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12.9. GiST and GIN Index Types

There are two kinds of indexes that can be used to speed up full text searches. Note that indexes are not mandatory for full text searching, but in cases where a column is searched on a regular basis, an index will usually be desirable.

       CREATE INDEX name ON table USING gist(column);
      

Creates a GiST (Generalized Search Tree)-based index. The column can be of tsvector or tsquery type.

       CREATE INDEX name ON table USING gin(column);
      

Creates a GIN (Generalized Inverted Index)-based index. The column must be of tsvector type.

There are substantial performance differences between the two index types, so it is important to understand which to use.

A GiST index is lossy, meaning that the index may produce false matches, and it is necessary to check the actual table row to eliminate such false matches. PostgreSQL does this automatically; for example, in the query plan below, the Filter: line indicates the index output will be rechecked:

EXPLAIN SELECT * FROM apod WHERE textsearch @@ to_tsquery('supernovae');
                               QUERY PLAN
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Index Scan using textsearch_gidx on apod  (cost=0.00..12.29 rows=2 width=1469)
   Index Cond: (textsearch @@ '''supernova'''::tsquery)
   Filter: (textsearch @@ '''supernova'''::tsquery)

GiST indexes are lossy because each document is represented in the index by a fixed-length signature. The signature is generated by hashing each word into a random bit in an n-bit string, with all these bits OR-ed together to produce an n-bit document signature. When two words hash to the same bit position there will be a false match. If all words in the query have matches (real or false) then the table row must be retrieved to see if the match is correct.

Lossiness causes performance degradation due to useless fetches of table records that turn out to be false matches. Since random access to table records is slow, this limits the usefulness of GiST indexes. The likelihood of false matches depends on several factors, in particular the number of unique words, so using dictionaries to reduce this number is recommended.

GIN indexes are not lossy but their performance depends logarithmically on the number of unique words.

Actually, GIN indexes store only the words (lexemes) of tsvector values, and not their weight labels. Thus, while a GIN index can be considered non-lossy for a query that does not specify weights, it is lossy for one that does. Thus a table row recheck is needed when using a query that involves weights. Unfortunately, in the current design of PostgreSQL, whether a recheck is needed is a static property of a particular operator, and not something that can be enabled or disabled on-the-fly depending on the values given to the operator. To deal with this situation without imposing the overhead of rechecks on queries that do not need them, the following approach has been adopted:

  • The standard text match operator @@ is marked as non-lossy for GIN indexes.

  • An additional match operator @@@ is provided, and marked as lossy for GIN indexes. This operator behaves exactly like @@ otherwise.

  • When a GIN index search is initiated with the @@ operator, the index support code will throw an error if the query specifies any weights. This protects against giving wrong answers due to failure to recheck the weights.

In short, you must use @@@ rather than @@ to perform GIN index searches on queries that involve weight restrictions. For queries that do not have weight restrictions, either operator will work, but @@ will be faster. This awkwardness will probably be addressed in a future release of PostgreSQL.

In choosing which index type to use, GiST or GIN, consider these performance differences:

  • GIN index lookups are about three times faster than GiST

  • GIN indexes take about three times longer to build than GiST

  • GIN indexes are about ten times slower to update than GiST

  • GIN indexes are two-to-three times larger than GiST

As a rule of thumb, GIN indexes are best for static data because lookups are faster. For dynamic data, GiST indexes are faster to update. Specifically, GiST indexes are very good for dynamic data and fast if the number of unique words (lexemes) is under 100,000, while GIN indexes will handle 100,000+ lexemes better but are slower to update.

Note that GIN index build time can often be improved by increasing maintenance_work_mem, while GiST index build time is not sensitive to that parameter.

Partitioning of big collections and the proper use of GiST and GIN indexes allows the implementation of very fast searches with online update. Partitioning can be done at the database level using table inheritance and constraint_exclusion, or by distributing documents over servers and collecting search results using the contrib/dblink extension module. The latter is possible because ranking functions use only local information.

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