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Views and the Rule System

Implementation of Views in Postgres

Views in Postgres are implemented using the rule system. In fact there is absolutely no difference between a

    CREATE VIEW myview AS SELECT * FROM mytab;
compared against the two commands
    CREATE TABLE myview (same attribute list as for mytab);
    CREATE RULE "_RETmyview" AS ON SELECT TO myview DO INSTEAD
        SELECT * FROM mytab;
because this is exactly what the CREATE VIEW command does internally. This has some side effects. One of them is that the information about a view in the Postgres system catalogs is exactly the same as it is for a table. So for the query parsers, there is absolutely no difference between a table and a view. They are the same thing - relations. That is the important one for now.

How SELECT Rules Work

Rules ON SELECT are applied to all queries as the last step, even if the command given is an INSERT, UPDATE or DELETE. And they have different semantics from the others in that they modify the parsetree in place instead of creating a new one. So SELECT rules are described first.

Currently, there could be only one action and it must be a SELECT action that is INSTEAD. This restriction was required to make rules safe enough to open them for ordinary users and it restricts rules ON SELECT to real view rules.

The example for this document are two join views that do some calculations and some more views using them in turn. One of the two first views is customized later by adding rules for INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE operations so that the final result will be a view that behaves like a real table with some magic functionality. It is not such a simple example to start from and this makes things harder to get into. But it's better to have one example that covers all the points discussed step by step rather than having many different ones that might mix up in mind.

The database needed to play on the examples is named al_bundy. You'll see soon why this is the database name. And it needs the procedural language PL/pgSQL installed, because we need a little min() function returning the lower of 2 integer values. We create that as

    CREATE FUNCTION min(integer, integer) RETURNS integer AS
        'BEGIN
            IF $1 < $2 THEN
                RETURN $1;
            END IF;
            RETURN $2;
        END;'
    LANGUAGE 'plpgsql';

The real tables we need in the first two rule system descripitons are these:

    CREATE TABLE shoe_data (
        shoename   char(10),      -- primary key
        sh_avail   integer,       -- available # of pairs
        slcolor    char(10),      -- preferred shoelace color
        slminlen   float,         -- miminum shoelace length
        slmaxlen   float,         -- maximum shoelace length
        slunit     char(8)        -- length unit
    );

    CREATE TABLE shoelace_data (
        sl_name    char(10),      -- primary key
        sl_avail   integer,       -- available # of pairs
        sl_color   char(10),      -- shoelace color
        sl_len     float,         -- shoelace length
        sl_unit    char(8)        -- length unit
    );

    CREATE TABLE unit (
        un_name    char(8),       -- the primary key
        un_fact    float          -- factor to transform to cm
    );
I think most of us wear shoes and can realize that this is really useful data. Well there are shoes out in the world that don't require shoelaces, but this doesn't make Al's life easier and so we ignore it.

The views are created as

    CREATE VIEW shoe AS
        SELECT sh.shoename,
               sh.sh_avail,
               sh.slcolor,
               sh.slminlen,
               sh.slminlen * un.un_fact AS slminlen_cm,
               sh.slmaxlen,
               sh.slmaxlen * un.un_fact AS slmaxlen_cm,
               sh.slunit
          FROM shoe_data sh, unit un
         WHERE sh.slunit = un.un_name;

    CREATE VIEW shoelace AS
        SELECT s.sl_name,
               s.sl_avail,
               s.sl_color,
               s.sl_len,
               s.sl_unit,
               s.sl_len * u.un_fact AS sl_len_cm
          FROM shoelace_data s, unit u
         WHERE s.sl_unit = u.un_name;

    CREATE VIEW shoe_ready AS
        SELECT rsh.shoename,
               rsh.sh_avail,
               rsl.sl_name,
               rsl.sl_avail,
               min(rsh.sh_avail, rsl.sl_avail) AS total_avail
          FROM shoe rsh, shoelace rsl
         WHERE rsl.sl_color = rsh.slcolor
           AND rsl.sl_len_cm >= rsh.slminlen_cm
           AND rsl.sl_len_cm <= rsh.slmaxlen_cm;
The CREATE VIEW command for the shoelace view (which is the simplest one we have) will create a relation shoelace and an entry in pg_rewrite that tells that there is a rewrite rule that must be applied whenever the relation shoelace is referenced in a queries rangetable. The rule has no rule qualification (discussed in the non SELECT rules since SELECT rules currently cannot have them) and it is INSTEAD. Note that rule qualifications are not the same as query qualifications! The rules action has a qualification.

