I'm looking for a precise piece of information in a database which I have no knowledge about.

It's a 3rd party product, they are slow on answering some questions, and I know the data is lying inside that db, so I want to do a little of retro engineering.

Given one table, is it possible to have a list of the names of the columns for this table ?

For example in SqlServer, it's possible to dump a table into a reusable CREATE statements, that textually lists all the columns the table is composed of.

  • What sort of access do you have to the DB? – dezso Aug 13 '12 at 12:49
  • @dezso, it is on a seperate machine, but I can log into it, and launch psql command line, with administrator rights – Stephane Rolland Aug 13 '12 at 12:54
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    If I understand you correctly, you are after \dt[+] table_name in psql. – dezso Aug 13 '12 at 13:03
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    nope. \dt+ doesn't seem to explicitely display the columns name. it only adds a "Description" field. – Stephane Rolland Aug 13 '12 at 13:16
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    but \d+ table name works ! – Stephane Rolland Aug 13 '12 at 13:18

In addition to the command line \d+ <table_name> you already found, you could also use the Information Schema to look up the column data, using information_schema.columns:

  FROM information_schema.columns
 WHERE table_schema = 'your_schema'
   AND table_name   = 'your_table'

Note: As per the example above, make sure the values are enclosed within quotes.

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    In psql, use \x on or \pset expanded on to make the query results linear (instead of tabular) and thus easier to read stackoverflow.com/a/9605093/513397 – anishpatel Sep 7 '17 at 22:46
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    In current versions (tried it in 9.6) you can do in psql \d+ public.* to get the description (schema + indeces/fkeys/triggers) of all your tables and views in the public schema. We use it in our pre-commit hook script to keep track in git of changes in the DB made by each commit. – Thalis K. Oct 23 '17 at 18:30
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    SELECT column_name to get only column name – Andrew Feb 22 '18 at 16:56
  • simpler one-liner: SELECT * FROM information_schema.columns WHERE table_name = 'your_table'; – Dorian Apr 15 at 13:44

As a supplement to the other answers, even a SELECT statement that returns no rows will expose the column names to you and to application code.

select *
from table_name
where false;

Permissions might come into play with any of these approaches.

  • I presume you mean to pass this SQL to the psql command. I suggest using the --no-psqlrc option in that case to avoid surprises in the output. – JohnMudd Mar 9 '17 at 19:37
  • Except for the hidden columns, which had to be specified to be selected (like pg_class.oid) – okutane Feb 19 '19 at 15:06
  • @JohnMudd: No, I meant it to be executable by almost any client software for almost any dbms. (Almost? Yes, some dbms don't support a WHERE clause like where false. Instead, they require an expression like where 1 = 0.) – Mike Sherrill 'Cat Recall' Apr 17 at 14:56
  • lovely little dirty command! I thought it would take a non-trivial amount of time on larger tables, but nope. – otocan Apr 23 at 8:14

The information schema is the slow and sure way: it is standardized and largely portable to other databases that support it. And it will keep working across major versions.

However, views in the information schema often join many tables from the system catalogs to meet a strictly standardized format - many of which are just dead freight most of the time. This makes them slow.
The Postgres developers aren't making promises, but basics (like what is needed here) aren't going to change across major versions.

psql (the native command-line interface) takes the fast lane, of course, and queries the source directly. If you start psql with the parameter -E, the SQL behind backslash commands like \d is displayed. Or \set ECHO_HIDDEN on from the psql command line. Starting from there you can build an answer to your question.

Given one table, is it possible to have a list of the names of the columns for this table.

SELECT attrelid::regclass AS tbl
     , attname            AS col
     , atttypid::regtype  AS datatype
       -- more attributes?
FROM   pg_attribute
WHERE  attrelid = 'myschema.mytable'::regclass  -- table name, optionally schema-qualified
AND    attnum > 0
AND    NOT attisdropped
ORDER  BY attnum;

Faster than querying information_schema.columns. Try EXPLAIN ANALYZE to see for yourself. Still hardly matters for a one-time look-up. But might make a difference if used in a query / function that's repeated many times.

There are also subtle differences in visibility. Detailed comparison:

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    Really like that you show you -E and show people how to get the sql of psql. – Evan Carroll Dec 2 '16 at 20:31
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    I agree. I ran some speed tests and the pg_catalog runs more than 2x as fast – Daniel L. VanDenBosch Dec 4 '20 at 14:58

psql on PostgreSQL 11+

If you're looking for the column types on a query, you can use psql's \gdesc

    NULL AS zero,
    1 AS one,
    2.0 AS two,
    'three' AS three,
    $1 AS four,
    sin($2) as five,
    'foo'::varchar(4) as six,
 Column |         Type         
 zero   | text
 one    | integer
 two    | numeric
 three  | text
 four   | text
 five   | double precision
 six    | character varying(4)
 now    | date
(8 rows)

PostgreSQL only

This is somewhat hokey but could be a contender if you are looking for the shortest possible SQL:

SELECT json_object_keys(to_json(json_populate_record(NULL::schema_name.table_name, '{}'::JSON)))

or even shorter (assuming there is at least one row present in the table)

SELECT json_object_keys(to_json((SELECT t FROM schema_name.table_name t LIMIT 1)))

The listing preserves the order. In case you don't care about the order and have hstore extension installed you can do even shorter

SELECT skeys(hstore(NULL::schema_name.table_name))

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