My question is why a multi-column index is not used for a index only scan, when a partial index with equivalent information (i think) is.

The table:

  id      INT,
  descr   TEXT,
  flag    BOOLEAN

       MD5(RANDOM()::TEXT) AS descr,
       (RANDOM() < 0.1) AS flag;

FROM test LIMIT 10;

A content sample:

id  descr   flag
1   81978ceb5514461fbad9af1152ad78f6    true
2   cc0aee68ba3e0095cc74d53e8da55fef    false
3   689a76e5897d565638f8ddd2d2019b7a    true
4   9df03bc2969a6af88cd1d6e0423d0f4c    true
5   318983766d11f831e9f0df34606dc908    false
6   198102bb71640a16f28263b7fb56ba2e    false
7   9bef7320389db46a8ad88ffa611e81b5    false
8   c1f0d637ee0a985aa7d768a78d2d97b1    false
9   781b4064f721ae3879d95579264b0aba    false
10  c4582890bb1e9af430e0f36b50f5e88c    false

The query I need to run is:

FROM test
WHERE flag;

Now if I use a partial index. The query (eventually) gets executed as a index only scan:

  ON test (id) WHERE flag;

Index Only Scan using i1 on test  (cost=0.29..354.95 rows=9911 width=4) (actual time=0.120..6.268 rows=9911 loops=1)
  Heap Fetches: 9911
  Buffers: shared hit=834 read=29
Planning time: 0.806 ms
Execution time: 6.922 ms

What I do not understand is, why a multi column index of the following form is never used for a index-only scan?

  ON test (flag, id);

Bitmap Heap Scan on test  (cost=189.10..1122.21 rows=9911 width=4) (actual time=0.767..5.986 rows=9911 loops=1)
  Filter: flag
  Heap Blocks: exact=834
  Buffers: shared hit=863
  ->  Bitmap Index Scan on i2  (cost=0.00..186.62 rows=9911 width=0) (actual time=0.669..0.669 rows=9911 loops=1)
        Index Cond: (flag = true)
        Buffers: shared hit=29
Planning time: 0.090 ms
Execution time: 6.677 ms

Can't the query visit all consecutive leaves of the btree where flag is True to determine all ids? (Note that tuple visibility probably is not the problem since the index-only scan is used with the partial index i1.)

My Postgres version is: PostgreSQL 9.6.2 on x86_64-pc-linux-gnu, compiled by gcc (Ubuntu 5.3.1-14ubuntu2) 5.3.1 20160413, 64-bit


Tuple visibility is the problem. It uses the bitmap index scan in the unvacuumed case because it thinks it will be faster, not because it is incapable of using the IOS. Once I do a VACUUM test on your exact example, it starts using the index only scan on index i2, because now it thinks that the IOS will be faster.

As for why it doesn't use the bitmap scan for the partial index when the table is not vacuumed, that is a bit more complicated and is not about visibility. One of the benefits of bitmap scans (and in your case, the only benefit of them) is that it reads the table in physical order and visits each table block only once, regardless of the order of the index. PostgreSQL sees a perfect correlation between id and the order of the physical table rows, so for the index with id as a leading column (the partial index) it think this benefit does not really matter, as it will read the table in physical order anyway even with a regular index scan. Since bitmap scans have slightly higher CPU cost, it won't do one when it offers no predicted IO advantage. The correlation between the flag column and the physical table order is lower, and so it thinks bitmap index scans will get a benefit when using the index which has flag as its leading column, which happens to be the full index. It thinks this benefit outweighs the CPU cost. If the table was marked all-visible, then the benefits of an index-only-scan would tip the scales back again, but without vacuuming, that doesn't happen.

Now in the case of the index on (flag, id), the leading column is being tested for equality and the only rows selected will have the same value for flag. So what really matters is the correlation with the next column in the index, id, not with the flag column. But PostgreSQL isn't (apparently) clever enough to understand this. Now I am kind of curious how hard it would be to make it understand that.

  • Interesting why the index-only scan was used with the partial index even without vacuum. Maybe the parts of the table (10%) that where covered by the partial index where all visible but not the whole table? Any thoughts on that? – Joe23 Jul 20 '18 at 7:15

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