The rules action is one querytree that is an exact copy of the SELECT statement in the view creation command.

Note: The two extra range table entries for NEW and OLD (named *NEW* and *CURRENT* for historical reasons in the printed querytree) you can see in the pg_rewrite entry aren't of interest for SELECT rules.

Now we populate unit, shoe_data and shoelace_data and Al types the first SELECT in his life:
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO unit VALUES ('cm', 1.0);
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO unit VALUES ('m', 100.0);
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO unit VALUES ('inch', 2.54);
    al_bundy=> 
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoe_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sh1', 2, 'black', 70.0, 90.0, 'cm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoe_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sh2', 0, 'black', 30.0, 40.0, 'inch');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoe_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sh3', 4, 'brown', 50.0, 65.0, 'cm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoe_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sh4', 3, 'brown', 40.0, 50.0, 'inch');
    al_bundy=> 
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl1', 5, 'black', 80.0, 'cm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl2', 6, 'black', 100.0, 'cm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl3', 0, 'black', 35.0 , 'inch');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl4', 8, 'black', 40.0 , 'inch');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl5', 4, 'brown', 1.0 , 'm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl6', 0, 'brown', 0.9 , 'm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl7', 7, 'brown', 60 , 'cm');
    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoelace_data VALUES 
    al_bundy->     ('sl8', 1, 'brown', 40 , 'inch');
    al_bundy=> 
    al_bundy=> SELECT * FROM shoelace;
    sl_name   |sl_avail|sl_color  |sl_len|sl_unit |sl_len_cm
    ----------+--------+----------+------+--------+---------
    sl1       |       5|black     |    80|cm      |       80
    sl2       |       6|black     |   100|cm      |      100
    sl7       |       7|brown     |    60|cm      |       60
    sl3       |       0|black     |    35|inch    |     88.9
    sl4       |       8|black     |    40|inch    |    101.6
    sl8       |       1|brown     |    40|inch    |    101.6
    sl5       |       4|brown     |     1|m       |      100
    sl6       |       0|brown     |   0.9|m       |       90
    (8 rows)
It's the simplest SELECT Al can do on our views, so we take this to explain the basics of view rules. The 'SELECT * FROM shoelace' was interpreted by the parser and produced the parsetree
    SELECT shoelace.sl_name, shoelace.sl_avail,
           shoelace.sl_color, shoelace.sl_len,
           shoelace.sl_unit, shoelace.sl_len_cm
      FROM shoelace shoelace;
and this is given to the rule system. The rule system walks through the rangetable and checks if there are rules in pg_rewrite for any relation. When processing the rangetable entry for shoelace (the only one up to now) it finds the rule '_RETshoelace' with the parsetree
    SELECT s.sl_name, s.sl_avail,
           s.sl_color, s.sl_len, s.sl_unit,
           float8mul(s.sl_len, u.un_fact) AS sl_len_cm
      FROM shoelace *OLD*, shoelace *NEW*,
           shoelace_data s, unit u
     WHERE bpchareq(s.sl_unit, u.un_name);
Note that the parser changed the calculation and qualification into calls to the appropriate functions. But in fact this changes nothing. The first step in rewriting is merging the two rangetables. The resulting parsetree then reads
    SELECT shoelace.sl_name, shoelace.sl_avail,
           shoelace.sl_color, shoelace.sl_len,
           shoelace.sl_unit, shoelace.sl_len_cm
      FROM shoelace shoelace, shoelace *OLD*,
           shoelace *NEW*, shoelace_data s,
           unit u;
In step 2 it adds the qualification from the rule action to the parsetree resulting in
    SELECT shoelace.sl_name, shoelace.sl_avail,
           shoelace.sl_color, shoelace.sl_len,
           shoelace.sl_unit, shoelace.sl_len_cm
      FROM shoelace shoelace, shoelace *OLD*,
           shoelace *NEW*, shoelace_data s,
           unit u
     WHERE bpchareq(s.sl_unit, u.un_name);
And in step 3 it replaces all the variables in the parsetree, that reference the rangetable entry (the one for shoelace that is currently processed) by the corresponding targetlist expressions from the rule action. This results in the final query
    SELECT s.sl_name, s.sl_avail, 
           s.sl_color, s.sl_len, 
           s.sl_unit, float8mul(s.sl_len, u.un_fact) AS sl_len_cm
      FROM shoelace shoelace, shoelace *OLD*,
           shoelace *NEW*, shoelace_data s,
           unit u
     WHERE bpchareq(s.sl_unit, u.un_name);
Turning this back into a real SQL statement a human user would type reads
    SELECT s.sl_name, s.sl_avail,
           s.sl_color, s.sl_len,
           s.sl_unit, s.sl_len * u.un_fact AS sl_len_cm
      FROM shoelace_data s, unit u
     WHERE s.sl_unit = u.un_name;
That was the first rule applied. While this was done, the rangetable has grown. So the rule system continues checking the range table entries. The next one is number 2 (shoelace *OLD*). Relation shoelace has a rule, but this rangetable entry isn't referenced in any of the variables of the parsetree, so it is ignored. Since all the remaining rangetable entries either have no rules in pg_rewrite or aren't referenced, it reaches the end of the rangetable. Rewriting is complete and the above is the final result given into the optimizer. The optimizer ignores the extra rangetable entries that aren't referenced by variables in the parsetree and the plan produced by the planner/optimizer would be exactly the same as if Al had typed the above SELECT query instead of the view selection.

