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Daniel Westermann

PGDay Amsterdam – follow up 1 – Adding columns with a default value and changing the default value right after

As always, this time during my talk about the PostgreSQL 11 new features in Amsterdam, there have been question I could not immediately answer. The first one was this: Suppose we add a column with a default value in PostgreSQL 11, what happens when we change that default afterwards? Does the table get rewritten? Do we have more than on distinct default value for that column? Here we go …

The sample table:

postgres=# select version();
                                                            version                                                            
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 PostgreSQL 11beta1 build on x86_64-pc-linux-gnu, compiled by gcc (GCC) 4.8.5 20150623 (Red Hat 4.8.5-28), 64-bit
(1 row)
postgres=# create table t1 ( a int, b text );
CREATE TABLE
postgres=# insert into t1 (a,b) 
           select a.*, md5(a::text) 
             from generate_series(1,1000) a;
INSERT 0 1000

Lets add a new column with a default value:

postgres=# alter table t1 add column c text default 'aa';;
ALTER TABLE

This populates the two columns in pg_attribute as described in a previous post:

postgres=# select atthasmissing,attmissingval 
             from pg_attribute 
            where attrelid = 't1'::regclass and attname = 'c';
 atthasmissing | attmissingval 
---------------+---------------
 t             | {aa}
(1 row)

When we check for the distinct values in column “c” we should only see one result (which is “aa”):

postgres=# select c, count(*) from t1 group by c;
 c  | count 
----+-------
 aa |  1000
(1 row)

When I got the question right the concern was: When we change the default now do we see two results when we ask for the distinct values in column “c”? Of course not and the table is not rewritten:

postgres=# alter table t1 alter column c set default 'bb';
ALTER TABLE
postgres=# select c, count(*) from t1 group by c;
 c  | count 
----+-------
 aa |  1000
(1 row)

postgres=# select atthasmissing,attmissingval from pg_attribute where attrelid = 't1'::regclass and attname = 'c';
 atthasmissing | attmissingval 
---------------+---------------
 t             | {aa}
(1 row)

What does that mean? For the existing rows the value is still “aa” as that was true when the column was added. For new values we will get “bb”:

postgres=# \d t1
                  Table "public.t1"
 Column |  Type   | Collation | Nullable |  Default   
--------+---------+-----------+----------+------------
 a      | integer |           |          | 
 b      | text    |           |          | 
 c      | text    |           |          | 'bb'::text

postgres=# insert into t1 (a,b) values (1001,'aa');
INSERT 0 1
postgres=# select c, count(*) from t1 group by c;
 c  | count 
----+-------
 bb |     1
 aa |  1000
(2 rows)

I hope that answers the question. If not, please leave a comment.

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Daniel Westermann
Daniel Westermann

Senior Consultant and Technology Leader Open Infrastructure