Mastering Parameter Sensitive Plans in PostgreSQL for Better Query Performance

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Mastering Parameter Sensitive Plans in PostgreSQL for Better Query Performance

Enhance PostgreSQL Queries by Managing Parameter Sensitive Plans Effectively


3 min read

In PostgreSQL, parameter sensitive plans refer to query execution plans that are sensitive to the specific values of parameters (or variables) used in the query. This means that the execution plan can change based on the values of these parameters to optimize performance. Understanding parameter sensitive plans is crucial for fine-tuning query performance in PostgreSQL.

Understanding Parameter Sensitive Plans

  1. Execution Plans Overview:

    • Execution Plan: When a query is executed in PostgreSQL, the planner generates an execution plan which details the steps the database will take to execute the query.

    • Parameters: Parameters can be constants, placeholders in prepared statements, or bind variables in functions and stored procedures.

  2. Impact of Parameters:

    • The values of parameters can significantly affect the execution plan chosen by the planner. For example, a query filtering on an indexed column might use an index scan for selective values but switch to a sequential scan for less selective values.
  3. Parameter Sniffing:

    • Parameter Sniffing: This is a behavior where the query optimizer uses the values of parameters at the time the execution plan is generated to choose the plan. While this can lead to optimal plans for the sniffed values, it can cause suboptimal performance if the parameter values change significantly.

    • PostgreSQL generates the execution plan when the query is prepared or the first time it is executed, and it might reuse this plan for subsequent executions, potentially leading to performance issues if parameter values vary widely.

Example of Parameter Sensitivity

Consider a table employees with an indexed column department_id:

CREATE TABLE employees (
    name TEXT,
    department_id INT,
    salary NUMERIC

CREATE INDEX idx_department_id ON employees(department_id);

Query Example

SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department_id = $1;

Execution Plan Differences

  1. Selective Value:

    • If department_id = 1 returns only a few rows, the planner might choose an index scan.
    EXPLAIN ANALYZE SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department_id = 1;


    Index Scan using idx_department_id on employees  (cost=0.29..8.37 rows=1 width=64)
      Index Cond: (department_id = 1)
  1. Non-Selective Value:

    • If department_id = 100 returns many rows, the planner might choose a sequential scan.
    EXPLAIN ANALYZE SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department_id = 100;


    Seq Scan on employees  (cost=0.00..35.50 rows=100 width=64)
      Filter: (department_id = 100)

Managing Parameter Sensitivity

  1. Prepared Statements:

    • Prepared statements reuse execution plans, which might not always be optimal if the parameters change significantly.
    PREPARE emp_query (int) AS SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department_id = $1;
    EXECUTE emp_query(1);
    EXECUTE emp_query(100);
  1. Custom Plan for Each Execution:

    • PostgreSQL allows for the option to plan queries for each execution rather than reusing a prepared plan. This can be controlled using plan_cache_mode.
    SET plan_cache_mode = force_custom_plan;
    EXECUTE emp_query(1);
    EXECUTE emp_query(100);
  1. Manual Query Optimization:

    • Use hints and techniques such as query rewriting to guide the planner towards more optimal plans for varying parameter values.

Example using CASE to force different plans:

    SELECT * FROM employees WHERE department_id = CASE WHEN $1 = 1 THEN 1 ELSE department_id END;
  1. Statistics and Planner Configuration:

    • Ensure that PostgreSQL has up-to-date statistics using ANALYZE and configure planner settings if necessary.
    ANALYZE employees;

Adjust planner cost constants in postgresql.conf:

    effective_cache_size = '4GB'
    random_page_cost = 1.1


Parameter-sensitive plans in PostgreSQL are an important aspect of query optimization. By understanding how parameter values affect execution plans and using techniques to manage this sensitivity, you can significantly improve query performance. Use tools like EXPLAIN ANALYZE to inspect plans and ensure that your database configuration and statistics support efficient query execution.