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## 64.2. Behavior of B-Tree Operator Classes

As shown in Table 38.3, a btree operator class must provide five comparison operators, `<`, `<=`, `=`, `>=` and `>`. One might expect that `<>` should also be part of the operator class, but it is not, because it would almost never be useful to use a `<>` WHERE clause in an index search. (For some purposes, the planner treats `<>` as associated with a btree operator class; but it finds that operator via the `=` operator's negator link, rather than from `pg_amop`.)

When several data types share near-identical sorting semantics, their operator classes can be grouped into an operator family. Doing so is advantageous because it allows the planner to make deductions about cross-type comparisons. Each operator class within the family should contain the single-type operators (and associated support functions) for its input data type, while cross-type comparison operators and support functions are loose in the family. It is recommendable that a complete set of cross-type operators be included in the family, thus ensuring that the planner can represent any comparison conditions that it deduces from transitivity.

There are some basic assumptions that a btree operator family must satisfy:

• An `=` operator must be an equivalence relation; that is, for all non-null values `A`, `B`, `C` of the data type:

• `A` `=` `A` is true (reflexive law)

• if `A` `=` `B`, then `B` `=` `A` (symmetric law)

• if `A` `=` `B` and `B` `=` `C`, then `A` `=` `C` (transitive law)

• A `<` operator must be a strong ordering relation; that is, for all non-null values `A`, `B`, `C`:

• `A` `<` `A` is false (irreflexive law)

• if `A` `<` `B` and `B` `<` `C`, then `A` `<` `C` (transitive law)

• Furthermore, the ordering is total; that is, for all non-null values `A`, `B`:

• exactly one of `A` `<` `B`, `A` `=` `B`, and `B` `<` `A` is true (trichotomy law)

(The trichotomy law justifies the definition of the comparison support function, of course.)

The other three operators are defined in terms of `=` and `<` in the obvious way, and must act consistently with them.

For an operator family supporting multiple data types, the above laws must hold when `A`, `B`, `C` are taken from any data types in the family. The transitive laws are the trickiest to ensure, as in cross-type situations they represent statements that the behaviors of two or three different operators are consistent. As an example, it would not work to put `float8` and `numeric` into the same operator family, at least not with the current semantics that `numeric` values are converted to `float8` for comparison to a `float8`. Because of the limited accuracy of `float8`, this means there are distinct `numeric` values that will compare equal to the same `float8` value, and thus the transitive law would fail.

Another requirement for a multiple-data-type family is that any implicit or binary-coercion casts that are defined between data types included in the operator family must not change the associated sort ordering.

It should be fairly clear why a btree index requires these laws to hold within a single data type: without them there is no ordering to arrange the keys with. Also, index searches using a comparison key of a different data type require comparisons to behave sanely across two data types. The extensions to three or more data types within a family are not strictly required by the btree index mechanism itself, but the planner relies on them for optimization purposes.

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