Here is the query:

SELECT "products".* 
FROM "products"
WHERE (status > 100) 
AND "products"."above_revenue_average" = 't' 
AND ("products"."category_id" NOT IN (5))
ORDER BY "products"."start_date" DESC 

I have an index on status and start_date.

Each time I run the query from my application, I get the following in the logs:

[WHITE] temporary file:
path "pg_tblspc/16386/PG_9.3_201306121/pgsql_tmp/pgsql_tmp2544.0", size 37093376 
Query: SELECT "products".* FROM "products"  WHERE (status > 100) 
AND "products"."above_revenue_average" = 't' 
AND ("products"."category_id" NOT IN (5))  ORDER BY "products"."start_date" DESC 

I believe this temporary file creation is the cause of the slow performance.

Running an EXPLAIN ANALYZE I get the following results:

 Sort  (cost=63395.28..63403.51 rows=16460 width=524)
       (actual time=524.134..562.635 rows=65294 loops=1)
   Sort Key: start_date
   Sort Method: external merge  Disk: 36224kB
   ->  Bitmap Heap Scan on products  
        (cost=4803.40..60389.73 rows=16460 width=524)
        (actual time=27.390..397.879 rows=65294 loops=1)
         Recheck Cond: (status > 100)
         Filter: (above_revenue_average AND (category_id <> 5))
         Rows Removed by Filter: 25115
         ->  Bitmap Index Scan on index_products_on_status
            (cost=0.00..4802.58 rows=89662 width=0) 
            (actual time=18.006..18.006 rows=90411 loops=1)
               Index Cond: (status > 100)
 Total runtime: 577.870 ms
(10 rows)

I have then used http://explain.depesz.com/ to make it a bit more readable:

Per node type stats

|     node type     | count | sum of times | % of query |
| Bitmap Heap Scan  |     1 | 379.873 ms   | 67.5 %     |
| Bitmap Index Scan |     1 | 18.006 ms    | 3.2 %      |
| Sort              |     1 | 164.756 ms   | 29.3 %     |

Per table stats

|    Table name    | Scan count |  Total time  | % of query |
| scan type        | count      | sum of times | % of table |
| products         | 1          | 379.873 ms   | 67.5 %     |
| Bitmap Heap Scan | 1          | 379.873 ms   | 100.0 %    |

Can I increase the database performance by adding some more indexes? Maybe some composite ones? Any ideas?

  • Note, cross-posted to stackoverflow.com/q/32195633/398670 Aug 25, 2015 at 6:09
  • 2
    Can you try to run command " set work_mem = '64MB' " and then try to analyze it ?
    – Sahap Asci
    Aug 25, 2015 at 7:29
  • Hey @SahapAsci I have tried that but Heroku Standard 0 PostgreSQL resets this value everytime
    – bnussey
    Aug 25, 2015 at 17:20
  • But running this analysis after setting it to 64mb i get an almost 300ms improvement! So that's great.. any ideas how I can force this change?
    – bnussey
    Aug 25, 2015 at 17:27
  • EXPLAIN (BUFFERS, ANALYZE) produces more information relevant to the case (like instructed in the tag info for [postgresql-performance]. Please always provide your version of Postgres. Also, a single query does not tell us which of your predicates (WHERE conditions) are immutable and which vary (in what way?). We cannot seriously advice how to optimize indexes without some more information. Aug 26, 2015 at 0:57

3 Answers 3



Obviously, the sort operation spills to disk:

Sort Method: external merge  Disk: 36224kB

More work_mem can help the query, like @Kassandry already suggested. Increase the setting until you see Memory instead of Disk in the EXPLAIN output. But it's probably a bad idea to increase the general setting based on one query. Proper setting depends on available RAM and your complete situation. Start by reading in the Postgres Wiki.

To just fix your query, set work_mem high enough for your transaction only with SET LOCAL in the same transaction.


SET LOCAL work_mem = '45MB';



You probably need a bit more than 40 MB. In-memory representation is a bit bigger than on-disk representation. Related:


Your query (after trimming some noise):

FROM   products
WHERE  status > 100
AND    above_revenue_average  -- boolean can be used directly
AND    category_id <> 5
ORDER  BY start_date DESC;

Your rows are half a kilobyte wide (width=524). Do you need to return all columns? (Typically, you don't.) Only list columns in the SELECT list which you need from your query to improve overall performance, especially since you have work_mem issues already.

Can any of the involved columns be NULL? Particularly important for category_id and start_date. You might want to adapt in that case ...


A multicolumn index can certainly help performance. (Like @Paul outlined). You have to weigh cost and gain. If performance for this query is important or it is very common, go for it. Don't create a special index for every query. As few as possible, as many as necessary. Indexes are more powerful when shared, that increases chances that more of them stay in cache.

A boolean column like above_revenue_average is a typical candidate for a condition in a partial index rather than for an index column.

My wild guess based on incomplete information:

CREATE INDEX prod_special_idx ON products (start_date DESC)
WHERE  above_revenue_average
AND    status > 100
AND    category_id <> 5;

Use DESC NULLS LAST in index and query if start_date can be NULL.


Depending on how selective the combined predicates are, I would imagine a good index for this particular query would be:

CREATE INDEX index_name
ON products
    (above_revenue_average ASC, start_date DESC)
    status > 100
    AND category_id <> 5;

The SELECT * is potentially problematic because the index above does not contain all columns. If that causes the index not to be selected by the planner, you could fetch just the primary key columns first, then join back to the table to collect the extra columns, for just the selected keys.


One of the easiest and most effective ways to increase performance on this sort of query is to execute SET work_mem=40MB (because you have ~32MB of temp file for sorting, and a little extra often helps) then run your query, and see if the EXPLAIN ANALYZE plan changes from disk to an in-memory sort. Afterwards, run RESET work_mem to put the value back to the default value in your postgresql.conf.

The basic idea is covered under work_mem at the following link: Tuning your PostgreSQL Server. Changing this setting for an individual query should give you the benefits, and avoid the downsides mentioned.

Hope that helps. =)

  • Hey thank you very much! That certainly does work and it goes back to an in-memory sort, but unfortunately Heroku keep setting the work_mem back.. do you know of anyone way to force it, or of an index that may help this? Thanks
    – bnussey
    Aug 25, 2015 at 17:29
  • If you put SET work_mem=40MB at the beginning of the transaction in your application, then it will apply for each run of that particular query, regardless of whether or not Heroku resets it at the end. I'm not sure if there's a configuration option for Heroku that lets you set work_mem for your entire config, sadly.
    – Kassandry
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:55

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