Now we face Al with the problem that the Blues Brothers appear in his shop and want to buy some new shoes, and as the Blues Brothers are, they want to wear the same shoes. And they want to wear them immediately, so they need shoelaces too.

Al needs to know for which shoes currently in the store he has the matching shoelaces (color and size) and where the total number of exactly matching pairs is greater or equal to two. We theach him how to do and he asks his database:

    al_bundy=> SELECT * FROM shoe_ready WHERE total_avail >= 2;
    shoename  |sh_avail|sl_name   |sl_avail|total_avail
    ----------+--------+----------+--------+-----------
    sh1       |       2|sl1       |       5|          2
    sh3       |       4|sl7       |       7|          4
    (2 rows)
Al is a shoe guru and so he knows that only shoes of type sh1 would fit (shoelace sl7 is brown and shoes that need brown shoelaces aren't shoes the Blues Brothers would ever wear).

The output of the parser this time is the parsetree

    SELECT shoe_ready.shoename, shoe_ready.sh_avail,
           shoe_ready.sl_name, shoe_ready.sl_avail,
           shoe_ready.total_avail
      FROM shoe_ready shoe_ready
     WHERE int4ge(shoe_ready.total_avail, 2);
The first rule applied will be that one for the shoe_ready relation and it results in the parsetree
    SELECT rsh.shoename, rsh.sh_avail,
           rsl.sl_name, rsl.sl_avail,
           min(rsh.sh_avail, rsl.sl_avail) AS total_avail
      FROM shoe_ready shoe_ready, shoe_ready *OLD*,
           shoe_ready *NEW*, shoe rsh,
           shoelace rsl
     WHERE int4ge(min(rsh.sh_avail, rsl.sl_avail), 2)
       AND (bpchareq(rsl.sl_color, rsh.slcolor)
            AND float8ge(rsl.sl_len_cm, rsh.slminlen_cm)
            AND float8le(rsl.sl_len_cm, rsh.slmaxlen_cm)
           );
In reality the AND clauses in the qualification will be operator nodes of type AND with a left and right expression. But that makes it lesser readable as it already is, and there are more rules to apply. So I only put them into some parantheses to group them into logical units in the order they where added and we continue with the rule for relation shoe as it is the next rangetable entry that is referenced and has a rule. The result of applying it is
    SELECT sh.shoename, sh.sh_avail,
           rsl.sl_name, rsl.sl_avail,
           min(sh.sh_avail, rsl.sl_avail) AS total_avail,
      FROM shoe_ready shoe_ready, shoe_ready *OLD*,
           shoe_ready *NEW*, shoe rsh,
           shoelace rsl, shoe *OLD*,
           shoe *NEW*, shoe_data sh,
           unit un
     WHERE (int4ge(min(sh.sh_avail, rsl.sl_avail), 2)
            AND (bpchareq(rsl.sl_color, sh.slcolor)
                 AND float8ge(rsl.sl_len_cm, 
                              float8mul(sh.slminlen, un.un_fact))
                 AND float8le(rsl.sl_len_cm, 
                              float8mul(sh.slmaxlen, un.un_fact))
                )
           )
       AND bpchareq(sh.slunit, un.un_name);
And finally we apply the already well known rule for shoelace (this time on a parsetree that is a little more complex) and get
    SELECT sh.shoename, sh.sh_avail,
           s.sl_name, s.sl_avail,
           min(sh.sh_avail, s.sl_avail) AS total_avail
      FROM shoe_ready shoe_ready, shoe_ready *OLD*,
           shoe_ready *NEW*, shoe rsh,
           shoelace rsl, shoe *OLD*,
           shoe *NEW*, shoe_data sh,
           unit un, shoelace *OLD*,
           shoelace *NEW*, shoelace_data s,
           unit u
     WHERE (    (int4ge(min(sh.sh_avail, s.sl_avail), 2)
                 AND (bpchareq(s.sl_color, sh.slcolor)
                      AND float8ge(float8mul(s.sl_len, u.un_fact), 
