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Guide to PostgreSQL Performance

Start supercharging your PostgreSQL today.

PostgreSQL has become a go-to database system for many developers, with the 2023 Stack Overflow survey revealing that 49 percent of professional developers work extensively with PostgreSQL. As more projects rely on this robust open-source database, optimizing its performance has become a critical skill for developers.

In this article, we'll explore the central concepts of PostgreSQL performance, focusing on three key areas: table design, query optimization, and hardware resource allocation. For each topic, we'll discuss how your choices impact database performance and guide you in optimizing them.

We'll examine table design, the trade-offs between narrow and wide tables, and when to consider table partitioning. Next, we'll move on to query performance, covering the role of indexing and techniques for identifying and addressing common inefficiencies. Finally, we'll discuss resource allocation, including hardware considerations, key PostgreSQL parameters to tune, and strategies for managing storage and compression.

By the end of this article, you'll understand how to approach PostgreSQL performance optimization and be better equipped to make decisions that will help your databases run efficiently and effectively.

PostgreSQL Table Design

Table design is one of the most integral aspects of designing a PostgreSQL database. The structure and organization of your tables can significantly impact your database's performance, scalability, and maintainability. Two key factors to consider when designing tables are table width and partitioning. 

Let's explore these concepts in detail, discussing best practices and considerations to help you understand and implement PostgreSQL table design.

Table width

The width of a table refers to the number of columns it contains. Narrow tables have fewer columns and typically store marker features such as ID numbers, timestamps, and labels. These tables tend to have many rows. On the other hand, wide tables have many columns, often representing distinct metrics or attributes.

Narrow table design offers several benefits:

  • Easier to extend: adding new data types or columns to a narrow table is generally simpler and less disruptive.

  • Better data type management: a narrow table has fewer columns, making managing and updating data types more straightforward.

However, wide table design has its advantages:

  • Simplified queries: querying data from a wide table often requires fewer joins, making queries more straightforward and faster.

  • Improved query performance: wide tables can reduce the need for complex joins, resulting in faster query execution.

Consider your specific use case and requirements when deciding between narrow and wide table designs. A narrow design may be more suitable if your data model is likely to evolve frequently. A wide design might be better if query performance is a top priority and your data model is relatively stable.

It's worth noting that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, and the optimal table design often lies somewhere between the two extremes. Finding the right balance for your scenario is key to achieving the best performance and maintainability.

Table partitioning

As your PostgreSQL database grows, you may encounter performance challenges, particularly with large tables. Table partitioning is a powerful technique that can help mitigate these issues. It divides a large table into smaller, more manageable pieces called partitions.

When to partition tables

Consider partitioning your tables in the following situations:

  • Large or quickly growing table: If your table has millions or billions of rows or is overgrowing due to high data ingestion rates, partitioning can help manage this growth and maintain performance.

  • Query slowdown: If you notice a degradation in query performance, especially for queries that should only access a subset of your data (e.g., time-based queries), partitioning can significantly improve query speed by focusing on relevant partitions.

  • Maintenance overhead: As tables grow, tasks like VACUUM and ANALYZE can become time-consuming and impact overall database performance. Partitioning allows you to independently perform these operations on smaller partitions, reducing their impact.

However, partitioning is only sometimes the best solution. Avoid partitioning if your tables are small or your data access patterns are uniform across the entire table.

Partitioning design

When implementing table partitioning, consider the following design principles:

  • Balanced table size: Aim for a balance between large and small partitions. While PostgreSQL can handle many partitions, having too many can increase planning time and negatively affect query performance. Conversely, if partitions are too large, you may not fully benefit from partition pruning.

  • Use a meaningful partition key: Choose a partitioning key that aligns with your query patterns. For example, a timestamp or date column would be ideal if most queries filter by date.

  • Uniform partition size: Keep partitions relatively consistent to ensure consistent maintenance and query performance across partitions.

By carefully planning and following best practices for partitioning design, you can significantly improve the performance and manageability of your PostgreSQL database. However, be aware of potential pitfalls, such as over-partitioning, inefficient indexing, and unoptimized query patterns, which can negate the benefits of partitioning.

Query Performance

Query performance is a vital aspect of PostgreSQL database management. Slow queries can lead to poor user experience, increased resource consumption, and reduced system performance. To ensure that your PostgreSQL database is running at its best, it's essential to focus on two key areas: indexing and query optimization.


Indexing is a powerful technique for improving query performance in PostgreSQL. Indexes are data structures that allow the database to quickly locate and retrieve specific rows based on the indexed columns. By creating the right indexes, you can significantly speed up your queries and reduce the amount of I/O operations required.

What indexes accomplish

  • Improves query speeds: Indexes help PostgreSQL find the data you need more quickly by reducing the number of rows it needs to scan. This particularly benefits queries that filter or sort based on specific columns.

  • Reduces I/O operations: Using indexes, PostgreSQL can locate the required data without scanning the entire table, which minimizes the amount of disk I/O needed.

  • Maintains data integrity: Indexes can also help maintain data integrity by enforcing uniqueness constraints. When you create a unique index on a column or set of columns, PostgreSQL ensures that no duplicate values are inserted, protecting your data from inconsistencies.

When an index is helpful

While indexes can be incredibly beneficial, they're not always necessary or helpful. Here are some situations where creating an index is likely to improve performance:

  • Frequently accessed rows in large tables: If your queries often target a small subset of rows in a large table, creating an index on the relevant columns can dramatically speed up those queries.

  • Conditional queries: Indexes are particularly useful for queries that include WHERE clauses, as they allow PostgreSQL to quickly locate the rows that match the specified conditions.

