FAQ

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Translations of this Document

Platform-specific questions

Windows users should also read the platform FAQ for Windows. There are FAQs for other platforms too.

General Questions

What is PostgreSQL? How is it pronounced? What is Postgres?

PostgreSQL is pronounced Post-Gres-Q-L. (For those curious about how to say "PostgreSQL", an audio file is available.)

PostgreSQL is an object-relational database system that has the features of traditional proprietary database systems with enhancements to be found in next-generation DBMS systems. PostgreSQL is free and the complete source code is available.

PostgreSQL development is performed by a team of mostly volunteer developers spread throughout the world and communicating via the Internet. It is a community project and is not controlled by any company. To get involved, see the Developer FAQ.

Postgres is a widely-used nickname for PostgreSQL. It was the original name of the project at Berkeley and is strongly preferred over other nicknames. If you find 'PostgreSQL' hard to pronounce, call it 'Postgres' instead.

Who controls PostgreSQL?

If you are looking for a PostgreSQL gatekeeper, central committee, or controlling company, give up --- there isn't one. We do have a core committee and CVS committers, but these groups are more for administrative purposes than control. The project is directed by the community of developers and users, which anyone can join. All you need to do is subscribe to the mailing lists and participate in the discussions. (See the Developer's FAQ for information on how to get involved in PostgreSQL development.)

Who is the PostgreSQL Global Development Group?

The "PGDG" is an international, unincorporated association of individuals and companies who have contributed to the PostgreSQL project. The PostgreSQL Core Team generally act as spokespeople for the PGDG.

Who is the PostgreSQL Core Team?

A committee of five to seven (currently six) senior contributors to PostgreSQL who do the following for the project: (a) set release dates, (b) handle confidential matters for the project, (c) act as spokespeople for the PGDG when required, and (d) arbitrate community decisions which are not settled by consensus. The current Core Team is listed on top of the contributors page

What about the various PostgreSQL foundations?

While the PostgreSQL project utilizes non-profit corporations in the USA, Europe, Brazil and Japan for fundraising and project coordination, these entities do not own the PostgreSQL code.

What is the license of PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL is distributed under a license similar to BSD and MIT. Basically, it allows users to do anything they want with the code, including reselling binaries without the source code. The only restriction is that you not hold us legally liable for problems with the software. There is also the requirement that this copyright appear in all copies of the software. Here is the license we use:

PostgreSQL Data Base Management System

Portions Copyright (c) 1996-2010, PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Portions Copyright (c) 1994-1996 Regents of the University of
California

Permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software and its
documentation for any purpose, without fee, and without a written
agreement is hereby granted, provided that the above copyright notice
and this paragraph and the following two paragraphs appear in all
copies.

IN NO EVENT SHALL THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BE LIABLE TO ANY PARTY
FOR DIRECT, INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES,
INCLUDING LOST PROFITS, ARISING OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE AND
ITS DOCUMENTATION, EVEN IF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA HAS BEEN
ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIMS ANY WARRANTIES,
INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF
MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE SOFTWARE
PROVIDED HEREUNDER IS ON AN "AS IS" BASIS, AND THE UNIVERSITY OF
CALIFORNIA HAS NO OBLIGATIONS TO PROVIDE MAINTENANCE, SUPPORT,
UPDATES, ENHANCEMENTS, OR MODIFICATIONS.

What platforms does PostgreSQL support?

In general, any modern Unix-compatible platform should be able to run PostgreSQL. The platforms that have received recent explicit testing can be seen in the Build farm. The documentation contains more details about supported platforms at http://www.postgresql.org/docs/current/static/supported-platforms.html.

PostgreSQL also runs natively on Microsoft Windows NT-based operating systems like Win2000 SP4, WinXP, and Win2003. A prepackaged installer is available at http://www.postgresql.org/download/windows. MSDOS-based versions of Windows (Win95, Win98, WinMe) can run PostgreSQL using Cygwin.

Where can I get PostgreSQL?

There are binary distributions for various operating systems and platforms; see our download area.

The source code can be obtained via web browser or through ftp.

What is the most recent release?

The latest release of PostgreSQL is shown on the front page of our website.

We typically have a major release every year, with minor releases every few months. Minor releases are usually made at the same time for all supported major-release branches. For more about major versus minor releases, see http://www.postgresql.org/support/versioning.

Where can I get support?

The PostgreSQL community provides assistance to many of its users via email. The main web site to subscribe to the email lists is http://www.postgresql.org/community/lists/. The general or bugs lists are a good place to start. For best results, consider reading the guide to reporting problems before you post to make sure you include enough information for people to help you.

The major IRC channel is #postgresql on Freenode (irc.freenode.net). A Spanish one also exists on the same network, (#postgresql-es), a French one, (#postgresqlfr), and a Brazilian one, (#postgresql-br). There is also a PostgreSQL channel on EFNet.

A list of support companies is available at http://www.postgresql.org/support/professional_support.

How do I submit a bug report?

