PostgreSQL FAQ

Last updated: Wed Jul 23 12:53:27 EDT 2003

Current maintainer: Bruce Momjian ([email protected])

The most recent version of this document can be viewed at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/docs/faqs/FAQ.html.

Platform-specific questions are answered at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/docs/index.html.


General Questions

1.1) What is PostgreSQL? How is it pronounced?
1.2) What is the copyright on PostgreSQL?
1.3) What Unix platforms does PostgreSQL run on?
1.4) What non-Unix ports are available?
1.5) Where can I get PostgreSQL?
1.6) Where can I get support?
1.7) What is the latest release?
1.8) What documentation is available?
1.9) How do I find out about known bugs or missing features?
1.10) How can I learn SQL?
1.11) Is PostgreSQL Y2K compliant?
1.12) How do I join the development team?
1.13) How do I submit a bug report?
1.14) How does PostgreSQL compare to other DBMSs?
1.15) How can I financially assist PostgreSQL?

User Client Questions

2.1) Are there ODBC drivers for PostgreSQL?
2.2) What tools are available for using PostgreSQL with Web pages?
2.3) Does PostgreSQL have a graphical user interface?
2.4) What languages are available to communicate with PostgreSQL?

Administrative Questions

3.1) How do I install PostgreSQL somewhere other than /usr/local/pgsql?
3.2) When I start postmaster, I get a Bad System Call or core dumped message. Why?
3.3) When I try to start postmaster, I get IpcMemoryCreate errors. Why?
3.4) When I try to start postmaster, I get IpcSemaphoreCreate errors. Why?
3.5) How do I control connections from other hosts?
3.6) How do I tune the database engine for better performance?
3.7) What debugging features are available?
3.8) Why do I get "Sorry, too many clients" when trying to connect?
3.9) What is in the pgsql_tmp directory?
3.10) Why do I need to do a dump and restore to upgrade PostgreSQL releases?

Operational Questions

4.1) What is the difference between binary cursors and normal cursors?
4.2) How do I SELECT only the first few rows of a query? A random row?
4.3) How do I get a list of tables or other things I can see in psql?
4.4) How do you remove a column from a table, or change it's data type?
4.5) What is the maximum size for a row, a table, and a database?
4.6) How much database disk space is required to store data from a typical text file?
4.7) How do I find out what tables, indexes, databases, and users are defined?
4.8) My queries are slow or don't make use of the indexes. Why?
4.9) How do I see how the query optimizer is evaluating my query?
4.10) What is an R-tree index?
4.11) What is the Genetic Query Optimizer?
4.12) How do I perform regular expression searches and case-insensitive regular expression searches? How do I use an index for case-insensitive searches?
4.13) In a query, how do I detect if a field is NULL?
4.14) What is the difference between the various character types?
4.15.1) How do I create a serial/auto-incrementing field?
4.15.2) How do I get the value of a SERIAL insert?
4.15.3) Don't currval() and nextval() lead to a race condition with other users?
4.15.4) Why aren't my sequence numbers reused on transaction abort? Why are there gaps in the numbering of my sequence/SERIAL column?
4.16) What is an OID? What is a TID?
4.17) What is the meaning of some of the terms used in PostgreSQL?
4.18) Why do I get the error "ERROR: Memory exhausted in AllocSetAlloc()"?
4.19) How do I tell what PostgreSQL version I am running?
4.20) Why does my large-object operations get "invalid large obj descriptor"?
4.21) How do I create a column that will default to the current time?
4.22) Why are my subqueries using IN so slow?
4.23) How do I perform an outer join?
4.24) How do I perform queries using multiple databases?
4.25) How do I return multiple rows or columns from a function?
4.26) Why can't I reliably create/drop temporary tables in PL/PgSQL functions?
4.27) What replication options are available?
4.28) What encryption options are available?

Extending PostgreSQL

5.1) I wrote a user-defined function. When I run it in psql, why does it dump core?
5.2) How can I contribute some nifty new types and functions to PostgreSQL?
5.3) How do I write a C function to return a tuple?
5.4) I have changed a source file. Why does the recompile not see the change?

General Questions

1.1) What is PostgreSQL? How is it pronounced?

PostgreSQL is pronounced Post-Gres-Q-L.

