Question: What are the differences between partitioning and indexing in PostgreSQL?


Partitioning and indexing are two powerful features of PostgreSQL designed to enhance performance and manageability for large tables. Understanding their differences, use cases, and how they can be combined is crucial for database optimization.


Partitioning refers to splitting a large table into smaller, more manageable pieces called partitions. These partitions are usually based on certain keys such as date ranges or geographic locations.


  • Improved Query Performance: Queries that filter data within a single partition can be faster because there's less data to scan.
  • Data Management: Easier to manage and maintain data. For example, old data can be removed simply by dropping a partition.
  • Bulk Loading: Faster data loading into partitioned tables due to reduced index maintenance.


  • Requires careful planning regarding the partitioning key and number of partitions.
  • Some additional complexity in query writing and execution plans understanding.


CREATE TABLE measurement ( city_id int not null, logdate date not null, peaktemp int, unitsales int ) PARTITION BY RANGE (logdate);


Indexing, on the other hand, involves creating a separate data structure (the index) to improve the speed of data retrieval operations on a table without altering the table's layout.


  • Speeds up Queries: Significantly reduces the amount of data that needs to be scanned for queries.
  • Flexibility: Can create indexes on one or more columns to optimize different types of queries.


  • Increases storage requirement.
  • Slows down write operations like INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE due to the need to update indexes.


CREATE INDEX idx_measurement_logdate ON measurement(logdate);

Combining Partitioning and Indexing

Partitions can be individually indexed, combining the benefits of both techniques. This approach allows for very efficient querying across large datasets by narrowing down the search to a specific partition and then utilizing an index within that partition.


After creating a partitioned table like the one above, you could add an index to a specific partition:

CREATE INDEX idx_measurement_city_id ON measurement_2021 (city_id);

(Where measurement_2021 is a partition of the measurement table for the year 2021.)

In summary, while both partitioning and indexing aim to improve database performance, they serve different purposes and work best under different scenarios. Partitioning is ideal for managing large volumes of data and improving performance for queries that can be isolated to specific partitions. Indexing is more about speeding up data retrieval for a wide range of queries. Often, using both in conjunction provides the best performance improvements.

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