Adaptive Joins in PostgreSQL: Improving Query Performance


Adaptive joins are an exciting feature in PostgreSQL that dynamically adjust the join method during query execution to optimize performance. This article explores adaptive joins in PostgreSQL, their benefits, and how they can improve query performance.

Understanding Adaptive Joins:

Adaptive joins are a form of query optimization where the optimizer adapts the join method based on runtime conditions and statistics. It allows PostgreSQL to switch between different join algorithms, such as nested loop joins, hash joins, and merge joins, during query execution to select the most efficient method.

Adaptive Joins in Action:

Let’s explore how adaptive joins work in practice with a real-life example. Consider a scenario where you have two tables: 

orders and customers. The orders table contains order information, including order_id and customer_id, while the customers table holds customer details, including customer_id and customer_name. We want to retrieve all orders along with the corresponding customer names.

Traditionally, PostgreSQL would choose a join method, such as a nested loop join, based on its cost estimates before query execution. However, if the join method turns out to be suboptimal due to incorrect cost estimates or changing runtime conditions, it can impact query performance.

With adaptive joins, PostgreSQL can adaptively switch between different join methods based on actual runtime conditions. It starts with an initial join method, such as a nested loop join, and monitors its performance. If the estimated cost doesn’t match the actual cost, PostgreSQL dynamically switches to an alternative join method, such as a hash join or a merge join, to improve performance.

Benefits of Adaptive Joins:

Adaptive joins offer several benefits that enhance query performance:

  1. Plan Flexibility: Adaptive joins provide flexibility by allowing PostgreSQL to adjust the join method during execution. This flexibility helps handle variations in data distribution and cardinality, resulting in improved query performance.
  2. Runtime Optimization: By monitoring the actual performance of the initial join method, PostgreSQL can adapt and choose a more efficient join method if necessary. This capability improves query execution times and reduces the reliance on inaccurate cost estimates.
  3. Adaptive Cost Estimation: Adaptive joins enable PostgreSQL to refine its cost estimation based on actual runtime conditions. This adaptive cost estimation ensures better decision-making during query optimization and results in more accurate join method selection.


Adaptive joins in PostgreSQL offer an intelligent and dynamic approach to query optimization, improving performance by adapting the join method during query execution. By monitoring runtime conditions and adjusting the join strategy, adaptive joins ensure efficient query processing and accurate cost estimation. This feature enhances PostgreSQL’s capability to handle diverse workloads and varying data characteristics, ultimately leading to better query performance and improved user experience.

By leveraging the power of adaptive joins, PostgreSQL users can experience significant performance gains in scenarios where traditional join methods may fall short. Understanding and utilizing adaptive joins can be a valuable addition to the arsenal of techniques for optimizing query performance in PostgreSQL.

About Shiv Iyer 455 Articles
Open Source Database Systems Engineer with a deep understanding of Optimizer Internals, Performance Engineering, Scalability and Data SRE. Shiv currently is the Founder, Investor, Board Member and CEO of multiple Database Systems Infrastructure Operations companies in the Transaction Processing Computing and ColumnStores ecosystem. He is also a frequent speaker in open source software conferences globally.