I have a table of "transactions" where each transaction has an amount: http://sqlfiddle.com/#!15/42849/1

Records in the table are never REMOVE'ed or UPDATE'ed. Only new transactions are added.

I wish to calculate the SUM of the amounts. The calculation doesn't have to be 100 percent up to date for every request.

On a dataset of about a million rows this takes about 400 ms on my database. This is way too slow for my application and I am trying to find the best solution for speeding this up.

What I have tried so far

  1. Materialized view: Adds complexity of having to have a cronjob running which updates the view every X seconds.
  2. Caching on the application server: Every X request will be slow when the cache needs an update.
  3. Storing results of queries on an old subset: Store the SUM of previous request and use these to calculate the correct total. Adds complexity.


Does PostgreSQL provide a solution for speeding this type of query up?

Update 1

The SUM query is just a basic sum on a single column so I don't believe that this query in itself can get any faster. The solution is probably to do some kind of caching/precalculation or similar. Does PostgreSQL have any features in this regard?

Update 2

Table in question:

CREATE TABLE transactions
  id bigserial NOT NULL,
  amount bigint NOT NULL

Query in question:

SELECT SUM(amount) FROM transactions;

Update 3

I found that I actually need a "type" as well.

Updated table:

CREATE TABLE transactions
  id bigserial NOT NULL,
  amount bigint NOT NULL,
  type int NOT NULL

Updated query:

SELECT SUM(amount) FROM transactions GROUP BY type;

SQL Fiddle: http://sqlfiddle.com/#!15/77e67/2

  • wiki.postgresql.org/wiki/Slow_Query_Questions
    – user1822
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 11:17
  • @a_horse_with_no_name My question is not so much why the query is slow, but what type of strategy I can go for in regards to solving this type of problem. I believe the solution will be to not perform the actual SUM request at all.
    – uldall
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 11:37
  • By 'basic sum', do you mean you add up everything you have (without a WHERE)? Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 11:57
  • @dezso Yes there is no WHERE
    – uldall
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 12:41
  • @uldall Re option 2, you could do the update in the background so that the server's response won't be slower (but it will show stale data). Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 8:51

3 Answers 3


Here's one idea that you can evaluate:

CREATE TABLE last_transaction
(    last_id bigserial NOT NULL
,    cumulative_amount bigint NOT NULL

INSERT INTO last_transaction (last_id, cumulative_amount) VALUES (-1,0);

The current amount should be something like:

SELECT coalesce(SUM(t.amount),0) + coalesce(lt.cumulative_amount,0) 
FROM transactions t
RIGHT JOIN last_transaction lt
    ON t.id > lt.last_id
GROUP BY lt.cumulative_amount;

On a regular basis you can refresh last_transaction similar to:

update last_transaction
    set last_id = (select max(id) from transactions)
      , cumulative_amount = (select sum(amount) from transactions);

The version of PostgreSQL in your fiddle does not support (perhaps no version does?)

set (last_id, cumulative_amount) = (select ...)

Just an idea, that may or may not fit your needs.

Edit: added type

If a type is to be included (consider naming it transaction_type or something similar) we can extend last_transaction:

CREATE TABLE last_transaction
(    type int not null
,    last_id bigserial NOT NULL
,    cumulative_amount bigint NOT NULL
,        constraint pk_last_transaction primary key (type)

INSERT INTO last_transaction (type, last_id, cumulative_amount) 
SELECT distinct type, -1, 0
FROM transactions;

To get the current_amount we need to add type to the GROUP BY clause as well as to the ON clause.

SELECT lt.type
     , coalesce(SUM(t.amount),0) + coalesce(lt.cumulative_amount,0) 
FROM transactions t
RIGHT JOIN last_transaction lt
    ON t.id > lt.last_id
   AND t.type = lt.type
GROUP BY lt.type, lt.cumulative_amount;

To do a full refresh (according to @Andriy M suggestion) of last_transaction:

UPDATE last_transaction AS lt
    SET last_id = t.last_id
      , cumulative_amount = t.cumulative_amount
         , MAX(id)
         , SUM(amount)
    FROM transactions
) AS t (type, last_id, cumulative_amount)
WHERE t.type = lt.type;

I have yet to examine @YperSillyCubeᵀᴹ suggestion.

I added about a million rows to the transaction table and what I believe would be relevant indexes, but the plan in sqlfiddle looks kind of disappointing.

  • Why do you need the coalesce()s? It is highly unlikely that either value is NULL. Also, out of curiosity, do you often use RIGHT JOIN? I see (and use, except one case) only LEFT JOINs everywhere. Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 13:04
  • set (tuple) = ... may well be unsupported in PG but you could do UPDATE ... FROM (SELECT MAX(id), SUM(amount) ...) to avoid hitting the same table twice.
    – Andriy M
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 15:03
  • @dezso, coalesce is needed in those cases where either SUM(t.amount) or cumulative_amount is null (the latter should not happen in case last_transaction is initialized). The former becomes null when there are no transactions after a refresh. As for LEFT vs RIGHT it was less work than to move the tables :-) On the other hand I see a lot of unnecesary LEFT JOINs in examples here and elsewhere so perhaps a RIGHT JOIN every once and a while will make people reflect over what an OUTER JOIN is. Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 17:10
  • @Lennart So my problem unfortunately needed a "type" column as well. I have tried to extend your example with this, but without luck so far. I have added a "type" column to "last_transaction" but I am not sure how to extend the SELECT.
    – uldall
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 9:06
  • 1
    It only says that you cannot reference the updated table in the FROM clause, meaning that if you need to join it with the (other) table(s) in FROM, you will likely need to use WHERE to specify the joining condition. Anyway, in this case no condition is needed because the target is a single-row table and the source (the aggregate results) is a single-row table as well. So you just put the target in the UPDATE clause, as usual, and the source in FROM, like this: sqlfiddle.com/#!15/a003d/1
    – Andriy M
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 10:06

If there are few types and rows are evenly distributed across types it is likely that a new row will be on the same page as the preceeding row of its type. So reading the previous row would be fast. This can be (almost) guaranteed with clustering.

Add a new column to the table to hold the running total. As a row is written, read the preceeding matching row to get its running total, calculate the running total for the new row and write it.

This may end up serialising your whole workload, however, which might be undesirable.


You could add another table just to hold the totals. It would have two columns - type and total_value. As a transaction is inserted the running total is updated, either in application code or by a trigger. At higher transaction rates this table rapidly becomes a bottleneck to higher throughput. Some relief can be had by adjusting fill factor so there is only one value per page. That will only go so far.

Since you can tolerate some staleness the hotspot can be avoided by batching updates. Let's say you can tolerate 1 minute of lag between a transaction and the total showing it. Every 30 seconds or so read the highest id and the total transaction value. I each cycle record the highest id so each transactions is only processed once. A bit like this:

update running_total
select max(id), sum(value)
where id > last_id
group by type

To avoid contention with on-going transaction writes you could have

where id > last_id
and id < {highest id in table} - X

Where X is big enough to ensure this background aggregation is not reading from the same data page transactions are actively writing to, about two pages I'd guess.

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