Optimizing PostgreSQL Performance with Execution Plan Caching

PostgreSQL uses a sophisticated query planner and optimizer to determine the most efficient way to execute a query. One of the mechanisms PostgreSQL uses to improve performance is caching execution plans. This process involves reusing previously generated query plans to avoid the overhead of planning complex queries multiple times. Here’s a detailed explanation of how PostgreSQL caches execution plans and the relevant configurations.

Understanding Execution Plan Caching

When a query is executed in PostgreSQL, the database goes through several steps:

1.Parsing: The SQL query is parsed into a syntax tree.

2.Rewriting: The syntax tree is transformed into a query tree by applying rules and optimizations.

3.Planning: The query planner generates various possible execution plans and selects the one with the lowest estimated cost.

4.Execution: The selected execution plan is executed.

Execution plan caching primarily focuses on reusing the results of the planning phase for repeated queries, which can significantly reduce the time taken for these steps in subsequent executions.

Prepared Statements

One of the primary methods PostgreSQL uses for execution plan caching is through prepared statements.

What are Prepared Statements?

Prepared statements are SQL statements that are parsed, rewritten, and planned once, and then can be executed multiple times with different parameters. This reduces the overhead of parsing and planning for each execution.

Using Prepared Statements

You can create and use prepared statements in PostgreSQL as follows:

1. Prepare the Statement:

2.Execute the Prepared Statement:

3.Deallocate the Prepared Statement (optional):

Server-Side Prepared Statements in Applications

Many PostgreSQL client libraries, such as libpq for C/C++, psycopg2 for Python, and JDBC for Java, support server-side prepared statements. When using these libraries, you can benefit from execution plan caching automatically.

Example in Python with psycopg2

PL/pgSQL Functions

PL/pgSQL functions automatically cache execution plans for their queries. When a PL/pgSQL function is first executed, PostgreSQL caches the execution plan of each query inside the function, and reuses these plans in subsequent executions.

Example of a PL/pgSQL Function

When you call this function, PostgreSQL reuses the execution plan for the query inside the function:

Configuration Parameters

Certain configuration parameters in PostgreSQL can influence how execution plans are cached and reused:

1.plan_cache_mode: Controls the behavior of the plan cache.

•Values: auto, force_generic_plan, force_custom_plan

•Default: auto

2.statement_timeout: Sets the maximum allowed duration for a statement to execute before it is canceled.

•Default: 0 (no timeout)

Benefits of Execution Plan Caching

1.Reduced Planning Overhead: By reusing execution plans, PostgreSQL reduces the CPU and memory overhead associated with parsing and planning queries.

2.Consistent Performance: Prepared statements and PL/pgSQL functions provide more consistent query execution times by eliminating the variability in the planning phase.

3.Enhanced Throughput: Applications that repeatedly execute similar queries can achieve higher throughput due to reduced planning time.

Limitations and Considerations

1.Parameterized Queries: Execution plan caching is most beneficial for parameterized queries where the structure of the query remains constant, but the parameters change.

2.Plan Stability: Cached plans are based on the state of the database at the time of planning. Significant changes in data distribution or table size might make the cached plan suboptimal. In such cases, consider using custom plans.

3.Manual Management: While prepared statements and PL/pgSQL functions handle plan caching automatically, it requires careful management to ensure that cached plans remain optimal.


PostgreSQL caches execution plans primarily through prepared statements and PL/pgSQL functions, providing significant performance benefits by reducing the overhead of parsing and planning queries. By understanding and leveraging these mechanisms, you can optimize query execution and improve the overall performance of your PostgreSQL database. Proper configuration and usage of execution plan caching can lead to more efficient resource utilization and better application performance.


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About Shiv Iyer 456 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.