I'm having an issue with using the new UPSERT feature in Postgres 9.5

I have a table that is used for aggregating data from another table. The composite key is made up of 20 columns, 10 of which can be nullable. Below I have created a smaller version of the issue i'm having, specifically with NULL values.

CREATE TABLE public.test_upsert (
upsert_id serial,
name character varying(32) NOT NULL,
status integer NOT NULL,
test_field text,
identifier character varying(255),
count integer,
CONSTRAINT upsert_id_pkey PRIMARY KEY (upsert_id),
CONSTRAINT test_upsert_name_status_test_field_key UNIQUE (name, status, test_field)

Running this query works as needed (First insert, then subsequent inserts simply increment the count):

INSERT INTO test_upsert as tu(name,status,test_field,identifier, count) 
VALUES ('shaun',1,'test value','ident', 1)
ON CONFLICT (name,status,test_field) DO UPDATE set count = tu.count + 1 
where tu.name = 'shaun' AND tu.status = 1 AND tu.test_field = 'test value';

However if I run this query, 1 row is inserted each time rather than incrementing the count for the initial row:

INSERT INTO test_upsert as tu(name,status,test_field,identifier, count) 
VALUES ('shaun',1,null,'ident', 1)
ON CONFLICT (name,status,test_field) DO UPDATE set count = tu.count + 1  
where tu.name = 'shaun' AND tu.status = 1 AND tu.test_field = null;

This is my issue. I need to simply increment the count value and not create multiple identical rows with null values.

Attempting to add a partial unique index:

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX test_upsert_upsert_id_idx
ON public.test_upsert
USING btree
(name COLLATE pg_catalog."default", status, test_field, identifier);

However, this yields the same results, either multiple null rows being inserted or this error message when trying to insert:

ERROR: there is no unique or exclusion constraint matching the ON CONFLICT specification

I already attempted to add extra details on the partial index such as WHERE test_field is not null OR identifier is not null. However, when inserting I get the constraint error message.


2 Answers 2


Clarify ON CONFLICT DO UPDATE behavior

Consider the manual here:

For each individual row proposed for insertion, either the insertion proceeds, or, if an arbiter constraint or index specified by conflict_target is violated, the alternative conflict_action is taken.

Bold emphasis mine. So you do not have to repeat predicates for columns included in the unique index in the WHERE clause to the UPDATE (the conflict_action):

INSERT INTO test_upsert AS tu
       (name   , status, test_field  , identifier, count) 
VALUES ('shaun', 1     , 'test value', 'ident'   , 1)
ON CONFLICT (name, status, test_field) DO UPDATE
SET count = tu.count + 1;
WHERE tu.name = 'shaun' AND tu.status = 1 AND tu.test_field = 'test value'

The unique violation already establishes what your added WHERE clause would enforce redundantly.

Clarify partial index

Add a WHERE clause to make it an actual partial index like you mentioned yourself (but with inverted logic):

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX test_upsert_partial_idx
ON public.test_upsert (name, status)
WHERE test_field IS NULL;  -- not: "is not null"

To use this partial index in your UPSERT you need a matching conflict_target like @ypercube demonstrates:

ON CONFLICT (name, status) WHERE test_field IS NULL

Now the above partial index is inferred. However, as the manual also notes:

[...] a non-partial unique index (a unique index without a predicate) will be inferred (and thus used by ON CONFLICT) if such an index satisfying every other criteria is available.

If you have an additional (or only) index on just (name, status) it will (also) be used. An index on (name, status, test_field) would explicitly not be inferred. This doesn't explain your problem, but may have added to the confusion while testing.


AIUI, none of the above solves your problem, yet. With the partial index, only special cases with matching NULL values would be caught. And other duplicate rows would either be inserted if you have no other matching unique indexes / constraints, or raise an exception if you do. I suppose that's not what you want. You write:

The composite key is made up of 20 columns, 10 of which can be nullable.

What exactly do you consider a duplicate? Postgres (according to the SQL standard) does not consider two NULL values to be equal. The manual:

In general, a unique constraint is violated if there is more than one row in the table where the values of all of the columns included in the constraint are equal. However, two null values are never considered equal in this comparison. That means even in the presence of a unique constraint it is possible to store duplicate rows that contain a null value in at least one of the constrained columns. This behavior conforms to the SQL standard, but we have heard that other SQL databases might not follow this rule. So be careful when developing applications that are intended to be portable.


I assume you want NULL values in all 10 nullable columns to be considered equal.

