15 Advanced PostgreSQL Commands with Examples

by SathiyaMoorthy on May 21, 2009

postgreSQL DB
Some of the open source application comes with postgreSQL database. To maintain those application, companies may not hire a fulltime postgreSQL DBA. Instead they may request the existing Oracle DBA, or Linux system administrator, or programmers to maintain the potgreSQL. In this article let discuss about the 15 practical postgresql database commands which will be useful to both DBA and expert psql users.

Also, refer to our previous article about 15 Practical PostgreSQL DBA Commands.

1. How to find the largest table in the postgreSQL database?

$ /usr/local/pgsql/bin/psql test
Welcome to psql 8.3.7, the PostgreSQL interactive terminal.

Type:  \copyright for distribution terms
       \h for help with SQL commands
       \? for help with psql commands
       \g or terminate with semicolon to execute query
       \q to quit

test=# SELECT relname, relpages FROM pg_class ORDER BY relpages DESC;
              relname              | relpages
 pg_proc                           |       50
 pg_proc_proname_args_nsp_index    |       40
 pg_depend                         |       37
 pg_attribute                      |       30

If you want only the first biggest table in the postgres database then append the above query with limit as:

# SELECT relname, relpages FROM pg_class ORDER BY relpages DESC limit 1;
 relname | relpages
 pg_proc |       50
(1 row)

  • relname – name of the relation/table.
  • relpages - relation pages ( number of pages, by default a page is 8kb )
  • pg_class – system table, which maintains the details of relations
  • limit 1 – limits the output to display only one row.

2. How to calculate postgreSQL database size in disk ?

pg_database_size is the function which gives the size of mentioned database. It shows the size in bytes.

# SELECT pg_database_size('geekdb');
(1 row)

If you want it to be shown pretty, then use pg_size_pretty function which converts the size in bytes to human understandable format.

# SELECT pg_size_pretty(pg_database_size('geekdb'));
 60 MB
(1 row)

3. How to calculate postgreSQL table size in disk ?

This is the total disk space size used by the mentioned table including index and toasted data. You may be interested in knowing only the size of the table excluding the index then use the following command.

# SELECT pg_size_pretty(pg_total_relation_size('big_table'));
 55 MB
(1 row)

How to find size of the postgreSQL table ( not including index ) ?

Use pg_relation_size instead of pg_total_relation_size as shown below.

# SELECT pg_size_pretty(pg_relation_size('big_table'));
 38 MB
(1 row)

4. How to view the indexes of an existing postgreSQL table ?

Syntax: # \d table_name

As shown in the example below, at the end of the output you will have a section titled as indexes, if you have index in that table. In the example below, table pg_attribute has two btree indexes. By default postgres uses btree index as it good for most common situations.

test=# \d pg_attribute
   Table "pg_catalog.pg_attribute"
    Column     |   Type   | Modifiers
 attrelid      | oid      | not null
 attname       | name     | not null
 atttypid      | oid      | not null
 attstattarget | integer  | not null
 attlen        | smallint | not null
 attnum        | smallint | not null
 attndims      | integer  | not null
 attcacheoff   | integer  | not null
 atttypmod     | integer  | not null
 attbyval      | boolean  | not null
 attstorage    | "char"   | not null
 attalign      | "char"   | not null
 attnotnull    | boolean  | not null
 atthasdef     | boolean  | not null
 attisdropped  | boolean  | not null
 attislocal    | boolean  | not null
 attinhcount   | integer  | not null
    "pg_attribute_relid_attnam_index" UNIQUE, btree (attrelid, attname)
    "pg_attribute_relid_attnum_index" UNIQUE, btree (attrelid, attnum)

5. How to specify postgreSQL index type while creating a new index on a table ?

By default the indexes are created as btree. You can also specify the type of index during the create index statement as shown below.

Syntax: CREATE INDEX name ON table USING index_type (column);

# CREATE INDEX test_index ON numbers using hash (num);

6. How to work with postgreSQL transactions ?

How to start a transaction ?

# BEGIN -- start the transaction.

How to rollback or commit a postgreSQL transaction ?

All the operations performed after the BEGIN command will be committed to the postgreSQL database only you execute the commit command. Use rollback command to undo all the transactions before it is committed.

# ROLLBACK -- rollbacks the transaction.
# COMMIT -- commits the transaction.

7. How to view execution plan used by the postgreSQL for a SQL query ?

# EXPLAIN query;

8. How to display the plan by executing the query on the server side ?

This executes the query in the server side, thus does not shows the output to the user. But shows the plan in which it got executed.


9. How to generate a series of numbers and insert it into a table ?

This inserts 1,2,3 to 1000 as thousand rows in the table numbers.

# INSERT INTO numbers (num) VALUES ( generate_series(1,1000));

10. How to count total number of rows in a postgreSQL table ?

This shows the total number of rows in the table.

# select count(*) from table;

Following example gives the total number of rows with a specific column value is not null.

# select count(col_name) from table;

Following example displays the distinct number of rows for the specified column value.

