I have a view that essentially presents a denormalized view onto my data.

It's roughly like having a blog table and a comments table, and the view then shows a blog post per row, with all the comments belonging to that post in an array in a json field.

The view uses the following code to achieve that:

  (SELECT array_to_json(array_agg(row_to_json(x.*))) AS array_to_json  FROM
     (SELECT foo, bar
      FROM table_b
      WHERE a.id = table_b.abc_id) x) AS baz

I've made the view updatable, which works for everything except this kind of column. I also have some typical many-to-many relationships in that data, and those are automatically updated when you edit them via the view. But I couldn't figure out how to do the same for this pseudo-json column.

Essentially, I need to pass this json to an update/insert statement in my INSTEAD OF trigger. I experimented with json_to_recordset, but I couldn't get that to do what I need.

Any idea how I could achieve this?

  • I'm not sure I fully understand your needs, and my apologies if my assumptions are wrong => If you always work with this view, why don't you just have a JSON all_comments column for all the comments in you blog table? It looks like you're trying to work in a "document oriented way" (what you would do with MongoDB; for instance). If this is the case, why not do it in full? Optionally, why not use a text array (text[]) and store there all the comments.
    – joanolo
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 20:57
  • @joanolo the view is essentially a compatibility layer for code that expects a document-oriented interface. I want to move that to a proper relational schema, but not all at once, which is why I have this kind of view.
    – John
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 8:26

2 Answers 2


What you're trying to achieve is something quite uncommon. However, it is feasible.


You have a certain parent/child table relationship. I call the two tables parent and child, and assume the following structure:

-- Everything in its own schema
CREATE SCHEMA json_parent_child ;
SET search_path = json_parent_child ;

   parent_id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, 
   some_payload TEXT
) ;

   parent_id integer NOT NULL REFERENCES parent(parent_id),
   child_nr integer NOT NULL default 0,
   some_more_payload TEXT,
   PRIMARY KEY(parent_id, child_nr)
) ;

NOTE: The primary key of the child table is NOT an arbitrary child_id field, but a (let's call it) natural key (parent_id, child_nr), that reads like '1st child of parent', '2nd child of parent', ... , 'nth child of parent'.

For the sake of completeness, I fill the tables with some values:

INSERT INTO parent (parent_id, some_payload)
  (1, 'parent-1'),
  (2, 'parent-2'),
  (3, 'parent-3'),
  (4, 'parent-4') ;

INSERT INTO child (parent_id, child_nr, some_more_payload)
  (1, 1, 'payload-1 of parent-1'),
  (1, 2, 'payload-2 of parent-1'),
  (1, 3, 'payload-3 of parent-1'),
  (1, 4, 'payload-4 of parent-1'),

  (3, 1, 'payload-1 of parent-3') ;

At this point, we create a VIEW which shows all the information from the parent table, and also that of the children, in an aggregate form: a JSON column containing an array of JSON objects:

    json_agg(row(child.some_more_payload) ORDER BY child.child_nr) 
         AS more_payload
    LEFT JOIN child USING(parent_id)
    parent.parent_id ;

At this point, this is the data shown by our view:

SELECT * FROM all_together ;

|  parent_id | some_payload |            more_payload              |
|          1 |   parent-1   | [{"f1":"payload-1 of parent-1"},     |
|            |              | {"f1":"payload-2 of parent-1"},      |
|            |              | {"f1":"payload-3 of parent-1"},      |
|            |              | {"f1":"payload-4 of parent-1"}]      |
|          2 |   parent-2   |  [{"f1":null}]                       | 
|          3 |   parent-3   |  [{"f1":"payload-1 of parent-3"}]    | 
|          4 |   parent-4   |  [{"f1":null}]                       | 

(The way that rows with no children are shown can be improved. This is first concept.)

