Strategic Indexing: Making Informed Column Indexing Decisions in PostgreSQL


Optimizing database performance is crucial for efficient application functioning, and one of the key strategies to achieve this in PostgreSQL is through intelligent indexing. Indexing involves creating data structures that allow the database system to quickly locate and retrieve data rows based on specific column values. While indexing significantly enhances query speed, it’s essential to make informed decisions on which columns to index and in what order, rather than relying solely on trial and error.

Mastering Indexing Strategies: Smart Column Selection and Ordering for Optimal PostgreSQL Performance

Step 1: Identify Frequently Used Queries

Start by identifying the most critical queries that are frequently executed against your database. These queries can help guide your indexing strategy. Look for queries that involve filtering, sorting, or joining large datasets.

Step 2: Analyze Query Execution Plans

Use the EXPLAIN command to analyze the execution plans of the identified queries. This will show you how PostgreSQL plans to execute the query, including the indexes that are being used (if any) and any potential performance bottlenecks.


EXPLAIN SELECT * FROM orders WHERE customer_id = 123;

Step 3: Consider Selectivity

Consider the selectivity of the columns you’re indexing. Columns with high selectivity (many distinct values) tend to benefit more from indexing. Columns with low selectivity may not provide much benefit.


If you have a column like status with only a few distinct values (e.g., “pending”, “processed”), indexing it might not be very useful.

Step 4: Prioritize Equality and Range Operators

Columns that are frequently used in equality (=) or range (>, <, BETWEEN) conditions are good candidates for indexing. These operators are more likely to benefit from indexing.


CREATE INDEX idx_customer_id ON orders(customer_id);

Step 5: Consider Multi-Column Indexes

For queries with multiple filtering conditions, consider creating multi-column indexes that cover those conditions. This can eliminate the need for separate indexes on each individual column.


CREATE INDEX idx_customer_status ON orders(customer_id, status);

Step 6: Review Join and Sort Operations

Columns used in join operations and sorting are also good candidates for indexing. Indexing the columns involved in join conditions can significantly improve join performance. For sorting, consider indexing columns in the ORDER BY clause.


CREATE INDEX idx_customer_id ON orders(customer_id);

Step 7: Avoid Over-Indexing

While indexing is beneficial, too many indexes can lead to maintenance overhead and slow down write operations. Avoid creating indexes on columns that aren’t frequently used in queries.

Step 8: Test and Monitor

After creating indexes based on your analysis, monitor the performance of your queries. Use tools like pg_stat_statements and the pg_stat_user_indexes view to monitor the effectiveness of your indexes.


SELECT * FROM pg_stat_user_indexes WHERE idx_scan = 0;


Strategically choosing columns and their order for indexing is a fundamental aspect of PostgreSQL performance optimization. By analyzing query patterns, understanding data distribution, and leveraging tools like EXPLAIN and indexing advisors, you can make informed decisions that maximize the benefits of indexing while minimizing potential drawbacks. Remember that indexing is not a one-time task; it requires regular evaluation and adjustments to accommodate evolving query patterns and data changes. By employing these practices, you can strike the right balance between indexing efficiency and database maintenance, ultimately leading to a well-tuned PostgreSQL database that delivers exceptional performance for your applications.

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.