Visit the PostgreSQL bug form at http://www.postgresql.org/support/submitbug to submit your bug report to the pgsql-bugs mailing list. Also check out our ftp site ftp://ftp.postgresql.org/pub/ to see if there is a more recent PostgreSQL version.

For a prompt and helpful response, it is important for you to read the guide to reporting problems to make sure that you include the information required to fully understand and act on your report.

Bugs submitted using the bug form or posted to any PostgreSQL mailing list typically generates one of the following replies:

  • It is not a bug, and why
  • It is a known bug and is already on the TODO list
  • The bug has been fixed in the current release
  • The bug has been fixed but is not packaged yet in an official release
  • A request is made for more detailed information:
  • The bug is new. The following might happen:
    • A patch is created and will be included in the next major or minor release
    • The bug cannot be fixed immediately and is added to the TODO list

How do I find out about known bugs or missing features?

PostgreSQL supports an extended subset of SQL:2003. See our TODO list for known bugs, missing features, and future plans.

A feature request usually results in one of the following replies:

  • The feature is already on the TODO list
  • The feature is not desired because:
    • It duplicates existing functionality that already follows the SQL standard
    • The feature would increase code complexity but add little benefit
    • The feature would be insecure or unreliable
  • The new feature is added to the TODO list

PostgreSQL does not use a bug tracking system because we find it more efficient to respond directly to email and keep the TODO list up-to-date. In practice, bugs don't last very long in the software, and bugs that affect a large number of users are fixed rapidly. The only place to find all changes, improvements, and fixes in a PostgreSQL release is to read the CVS log messages. Even the release notes do not list every change made to the software.

A bug I'm encountering is fixed in a newer minor release of PostgreSQL, but I don't want to upgrade. Can I get a patch for just this issue?

No. Nobody will make a custom patch for you so you can (say) extract a fix from 8.4.3 and apply it to 8.4.1 . That's because there should never be any need to do that.

PostgreSQL has a strict policy that only bug fixes are back-patched into point releases, as per the version policy. It is safe to upgrade from 8.4.1 to 8.4.3, for example. Binary compatibility will be maintained, no dump and reload is required, nothing will break, but bugs that might cause problems have been fixed. Even if you are not yet encountering a particular bug, you might later, and it is wise to upgrade promptly. You just have to install the update and re-start the database server, nothing more.

Upgrading from 8.3 to 8.4, or 8.4 to 9.0, is a major upgrade that does not come with the same guarantees. However, if a bug is discovered in 9.0 then it will generally be fixed in all maintained older versions like 8.4 and 8.3 if it is safe and practical to do so.

This means that if you're running 8.1.0, upgrading to 8.1.21 is strongly recommended and very safe. On the other hand, upgrading to the next major release, 8.2.x, may require changes to your app, and will certainly require a dump and reload.

If you want to be careful about all upgrades, you should read the release notes for each point release between your current one and the latest minor version of the same major release carefully. If you're exceptionally paranoid about upgrades, you can fetch the source code to each set of point release changes from PostgreSQL's git repository and examine it.

It is strongly recommended that you always upgrade to the latest minor release. Avoid trying to extract and apply individual fixes from point releases; by doing so you're bypassing all the QA done by the PostgreSQL team when they prepare a release, and are creating your own custom version that nobody else has ever used. It's a lot safer to just update to the latest tested, safe release. Patching your own custom, non-standard build will also take more time/effort, and will require the same amount of downtime as a normal upgrade.

I have a program that says it wants PostgreSQL x.y.1. Can I use PostgreSQL x.y.2 instead?

Any program that works with a particular version, like 8.4.1, should work with any other minor version in the same major version. That means that if a program says it wants (eg) 8.4.1, you can and should install the latest in the 8.4 series instead.

See the previous question for more details.

What documentation is available?

PostgreSQL includes extensive documentation, including a large manual, manual pages, and some test examples. See the /doc directory. You can also browse the manuals online at http://www.postgresql.org/docs.

There are a number of PostgreSQL books available for purchase; two of them are also available online. A list of books can be found at http://www.postgresql.org/docs/books/. One of the most popular ones is the one by Korry & Susan Douglas.

There is also a collection of PostgreSQL technical articles on the wiki.

The command line client program psql has some \d commands to show information about types, operators, functions, aggregates, etc. - use \? to display the available commands.

How can I learn SQL?

First, consider the PostgreSQL-specific books mentioned above. Many of our users also like The Practical SQL Handbook, Bowman, Judith S., et al., Addison-Wesley. Others like The Complete Reference SQL, Groff et al., McGraw-Hill.

Many people consider the PostgreSQL documentation to be an excellent guide for learning SQL its self, as well as for PostgreSQL's implementation of it. For best results use PostgreSQL alongside another full-featured SQL database as you learn, so you get used to SQL without becoming reliant on PostgreSQL-specific features. The PostgreSQL documentation generally mentions when features are PostgreSQL extensions of the standard.

There are also many nice tutorials available online:

How do I submit a patch or join the development team?

See the Developer's FAQ.

How does PostgreSQL compare to other DBMSs?

There are several ways of measuring software: features, performance, reliability, support, and price.