PostgreSQL is an enhancement of the POSTGRES database management system, a next-generation DBMS research prototype. While PostgreSQL retains the powerful data model and rich data types of POSTGRES, it replaces the PostQuel query language with an extended subset of SQL. PostgreSQL is free and the complete source is available.

PostgreSQL development is performed by a team of developers who all subscribe to the PostgreSQL development mailing list. The current coordinator is Marc G. Fournier ([email protected]). (See section 1.6 on how to join). This team is now responsible for all development of PostgreSQL.

The authors of PostgreSQL 1.01 were Andrew Yu and Jolly Chen. Many others have contributed to the porting, testing, debugging, and enhancement of the code. The original Postgres code, from which PostgreSQL is derived, was the effort of many graduate students, undergraduate students, and staff programmers working under the direction of Professor Michael Stonebraker at the University of California, Berkeley.

The original name of the software at Berkeley was Postgres. When SQL functionality was added in 1995, its name was changed to Postgres95. The name was changed at the end of 1996 to PostgreSQL.

1.2) What is the copyright on PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL is subject to the following COPYRIGHT:

PostgreSQL Data Base Management System

Portions copyright (c) 1996-2002, PostgreSQL Global Development Group Portions Copyright (c) 1994-6 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.

The above is the BSD license, the classic open-source license. It has no restrictions on how the source code may be used. We like it and have no intention of changing it.

1.3) What Unix platforms does PostgreSQL run on?

In general, a modern Unix-compatible platform should be able to run PostgreSQL. The platforms that had received explicit testing at the time of release are listed in the installation instructions.

1.4) What non-Unix ports are available?

Client

It is possible to compile the libpq C library, psql, and other interfaces and client applications to run on MS Windows platforms. In this case, the client is running on MS Windows, and communicates via TCP/IP to a server running on one of our supported Unix platforms. A file win32.mak is included in the distribution for making a Win32 libpq library and psql. PostgreSQL also communicates with ODBC clients.

Server

The database server can run on Windows NT and Win2k using Cygwin, the Cygnus Unix/NT porting library. See pgsql/doc/FAQ_MSWIN in the distribution or the MS Windows FAQ at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/docs/faqs/text/FAQ_MSWIN.

A native port to MS Win NT/2000/XP is currently being worked on. For more details on the current status of PostgreSQL on Windows see http://techdocs.postgresql.org/guides/Windows.

There is also a Novell Netware 6 port at http://forge.novell.com.

1.5) Where can I get PostgreSQL?

The primary anonymous ftp site for PostgreSQL is ftp://ftp.PostgreSQL.org/pub. For mirror sites, see our main web site.

1.6) Where can I get support?

The main mailing list is: [email protected]. It is available for discussion of matters pertaining to PostgreSQL. To subscribe, send mail with the following lines in the body (not the subject line):

    subscribe
    end

to [email protected].

There is also a digest list available. To subscribe to this list, send email to: [email protected] with a body of:

    subscribe
    end
Digests are sent out to members of this list whenever the main list has received around 30k of messages.

The bugs mailing list is available. To subscribe to this list, send email to [email protected] with a body of:

    subscribe
    end
There is also a developers discussion mailing list available. To subscribe to this list, send email to [email protected] with a body of:
    subscribe
    end

Additional mailing lists and information about PostgreSQL can be found via the PostgreSQL WWW home page at:

http://www.PostgreSQL.org

There is also an IRC channel on EFNet and OpenProjects, channel #PostgreSQL. I use the Unix command irc -c '#PostgreSQL' "$USER" irc.phoenix.net.

A list of commercial support companies is available at http://techdocs.postgresql.org/companies.php.

1.7) What is the latest release?

The latest release of PostgreSQL is version 7.3.4.

We plan to have major releases every six to eight months.

1.8) What documentation is available?

Several manuals, manual pages, and some small test examples are included in the distribution. See the /doc directory. You can also browse the manuals online at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/docs.

There are two PostgreSQL books available online at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/docs/awbook.html and http://www.commandprompt.com/ppbook/. There is a list of PostgreSQL books available for purchase at http://techdocs.PostgreSQL.org/techdocs/bookreviews.php. There is also a collection of PostgreSQL technical articles at http://techdocs.PostgreSQL.org/.

psql has some nice \d commands to show information about types, operators, functions, aggregates, etc.

Our web site contains even more documentation.

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

PostgreSQL supports an extended subset of SQL-92. See our TODO list for known bugs, missing features, and future plans.

1.10) How can I learn SQL?