We can now define a trigger function to handle the updates of this view:

CREATE FUNCTION update_all_together() RETURNS trigger AS
    -- UPDATE the base table 'parent'
        parent_id = new.parent_id,
        some_payload = new.some_payload 
        parent_id = old.parent_id ;

    -- UPDATE (actually, DELETE and REINSERT) the children
    -- Can be optimised to really only update what has changed
        parent_id = old.parent_id ;

        (parent_id, child_nr, some_more_payload)
        new.parent_id, row_number() over (), x.f1
        json_to_recordset(new.more_payload) AS x(f1 text) 
        x.f1 IS NOT NULL;

    RETURN new ;
LANGUAGE plpgsql ;

and link the trigger function to an INSTEAD trigger:

CREATE TRIGGER all_together_update_trigger
  ON json_parent_child.all_together
  EXECUTE PROCEDURE json_parent_child.update_all_together();

When you perform an UPDATE of the view:

    some_payload = 'updated 1',
    more_payload = 
  {"f1":"new_payload-1 of parent-1"}, 
  {"f1":"new_payload-2 of parent-1"}, 
  {"f1":"new_payload-3 of parent-1"}, 
  {"f1":"new_payload-4 of parent-1"}
    parent_id = 1 ;

This is what you get after:

  SELECT * FROM all_together;

  |  parent_id | some_payload |            more_payload              |  
  |          1 |   updated 1  | [{"f1":"new_payload-1 of parent-1"}, |  
  |            |              | {"f1":"new_payload-2 of parent-1"},  |  
  |            |              | {"f1":"new_payload-3 of parent-1"},  |  
  |            |              | {"f1":"new_payload-4 of parent-1"}]  |  
  |          2 |   parent-2   |  [{"f1":null}]                       |  
  |          3 |   parent-3   |  [{"f1":"payload-1 of parent-3"}]    |  
  |          4 |   parent-4   |  [{"f1":null}]                       |  

The two little tricks, that basically follow the idea of the OP, with some small variations:

  1. Use json_agg(row(child.some_more_payload) ORDER BY child.child_nr) to aggregate all children into a JSON array (of JSON objects), keeping order. It is necessary to have this data type to allow the next function to give back the rows.

  2. At the trigger, get back to a recordset by using json_to_recordset(new.more_payload) AS x(f1 text), and INSERT this recordset into the child table.

NOTE: I've not checked the 'null' cases, but it just a matter of adding some extra conditions to the trigger, and/or having some strategic COALESCE and/or NULLIF in the appropriate places.


From the docs on Updatable Views

Simple views are automatically updatable: the system will allow INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE statements to be used on the view in the same way as on a regular table. A view is automatically updatable if it satisfies all of the following conditions:

  • The view must have exactly one entry in its FROM list, which must be a table or another updatable view.

  • The view definition must not contain WITH, DISTINCT, GROUP BY, HAVING, LIMIT, or OFFSET clauses at the top level.

  • The view definition must not contain set operations (UNION, INTERSECT or EXCEPT) at the top level.

  • The view's select list must not contain any aggregates, window functions or set-returning functions.

Your view is twice-over not "automatically" updatable. However,

You can get the effect of an updatable view by creating INSTEAD OF triggers on the view, which must convert attempted inserts, etc. on the view into appropriate actions on other tables. For more information see CREATE TRIGGER. Another possibility is to create rules (see CREATE RULE), but in practice triggers are easier to understand and use correctly.

I strongly suggest you don't go down that route though and you consider fixing your schema and moving away from jsonb. It's not made to be used in that fashion.

Here is how you can think of the problem, JSON isn't for presentation. You're storing your data in a schema. You're rendering it into JSON and obscuring that schema entirely. Going back to the schema from JSON is going to require you to create a translation layer as complex as the whole database itself. Instead,

  • make the queries on the underlying data in your application. Make the JSON in the application when you need to send it to the client. And, make the updates on the underlying schema like you would normally do.
  • or, use something like PostgREST which defaults to sending out JSON when you write the base query using its API. This method does not collapse your schema. Then it provides you the ability to write against that as well (through other API calls).

Shy of all of that, to proceed start by creating your stored proc, and then set it as a trigger..

CREATE TRIGGER test_trigger
    ON test_view
    EXECUTE PROCEDURE test_trigger_function();
  • 1
    I think the OP already knows his view is not automatically updatable. He already mentions INSTEAD OF trigger.
    – joanolo
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 21:08
  • @joanolo I updated with some alt solutions that aren't a bottomless pit of pain. Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 21:29
  • 1
    (Looks like [my assumption] this is coming from a document-oriented-structure culture, not a relational one; and there's a missmatch)
    – joanolo
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 21:39

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