Understanding Parsing and Binding in PostgreSQL’s Query Processing Pipeline

In PostgreSQL, the process of parsing and binding is a critical part of the SQL query processing that occurs before the optimizer comes into play. This phase ensures that the SQL statements are correctly interpreted, syntactically valid, and semantically meaningful. Understanding how parsing and binding work internally in PostgreSQL provides insights into the efficiency and intelligence of PostgreSQL’s query processing.


Parsing is the first step in the process of executing a SQL statement in PostgreSQL. Here’s how it works:

  1. Lexical Analysis: The input SQL query string is broken down into tokens by the lexer (also known as the scanner). This process involves recognizing SQL keywords, identifiers, constants, and operators.
  2. Syntax Analysis: The parser uses a grammar-defined for SQL to check the syntactic structure of the query using the tokens generated by the lexer. PostgreSQL employs a bottom-up parser, which uses a LALR (Look-Ahead Left-to-Right, Rightmost derivation) parser generated by tools like Bison. This parser ensures that the query conforms to the SQL grammar rules defined in PostgreSQL.
  3. Parse Tree Generation: If the syntax is correct, the parser then generates a parse tree. This tree represents the structured, hierarchical syntax of the SQL statement, making it easier to traverse and manipulate during the next steps of the query processing.

Binding (Analysis)

Binding or analysis is the phase that follows parsing. In this phase, the parse tree is analyzed and transformed into a query tree. Here’s what happens during the binding:

  1. Semantic Analysis: This step involves checking and resolving the semantics of the query. It includes:
    • Name resolution: Identifying and linking table and column references in the SQL query to actual tables and columns in the database.
    • Type resolution: Determining the data types of all expressions and ensuring that operators and function calls are applied to compatible types.
    • Permission checks: Verifying that the user has the necessary permissions to perform the operations requested by the query.
  2. Query Tree Construction: The analyzer transforms the parse tree into a query tree, which is a more detailed representation that includes information about:
    • How to access tables (e.g., via sequential scan, index scan).
    • Which operations to perform in what order (e.g., joins, sorts, filters).
    • The hierarchical structure of these operations, reflecting the logical flow of data processing required to execute the query.

Role of the Optimizer

After the query tree is generated, the PostgreSQL optimizer (also known as the planner) takes over. The optimizer’s job is to take the query tree and generate one or more possible plans for executing the query, each with an associated cost. The optimizer evaluates these plans based on various factors including available indexes, table statistics, and system configuration. It then selects the most cost-effective plan for execution.

The planner’s decision-making process involves:

  • Generating potential execution paths, including different join orders and methods.
  • Estimating the cost of each path based on statistics and data distribution.
  • Choosing the lowest-cost path based on these estimates.


Understanding the parsing and binding phases in PostgreSQL is crucial for optimizing performance and diagnosing issues in SQL query execution. These phases ensure that by the time a query reaches the optimizer, it is fully validated and structured in a way that allows the optimizer to efficiently process it and generate an optimal execution plan.


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About Shiv Iyer 452 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.