The PostgreSQL book at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/docs/awbook.html teaches SQL. There is another PostgreSQL book at http://www.commandprompt.com/ppbook. There is a nice tutorial at http://www.intermedia.net/support/sql/sqltut.shtm, at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/graeme_birchall/HTM_COOK.HTM, and at http://sqlcourse.com.

Another one is "Teach Yourself SQL in 21 Days, Second Edition" at http://members.tripod.com/er4ebus/sql/index.htm

Many of our users like The Practical SQL Handbook, Bowman, Judith S., et al., Addison-Wesley. Others like The Complete Reference SQL, Groff et al., McGraw-Hill.

1.11) Is PostgreSQL Y2K compliant?

Yes, we easily handle dates past the year 2000 AD, and before 2000 BC.

1.12) How do I join the development team?

First, download the latest source and read the PostgreSQL Developers documentation on our web site, or in the distribution. Second, subscribe to the pgsql-hackers and pgsql-patches mailing lists. Third, submit high quality patches to pgsql-patches.

There are about a dozen people who have commit privileges to the PostgreSQL CVS archive. They each have submitted so many high-quality patches that it was impossible for the existing committers to keep up, and we had confidence that patches they committed were of high quality.

1.13) How do I submit a bug report?

Please visit the PostgreSQL BugTool page at http://www.PostgreSQL.org/bugs/bugs.php, which gives guidelines and directions on how to submit a bug report.

Also check out our ftp site ftp://ftp.PostgreSQL.org/pub to see if there is a more recent PostgreSQL version or patches.

1.14) 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 commercial 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 has performance similar to other commercial and open source databases. it is faster for some things, slower for others. In comparison to MySQL or leaner database systems, we are slower on inserts/updates because of transaction overhead. Of course, MySQL does not have any of the features mentioned in the Features section above. We are built for reliability and features, though we continue to improve performance in every release. There is an interesting Web page comparing PostgreSQL to MySQL at http://openacs.org/philosophy/why-not-mysql.html

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, commercial 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 FAQ section 1.6.)

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

1.15) How can I financially assist PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL has had a first-class infrastructure since we started in 1996. This is all thanks to Marc Fournier, who has created and managed this infrastructure over the years.

Quality infrastructure is very important to an open-source project. It prevents disruptions that can greatly delay forward movement of the project.

Of course, this infrastructure is not cheap. There are a variety of monthly and one-time expenses that are required to keep it going. If you or your company has money it can donate to help fund this effort, please go to http://store.pgsql.com/shopping/ and make a donation.

Although the web page mentions PostgreSQL, Inc, the "contributions" item is solely to support the PostgreSQL project and does not fund any specific company. If you prefer, you can also send a check to the contact address.


Also, if you have a success story about PostgreSQL, please submit it to our advocacy site at http://advocacy.postgresql.org.

User Client Questions

2.1) Are there ODBC drivers for PostgreSQL?

There are two ODBC drivers available, PsqlODBC and OpenLink ODBC.

You can download PsqlODBC from http://gborg.postgresql.org/project/psqlodbc/projdisplay.php.

OpenLink ODBC can be gotten from http://www.openlinksw.com. It works with their standard ODBC client software so you'll have PostgreSQL ODBC available on every client platform they support (Win, Mac, Unix, VMS).

They will probably be selling this product to people who need commercial-quality support, but a freeware version will always be available. Please send questions to [email protected].

2.2) 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 is an excellent interface. It is at http://www.php.net.

For complex cases, many use the Perl interface and CGI.pm or mod_perl.

2.3) Does PostgreSQL have a graphical user interface?

Yes, there are several graphical interfaces to PostgreSQL available. These include PgAccess http://www.pgaccess.org), PgAdmin II (http://www.pgadmin.org, Win32-only), RHDB Admin (http://sources.redhat.com/rhdb/ ) and Rekall ( http://www.thekompany.com/products/rekall/, proprietary). There is also PHPPgAdmin ( http://phppgadmin.sourceforge.net/ ), a web-based interface to PostgreSQL.

See http://techdocs.postgresql.org/guides/GUITools for a more detailed list.

2.4) What languages are able to communicate with PostgreSQL?

Most popular programming languages contain an interface to PostgreSQL. Check your programming language's list of extension modules.

The following interfaces are included in the PostgreSQL distribution:

Additional interfaces are available at http://gborg.postgresql.org in the Drivers/Interfaces section.


