03.2023 / Category: / Tags: |

Data isn't only about storage and accumulation - sometimes it's also about deletion, cleanup and archiving. In SQL there's more than one way to empty a table. Two essential methods are available:



Both commands serve totally different purposes, which are sometimes not fully understood.
The key difference is that DELETE is basically a row level operation. A DELETE statement will mark every row matching the WHERE-clause as deleted. In the case of billions of rows, this takes a relatively long time.
TRUNCATE is different: It's basically a table operation. Instead of touching each row separately, it will simply empty the entire table and start a new data file.


Let's create some sample data and take a look:

You've just created 1 million rows, which can be used to check the process.

Performance: TRUNCATE vs. DELETE

The first example shows a simple DELETE which will delete all rows and terminate the transaction (ROLLBACK):

PostgreSQL needs around 0.7 seconds for this operation. In the next listing you can see what happens if you use TRUNCATE instead:

TRUNCATE is considerably faster than DELETE. You need to keep in mind that TRUNCATE can only be used if you want to clean an entire table (or partition), while DELETE was designed to remove rows more selectively. The conclusion therefore is that TRUNCATE is unbeatable if you want to delete all rows. Avoid DELETE in this case.

TRUNCATE: Under the hood

It's noteworthy that in PostgreSQL, TRUNCATE is fully transactional. That means that TRUNCATE can be rolled back just like any other command. People therefore often ask: How does it work-- and how can this ever work? Let's take a look and see:

In PostgreSQL a table is stored in a set of files identified by the “relfilenode”. What happens is that PostgreSQL will lock the table during TRUNCATE and create a new relfilenode:

As you can see, a new file has been created. The beauty is: In case of a ROLLBACK, the new file can be thrown away and you're back where you started. However, if the transaction is able to COMMIT, the new file will be used:

During these operations, the OID (= object ID) will stay constant.

Finally …

If you want to dive deeper into PostgreSQL and if you happen to be interested in how to modify data and table structures efficiently, I want to recommend my post about ALTER TABLE done right on our website.

Also, if you want to learn more about PostgreSQL and if you're interested in other topics, feel free to leave a comment with your suggestion. We're eager to post useful content that's relevant and helpful to you.

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