PostgreSQL Query Optimizer: Troubleshooting Unconsidered Hints


The PostgreSQL query optimizer plays a critical role in generating efficient execution plans for SQL queries. However, there may be instances where hints provided to the optimizer are not considered, resulting in unexpected query plans. In this article, we explore the troubleshooting steps to identify why hints are not being considered and provide insights specific to PostgreSQL.

Understanding Unconsidered Hints:

Hints are directives or suggestions provided to the query optimizer to influence the execution plan generation process. They offer a way to guide the optimizer’s decision-making and achieve desired execution plans. However, there are cases where the optimizer may ignore or not consider the provided hints.

Troubleshooting Unconsidered Hints:

Let’s dive into the steps to troubleshoot and understand why hints are not being considered in PostgreSQL.

Verify Syntax and Placement:

  • Ensure that the hints are syntactically correct and properly placed in the SQL statement.
  • Hints should be specified in the appropriate format, such as /*+ HINT */ or — HINT, depending on the PostgreSQL version.

Check Compatibility:

  • Ensure that the provided hints are compatible with the PostgreSQL version you are using.
  • PostgreSQL might have specific limitations or variations in how hints are interpreted compared to other database systems.

Analyze Query Structure:

  • Examine the query structure, including table joins, subqueries, and complex expressions.
  • Certain query structures or conditions may limit the optimizer’s ability to consider specific hints.

Evaluate Query Complexity:

  • Consider the complexity of the query and the involved tables, indexes, and statistics.
  • The optimizer’s decision-making process might prioritize other optimization techniques over the provided hints.

Check Optimizer Parameters:

  • Review the configuration parameters related to the query optimizer, such as enable_hint, optimizer_mode, or optimizer_features_enable.
  • Ensure that the optimizer parameters are appropriately configured to enable hint usage.

Consider Cost-based Optimization:

  • PostgreSQL’s optimizer primarily relies on cost-based optimization to select the most efficient execution plans.
  • If the optimizer determines that the provided hints result in suboptimal plans based on cost estimates, it may ignore them.

Analyze Statistics and Indexes:

  • Validate the accuracy and freshness of table statistics and indexes.
  • Outdated or missing statistics can impact the optimizer’s decisions and override the provided hints.

Gather Query Execution Plan:

  • Generate the query execution plan using the EXPLAIN command with ANALYZE option to understand the optimizer’s decision-making.
  • Compare the actual execution plan with the expected plan based on the provided hints.


Troubleshooting unconsidered hints in PostgreSQL requires a systematic approach to identify the underlying reasons. By verifying the hint syntax, evaluating query complexity, and examining optimizer parameters, you can gain insights into why the hints are not being considered. Analyzing query execution plans and reviewing statistics and indexes provide additional context to understand the optimizer’s decisions.

While hints can be valuable tools for query optimization, it is essential to understand their limitations and consider alternative optimization techniques provided by PostgreSQL. A thorough understanding of the query optimizer’s behavior and the factors affecting its decisions enables effective query tuning and optimization 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.