Administrative Questions

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

Specify the --prefix option when running configure.

3.2) When I start postmaster, I get a Bad System Call or core dumped message. Why?

It could be a variety of problems, but first check to see that you have System V extensions installed in your kernel. PostgreSQL requires kernel support for shared memory and semaphores.

3.3) When I try to start postmaster, I get IpcMemoryCreate errors. Why?

You either do not have shared memory configured properly in your kernel or you need to enlarge the shared memory available in the kernel. The exact amount you need depends on your architecture and how many buffers and backend processes you configure for postmaster. For most systems, with default numbers of buffers and processes, you need a minimum of ~1 MB. See the PostgreSQL Administrator's Guide for more detailed information about shared memory and semaphores.

3.4) When I try to start postmaster, I get IpcSemaphoreCreate errors. Why?

If the error message is IpcSemaphoreCreate: semget failed (No space left on device) then your kernel is not configured with enough semaphores. Postgres needs one semaphore per potential backend process. A temporary solution is to start postmaster with a smaller limit on the number of backend processes. Use -N with a parameter less than the default of 32. A more permanent solution is to increase your kernel's SEMMNS and SEMMNI parameters.

Inoperative semaphores can also cause crashes during heavy database access.

If the error message is something else, you might not have semaphore support configured in your kernel at all. See the PostgreSQL Administrator's Guide for more detailed information about shared memory and semaphores.

3.5) How do I control connections from other hosts?

By default, PostgreSQL only allows connections from the local machine using Unix domain sockets. Other machines will not be able to connect unless you add the -i flag to postmaster, and enable host-based authentication by modifying the file $PGDATA/pg_hba.conf accordingly. This will allow TCP/IP connections.

3.6) How do I tune the database engine for better performance?

Certainly, indexes can speed up queries. The EXPLAIN command allows you to see how PostgreSQL is interpreting your query, and which indexes are being used.

If you are doing many INSERTs, consider doing them in a large batch using the COPY command. This is much faster than individual INSERTS. Second, statements not in a BEGIN WORK/COMMIT transaction block are considered to be in their own transaction. Consider performing several statements in a single transaction block. This reduces the transaction overhead. Also, consider dropping and recreating indexes when making large data changes.

There are several tuning options. You can disable fsync() by starting postmaster with a -o -F option. This will prevent fsync()s from flushing to disk after every transaction.

You can also use the postmaster -B option to increase the number of shared memory buffers used by the backend processes. If you make this parameter too high, the postmaster may not start because you have exceeded your kernel's limit on shared memory space. Each buffer is 8K and the default is 64 buffers.

You can also use the backend -S option to increase the maximum amount of memory used by the backend process for temporary sorts. The -S value is measured in kilobytes, and the default is 512 (i.e. 512K).

You can also use the CLUSTER command to group data in tables to match an index. See the CLUSTER manual page for more details.

3.7) What debugging features are available?

PostgreSQL has several features that report status information that can be valuable for debugging purposes.

First, by running configure with the --enable-cassert option, many assert()s monitor the progress of the backend and halt the program when something unexpected occurs.

Both postmaster and postgres have several debug options available. First, whenever you start postmaster, make sure you send the standard output and error to a log file, like:

    cd /usr/local/pgsql
    ./bin/postmaster >server.log 2>&1 &

This will put a server.log file in the top-level PostgreSQL directory. This file contains useful information about problems or errors encountered by the server. Postmaster has a -d option that allows even more detailed information to be reported. The -d option takes a number that specifies the debug level. Be warned that high debug level values generate large log files.

If postmaster is not running, you can actually run the postgres backend from the command line, and type your SQL statement directly. This is recommended only for debugging purposes. Note that a newline terminates the query, not a semicolon. If you have compiled with debugging symbols, you can use a debugger to see what is happening. Because the backend was not started from postmaster, it is not running in an identical environment and locking/backend interaction problems may not be duplicated.

If postmaster is running, start psql in one window, then find the PID of the postgres process used by psql. Use a debugger to attach to the postgres PID. You can set breakpoints in the debugger and issue queries from psql. If you are debugging postgres startup, you can set PGOPTIONS="-W n", then start psql. This will cause startup to delay for n seconds so you can attach to the process with the debugger, set any breakpoints, and continue through the startup sequence.

The postgres program has -s, -A, and -t options that can be very useful for debugging and performance measurements.