Features

PostgreSQL has most features present in large proprietary DBMSs, like transactions, subselects, triggers, views, foreign key referential integrity, and sophisticated locking. We have some features they do not have, like user-defined types, inheritance, rules, and multi-version concurrency control to reduce lock contention.

Performance

PostgreSQL's performance is comparable to other proprietary and open source databases. It is faster for some things, slower for others. Our performance is usually +/-10% compared to other databases.

Reliability

We realize that a DBMS must be reliable, or it is worthless. We strive to release well-tested, stable code that has a minimum of bugs. Each release has at least one month of beta testing, and our release history shows that we can provide stable, solid releases that are ready for production use. We believe we compare favorably to other database software in this area.

Support

Our mailing lists provide contact with a large group of developers and users to help resolve any problems encountered. While we cannot guarantee a fix, proprietary DBMSs do not always supply a fix either. Direct access to developers, the user community, manuals, and the source code often make PostgreSQL support superior to other DBMSs. There is commercial per-incident support available for those who need it. (See section 1.7).

Price

We are free for all use, both proprietary and open source. You can add our code to your product with no limitations, except those outlined in our BSD-style license stated above.

Can PostgreSQL be embedded?

PostgreSQL is designed as a client/server architecture, which requires separate processes for each client and server, and various helper processes. Many embedded architectures can support such requirements. However, if your embedded architecture requires the database server to run inside the application process, you cannot use Postgres and should select a lighter-weight database solution.

Popular embeddable options include SQLite and Firebird SQL.

How do I unsubscribe from the PostgreSQL email lists? How do I avoid receiving duplicate emails?

The PostgreSQL Majordomo page allows subscribing or unsubscribing from any of the PostgreSQL email lists. (You might need to have your Majordomo password emailed to you to log in.)

All PostgreSQL email lists are configured so a group reply goes to the email list and the original email author. This is done so users receive the quickest possible email replies. If you would prefer not to receive duplicate email from the list in cases where you already receive an email directly, check eliminatecc from the Majordomo Change Settings page. You can also prevent yourself from receiving copies of emails you post to the lists by unchecking selfcopy.

User Client Questions

What interfaces are available for PostgreSQL?

The PostgreSQL install includes only the C and embedded C interfaces. All other interfaces are independent projects that are downloaded separately; being separate allows them to have their own release schedule and development teams.

Some programming languages like PHP include an interface to PostgreSQL. Interfaces for languages like Perl, TCL, Python, and many others are available at http://pgfoundry.org.

What tools are available for using PostgreSQL with Web pages?

A nice introduction to Database-backed Web pages can be seen at: http://www.webreview.com

For Web integration, PHP (http://www.php.net) is an excellent interface.

For complex cases, many use the Perl and DBD::Pg with CGI.pm or mod_perl.

Does PostgreSQL have a graphical user interface?

There are a large number of GUI Tools that are available for PostgreSQL from both proprietary and open source developers. A detailed list can be found in the Community Guide to PostgreSQL GUI Tools.

Administrative Questions

How do I install PostgreSQL somewhere other than /usr/local/pgsql?

Specify the --prefix option when running configure.

I'm installing PostgreSQL and don't know the password for the postgres user

Dave Page wrote a blog post explaining what the different passwords are used for, and how to overcome common problems such as resetting them.

How do I control connections from other hosts?

By default, PostgreSQL only allows connections from the local machine using Unix domain sockets or TCP/IP connections. Other machines will not be able to connect unless you modify listen_addresses in the postgresql.conf file, enable host-based authentication by modifying the $PGDATA/pg_hba.conf file, and restart the database server.

How do I tune the database engine for better performance?

There are three major areas for potential performance improvement:

Query Changes

This involves modifying queries to obtain better performance:

  • Creation of indexes, including expression and partial indexes
  • Use of COPY instead of multiple INSERTs
  • Grouping of multiple statements into a single transaction to reduce commit overhead
  • Use of CLUSTER when retrieving many rows from an index
  • Use of LIMIT for returning a subset of a query's output
  • Use of Prepared queries
  • Use of ANALYZE to maintain accurate optimizer statistics
  • Regular use of VACUUM or pg_autovacuum
  • Dropping of indexes during large data changes

Server Configuration

A number of postgresql.conf settings affect performance. For more details, see Administration Guide/Server Run-time Environment/Run-time Configuration.

Hardware Selection

The effect of hardware on performance is detailed in http://www.powerpostgresql.com/PerfList/ and http://momjian.us/main/writings/pgsql/hw_performance/index.html.

What debugging features are available?

There are many log_* server configuration variables at http://www.postgresql.org/docs/current/interactive/runtime-config-logging.html that enable printing of query and process statistics which can be very useful for debugging and performance measurements.

Why do I get "Sorry, too many clients" when trying to connect?

You have reached the default limit of 100 database sessions. You need to increase the server's limit on how many concurrent backend processes it can start by changing the max_connections value in postgresql.conf and restarting the server.

What is the upgrade process for PostgreSQL?

