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TODO item: Allow data to be pulled directly from indexes

From: Karl Schnaitter <karlsch(at)soe(dot)ucsc(dot)edu>
To: pgsql-hackers(at)postgresql(dot)org
Subject: TODO item: Allow data to be pulled directly from indexes
Date: 2008-06-29 11:59:11
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Lists: pgsql-hackers
Sometime last year, a discussion started about including visibility 
metadata to avoid heap fetches during an index scan:

I think the last discussion on this was in April: (last 

I have worked with the current patch, and I have some thoughts about 
that approach and the approaches listed in the TODO item. The TODO lists 
three approaches, in short

(1) Add a bit for an index tuple that indicates "visible" or "maybe 
(2) Use a per-table bitmap that indicates which pages have at least one 
tuple that is not visible to all transactions.
(3) Same as (2) but at the granularity of one bit per table.

The approach in the patch is different:

(4) Add transaction ids, etc to the index tuple (totaling 16 bytes)

I would group (1) & (4) together and (2) & (3) together. I think the 
time and space trade-offs are pretty obvious, so I won't waste time on 

(1) & (4) require an UPDATE or DELETE to twiddle the old index tuple. 
Tom has noted (in the linked message) that this is not reliable if the 
index has any expression-valued columns, because it is not always 
possible to find the old index entry. For this reason, the proposed 
patch does not keep visibility metadata for indexes on expressions. This 
seems like a reasonable limitation --- indexed expressions are just less 

The main difference between (1) & (4) is that (1) will sometimes require 
heap lookups and (4) never will. Moreover, the heap lookups in (1) will 
be difficult for the optimizer to estimate, unless some special 
statistics can be maintained for this purpose.

I should mention there is a major flaw in the patch, because it puts 
pointers to HOT tuples in the index, in order to capture the different 
transaction ids in the chain. I think this can be fixed by only pointing 
to the root of the HOT chain, and setting xmin/xmax to the entire range 
of transaction ids spanned by the chain. I'm not sure about all the 
details (the ctid and some other bits also need to be set).

(2) & (3) can work for any index, and they are quite elegant in the way 
that the overhead does not change with the number of indexes. The TODO 
also notes the benefit of (2) for efficient vacuuming. Thus, I think 
that (2) is a great idea in general, but it does not serve the intended 
purpose of this TODO item. Once a page gets marked as requiring 
visibility checks, it cannot be unmarked until the next VACUUM. The 
whole point of this feature is that we are willing to be more proactive 
during updates in order to make index access more efficient.

So in summary, I think that (2) would be nice as a separate feature, 
with (1) and (4) being more favorable for index-only scans. The obvious 
trouble with (4) is the extra space overhead. There are also issues with 
correctness that I mentioned (any thoughts here would be appreciated). 
Other than that, I would favor (4) because it offers the most stable 

Please let me know if you agree/disagree with anything here. I need to 
get this feature implemented for my research, but I would also love to 
contribute it to the community so your opinions matter a lot.


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Subject: Re: TODO item: Allow data to be pulled directly from indexes
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