You can also compile with profiling to see what functions are taking execution time. The backend profile files will be deposited in the pgsql/data/base/dbname directory. The client profile file will be put in the client's current directory. Linux requires a compile with -DLINUX_PROFILE for proper profiling.

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

You need to increase postmaster's limit on how many concurrent backend processes it can start.

The default limit is 32 processes. You can increase it by restarting postmaster with a suitable -N value or modifying postgresql.conf.

Note that if you make -N larger than 32, you must also increase -B beyond its default of 64; -B must be at least twice -N, and probably should be more than that for best performance. For large numbers of backend processes, you are also likely to find that you need to increase various Unix kernel configuration parameters. Things to check include the maximum size of shared memory blocks, SHMMAX; the maximum number of semaphores, SEMMNS and SEMMNI; the maximum number of processes, NPROC; the maximum number of processes per user, MAXUPRC; and the maximum number of open files, NFILE and NINODE. The reason that PostgreSQL has a limit on the number of allowed backend processes is so your system won't run out of resources.

3.9) What is in the pgsql_tmp directory?

This directory contains temporary files generated by the query executor. For example, if a sort needs to be done to satisfy an ORDER BY and the sort requires more space than the backend's -S parameter allows, then temporary files are created here to hold the extra data.

The temporary files are usually deleted automatically, but might remain if a backend crashes during a sort. A stop and restart of the postmaster will remove files from those directories.

3.10) Why do I need to do a dump and restore to upgrade between major PostgreSQL releases?

The PostgreSQL team makes only small changes between minor releases, so upgrading from 7.2 to 7.2.1 does not require a dump and restore. However, major releases (e.g. from 7.2 to 7.3) often change the internal format of system tables and data files. These changes are often complex, so we don't maintain backward compatability for data files. A dump outputs data in a generic format that can then be loaded in using the new internal format.

In releases where the on-disk format does not change, the pg_upgrade script can be used to upgrade without a dump/restore. The release notes mention whether pg_upgrade is available for the release.


Operational Questions

4.1) What is the difference between binary cursors and normal cursors?

See the DECLARE manual page for a description.

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

See the FETCH manual page, or use SELECT ... LIMIT....

The entire query may have to be evaluated, even if you only want the first few rows. Consider using a query that has an ORDER BY. If there is an index that matches the ORDER BY, PostgreSQL may be able to evaluate only the first few records requested, or the entire query may have to be evaluated until the desired rows have been generated.

To SELECT a random row, use:

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

4.3) How do I get a list of tables or other things I can see in psql?

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.

4.4) How do you remove a column from a table, or change its data type?

DROP COLUMN functionality was added in release 7.3 with ALTER TABLE DROP COLUMN. In earlier versions, you can do this:

    BEGIN;
    LOCK TABLE old_table;
    SELECT ...  -- select all columns but the one you want to remove
    INTO TABLE new_table
    FROM old_table;
    DROP TABLE old_table;
    ALTER TABLE new_table RENAME TO old_table;
    COMMIT;

To change the data type of a column, 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.

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

These are the limits:

    Maximum size for a database?             unlimited (4 TB databases exist)
    Maximum size for a table?                16 TB
    Maximum size for a row?                  1.6TB
    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 16 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 and maximum number of columns can be increased if the default block size is increased to 32k.

4.6) 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 avergages 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 6.4 MB:

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

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

   8192 bytes per page
   -------------------   =  128 rows per database page (rounded down)
     64 bytes per row

   100000 data rows
   --------------------  =  782 database pages (rounded up)
      128 rows per page

782 database pages * 8192 bytes per page  =  6,406,144 bytes (6.4 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 in bitmaps, so they use very little space.

4.7) How do I find out what tables, indexes, databases, and users are defined?

psql has a variety of backslash commands to show such information. Use \? to see them. There are also system tables beginning with pg_ that describe these too. Also, 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.

4.8) My queries are slow or don't make use of the indexes. Why?

Indexes are not automatically used by every query. Indexes are only used 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. In fact, though MAX() and MIN() don't use indexes, it is possible to retrieve such values using an index with ORDER BY and LIMIT:
    SELECT col
    FROM tab
    ORDER BY col [ DESC ]
    LIMIT 1;

If you believe the optimizer is incorrect in choosing a sequential scan, use SET enable_seqscan TO 'off' and run tests 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:

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

See the EXPLAIN manual page.

