes
permanent with client statements or startup options.

HTML in the select list

HTML is designed for people who want to customize colours and fonts, and many SQL users are familiar with it, so it’s natural to want it for changing colours and fonts in an SQL result set.

For example, with a WHEN trick, here we display a column as bold, or as italic, depending on the value:

WHEN name LIKE '%ium' THEN '<b>' || name || '</i>'
ELSE '<i>' || name || '</i>'
AS name,
FROM elements;

result set 3

For example, with a UNION trick, here we display in red or in blue, depending on the value:

 '<p style="color:red">' ||
 CAST(atomic_number AS VARCHAR(20)) AS atomic_number,
 '<p style="color:red">' || name AS name
FROM elements
WHERE atomic_number < 90
SELECT atomic_number,
 '<p style="color:blue">' || name AS name
FROM elements
WHERE atomic_number >= 90;

result set 4

You could accomplish the same effects with REPLACE() or with stored procedures. An obvious usage is for emphasizing NULLs which otherwise are hard to distinguish from blanks. The advantage of this technique is that, even if your GUI isn’t this sophisticated, you can still get the effect by piping the result set to a file where a browser can read it. The distadvantages of this technique are: (a) it’s forcing the server to do a client job, (b) the column might contain ‘<‘ or ‘>’ or other entities, (c) some data types won’t work with the || concatenate operator (or the CONCAT function). So it’s best to have it as a non-default option (and that’s what the “HTML effects” option is for, on the first screenshot that I showed for Settings menu).

Conditional settings

The more general technique is to use a separate instruction for the setting, that will apply for all result sets, for cells that have certain characteristics. This is a bit like using cascading style sheets rather than inline HTML, but the best syntax is SQL-like, since that’s the language that users are bound to know. For example here is an instruction that changes a cell’s background colour and height if certain conditions are met (REGEXP means “regular expression”) (“SET ocelot_…” is a client-side statement that won’t get passed to the server):

SET ocelot_grid_background_color='yellow',
WHERE column_name REGEXP 'number'
AND row_number <> 4 ;
SELECT * FROM elements LIMIT 6;

result set 5


Here is a cheap bar graph:

SELECT atomic_number,
SUBSTR('------------',1, atomic_number / 10) AS bar,
FROM elements;

MySQL/MariaDB users might prefer REPEAT(‘a’,atomic_number / 10) AS bar instead of SUBSTR. Unicode-character-set users might prefer Unicode 2588 █ (full block) instead of ‘-‘, to get a solid bar,

result set 7

or might prefer a series of emojis.

Every good GUI can display .png of .jpg images too, so it’s not particularly hard to store them in the database and add them to the result via joins or subqueries. For example, with thanks to Wikipedia for the original picture,

SELECT atomic_number,
 (SELECT png
 FROM "timages"
 WHERE caption = 'copper')
 AS png
FROM elements
WHERE name = 'copper';

result set 6

but I hesitate to say that .png and .jpg images make good decoration, because they are never small.

ocelotgui 1.5.0

To be specific: the examples were all done with ocelotgui 1.5.0 and I used the options|detach menu choices so I could show only the select and grid widgets in a left-to-right order. Some of the functionality, particularly the new layout of the settings menu, is new. As always, the release is available on github.