See http://www.postgresql.org/support/versioning for a general discussion about upgrading, and http://www.postgresql.org/docs/current/static/install-upgrading.html for specific instructions.

Will PostgreSQL handle recent daylight saving time changes in various countries?

PostgreSQL releases 8.0 and up depend on the widely-used tzdata database (also called the zoneinfo database or the Olson timezone database) for daylight savings information. To deal with a DST law change that affects you, install a new tzdata file set and restart the server.

All PostgreSQL update releases include the latest available tzdata files, so keeping up-to-date on minor releases for your major version is usually sufficient for this.

On platforms that receive regular software updates including new tzdata files, it may be more convenient to rely on the system's copy of the tzdata files. This is possible as a compile-time option. Most Linux distributions choose this approach for their pre-built versions of PostgreSQL.

PostgreSQL releases before 8.0 always rely on the operating system's timezone information.

What computer hardware should I use?

Because PC hardware is mostly compatible, people tend to believe that all PC hardware is of equal quality. It is not. ECC RAM, SCSI, and quality motherboards are more reliable and have better performance than less expensive hardware. PostgreSQL will run on almost any hardware, but if reliability and performance are important it is wise to research your hardware options thoroughly.

Database servers, unlike many other applications, are usually I/O and memory constrained, so it is wise to focus on the I/O subsystem first, then memory capacity, and lastly consider CPU issues. For example, a disk controller with a battery-backed cache is often the cheapest and easiest way to improve database performance. Our email lists can be used to discuss hardware options and tradeoffs.

How does PostgreSQL use CPU resources?

The PostgreSQL server is process-based (not threaded), and uses one operating system process per database session. A single database session (connection) cannot utilize more than one CPU. Of course, multiple sessions are automatically spread across all available CPUs by your operating system. Client applications can easily use threads and create multiple database connections from each thread.

A single complex and CPU-intensive query is unable to use more than one CPU to do the processing for the query. The OS may still be able to use others for disk I/O etc, but you won't see much benefit from more than one spare core.

Why does PostgreSQL have so many processes, even when idle?

As noted in the answer above, PostgreSQL is process based, so it starts one postgres (or postgres.exe on Windows) instance per connection. The postmaster (which accepts connections and starts new postgres instances for them) is always running. In addition, PostgreSQL generally has one or more "helper" processes like the stats collector, background writer, autovacuum daemon, walsender, etc, all of which show up as "postgres" instances in most system monitoring tools.

Despite the number of processes, they actually use very little in the way of real resources. See the next answer.

Why does PostgreSQL use so much memory?

Despite appearances, this is absolutely normal, and there's actually nowhere near as much memory being used as tools like top or the Windows process monitor say PostgreSQL is using.

Tools like top and the Windows process monitor may show many postgres instances (see above), each of which appears to use a huge amount of memory. Often, when added up, the amount the postgres instances use is many times the amount of memory actually installed in the computer!

This is a consequence of how these tools report memory use. They generally don't understand shared memory very well, and show it as if it was memory used individually and exclusively by each postgres instance. PostgreSQL uses a big chunk of shared memory to communicate between its backends and cache data. Because these tools count that shared memory block once per postgres instance instead of counting it once for all postgres instances, they massively over-estimate how much memory PostgreSQL is using.

Operational Questions

How do I SELECT only the first few rows of a query? A random row?

To retrieve only a few rows, if you know at the number of rows needed at the time of the SELECT use LIMIT . If an index matches the ORDER BY it is possible the entire query does not have to be executed. If you don't know the number of rows at SELECT time, use a cursor and FETCH.

To SELECT a random row, use:

SELECT col
FROM tab
ORDER BY random()
LIMIT 1;

See also this blog entry by Andrew Gierth that has more information on this topic.

How do I find out what tables, indexes, databases, and users are defined? How do I see the queries used by psql to display them?

Use the \dt command to see tables in psql. For a complete list of commands inside psql you can use \?. Alternatively you can read the source code for psql in file pgsql/src/bin/psql/describe.c, it contains SQL commands that generate the output for psql's backslash commands. You can also start psql with the -E option so it will print out the queries it uses to execute the commands you give. PostgreSQL also provides an SQL compliant INFORMATION SCHEMA interface you can query to get information about the database.

There are also system tables beginning with pg_ that describe these too.

Use psql -l will list all databases.

Also try the file pgsql/src/tutorial/syscat.source. It illustrates many of the SELECTs needed to get information from the database system tables.

How do you change a column's data type?

Changing the data type of a column can be done easily in 8.0 and later with ALTER TABLE ALTER COLUMN TYPE.

In earlier releases, do this:

BEGIN;
ALTER TABLE tab ADD COLUMN new_col new_data_type;
UPDATE tab SET new_col = CAST(old_col AS new_data_type);
ALTER TABLE tab DROP COLUMN old_col;
COMMIT;

You might then want to do VACUUM FULL tab to reclaim the disk space used by the expired rows.

What is the maximum size for a row, a table, and a database?