4.10) What is an R-tree index?

An R-tree index is used for indexing spatial data. A hash index can't handle range searches. A B-tree index only handles range searches in a single dimension. R-trees can handle multi-dimensional data. For example, if an R-tree index can be built on an attribute of type point, the system can more efficiently answer queries such as "select all points within a bounding rectangle."

The canonical paper that describes the original R-tree design is:

Guttman, A. "R-trees: A Dynamic Index Structure for Spatial Searching." Proceedings of the 1984 ACM SIGMOD Int'l Conf on Mgmt of Data, 45-57.

You can also find this paper in Stonebraker's "Readings in Database Systems".

Built-in R-trees can handle polygons and boxes. In theory, R-trees can be extended to handle higher number of dimensions. In practice, extending R-trees requires a bit of work and we don't currently have any documentation on how to do it.

4.11) What is the Genetic Query Optimizer?

The GEQO module speeds query optimization when joining many tables by means of a Genetic Algorithm (GA). It allows the handling of large join queries through nonexhaustive search.

4.12) 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 an standard index. However, if you create a functional index, it will be used:
    CREATE INDEX tabindex ON tab (lower(col));

4.13) In a query, how do I detect if a field is NULL?

You test the column with IS NULL and IS NOT NULL.

4.14) 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"          char            one character

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 first four bytes on disk are the length, followed by the data). Thus the actual space used is slightly greater than the declared size. However, these data types are also subject to compression or being stored out-of-line by TOAST, so the space on disk might also be less than expected.

VARCHAR(n) is best when storing variable-length strings and it limits how long a string can be. TEXT is for strings of unlimited length, with a maximum 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 NULL bytes. All the types described here have similar performance characteristics.

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

PostgreSQL supports a SERIAL data type. It auto-creates a sequence and index on the column. For example, this:

    CREATE TABLE person ( 
        id   SERIAL, 
        name TEXT 
    );
is automatically translated into this:
    CREATE SEQUENCE person_id_seq;
    CREATE TABLE person ( 
        id   INT4 NOT NULL DEFAULT nextval('person_id_seq'),
        name TEXT 
    );
    CREATE UNIQUE INDEX person_id_key ON person ( id );
See the create_sequence manual page for more information about sequences. You can also use each row's OID field as a unique value. However, if you need to dump and reload the database, you need to use pg_dump's -o option or COPY WITH OIDS option to preserve the OIDs.

4.15.2) How do I get the value of a SERIAL insert?

One approach is to retrieve the next SERIAL value from the sequence object with the nextval() function before inserting and then insert it explicitly. Using the example table in 4.15.1, an example in a pseudo-language would look like this:

    new_id = execute("SELECT nextval('person_id_seq')");
    execute("INSERT INTO person (id, name) VALUES (new_id, 'Blaise Pascal')");
You would then also have the new value stored in new_id for use in other queries (e.g., as a foreign key to the person table). Note that the name of the automatically created SEQUENCE object will be named <table>_<serialcolumn>_seq, where table and serialcolumn are the names of your table and your SERIAL column, respectively.

Alternatively, you could retrieve the assigned SERIAL value with the currval() function after it was inserted by default, e.g.,

    execute("INSERT INTO person (name) VALUES ('Blaise Pascal')");
    new_id = execute("SELECT currval('person_id_seq')");
Finally, you could use the OID returned from the INSERT statement to look up the default value, though this is probably the least portable approach. In Perl, using DBI with Edmund Mergl's DBD::Pg module, the oid value is made available via $sth->{pg_oid_status} after $sth->execute().

4.15.3) Don't currval() and nextval() lead to a race condition with other users?

No. currval() returns the current value assigned by your backend, not by all users.

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

To improve concurrency, sequence values are given out to running transactions as needed and are not locked until the transaction completes. This causes gaps in numbering from aborted transactions.

4.16) What is an OID? What is a TID?

OIDs are PostgreSQL's answer to unique row ids. Every row that is created in PostgreSQL gets a unique OID. All OIDs generated during initdb are less than 16384 (from include/access/transam.h). All user-created OIDs are equal to or greater than this. By default, all these OIDs are unique not only within a table or database, but unique within the entire PostgreSQL installation.

PostgreSQL uses OIDs in its internal system tables to link rows between tables. These OIDs can be used to identify specific user rows and used in joins. It is recommended you use column type OID to store OID values. You can create an index on the OID field for faster access.

