Confusion between prepared statement and parameterized query in Python

Tags: , , , ,

As far as I understand, prepared statements are (mainly) a database feature that allows you to separate parameters from the code that uses such parameters. Example:

PREPARE fooplan (int, text, bool, numeric) AS
    INSERT INTO foo VALUES($1, $2, $3, $4);
EXECUTE fooplan(1, 'Hunter Valley', 't', 200.00);

A parameterized query substitutes the manual string interpolation, so instead of doing

cursor.execute("SELECT FROM tablename WHERE fieldname = %s" % value)

we can do

cursor.execute("SELECT FROM tablename WHERE fieldname = %s", [value])

Now, it seems that prepared statements are, for the most part, used in the database language and parameterized queries are mainly used in the programming language connecting to the database, although I have seen exceptions to this rule.

The problem is that asking about the difference between prepared statement and parameterized query brings a lot of confusion. Their purpose is admittedly the same, but their methodology seems distinct. Yet, there are sources indicating that both are the same. MySQLdb and Psycopg2 seem to support parameterized queries but don’t support prepared statements (e.g. here for MySQLdb and in the TODO list for postgres drivers or this answer in the sqlalchemy group). Actually, there is a gist implementing a psycopg2 cursor supporting prepared statements and a minimal explanation about it. There is also a suggestion of subclassing the cursor object in psycopg2 to provide the prepared statement manually.

I would like to get an authoritative answer to the following questions:

  • Is there a meaningful difference between prepared statement and parameterized query? Does this matter in practice? If you use parameterized queries, do you need to worry about prepared statements?

  • If there is a difference, what is the current status of prepared statements in the Python ecosystem? Which database adapters support prepared statements?


  • Prepared statement: A reference to a pre-interpreted query routine on the database, ready to accept parameters

  • Parametrized query: A query made by your code in such a way that you are passing values in alongside some SQL that has placeholder values, usually ? or %s or something of that flavor.

The confusion here seems to stem from the (apparent) lack of distinction between the ability to directly get a prepared statement object and the ability to pass values into a ‘parametrized query’ method that acts very much like one… because it is one, or at least makes one for you.

For example: the C interface of the SQLite3 library has a lot of tools for working with prepared statement objects, but the Python api makes almost no mention of them. You can’t prepare a statement and use it multiple times whenever you want. Instead, you can use sqlite3.executemany(sql, params) which takes the SQL code, creates a prepared statement internally, then uses that statement in a loop to process each of your parameter tuples in the iterable you gave.

Many other SQL libraries in Python behave the same way. Working with prepared statement objects can be a real pain, and can lead to ambiguity, and in a language like Python which has such a lean towards clarity and ease over raw execution speed they aren’t really the greatest option. Essentially, if you find yourself having to make hundreds of thousands or millions of calls to a complex SQL query that gets re-interpreted every time, you should probably be doing things differently. Regardless, sometimes people wish they could have direct access to these objects because if you keep the same prepared statement around the database server won’t have to keep interpreting the same SQL code over and over; most of the time this will be approaching the problem from the wrong direction and you will get much greater savings elsewhere or by restructuring your code.*

Perhaps more importantly in general is the way that prepared statements and parametrized queries keep your data sanitary and separate from your SQL code. This is vastly preferable to string formatting! You should think of parametrized queries and prepared statements, in one form or another, as the only way to pass variable data from your application into the database. If you try to build the SQL statement otherwise, it will not only run significantly slower but you will be vulnerable to other problems.

*e.g., by producing the data that is to be fed into the DB in a generator function then using executemany() to insert it all at once from the generator, rather than calling execute() each time you loop.


A parametrized query is a single operation which generates a prepared statement internally, then passes in your parameters and executes.

edit: A lot of people see this answer! I want to also clarify that many database engines also have concepts of a prepared statement that can be constructed explicitly with plaintext query syntax, then reused over the lifetime of a client’s session (in postgres for example). Sometimes you have control over whether the query plan is cached to save even more time. Some frameworks use these automatically (I’ve seen rails’ ORM do it aggressively), sometimes usefully and sometimes to their detriment when there are permutations of form for the queries being prepared.

Also if you want to nit pick, parametrized queries do not always use a prepared statement under the hood; they should do so if possible, but sometimes it’s just formatting in the parameter values. The real difference between ‘prepared statement’ and ‘parametrized query’ here is really just the shape of the API you use.

Source: stackoverflow