These are the limits:

Maximum size for a database? unlimited (32 TB databases exist)
Maximum size for a table? 32 TB
Maximum size for a row? 400 GB
Maximum size for a field? 1 GB
Maximum number of rows in a table? unlimited
Maximum number of columns in a table? 250-1600 depending on column types
Maximum number of indexes on a table? unlimited

Of course, these are not actually unlimited, but limited to available disk space and memory/swap space. Performance may suffer when these values get unusually large.

The maximum table size of 32 TB does not require large file support from the operating system. Large tables are stored as multiple 1 GB files so file system size limits are not important.

The maximum table size, row size, and maximum number of columns can be quadrupled by increasing the default block size to 32k. The maximum table size can also be increased using table partitioning.

One limitation is that indexes can not be created on columns longer than about 2,000 characters. Fortunately, such indexes are rarely needed. Uniqueness is best guaranteed by a function index of an MD5 hash of the long column, and full text indexing allows for searching of words within the column.

How much database disk space is required to store data from a typical text file?

A PostgreSQL database may require up to five times the disk space to store data from a text file.

As an example, consider a file of 100,000 lines with an integer and text description on each line. Suppose the text string averages twenty bytes in length. The flat file would be 2.8 MB. The size of the PostgreSQL database file containing this data can be estimated as 5.2 MB:

 24 bytes: each row header (approximate)
 24 bytes: one int field and one text field
+ 4 bytes: pointer on page to tuple
----------------------------------------
 52 bytes per row

The data page size in PostgreSQL is 8192 bytes (8 KB), so:

8192 bytes per page
-------------------  =  158 rows per database page (rounded down)
  52 bytes per row
 100000 data rows
------------------  =  633 database pages (rounded up)
 158 rows per page
633 database pages * 8192 bytes per page  =  5,185,536 bytes (5.2 MB)

Indexes do not require as much overhead, but do contain the data that is being indexed, so they can be large also.

NULLs are stored as bitmaps, so they use very little space.

Note that long values may be compressed transparently.

See also this presentation on the topic: File:How Long Is a String.pdf.

Why are my queries slow? Why don't they use my indexes?

Indexes are not used by every query. Indexes are used only if the table is larger than a minimum size, and the query selects only a small percentage of the rows in the table. This is because the random disk access caused by an index scan can be slower than a straight read through the table, or sequential scan.

To determine if an index should be used, PostgreSQL must have statistics about the table. These statistics are collected using VACUUM ANALYZE, or simply ANALYZE. Using statistics, the optimizer knows how many rows are in the table, and can better determine if indexes should be used. Statistics are also valuable in determining optimal join order and join methods. Statistics collection should be performed periodically as the contents of the table change.

Indexes are normally not used for ORDER BY or to perform joins. A sequential scan followed by an explicit sort is usually faster than an index scan of a large table. However, LIMIT combined with ORDER BY often will use an index because only a small portion of the table is returned.

If you believe the optimizer is incorrect in choosing a sequential scan, use SET enable_seqscan TO 'off' and run query again to see if an index scan is indeed faster.

When using wild-card operators such as LIKE or ~, indexes can only be used in certain circumstances:

  • The beginning of the search string must be anchored to the start of the string, i.e.
    • LIKE patterns must not start with % or _.
    • ~ (regular expression) patterns must start with ^.
  • The search string can not start with a character class, e.g. [a-e].
  • Case-insensitive searches such as ILIKE and ~* do not utilize indexes. Instead, use expression indexes, which are described in section 4.8.
  • C locale must be used during initdb because sorting in a non-C locale often doesn't match the behavior of LIKE. You can create a special text_pattern_ops index that will work in such cases, but note it is only helpful for LIKE indexing.

It is also possible to use full text indexing for word searches.

The SlowQueryQuestions article contains some more tips and guidance.

How do I see how the query optimizer is evaluating my query?

This is done with the EXPLAIN command; see Using EXPLAIN.

How do I change the sort ordering of textual data?

PostgreSQL sorts textual data according to the ordering that is defined by the current locale, which is selected during initdb. (In 8.4 and up it will be possible to select a different locale when creating a new database.) If you don't like the ordering then you need to use a different locale. In particular, most locales other than "C" sort according to dictionary order, which largely ignores punctuation and spacing. If that's not what you want then you need "C" locale.

How do I perform regular expression searches and case-insensitive regular expression searches? How do I use an index for case-insensitive searches?

The ~ operator does regular expression matching, and ~* does case-insensitive regular expression matching. The case-insensitive variant of LIKE is called ILIKE.

Case-insensitive equality comparisons are normally expressed as:

SELECT *
FROM tab
WHERE lower(col) = 'abc';

This will not use a standard index on "col". However, if you create an expression index on "lower(col)", it will be used:

CREATE INDEX tabindex ON tab (lower(col));

If the above index is created as UNIQUE, then the column can store upper and lowercase characters, but it cannot contain identical values that differ only in case. To force a particular case to be stored in the column, use a CHECK constraint or a trigger.

