Complete Guide to Use Table Partitioning to Scale PostgreSQL

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Partitioning in PostgreSQL is a powerful technique used to manage large datasets efficiently. It involves dividing a large table into smaller, more manageable pieces called partitions. Each partition is stored separately, which can significantly improve query performance and simplify maintenance tasks. This comprehensive article will walk you through the benefits, types, and implementation of table partitioning in PostgreSQL, along with its limitations and frequently asked questions.

Benefits of Using Partitioning in PostgreSQL

Partitioning in PostgreSQL offers a range of benefits that can greatly enhance the performance and manageability of your database system. Here are some key advantages:

Improved Query Performance

  • By dividing a large table into smaller partitions, you can limit the amount of data that needs to be scanned for a given query. This leads to faster query execution times.
  • For example, consider a sales database with millions of records. Partitioning by date allows the system to quickly narrow down the search to a specific time period.

Easier Data Management

  • Partitioning simplifies data maintenance tasks, such as archiving or purging old data. You can drop entire partitions without affecting the rest of the table.
  • This is especially useful in scenarios where historical data becomes less relevant over time.

Parallel Query Processing

  • PostgreSQL can execute queries in parallel across multiple partitions, leveraging the processing power of multiple cores or servers.
  • This leads to further improvements in query performance, especially in multi-core or distributed environments.

Efficient Indexing

  • Partitioning allows for more focused and efficient indexing. Indexes on smaller partitions are generally more compact and faster to search.

Simplified Backups and Restores

  • With partitioning, you can perform backups and restores on individual partitions, reducing the time and resources required compared to full-table operations.

Space Optimization

  • Partitioning can help optimize storage by segregating frequently accessed data from less frequently accessed data. This can lead to more efficient use of storage resources.

When to Use PostgreSQL Partitions?

Deciding when to implement partitioning in PostgreSQL depends on the nature of your dataset and the specific requirements of your application. Here are some scenarios where partitioning can be particularly beneficial:

Large Datasets

If your database contains millions or even billions of records, partitioning can significantly enhance query performance by narrowing down the search space.

Time-Series Data

Databases that store time-series data, such as financial transactions or sensor readings, can greatly benefit from partitioning by date. This allows for efficient retrieval of data within specific time ranges.

Archiving and Purging

When dealing with datasets where older records become less relevant over time, partitioning provides an efficient way to manage and eventually purge outdated data.

Data Ingestion

If your application involves frequent data ingestion, partitioning can help distribute the load across different partitions, preventing any single partition from becoming a bottleneck.

Multi-Tenant Applications

Partitioning can be invaluable in multi-tenant environments where each tenant's data can be segregated into its own partition, ensuring isolation and scalability.

Join Optimization

In scenarios where tables are frequently joined, partitioning can limit the scope of the join operation, leading to faster query execution.

Types of PostgreSQL Partitions

PostgreSQL offers several types of partitioning methods, each suited to different types of datasets and querying patterns. Let's explore the most commonly used partitioning methods:

Range Partitioning

Range partitioning is a technique used in PostgreSQL to divide a large table into smaller, more manageable pieces based on a specified range of values. This method helps to improve performance and manageability of very large tables by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

How Range Partitioning Works:

  1. Column Selection:
    • Range partitioning is based on a selected column, often one that contains sequential or ordered values, such as dates, numbers, or timestamps.
  2. Defining Ranges:
    • The administrator or developer defines the ranges of values that each partition will hold. For example, if partitioning by date, one might create partitions for each month or each year.
  3. Partition Creation:
    • Once the ranges are defined, partitions are created based on those ranges. Each partition is essentially a separate table that holds a specific range of values.
  4. Routing Data:
    • When inserting data, PostgreSQL automatically routes the data to the appropriate partition based on the defined ranges. This ensures that each row is stored in the correct partition without manual intervention.
  5. Query Optimization:
    • When querying the partitioned table, PostgreSQL's query planner can often "prune" partitions that don't contain relevant data, which can significantly speed up queries.

Let's take a look at an example of range partitioning.

Let's say we want to partition a table named sales based on the order_date column.

  1. Create a Range Type We'll first create a range type that defines the ranges for partitioning. In this case, we'll use dates as the range.


  1. Create a Partitioned Table Next, we'll create the main partitioned table. This table won't contain any actual data, but it will serve as the parent for the partitions.


  1. Create Partitions Now, we'll create individual partitions. Each partition will have a range of dates associated with it.


List Partitioning

List partitioning is a method used in PostgreSQL to divide a large table into smaller, more manageable sections based on predefined lists of values in a specified column. Unlike range partitioning, which uses a range of values, list partitioning is based on discrete, predefined sets of values.

Here's how list partitioning in PostgreSQL works:

  1. Column Selection:
    • List partitioning focuses on a specific column containing discrete, well-defined values (e.g., categories, states, or specific IDs).
  2. Defining Lists:
    • The administrator or developer specifies lists of values that each partition will hold. Each list corresponds to a separate partition.
  3. Partition Creation:
    • Partitions are created based on the defined lists. Each partition functions as a distinct table holding a specific set of values.
  4. Data Routing:
    • During data insertion, PostgreSQL directs the data to the appropriate partition based on the predefined lists, ensuring correct placement without manual intervention.
  5. Query Optimization:
    • The query planner can exclude irrelevant partitions during a query, leading to improved performance.

Let's take a look at an example of list partitioning. Suppose we want to partition a table called sales based on the region where sales occur. We'll use a column named region to determine the partitioning.