# select count(distinct col_name) from table;

11. How can I get the second maximum value of a column in the table ?

First maximum value of a column

# select max(col_name) from table;

Second maximum value of a column

# SELECT MAX(num) from number_table where num  < ( select MAX(num) from number_table );

12. How can I get the second minimum value of a column in the table ?

First minimum value of a column

# select min(col_name) from table;

Second minimum value of a column

# SELECT MIN(num) from number_table where num > ( select MIN(num) from number_table );

13. How to view the basic available datatypes in postgreSQL ?

Below is the partial output that displays available basic datatypes and it’s size.

test=# SELECT typname,typlen from pg_type where typtype='b';
    typname     | typlen
 bool           |      1
 bytea          |     -1
 char           |      1
 name           |     64
 int8           |      8
 int2           |      2
 int2vector     |     -1
  • typname – name of the datatype
  • typlen – length of the datatype

14. How to redirect the output of postgreSQL query to a file?

# \o output_file
# SELECT * FROM pg_class;

The output of the query will be redirected to the “output_file”. After the redirection is enabled, the select command will not display the output in the stdout. To enable the output to the stdout again, execute the \o without any argument as mentioned below.

# \o

As explained in our earlier article, you can also backup and restore postgreSQL database using pg_dump and psql.

15. Storing the password after encryption.

PostgreSQL database can encrypt the data using the crypt command as shown below. This can be used to store your custom application username and password in a custom table.

# SELECT crypt ( 'sathiya', gen_salt('md5') );

PostgreSQL crypt function Issue:

The postgreSQL crypt command may not work on your environment and display the following error message.

ERROR:  function gen_salt("unknown") does not exist
HINT:  No function matches the given name and argument types.
         You may need to add explicit type casts.

PostgreSQL crypt function Solution:

To solve this problem, installl the postgresql-contrib-your-version package and execute the following command in the postgreSQL prompt.

# \i /usr/share/postgresql/8.1/contrib/pgcrypto.sql

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 adam May 23, 2009 at 6:15 am

Your article looks great.

In 13th command – How to view the basic available datatypes in postgreSQL ?

SELECT typname,typlen from pg_type where typtype=’b’;

what is meant by typtype=’b’ ? what does it refer?

2 Harsh Agrawal May 24, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Thanks man.. This is very useful for me

3 Srini May 31, 2009 at 4:52 pm


typtype=’b’ means that data is a basetype. b==basetype.

PostgreSQL data types are divided into base types, composite types, domains, and pseudo-types.


4 Chris August 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Great article. The commands to find overall table/database size were extremely useful.

5 Andrew J. Lazarus December 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm

For getting the second-minimum of a table, if you are not concerned with tie values, it’s much faster to use
if m is indexed

6 Adam July 29, 2010 at 9:26 am

To get the n’th min or max from a table, you could do something like this:
SELECT col_name FROM table ORDER BY col_name OFFSET 10 LIMIT 1;

Use ORDER BY DESC for max

7 Mota December 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Thank You!
This article is very useful for me.

8 Paritosh January 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Great Article! You are requested to inform me about your next article

9 Jesper Wallin January 19, 2011 at 7:52 am

Thanks for a really useful article! Some things are considered bad practice on bigger tables (like COUNT(*) for example), but it sure does the job. :-)

10 syed March 15, 2011 at 12:18 am

Wonderful!! It helped lot

But I have 2 more queries , I am trying to find out whether any autosize or autogrowth Option is available in the Postgresql which causes db to grow beyond allocated size..

2) how to find the actual used space from the allocated database size?


11 Paritosh March 15, 2011 at 8:03 am

Thank you very much for this useful tutorial.

12 Bob February 14, 2012 at 2:48 am

Very nice tips ! Got straight to the point for table size computation, thanks.

13 mike March 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

Thanks for this! Still dealing with my old Sybase habits, so these examples are very helpful.

14 priya July 4, 2012 at 3:58 am

thank u it was useful

15 Avinash Rao G.K. July 25, 2012 at 2:49 am

Thanks It was useful.

16 balaji August 12, 2012 at 1:15 am

really helpful, thank you very much

17 Rajib Mostafiz August 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Thanks man . It was very helpful.

18 Erhan S. August 27, 2012 at 10:45 am

Thanks man.

19 MarkM September 13, 2012 at 7:53 am

Thanks a lot.
select datname, pg_size_pretty(pg_database_size(datname)) as size from pg_database order by pg_database_size(datname);
datname | size
template1 | 6025 kB
template0 | 6025 kB
xdpdb | 6025 kB
xdp_xtb | 6025 kB
xdp_bps | 6129 kB
fixserver_bps | 6129 kB
postgres | 6129 kB
fixdb | 6129 kB
xdp_noble | 6209 kB
fixserver_xtb | 6225 kB
fixserver_noble | 7577 kB
fixserver_idm | 11 MB
xdp_idm | 30 MB

20 VINAY Kr. SHARMA January 28, 2013 at 12:48 am

Try this to get the middle value of a column:


21 sriram February 15, 2013 at 3:41 am

thank u!!!

22 yogi May 15, 2013 at 4:41 am

It’s awesome , it helps a lot!! gr8.

23 john October 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm

thanks a lot for your great contribution. It’s very useful and save a lof of my times

24 sharma December 28, 2013 at 5:57 am

thanks..its usefull and real help…mind blowing workk..thums up for you…;-)

25 dias June 15, 2014 at 8:31 am

How could postgres be used (without procedure – in a read-only transaction) to run a query in a certain condition matches?

for instance, a query that is scheduled to run periodically but at certain point, when condition matches, there’s no need to further run the query, since data is already stored.

I am searing for something like:
IF EXISTS (SELECT myfield FROM mytable WHERE something…) THEN
(the query…)

Any idea?

Thanks a lot.

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