In PostgreSQL 8.4 and later, you can also use the contributed CITEXT data type, which internally implements the "lower()" calls, so that you can effectively treat it as a fully case-insensitive data type. CITEXT is also available for 8.3, and an earlier version that treats only ASCII characters case-insensitively on 8.2 and earlier is available on pgFoundry.

In a query, how do I detect if a field is NULL? How do I concatenate possible NULLs? How can I sort on whether a field is NULL or not?

You can test the value with IS NULL or IS NOT NULL, like this:

SELECT *
FROM tab
WHERE col IS NULL;

Concatenating a NULL with something else produces another NULL. If that's not what you want, you can replace the NULL(s) using COALESCE(), like this:

SELECT COALESCE(col1, '') || COALESCE(col2, '')
FROM tab;

To sort by the NULL status, use an IS NULL or IS NOT NULL test in your ORDER BY clause. Things that are true will sort higher than things that are false, so the following will put NULL entries at the front of the output:

SELECT *
FROM tab
ORDER BY (col IS NOT NULL), col;

In PostgreSQL 8.3 and up, you can also control sort ordering of NULLs using the recently-standardized NULLS FIRST/NULLS LAST modifiers, like this:

SELECT *
FROM tab
ORDER BY col NULLS FIRST;

What is the difference between the various character types?

Type Internal Name Notes
VARCHAR(n) varchar size specifies maximum length, no padding
CHAR(n) bpchar blank-padded to the specified fixed length
TEXT text no specific upper limit on length
BYTEA bytea variable-length byte array (null-byte safe)
"char" (with the quotes) char one byte

You will see the internal name when examining system catalogs and in some error messages.

The first four types above are "varlena" types (i.e., the field length is explicitly stored on disk, followed by the data). Thus the actual space used is slightly greater than the expected size. However, long values are also subject to compression, so the space on disk might also be less than expected.

VARCHAR(n) is best when storing variable-length strings if a specific upper limit on the string length is required by the application. TEXT is for strings of "unlimited" length (though all fields in PostgreSQL are subject to a maximum value length of one gigabyte).

CHAR(n) is for storing strings that are all the same length. CHAR(n) pads with blanks to the specified length, while VARCHAR(n) only stores the characters supplied. BYTEA is for storing binary data, particularly values that include zero bytes. All these types have similar performance characteristics, except that the blank-padding involved in CHAR(n) requires additional storage and some extra runtime.

The "char" type (the quotes are required to distinguish it from CHAR(n)) is a specialized datatype that can store exactly one byte. It is found in the system catalogs but its use in user tables is generally discouraged.

How do I create a serial/auto-incrementing field?

PostgreSQL supports a SERIAL data type. Actually, this isn't quite a real type. It's a shorthand for creating an integer column that is fed from a sequence.

For example, this:

CREATE TABLE person (
    id SERIAL,
    name TEXT
);

is automatically translated into this:

CREATE SEQUENCE person_id_seq;
CREATE TABLE person (
    id INTEGER NOT NULL DEFAULT nextval('person_id_seq'),
    name TEXT
);

The automatically created sequence is named table_serialcolumn_seq, where table and serialcolumn are the names of the table and SERIAL column, respectively. See the CREATE SEQUENCE manual page for more information about sequences.

There is also BIGSERIAL, which is like SERIAL except that the resulting column is of type BIGINT instead of INTEGER. Use this type if you think that you might need more than 2 billion serial values over the lifespan of the table.

How do I get the value of a SERIAL insert?

The simplest way is to retrieve the assigned SERIAL value with RETURNING. Using the example table in the previous question, it would look like this:

INSERT INTO person (name) VALUES ('Blaise Pascal') RETURNING id;

You can also call nextval() and use that value in the INSERT, or call currval() after the INSERT.

Doesn't currval() lead to a race condition with other users?

No. currval() returns the latest sequence value assigned by your session, independently of what is happening in other sessions.

Why are there gaps in the numbering of my sequence/SERIAL column? Why aren't my sequence numbers reused on transaction abort?

To improve concurrency, sequence values are given out to running transactions on-demand; the sequence object is not kept locked but is immediately available for another transaction to get another sequence value. This causes gaps in numbering from aborted transactions.

What is an OID?

If a table is created WITH OIDS, each row includes an OID column that is automatically filled in during INSERT. OIDs are sequentially assigned 4-byte integers. Initially they are unique across the entire installation. However, the OID counter wraps around at 4 billion, and after that OIDs may be duplicated.

It is possible to prevent duplication of OIDs within a single table by creating a unique index on the OID column (but note that the WITH OIDS clause doesn't by itself create such an index). The system checks the index to see if a newly generated OID is already present, and if so generates a new OID and repeats. This works well so long as no OID-containing table has more than a small fraction of 4 billion rows.

PostgreSQL uses OIDs for object identifiers in the system catalogs, where the size limit is unlikely to be a problem.

To uniquely number rows in user tables, it is best to use SERIAL rather than an OID column, or BIGSERIAL if the table is expected to have more than 2 billion entries over its lifespan.

What is a CTID?

