Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sorting improvements in PostgreSQL 9.2: the case for micro-optimisation

There has been much discussion of performance improvements in the upcoming 9.2 release of PostgreSQL. Recently, I noticed that Regina Obe and Leo Hsu's new book, "PostgreSQL: Up and running" prominently listed "Sorting improvements that improve in-memory sorting operations by as much as 20%" as a performance feature of that release. While they do get things about right there, I'm not sure that this improvement warrants such prominent placement, at least in sheer terms of its likely impact on the performance of production PostgreSQL systems - we packed a lot of great performance improvements into 9.2. The likely reason that it was picked up on in the book, and the real reason for this blogpost, is the story behind the development of the optimisation, which I for one find kind of interesting, and worth sharing. It's more interesting from the perspective of someone with a general interest in systems programming or PostgreSQL's design philosophy than a casual user, though. If you're a casual user, the short version is that simple queries that perform in-memory sorting of integers and floats will be about 23% faster.