                                   float8mul(sh.slminlen, un.un_fact))
                      AND float8le(float8mul(s.sl_len, u.un_fact), 
                                   float8mul(sh.slmaxlen, un.un_fact))
                     )
                )
            AND bpchareq(sh.slunit, un.un_name)
           )
       AND bpchareq(s.sl_unit, u.un_name);
Again we reduce it to a real SQL statement that is equivalent to the final output of the rule system:
    SELECT sh.shoename, sh.sh_avail,
           s.sl_name, s.sl_avail,
           min(sh.sh_avail, s.sl_avail) AS total_avail
      FROM shoe_data sh, shoelace_data s, unit u, unit un
     WHERE min(sh.sh_avail, s.sl_avail) >= 2
       AND s.sl_color = sh.slcolor
       AND s.sl_len * u.un_fact >= sh.slminlen * un.un_fact
       AND s.sl_len * u.un_fact <= sh.slmaxlen * un.un_fact
       AND sh.sl_unit = un.un_name
       AND s.sl_unit = u.un_name;
Recursive processing of rules rewrote one SELECT from a view into a parsetree, that is equivalent to exactly that what Al had to type if there would be no views at all.

Note: There is currently no recursion stopping mechanism for view rules in the rule system (only for the other rules). This doesn't hurt much, because the only way to push this into an endless loop (blowing up the backend until it reaches the memory limit) is to create tables and then setup the view rules by hand with CREATE RULE in such a way, that one selects from the other that selects from the one. This could never happen if CREATE VIEW is used because on the first CREATE VIEW, the second relation does not exist and thus the first view cannot select from the second.

View Rules in Non-SELECT Statements

Two details of the parsetree aren't touched in the description of view rules above. These are the commandtype and the resultrelation. In fact, view rules don't need these informations.

There are only a few differences between a parsetree for a SELECT and one for any other command. Obviously they have another commandtype and this time the resultrelation points to the rangetable entry where the result should go. Anything else is absolutely the same. So having two tables t1 and t2 with attributes a and b, the parsetrees for the two statements

    SELECT t2.b FROM t1, t2 WHERE t1.a = t2.a;

    UPDATE t1 SET b = t2.b WHERE t1.a = t2.a;
are nearly identical.
  • The rangetables contain entries for the tables t1 and t2.

  • The targetlists contain one variable that points to attribute b of the rangetable entry for table t2.

  • The qualification expressions compare the attributes a of both ranges for equality.

The consequence is, that both parsetrees result in similar execution plans. They are both joins over the two tables. For the UPDATE the missing columns from t1 are added to the targetlist by the optimizer and the final parsetree will read as
    UPDATE t1 SET a = t1.a, b = t2.b WHERE t1.a = t2.a;
and thus the executor run over the join will produce exactly the same result set as a
    SELECT t1.a, t2.b FROM t1, t2 WHERE t1.a = t2.a;
will do. But there is a little problem in UPDATE. The executor does not care what the results from the join it is doing are meant for. It just produces a result set of rows. The difference that one is a SELECT command and the other is an UPDATE is handled in the caller of the executor. The caller still knows (looking at the parsetree) that this is an UPDATE, and he knows that this result should go into table t1. But which of the 666 rows that are there has to be replaced by the new row? The plan executed is a join with a qualification that potentially could produce any number of rows between 0 and 666 in unknown order.