CTIDs identify specific physical rows by their block and offset positions within a table. They are used by index entries to point to physical rows. A logical row's CTID changes when it is updated, so the CTID cannot be used as a long-term row identifier. But it is sometimes useful to identify a row within a transaction when no competing update is expected.

Why do I get the error "ERROR: Memory exhausted in AllocSetAlloc()"?

You probably have run out of virtual memory on your system, or your kernel has a low limit for certain resources. Try this before starting the server:

ulimit -d 262144
limit datasize 256m

Depending on your shell, only one of these may succeed, but it will set your process data segment limit much higher and perhaps allow the query to complete. This command applies to the current process, and all subprocesses created after the command is run. If you are having a problem with the SQL client because the backend is returning too much data, try it before starting the client.

How do I tell what PostgreSQL version I am running?

Run this query: SELECT version();

Is there a way to leave an audit trail of database operations?

There's nothing built-in, but it's not too difficult to build such facilities yourself.

Simple example right in the official docs: http://www.postgresql.org/docs/8.3/static/plpgsql-trigger.html#PLPGSQL-TRIGGER-AUDIT-EXAMPLE

Project targeting this feature: http://pgfoundry.org/projects/tablelog/

Background information and other sample implementations: http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/database-soup/simple-data-auditing-19014 http://www.go4expert.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7252 http://www.alberton.info/postgresql_table_audit.html

How do I create a column that will default to the current time?

Use CURRENT_TIMESTAMP:

CREATE TABLE test (x int, modtime TIMESTAMP DEFAULT CURRENT_TIMESTAMP );

How do I perform an outer join?

PostgreSQL supports outer joins using the SQL standard syntax. Here are two examples:

SELECT *
FROM t1 LEFT OUTER JOIN t2 ON (t1.col = t2.col);

or

SELECT *
FROM t1 LEFT OUTER JOIN t2 USING (col);

These identical queries join t1.col to t2.col, and also return any unjoined rows in t1 (those with no match in t2). A RIGHT join would add unjoined rows of t2. A FULL join would return the matched rows plus all unjoined rows from t1 and t2. The word OUTER is optional and is assumed in LEFT, RIGHT, and FULL joins. Ordinary joins are called INNER joins.

How do I perform queries using multiple databases?

There is no way to query a database other than the current one. Because PostgreSQL loads database-specific system catalogs, it is uncertain how a cross-database query should even behave.

contrib/dblink allows cross-database queries using function calls. Of course, a client can also make simultaneous connections to different databases and merge the results on the client side.

How do I return multiple rows or columns from a function?

It is easy using set-returning functions, Return more than one row of data from PL/pgSQL functions.

Why do I get "relation with OID ##### does not exist" errors when accessing temporary tables in PL/PgSQL functions?

In PostgreSQL versions < 8.3, PL/PgSQL caches function scripts, and an unfortunate side effect is that if a PL/PgSQL function accesses a temporary table, and that table is later dropped and recreated, and the function called again, the function will fail because the cached function contents still point to the old temporary table. The solution is to use EXECUTE for temporary table access in PL/PgSQL. This will cause the query to be reparsed every time.

This problem does not occur in PostgreSQL 8.3 and later.

What replication solutions are available?

Though "replication" is a single term, there are several technologies for doing replication, with advantages and disadvantages for each. Our documentation contains a good introduction to this topic at http://www.postgresql.org/docs/8.3/static/high-availability.html and a grid listing replication software and features is at Replication, Clustering, and Connection Pooling

Master/slave replication allows a single master to receive read/write queries, while slaves can only accept read/SELECT queries. The most popular freely available master-slave PostgreSQL replication solution is Slony-I.

Multi-master replication allows read/write queries to be sent to multiple replicated computers. This capability also has a severe impact on performance due to the need to synchronize changes between servers. PGCluster is the most popular such solution freely available for PostgreSQL.

There are also proprietary and hardware-based replication solutions available supporting a variety of replication models.

Is possible to create a shared-storage postgresql server cluster?

PostgreSQL does not support clustering using shared storage on a SAN, SCSI backplane, iSCSI volume, or other shared media. Such "RAC-style" clustering isn't supported. Only replication-based clustering is currently supported.

See Replication, Clustering, and Connection Pooling information for details.

Shared-storage 'failover' is possible, but it is not safe to have more than one postmaster running and accessing the data store at the same time. Heartbeat and STONITH or some other hard-disconnect option are recommended.

Why are my table and column names not recognized in my query? Why is capitalization not preserved?

The most common cause of unrecognized names is the use of double-quotes around table or column names during table creation. When double-quotes are used, table and column names (called identifiers) are stored case-sensitive, meaning you must use double-quotes when referencing the names in a query. Some interfaces, like pgAdmin, automatically double-quote identifiers during table creation. So, for identifiers to be recognized, you must either:

  • Avoid double-quoting identifiers when creating tables
  • Use only lowercase characters in identifiers
  • Double-quote identifiers when referencing them in queries

I lost the database password. What can I do to recover it?