OIDs are assigned to all new rows from a central area that is used by all databases. If you want to change the OID to something else, or if you want to make a copy of the table, with the original OIDs, there is no reason you can't do it:

        CREATE TABLE new_table(old_oid oid, mycol int);
        SELECT old_oid, mycol INTO new FROM old;
        COPY new TO '/tmp/pgtable';
        DELETE FROM new;
        COPY new WITH OIDS FROM '/tmp/pgtable';

OIDs are stored as 4-byte integers, and will overflow at 4 billion. No one has reported this ever happening, and we plan to have the limit removed before anyone does.

TIDs are used to identify specific physical rows with block and offset values. TIDs change after rows are modified or reloaded. They are used by index entries to point to physical rows.

4.17) What is the meaning of some of the terms used in PostgreSQL?

Some of the source code and older documentation use terms that have more common usage. Here are some:

A list of general database terms can be found at: http://hea-www.harvard.edu/MST/simul/software/docs/pkgs/pgsql/glossary/glossary.html

4.18) 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 postmaster:

    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.

4.19) How do I tell what PostgreSQL version I am running?

From psql, type SELECT version();

4.20) Why does my large-object operations get "invalid large obj descriptor"?

You need to put BEGIN WORK and COMMIT around any use of a large object handle, that is, surrounding lo_open ... lo_close.

Currently PostgreSQL enforces the rule by closing large object handles at transaction commit. So the first attempt to do anything with the handle will draw invalid large obj descriptor. So code that used to work (at least most of the time) will now generate that error message if you fail to use a transaction.

If you are using a client interface like ODBC you may need to set auto-commit off.

4.21) 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 );

4.22) Why are my subqueries using IN so slow?

Currently, we join subqueries to outer queries by sequentially scanning the result of the subquery for each row of the outer query. If the subquery returns only a few rows and the outer query returns many rows, IN is fastest. To speed up other queries, replace IN with EXISTS:

    SELECT *
    FROM tab
    WHERE col IN (SELECT subcol FROM subtab);
to:
    SELECT *
    FROM tab
    WHERE EXISTS (SELECT subcol FROM subtab WHERE subcol = col);
For this to be fast, subcol should be an indexed column. This preformance problem will be fixed in 7.4.

4.23) 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.

In previous releases, outer joins can be simulated using UNION and NOT IN. For example, when joining tab1 and tab2, the following query does an outer join of the two tables:

    SELECT tab1.col1, tab2.col2
    FROM tab1, tab2
    WHERE tab1.col1 = tab2.col1
    UNION ALL
    SELECT tab1.col1, NULL
    FROM tab1
    WHERE tab1.col1 NOT IN (SELECT tab2.col1 FROM tab2)
    ORDER BY col1

4.24) 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 make simultaneous connections to different databases and merge the results on the client side.

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

In 7.3, you can easily return multiple rows or columns from a function, http://techdocs.postgresql.org/guides/SetReturningFunctions.

4.26) Why can't I reliably create/drop temporary tables in PL/PgSQL functions?

PL/PgSQL caches function contents, 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.

4.27) What replication options are available?

There are several master/slave replication options available. These allow only the master to make database changes and the slave can only do database reads. The bottom of http://gborg.PostgreSQL.org/genpage?replication_research lists them. A multi-master replication solution is being worked on at http://gborg.PostgreSQL.org/project/pgreplication/projdisplay.php.

4.28) What encryption options are available?


Extending PostgreSQL

5.1) I wrote a user-defined function. When I run it in psql, why does it dump core?

The problem could be a number of things. Try testing your user-defined function in a stand-alone test program first.

5.2) How can I contribute some nifty new types and functions to PostgreSQL?

Send your extensions to the pgsql-hackers mailing list, and they will eventually end up in the contrib/ subdirectory.

5.3) How do I write a C function to return a tuple?

In versions of PostgreSQL beginning with 7.3, table-returning functions are fully supported in C, PL/PgSQL, and SQL. See the Programmer's Guide for more information. An example of a table-returning function defined in C can be found in contrib/tablefunc.

5.4) I have changed a source file. Why does the recompile not see the change?

The Makefiles do not have the proper dependencies for include files. You have to do a make clean and then another make. If you are using GCC you can use the --enable-depend option of configure to have the compiler compute the dependencies automatically.

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