Is there any way to add my own metadata to tables and columns in Postgres, such as key-value pairs of short text?

I am migrating tables, columns, and data from another database system. That other system has properties defined on tables and columns not matched by Postgres. For example, in the other database system each table can be assigned a color for use in graphical display of the database structure such as CUSTOMER_ table being green and INVOICE_ table being red.

So I would like a way to keep track of those property settings within my Postgres database in such a way that my Java app may query for the custom metadata via JDBC.

SET attribute ?

I noticed:

ALTER TABLE … SET ( attribute_option = value [, ... ] )


ALTER TABLE … ALTER [ COLUMN ] column_name SET ( attribute_option = value [, ... ] )

The documentation for ALTER TABLE does not really explain what these attributes do. Can I invent my own attribute names to be used as keys that map to my own metadata values?

Or is there some other approach to having Postgres remember my own custom metadata?


I suppose one workaround might be embedding key-value pairs as text with the COMMENT property on each table and column. Seems like kind of a hack, and kind of messy as I do often use COMMENT to document business rules as prose. But I suppose it would work. Any better way to remember per-table and per-column attributes?

Extended Properties of Microsoft SQL Server

Apparently MS SQL Server offers an "Extended Properties" feature for such meta-data. Described here on Stack Overflow and here on Microsoft doc.

Perhaps something like that in Postgres?

Additional tables

Of course I could define my own extra tables to store this meta-data. But I was hoping for something tied to the targeted tables and columns to be more obvious to those maintaining this app down road. No point in re-inventing the wheel if Postgres already provides me with a custom meta-data facility of some sort.


2 Answers 2


Usually the most portable way of doing this is to have your own metadata table, something like:

create table meta(
  table_name text not null,
  column_name text not null,
  attribute_name text not null,
  attribute_value text not null,
  primary key (table_name, column_name, attribute_name)
  • This approach works with any database
  • Access to metadata is done by standard SQL
  • Migration and backup is very easy
  • The attribute_value can be anything, you can declare it as byte[], text, json, jsonb, whatever you want...
  • I would use a jsonb column to store the attributes (one row per column)
    – user1822
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 17:51
  • @a_horse_with_no_name Sometimes we have different metadata for different apps, so it is better to have attribute_name and attribute_value, that way you can use attribute_name as your app_id and attribute_value (json) as metadata, if you have only one App it will have only one row per column.
    – mnesarco
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 14:43
  • 1
    You can have multiple apps inside the JSON: {"cool_app": {"att1": 42}, "other_app" : {"foo": "bar"}}
    – user1822
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 14:47
  • This approach breaks when the name of the table (or column) changes. Can this meta-data table be linked with a foreign key to a system table used by the Postgres engine? Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 0:20
  • @Brasil Bourque, Maybe. postgresql.org/docs/9.1/infoschema-columns.html
    – mnesarco
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 20:30

Answer from comments by a-horse-with-no-name:

The manual does explain what those attributes are:

Currently, the only defined per-attribute options are n_distinct and n_distinct_inherited, which override the number-of-distinct-values estimates made by subsequent ANALYZE operations.

If you could introduce your own attributes the manual would say so. But in short: no, you can not introduce your own column attributes unless you change the Postgres source code. Your only options are to store that information as a comment (e.g. as a JSON) or to create your own table that stores the attributes in a JSON or HSTORE column.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.