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17.3. Access Method Strategies

The amstrategies column exists to standardize comparisons across data types. For example, B-trees impose a strict ordering on keys, lesser to greater. Since PostgreSQL allows the user to define operators, PostgreSQL cannot look at the name of an operator (e.g., > or <) and tell what kind of comparison it is. In fact, some access methods don't impose any ordering at all. For example, R-trees express a rectangle-containment relationship, whereas a hashed data structure expresses only bitwise similarity based on the value of a hash function. PostgreSQL needs some consistent way of taking a qualification in your query, looking at the operator, and then deciding if a usable index exists. This implies that PostgreSQL needs to know, for example, that the <= and > operators partition a B-tree. PostgreSQL uses strategies to express these relationships between operators and the way they can be used to scan indexes.

Defining a new set of strategies is beyond the scope of this discussion, but we'll explain how B-tree strategies work because you'll need to know that to add a new B-tree operator class. In the pg_am table, the amstrategies column sets the number of strategies defined for this access method. For B-trees, this number is 5. The meanings of these strategies are shown in Table 17-2.

Table 17-2. B-tree Strategies

Operation Index
less than 1
less than or equal 2
equal 3
greater than or equal 4
greater than 5

The idea is that you'll need to add operators corresponding to these strategies to the pg_amop relation (see below). The access method code can use these strategy numbers, regardless of data type, to figure out how to partition the B-tree, compute selectivity, and so on. Don't worry about the details of adding operators yet; just understand that there must be a set of these operators for int2, int4, oid, and all other data types on which a B-tree can operate.