Postgres OnLine Journal: January 2024 - December 2024
An in-depth Exploration of the PostgreSQL Open Source Database

Table Of Contents




PostgreSQL Mistakes and How To Avoid them

The adoption of PostgreSQL is growing each year. Many people coming to PostgreSQL are often coming from other relational databases, with assumptions of how relational databases work. Although PostgreSQL may feel very familiar to these people, it is different enough to cause some misunderstandings which lead to bad and slow queries. There are also people coming often from only programming backgrounds, who assume data processing in SQL is much like data processing in any language. For these two groups of folks, I think the new book written by EDB and 2nd Quadrant Author, Jimmy Angelakos, "PostgreSQL Mistakes and How To Avoid Them" will save them a lot of miss-steps.

The book, PostgreSQL Mistakes and How To Avoid Them is currently in Manning Publication Early Action form, meaning it is not complete yet, but so far, I like what I see. It covers quite a few common mistakes many have run into (including myself) when first starting off with PostgreSQL and more importantly how to address them. What I like most about the book, is the real-world examples it provides, and also categorizes them into sections, you can easily find when you are looking for something. One particular one, which I still make often is the mysteriousness of what NULL does when one of your items in an IN is NULL. This one still catches me off-guard often. Another important one which even long standing users of PostgreSQL may be caught off-guard by is the use of CTEs. Pre-PG 12, everyone was told CTEs aren't simply syntactic sugar, they are materialized and so how it behaves when compared to other databases supporting CTEs was different. From PostgreSQL 12 on, this changed, and so you can use CTEs more freely to write more readable code and also to improve query performance in some cases. The book demonstrates an example using both CTE and without CTE and shows the difference in query plans. It also covers the use of the MATERIALIZED keyword in CTEs which is something you won't find in most other relational databases supporting CTES.

One other gotcha I see many newbies making is quoted identifiers. This is a common issue with SQL Server converts, where SQL Server will preserve casing of your identitiers in a table, but not care if you reference them in that casing with brackets or quotes. So you'll often find columns from these converted databases like "Customer", which have to be referenced as "Customer" rather than customer or Customer. This comes as a great shock when you can't do the same in PostgreSQL. This issue is explained in one of the examples.