You can't. However, you can reset it to something else. To do this, you

  • edit pg_hba.conf to allow trust authorization temporarily
  • Reload the config file (pg_ctl reload)
  • Connect and issue ALTER ROLE / PASSWORD to set the new password
  • edit pg_hba.conf again and restore the previous settings
  • Reload the config file again

Does PostgreSQL have stored procedures?

PostgreSQL doesn't. However PostgreSQL have very powerful functions and user-defined functions capabilities that can do most things that other RDBMS stored routines (procedures and functions) can do and in many cases more.

These functions can be of different types and can be implemented in several programming languages. (Refer to documentation for more details. User-Defined Functions)

PostgreSQL functions can be invoked in many ways. If you want to invoke a function as you would call a stored procedure in other RDBMS (typically a function with side-effects but whose result you don't care for example because it returns void), one option would be to use PL/pgSQL Language for your procedure and the PERFORM command. Example:

PERFORM theNameOfTheFunction(arg1, arg2);

Note that invoking instead:

SELECT theNameOfTheFunction(arg1, arg2);

would produce a result even if the function returns void (this result would be one row containing a void value).

PERFORM could thus be used to discard this unuseful result.

The main limitations on Pg's stored functions - as compared to true stored procedures - are:

  • inability to return multiple result sets
  • no support for autonomous transactions (BEGIN, COMMIT and ROLLBACK within a function)
  • no support for the SQL-standard CALL syntax, though the ODBC and JDBC drivers will translate calls for you.

Why don't BEGIN, ROLLBACK and COMMIT work in stored procedures/functions?

PostgreSQL doesn't support autonomous transactions in its stored functions. Like all PostgreSQL queries, stored functions always run in a transaction and cannot operate outside a transaction.

If you need a stored procedure to manage transactions, you can look into the dblink interface or do the work from a client-side script instead. In some cases you can do what you need to using exception blocks in PL/PgSQL, because each BEGIN/EXCEPTION/END block creates a subtransaction.

Why is "SELECT count(*) FROM bigtable;" slow?

It can't be answered directly from an index. PostgreSQL has to check the visibility for each record, so it forces a sequential scan of the entire table. If you want, you can keep track of the number of rows yourself with triggers, but beware that this will slow down write access to the table.

You can get an estimation. The reltuples column in pg_class contains the information from the latest ANALYZE of the table. On a large table this is often accurate to within a few thousandths of a percent, which is accurate enough for many purposes.

An "exact" count is often not exact for very long, anyway; due to MVCC concurrency, the count will be accurate as of the moment the SELECT count(*) query (or, for stricter transaction isolation levels, its transaction) started, and may well be out-of-date by the time the query completes. In a transaction mix where the table is being modified, two count(*) executions which return at the same moment might have different values, if a modifying transaction committed between their start times.

For more information, see Slow Counting.

Why is my query much slower when run as a prepared query?

When PostgreSQL has the full query with all parameters known by planning time, it can use statistics in the table to find out if the values used in the query are very common or very uncommon in a column. This lets it change the way it fetches the data to be more efficient, as it knows to expect lots or very few results from a certain part of the query. For example, it might choose an sequential scan instead of doing an index scan if you search for 'active=y' and it knows that 99% of the records in the table have 'active=y', because in this case a sequential scan will be much faster.

In a prepared query, PostgreSQL doesn't have the value of all parameters when it's creating the plan. It has to try to pick a "safe" plan that should work fairly well no matter what value you supply as the parameter when you execute the prepared query. Unfortunately, this plan might not be very appropriate if the value you supply is vastly more common, or vastly less common, than is average for some randomly selected values in the table.

If you suspect this issue is affecting you, start by using the EXPLAIN command to compare the slow and fast queries. Look at the output of EXPLAIN SELECT query... and compare it to the result of PREPARE query... ; EXPLAIN EXECUTE query... to see if the plans are notably different. EXPLAIN ANALYZE may give you more information, such as row count estimates and counts.

Usually people having this problem are trying to use prepared queries as a security measure to prevent SQL injection, rather than as a performance tuning option for expensive-to-plan queries frequently executed with a variety of different parameters. Those people should consider using client-side prepared statements if their client interface (eg PgJDBC) supports it.

At present, PostgreSQL does not offer a way to request re-planning of a prepared statement using a particular set of parameter values; doing so somewhat defeats the purpose of server-side prepared statements. Running a statistics check to see if a particular parameter value is notably outside the norm and automatically re-planning in that case has been discussed, but not agreed upon or implemented as yet.

See Using_EXPLAIN. If you're going to ask for help on the mailing lists, please read the Guide to reporting problems.

Why is my query much slower when run in a function than standalone?

See FAQ#Why is my query much slower when run as a prepared query?. Queries in PL/PgSQL functions are prepared and cached, so they execute in much the same way as if you'd PREPAREd then EXECUTEd the query yourself.

If you're having really severe issues with this that improving the table statistics or adjusting your query don't help with, you can work around it by forcing PL/PgSQL to re-prepare your query at every execution. To do this, use the EXECUTE ... USING statement in PL/PgSQL to supply your query as a textual string. Alternately, the quote_literal or quote_nullable functions may be used to escape parameters substituted into query text.

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