Update for Postgres 15 or newer

This is simple now. See:


CREATE UNIQUE INDEX test_upsert_solution_idx
    ON test_upsert (name, status, test_field) NULLS NOT DISTINCT;

For many columns, the index grows big. To keep the size down and performance up, consider an index on the hash value of the combined columns, see:

Postgres 14 or older

It is elegant & practical to cover a single nullable column with an additional partial index like demonstrated here:

But this gets out of hand quickly for more nullable columns. You'd need a partial index for every distinct combination of nullable columns. For just 2 of those that's 3 partial indexes for (a), (b) and (a,b). The number is growing exponentially with 2^n - 1. For your 10 nullable columns, to cover all possible combinations of NULL values, you'd already need 1023 partial indexes. No go.

The simple solution: replace NULL values and define involved columns NOT NULL, and everything would work just fine with a simple UNIQUE constraint.

If that's not an option I suggest an expression index with COALESCE to replace NULL in the index:

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX test_upsert_solution_idx
    ON test_upsert (name, status, COALESCE(test_field, ''));

The empty string ('') is an obvious candidate for character types, but you can use any legal value that either never appears or can be folded with NULL according to your definition of "unique".

Then use this statement:

INSERT INTO test_upsert as tu(name,status,test_field,identifier, count) 
VALUES ('shaun', 1, null        , 'ident', 11)  -- works with
     , ('bob'  , 2, 'test value', 'ident', 22)  -- and without NULL
ON     CONFLICT (name, status, COALESCE(test_field, '')) DO UPDATE  -- match expr. index
SET    count = COALESCE(tu.count + EXCLUDED.count, EXCLUDED.count, tu.count);

Like @ypercube I assume you actually want to add count to the existing count. Since the column can be NULL, adding NULL would set the column NULL. If you define count NOT NULL, you can simplify.

Or consider this later, related answer using a hash value for the row:

A different idea would be to just drop the conflict_target from the statement to cover all unique violations. Then you could define various unique indexes for a more sophisticated definition of what's supposed to be "unique". But that won't fly with ON CONFLICT DO UPDATE. The manual once more:

For ON CONFLICT DO NOTHING, it is optional to specify a conflict_target; when omitted, conflicts with all usable constraints (and unique indexes) are handled. For ON CONFLICT DO UPDATE, a conflict_target must be provided.

  • 1
    Nice. I skipped the 20-10 columns part the first time I read the question and didn't have time to complete later. The count = CASE WHEN EXCLUDED.count IS NULL THEN tu.count ELSE COALESCE(tu.count, 0) + COALESCE(EXCLUDED.count, 0) END can be simplified to count = COALESCE(tu.count+EXCLUDED.count, EXCLUDED.count, tu.count) Oct 5, 2016 at 8:49
  • Looking again, my "simplified" version is not so self-documenting. Oct 5, 2016 at 8:54
  • @ypercubeᵀᴹ: I applied your suggested update. It's simpler, thanks. Oct 5, 2016 at 12:47
  • 1
    @ErwinBrandstetter you are the best Aug 17, 2018 at 22:46
  • Argh, the ON CONFLICT (name, status, COALESCE(test_field, '')) gets really ugly with many columns and, of course, the application has to be kept updated with any changes to the index expression. Is there any reason PG doesn't allow specifying a unique index name here? I mean, it can find the index by the expression, so surely it could also find it by name?!
    – EM0
    Jan 20, 2021 at 18:13

I think the problem is that you don't have a partial index and the ON CONFLICT syntax doesn't match the test_upsert_upsert_id_idx index but the other unique constraint.

If you define the index as partial (with WHERE test_field IS NULL):

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX test_upsert_upsert_id_idx
ON public.test_upsert
USING btree
(name COLLATE pg_catalog."default", status)
WHERE test_field IS NULL ;

and these rows already in the table:

INSERT INTO test_upsert as tu
    (name, status, test_field, identifier, count) 
    ('shaun', 1, null, 'ident', 1),
    ('maria', 1, null, 'ident', 1) ;

then the query will succeed:

INSERT INTO test_upsert as tu
    (name, status, test_field, identifier, count) 
    ('peter', 1,   17, 'ident', 1),
    ('shaun', 1, null, 'ident', 3),
    ('maria', 1, null, 'ident', 7)
    (name, status) WHERE test_field IS NULL   -- the conflicting condition
    count = tu.count + EXCLUDED.count 
WHERE                                         -- when to update
    tu.name = 'shaun' AND tu.status = 1 ;     -- if you don't want all of the
                                              -- updates to happen

with the following results:

('peter', 1,   17, 'ident', 1)  -- no conflict: row inserted

('shaun', 1, null, 'ident', 3)  -- conflict: no insert
                           -- matches where: row updated with count = 1+3 = 4

('maria', 1, null, 'ident', 1)  -- conflict: no insert
                     -- doesn't match where: no update
  • This clarifies how to use a partial index. But (I think) it does not solve the problem, yet. Oct 5, 2016 at 2:07
  • shouldn't the count for 'maria' remain at 1 since no update happens?
    – mpprdev
    Oct 26, 2017 at 19:17
  • @mpprdev yes, you are right. Oct 27, 2017 at 9:46

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