Step 1: Enable the necessary extension


Step 2: Create the master table


Step 3: Set up list partitioning


Step 4: Create partitions


Step 5: Create child tables for each partition


Hash Partitioning

Hash partitioning is a method used in PostgreSQL to divide a large table into smaller partitions based on the result of a hash function applied to a specified column. Unlike range and list partitioning, which are based on specific value ranges or lists, hash partitioning distributes data more evenly across partitions.

Here's a overview of hash partitioning in PostgreSQL:

  1. Column Selection:
    • Hash partitioning is based on a chosen column with a wide range of values, such as a unique identifier or a column with high cardinality.
  2. Hash Function Application:
    • A hash function is applied to the chosen column's values to generate a hash key, which determines the partition to which each row belongs.
  3. Partition Creation:
    • Partitions are created based on the generated hash keys. Each partition acts as a separate table holding rows with matching hash keys.
  4. Data Allocation:
    • PostgreSQL automatically allocates rows to partitions based on the hash key, ensuring even distribution.
  5. Query Handling:
    • Hash partitioning can be beneficial for certain types of queries that involve joining or aggregating data from multiple partitions.

Example of Hash Partioning: First, let's create a table that we'll partition:


Next, we'll create the partitions. For this example, let's assume we want to create three partitions based on the value column:


In the above example, we use the MODULUS and REMAINDER clauses to specify how the hash function is calculated. In this case, we're using a simple modulus function to determine which partition the row should go into based on the remainder when dividing the value by 3.

Now, you can insert data into the partitioned table, and PostgreSQL will automatically route the rows to the correct partition based on the hash function.


When querying data from the partitioned table, PostgreSQL will use the hash function to quickly determine which partition contains the relevant rows.

Composite Partitioning

  • Composite partitioning combines multiple partitioning methods. For example, you could use range partitioning on one column and list partitioning on another.
  • This provides a high degree of flexibility and allows you to cater to complex data distribution requirements.

Example of Composite Partioning: Let's say we have a table for sales data and we want to partition it by year and region.

First, create the main table:


Next, create the partitions:


In this example, we partition the sales table by sale_date, creating separate partitions for each quarter of each year. The data is distributed based on the range of sale dates.

Now, let's add a sub-partitioning based on the region column:


In this step, we further partition the sales_2019_q1 partition by region, creating sub-partitions for sales in the USA and Europe.

Now, when you insert data into the sales table, PostgreSQL will automatically route the rows to the correct partitions based on the sale date and region.

Advantages of PostgreSQL Partitions

In addition to the specific benefits outlined earlier, PostgreSQL partitions offer some unique advantages that can greatly enhance the performance and manageability of your database system:

Foreign Key Constraints

PostgreSQL supports foreign key constraints on partitioned tables, providing referential integrity across the partitions.

Constraint Exclusion

When querying a partitioned table, PostgreSQL can exclude partitions based on constraints defined on the query, leading to more efficient execution plans.

Indexing Flexibility

You can create different indexes on each partition, allowing you to fine-tune the indexing strategy for specific subsets of data.

Dynamic Partition Management

PostgreSQL provides the ability to add or remove partitions dynamically, enabling you to adapt to changing data patterns.

Granular Control over Storage

With partitions, you can place different partitions on different storage devices or tablespaces, optimizing performance and storage usage.

Increased Parallelism

Partitioning can lead to increased parallelism in query execution, as each partition can be processed independently.


While PostgreSQL partitioning offers numerous advantages, it's important to be aware of its limitations:

Limited Column Choices for Partitioning Keys

Currently, PostgreSQL only supports partitioning by a single column, which may not always align with the optimal partitioning strategy for all datasets.

No Automatic Partition Pruning

Unlike some other database systems, PostgreSQL does not automatically prune partitions based on query constraints. This means you need to be diligent in designing your queries to take advantage of partitioning.

Complex Maintenance and Management

Setting up and managing partitions can be complex, especially for those new to the concept. It requires careful planning and consideration of your specific use case.

Limited Sub-Partitioning Options

While sub-partitioning provides additional flexibility, it's not as robust as the primary partitioning methods and may not suit all scenarios.

Performance Trade-offs

While partitioning can greatly enhance query performance, it may introduce some overhead for certain write operations, particularly if data needs to be redistributed across partitions.

Compatibility with ORM and Tools

Some Object-Relational Mapping (ORM) frameworks and tools may not fully support PostgreSQL partitioning, which could impact the ease of integration with existing systems.


Q. Can I change the partitioning scheme after a table has been created?

Yes, you can alter the partitioning scheme of a table, but it requires careful planning and potentially migrating data.

Q. Can I create indexes on individual partitions?

Yes, you can create indexes on each partition separately, allowing for tailored indexing strategies.

Q3. Can I use foreign key constraints with partitioned tables?

Yes, PostgreSQL supports foreign key constraints on partitioned tables, ensuring referential integrity.


  • PostgreSQL partitioning is a powerful tool for managing large datasets efficiently.
  • By strategically dividing tables into partitions, you can achieve significant improvements in query performance, simplify data management tasks, and optimize storage usage.
  • However, it's important to carefully consider the specific needs of your dataset and plan the partitioning strategy accordingly.
  • While PostgreSQL partitioning offers numerous advantages, it's essential to be aware of its limitations and potential trade-offs.
  • With proper planning and implementation, partitioning can be a valuable asset in scaling your PostgreSQL database.