Oracle with the release of 12c introduced new feature called invisible columns which basically allows developers to create new columns (as I would say) not visible to the world 🙂 . It enables end-users to continue accessing the application while developers enhancing the application. These kind of columns are not visible to the application because in order to access the column we have to explicitly specify the column name in the select statement. “SELECT * FROM …” will also not show the column. This is because COLUMN_ID column in _TAB_COLUMNS dictionary views which is used to determine the order of columns retrieved when you run ” SELECT * FROM …” has a NULL value.

How do you define invisible columns? It is very straightforward with the INVISIBLE keyword.

SQL> create table mytable(id number, col1 number invisible);

Table created.

If I describe previously created table we won’t see the columns that are set invisible.

SQL> desc mytable
 Name              Null?    Type
 ----------------- -------- ------------
 ID                         NUMBER

Of course there is a solution for that. We can set COLINVISIBLE command in sqlplus, lets try.

SQL> set colinvisible on
SQL> desc mytable
 Name                      Null?    Type
 ------------------------- -------- ------------
 ID                                 NUMBER
 COL1 (INVISIBLE)                   NUMBER

In order to check which columns are invisible we have to search NULL value for COLUMN_ID in *_USER_TAB_COLUMNS dictionary views.

SQL> col table_name format a10
SQL> col column_name format a10
SQL> select table_name,column_name 
from user_tab_columns 
where table_name = 'MYTABLE' and column_id is null;

---------- -----------

When we’re going to make the column visible the system will generate new highest number for COLUMN_ID column.

SQL> select table_name,column_name,column_id 
from user_tab_columns 
where table_name = 'MYTABLE' 
order by column_id;

---------- ----------- ----------
MYTABLE    ID                  1
MYTABLE    COL1                2

We can also specify INVISIBLE on virtual columns.

SQL> alter table mytable add col2 as (col1 * 10);

Table altered.

SQL> alter table mytable modify col2 invisible;

Table altered.

SQL> desc mytable;
 Name                                      Null?    Type
 ----------------------------------------- -------- ---------------
 ID                                                 NUMBER
 COL1                                               NUMBER
 COL2 (INVISIBLE)                                   NUMBER

Lets insert sample data and see the effect.

SQL> select id, col1, col2 from mytable;

no rows selected

SQL> insert into mytable values (1,10);

1 row created.

SQL> commit;

Commit complete.

SQL> select * from mytable;

        ID       COL1
---------- ----------
         1         10

As you can see we didn’t got COL2 column because it’s set to INVISIBLE. Lets specify the column in the SELECT statement.

SQL> select id, col1, col2 from mytable;

        ID       COL1       COL2
---------- ---------- ----------
         1         10        100

The restrictions for this feature is that you can’t use it on temp, external or cluster tables. You can’t also make system-generated invisible columns visible.