  • Few write operations: Indexes are most effective when your tables are read-heavy and have relatively few write operations (INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE). This is because every write operation on an indexed table also requires updating the index, which can slow down write performance.

It's important to note that while indexes can greatly improve query performance, they also come with some overhead. Each index consumes additional storage space and adds some maintenance overhead, so it's crucial to create indexes judiciously and only on columns that will benefit from them. Over-indexing can hurt performance by increasing the work PostgreSQL needs to do for write operations and index maintenance.


In addition to indexing, query optimization is another essential aspect of ensuring high-performance PostgreSQL databases. You can significantly improve your queries' speed and resource utilization by identifying and addressing common inefficiencies.

Common inefficiencies

  • Wildcard usage: Overusing wildcards (e.g., SELECT *) in queries can slow them down by retrieving unnecessary columns. Instead, specify only the columns you need.

  • Temporary tables: While temporary tables can be useful in certain situations, overusing them can lead to performance issues. If possible, use subqueries or CTEs (Common Table Expressions) instead.

  • Complex query structure: PostgreSQL can struggle to optimize queries with many joins, subqueries, or complex conditionals. Try to simplify your queries wherever possible and consider breaking them down into smaller, more focused queries.

Query investigation

To identify and optimize problematic queries, you can use various tools and techniques:

  • Use pg_stat_statements: The pg_stat_statements module in PostgreSQL allows you to track query performance statistics. Examining these stats lets you identify slow queries and understand their resource usage. 

For example, you can use pg_stat_statements to find the most time-consuming queries, the queries with the highest I/O usage, or those executed most frequently.

  • Use a monitoring tool like Timescale Insights: Timescale Insights is a powerful monitoring and optimization tool for PostgreSQL databases. It provides a user-friendly interface for tracking query performance, identifying slow queries, and understanding resource utilization. 

For instance, you can use Timescale Insights to visualize query performance over time, drill down into specific queries to understand their execution plans, and get recommendations for optimizing your database configuration.

Resource Allocation for PostgreSQL

Properly allocating resources to your PostgreSQL database ensures optimal performance, scalability, and reliability. Two key areas to focus on are hardware allocation and storage and compression.

Hardware allocation

Allocating the right hardware resources is essential to get the most out of your PostgreSQL database. This involves considering factors such as CPU, memory, and storage.

PostgreSQL memory & CPU usage

  • CPU: PostgreSQL is a CPU-intensive application, so it's important to have enough CPU cores to handle your workload. A good rule of thumb is calculating the number of CPU cores using the estimate below.

Queries per Second (QPS) ≈ (1 / Average Query Runtime in Seconds) × Number of Cores

  • Memory: Ensuring you have enough memory is crucial for PostgreSQL performance. If your database doesn't have enough memory, it will start swapping to disk, which can severely degrade performance. Some signs that you need more memory include high disk I/O, slow query performance, and frequent swapping.

Parameters to adjust

There are several PostgreSQL parameters you can tune to optimize resource allocation:

  • max_parallel_workers: This parameter controls the maximum number of parallel workers that can be used for a single query. Increasing this value can improve the performance of queries that can be parallelized, but it also increases resource usage.

  • work_mem and maintenance_work_mem: These parameters control the memory for query operations and maintenance tasks. Increasing these values can improve performance for memory-intensive operations and increase overall memory usage.

  • shared_buffers: This parameter determines the memory used for caching data. Increasing shared_buffers can improve performance by reducing disk I/O, but it's important to strike a balance to avoid allocating too much memory.

Storage and Compression

Efficiently managing storage and utilizing compression can help optimize your PostgreSQL database's performance and resource usage.

Tablespace management

PostgreSQL allows you to use tablespaces to control where different tables and indexes are stored on disk. By strategically placing data in different tablespaces, you can optimize I/O performance and manage storage costs. For example, you can place frequently accessed tables on faster storage devices (e.g., SSDs) while moving less frequently accessed or historical data to slower, less expensive storage (e.g., HDDs).

Column compression

Compressing data at the column level can significantly reduce storage requirements and improve query performance by reducing I/O. PostgreSQL extensions like TimescaleDB can add support for columnar compression while still leveraging the full power of the PostgreSQL ecosystem.

Benefits of columnar compression include:

  • Reduced storage footprint

  • Faster query performance for analytical workloads

  • Improved cache efficiency

  • Lower storage costs


In this article, we've explored several key aspects of PostgreSQL performance, including table design, query optimization, and resource allocation. By understanding and applying best practices in these areas, you can ensure that your PostgreSQL database runs at its best, providing fast, reliable performance for your applications and users.

More information on PostgreSQL performance

If you're interested in learning more about PostgreSQL performance, here are some additional resources:

These resources explore our covered topics in more depth and provide additional insights and practical advice for optimizing your PostgreSQL database.

Start Supercharging PostgreSQL Today

If you're looking for a way to streamline and automate many performance optimization tasks we've discussed, consider using Timescale. Timescale is a powerful extension for PostgreSQL that offers several key features for improving performance and manageability:

  • Automated partitioning with hypertables: Timescale's hypertables automatically partition your data based on a specified time interval, making it easy to manage large, time-series datasets.

  • Monitoring with Insights: Timescale Insights provides a user-friendly interface for monitoring query performance, identifying bottlenecks, and optimizing database configuration.

  • Column-level compression and tiered storage: Timescale supports columnar compression and tiered storage, allowing you to reduce storage costs and improve query performance for analytical workloads.

To get started with Timescale, sign up for a free account today.

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