Im not even close to a DBA, so plain English please. I recently needed to look into a performance issue on a relatively small PG database, but yet is performing very slow. the server is running PGSql 9.0.22. Its largest table is about 30Mb, and the entire db is hardly 80Mb. However, i found that one of the tables has a text column (which i assume has no width limit) which probably stretches about 10 miles long. I copied the text from one column into Word, an i got 377 pages and a word count of 69814 (as in sixty eight thousand). Again, im not im not expert, but it just doesnt seem right to me. Can PG handle such large text columns? Is this considered a normal design/practice?


Thank you both for your response. I would have to research its purpose and types of queries running against it. For the sack of argument, lets assume the column has a list of fruits, and is just a point of reference. Meaning, there's a query which just returns a True or Flase if Avocado is on that list, and then moves on to another action based on the True/Flase results. So theres a text "Fruits" column in the "Foods" table, the text in the column might look like this (with just spaces between each fruit):

Apple Avacado Mango Orange Cherry Grape Peach Srawberry ... and on listing about 68,000 fruits

Would it have been beneficial, or perhaps considered a better design, if each fruit was in its own field. In other words, have 68000 fields under the "Fruits" column, as opposed to one text column with 68000 words?

EDIT I didn't mean a column for each fruit. I meant a row for each fruit under the fruit column

**Columns - Fruits, Vegetables** 

  Rows      -Apple     -Corn
            -Avocado   -Tomatoes

And so on...a list of about 1.5 million


In short, I mean having each piece of data in its own field as opposed to using a large text column. So for example, if this was a spreadsheet, the cell A:1 would be the column (header) and A:2, A:3, A:4 the rows (each holding a fruit name). Not all fruits in A:2.

  • You should try and post the query that you say that runs slow. There must be a part that is running slow and not the whole database. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 11:35
  • 1
    A single text column can handle up to 1GB of data. So yes, this seems very much possible. From the manual: "In any case, the longest possible character string that can be stored is about 1 GB" without any further information it's impossible to tell if this is a "good design" or not depends what is stored in there: 1MB of comma delimited values is certainly horrible. 1MB of text for e.g. a conent management system doesn't sound strange.
    – user1822
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 12:04
  • Regarding your two accounts: dba.stackexchange.com/help/merging-accounts As far as the DB design is concerned: storing multiple (delimited) values in a single column is a bad idea. Read up on database normalization (your model violates first normal form). And no, you should not create one column for each fruit. You are most likely looking for a many-to-many relationship.
    – user1822
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:33
  • Also: Postgres 9.0 is no longer supported. You should plan an upgrade (e.g. to the upcoming 9.5) as soon as possible.
    – user1822
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:49
  • Why would you have a row with the values (Apple, Corn)? that doesn't make sense.
    – user1822
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


You are right in thinking that items of a list should be stored as individual values of a column, i.e. in separate rows of that column, rather than as a single value (CSV string or anything like that) – at least if you expect to have queries against individual items of the list. Relational databases are designed to work that way, and storing multiple values of a column as a list (single value) is a no-no in such cases.

Regarding your data sample of fruits and vegetables, I am assuming that you are not thinking of splitting two lists of values exactly like that, storing each list's elements alongside each other on the same row without there actually being a relationship between them, just for the sake of normalisation of the way the vegetables and fruits are stored. That would be wrong.

I mean, if currently you have a row with a list of fruits and a list of vegetables such that each fruit and each vegetable are related to this particular row, i.e. like this:

FoodsID  Fruits                      Vegetables     other  columns
-------  --------------------------  -------------  -----  -------
100      Apple,Avocado,Mango,Orange  Corn,Tomatoes  ...    ...

and you want to expand each list into a row set while keeping the relationship of each fruit and each vegetable to the Foods row, you do not just add more rows and put the first item of one list together with the first item of the other list on the same row, then the second item of each list on another row and so on, like this:

FoodsID  Fruits   Vegetables  ...
-------  -------  ----------  -----
100      Apple    Corn        ...
100      Avocado  Tomatoes    ...
100      Mango                ...
100      Orange               ...

Again, that would be wrong. Fruit Apple may well be related to food item 100 as may vegetable Corn, but if these two items are not related to each other, there is no reason to store them on the same row.

Commonly, when you want to store a relationship between a subset and an item, you use a separate table. As you have two subsets of different kinds that are related to the same item, you just use two tables. So it would be:

  • table Foods:

    FoodsID  other  columns
    -------  -----  -------
    100      ...    ...
  • table Fruits:

    FoodsID  Fruit
    -------  -------
    100      Apple
    100      Avocado
    100      Mango
    100      Orange
  • table Vegetables:

    FoodsID  Vegetable
    -------  ---------
    100      Corn
    100      Tomatoes

where FoodsID in table Foods would be the primary key of that table and same-named column in tables Fruits and Vegetable would serve as a reference (foreign key) to the corresponding row in Foods.

This way, when querying against individual items of either list as belonging to that particular row in Foods, you would probably use a join. Your typical filter conditions would be as simple as Vegetable = 'some vegetable' or Fruit IN ('some fruit', 'some other fruit') – not FindPos(Vegetable, 'some vegetable') > 0 or anything of the kind. The conditions would be simpler because each column would now contain one value per row. That will lend well to further optimisation of performance, because when you query often against a column value (without applying a function to it first, that is), you can make such queries faster by adding an index on the column – something that would be pointless for lists stored as a single value.

More can be said on this topic, which would, however, be beyond the scope of your question. I suggest you look up the terms I highlighted in bold for more information.

  • 1
    I would rather use a type column to distinguish between fruits and vegetables (maybe even with a foreign key to a table containing the different types of food)
    – user1822
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 22:34
  • That looks like a valid development, and I admit I didn't even think about it. However, even if I did, I might hesitate suggesting it to a beginner like the OP. Not that I consider it terribly complicated to understand, but it could still prove a little too big a step forward. And besides, we don't even know at this point if that would be relevant to the OP's real situation. (After all, fruits and vegetables were just an example.)
    – Andriy M
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 23:43

The data structure you describe is highly "denormalized", and is not the way that people "in the know" usually prefer to structure databases. If you have the freedom to restructure your data, you should probably listen to those people, and change the structure into something more normalized.

None-the-less, some of the more advanced features of PostgreSQL can probably be used to partially salvage the mess you currently have. For example, you can build a general inverted index on an expression:

create index on the_table using gin (string_to_array(fruit,' '));

Then you can quickly look up rows that contain a certain fruit by writing:

select * from the_table where string_to_array(fruit,' ') @> '{banana}';

Whether you would be better off starting over, or just making a few tweaks here and there, depend on what expectations you have for the future of this project, and how big your existing code base is.

I don't know if the features I just used are available in 9.0, which is ancient.

  • @a_horse_with_no_name, yes, I did. Corrected.
    – jjanes
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 17:02

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