To resolve this problem, another entry is added to the targetlist in UPDATE and DELETE statements. The current tuple ID (ctid). This is a system attribute with a special feature. It contains the block and position in the block for the row. Knowing the table, the ctid can be used to find one specific row in a 1.5GB sized table containing millions of rows by fetching one single data block. After adding the ctid to the targetlist, the final result set could be defined as

    SELECT t1.a, t2.b, t1.ctid FROM t1, t2 WHERE t1.a = t2.a;
Now another detail of Postgres enters the stage. At this moment, table rows aren't overwritten and this is why ABORT TRANSACTION is fast. In an UPDATE, the new result row is inserted into the table (after stripping ctid) and in the tuple header of the row that ctid pointed to the cmax and xmax entries are set to the current command counter and current transaction ID. Thus the old row is hidden and after the transaction commited the vacuum cleaner can really move it out.

Knowing that all, we can simply apply view rules in absolutely the same way to any command. There is no difference.

The Power of Views in Postgres

The above demonstrates how the rule system incorporates view definitions into the original parsetree. In the second example a simple SELECT from one view created a final parsetree that is a join of 4 tables (unit is used twice with different names).

Benefits

The benefit of implementing views with the rule system is, that the optimizer has all the information about which tables have to be scanned plus the relationships between these tables plus the restrictive qualifications from the views plus the qualifications from the original query in one single parsetree. And this is still the situation when the original query is already a join over views. Now the optimizer has to decide which is the best path to execute the query. The more information the optimizer has, the better this decision can be. And the rule system as implemented in Postgres ensures, that this is all information available about the query up to now.

Concerns

There was a long time where the Postgres rule system was considered broken. The use of rules was not recommended and the only part working where view rules. And also these view rules made problems because the rule system wasn't able to apply them properly on other statements than a SELECT (for example an UPDATE that used data from a view didn't work).

During that time, development moved on and many features where added to the parser and optimizer. The rule system got more and more out of sync with their capabilities and it became harder and harder to start fixing it. Thus, noone did.

For 6.4, someone locked the door, took a deep breath and shuffled that damned thing up. What came out was a rule system with the capabilities described in this document. But there are still some constructs not handled and some where it fails due to things that are currently not supported by the Postgres query optimizer.

  • Views with aggregate columns have bad problems. Aggregate expressions in qualifications must be used in subselects. Currently it is not possible to do a join of two views, each having an aggregate column, and compare the two aggregate values in the qualification. In the meantime it is possible to put these aggregate expressions into functions with the appropriate arguments and use them in the view definition.

  • Views of unions are currently not supported. Well it's easy to rewrite a simple SELECT into a union. But it is a little difficult if the view is part of a join doing an update.

  • ORDER BY clauses in view definitions aren't supported.

  • DISTINCT isn't supported in view definitions.

There is no good reason why the optimizer should not handle parsetree constructs that the parser could never produce due to limitations in the SQL syntax. The author hopes that these items disappear in the future.

Implementation Side Effects

Using the described rule system to implement views has a funny side effect. The following does not seem to work:

    al_bundy=> INSERT INTO shoe (shoename, sh_avail, slcolor)
    al_bundy->     VALUES ('sh5', 0, 'black');
    INSERT 20128 1
    al_bundy=> SELECT shoename, sh_avail, slcolor FROM shoe_data;
    shoename  |sh_avail|slcolor   
    ----------+--------+----------
    sh1       |       2|black     
    sh3       |       4|brown     
    sh2       |       0|black     
    sh4       |       3|brown     
    (4 rows)
The interesting thing is that the return code for INSERT gave us an object ID and told that 1 row has been inserted. But it doesn't appear in shoe_data. Looking into the database directory we can see, that the database file for the view relation shoe seems now to have a data block. And that is definitely the case.

We can also issue a DELETE and if it does not have a qualification, it tells us that rows have been deleted and the next vacuum run will reset the file to zero size.

The reason for that behaviour is, that the parsetree for the INSERT does not reference the shoe relation in any variable. The targetlist contains only constant values. So there is no rule to apply and it goes down unchanged into execution and the row is inserted. And so for the DELETE.

To change this we can define rules that modify the behaviour of non-SELECT queries. This is the topic of the next section.

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