Temporal Tables PostgreSQL Extension
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README.md

Temporal Tables Extension

PGXN version Build Status Build Status

Introduction

A temporal table is a table that records the period of time when a row is valid. There are two types of periods: the application period (also known as valid-time or business-time) and the system period (also known as transaction-time).

The system period is a column (or a pair of columns) with a system-maintained value that contains the period of time when a row is valid from a database perspective. When you insert a row into such table, the system automatically generates the values for the start and end of the period. When you update or delete a row from a system-period temporal table, the old row is archived into another table, which is called the history table.

The application period is a column (or a pair of columns) with an application-maintained value that contains the period of time when a row is valid from an application perspective. This column is populated by an application.

Note that these two time periods do not have to be the same for a single fact. For example, you may have a temporal table storing data about historical or even future facts. The application period of these facts differs from the system period which is set when we add or modify the facts into the table.

Currently, Temporal Tables Extension supports the system-period temporal tables only.

Additional information on temporal databases can be found at the following sites:

  1. Wikipedia: Temporal Database
  2. Developing Time-Oriented Database Applications in SQL, Richard T. Snodgrass, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, July, 1999, 504+xxiii pages, ISBN 1-55860-436-7.
  3. WG2 N1536. WG3: KOA-046. Temporal Features in SQL standard. Krishna Kulkarni,. IBM Corporation

There is a fantastic tutorial on using and querying temporal tables in PostgreSQL with the Temporal Tables Extension written by Clark Dave.

Requirements

Temporal Tables Extension requires PostgreSQL 9.2 or higher.

Installation

If you are running Linux, the easiest way to install the extension is to to use the PGXN client.

$ pgxn install temporal_tables

Or if you prefer to stick with the good old Make, you can set up the extension like this:

$ make
$ make install
$ make installcheck

If you encounter an error such as:

"Makefile", line 8: Need an operator

You need to use GNU make, which may well be installed on your system as gmake:

$ gmake
$ gmake install
$ gmake installcheck

If you encounter an error such as:

make: pg_config: Command not found

Be sure that you have pg_config installed and in your path. If you used a package management system such as RPM to install PostgreSQL, be sure that the -devel package is also installed. If necessary tell the build process where to find it:

$ env PG_CONFIG=/path/to/pg_config make && make install && make installcheck

If you encounter an error such as:

ERROR: must be owner of database regression

You need to run the test suite using a super user, such as the default "postgres" super user:

$ make installcheck PGUSER=postgres

If you are running Windows, you need to run the MSBuild command in the Visual Studio command prompt.

> msbuild /p:pgversion=9.4 /p:configuration=Release /p:platform=x64

The platforms available are x64 and x86 and the configuration are 9.2, 9.3 , 9.4, and 9.5.

Or you can download the latest released zip here.

Then you must copy the DLL from the project into the PostgreSQL's lib directory and the .sql and .control files into the directory share\extension.

> copy x64\9.4\temporal_tables.dll "C:\Program Files\PostgreSQL\9.4\lib"
> copy *.control "C:\Program Files\PostgreSQL\9.4\share\extension"
> copy *.sql "C:\Program Files\PostgreSQL\9.4\share\extension"

Once the extension is installed, you can add it to a database. Connect to a database as a super user and do this:

$ CREATE EXTENSION temporal_tables;

Usage

Creating a system-period temporal table

Temporal Tables Extension uses a general trigger function to maintain system-period temporal tables behaviour:

versioning(<system_period_column_name>, <history_table_name>, <adjust>)

The function must be fired before INSERT or UPDATE or DELETE on a system-period temporal table. You are to specify a system period column name, a history table name and "adjust" parameter (see Updating data section for details).

Let's have a look at a simple example.

First, create a table:

CREATE TABLE employees
(
  name text NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
  department text,
  salary numeric(20, 2)
);

In order to make this table system-period temporal table we should first add a system period column:

ALTER TABLE employees ADD COLUMN sys_period tstzrange NOT NULL;

Then we need a history table that contains archived rows of our table. The easiest way to create it is by using LIKE statement:

CREATE TABLE employees_history (LIKE employees);

Note that a history table does not have to have the same structure as the original one. For example, you may want to archive some columns of an original row but ignore others, or a history table may contain some useful information that is not necessary in the original table. The only two requirements for a history table are:

  1. A history table must contain system period column with the same name and data type as in the original one.
  2. If the history table and the original one both contain the column then the data type of this column must be the same in these two tables.

Finally we create a trigger on our table to link it with the history table:

CREATE TRIGGER versioning_trigger
BEFORE INSERT OR UPDATE OR DELETE ON employees
FOR EACH ROW EXECUTE PROCEDURE versioning('sys_period',
                                          'employees_history',
                                          true);

Inserting data

For a user inserting data into a system-period temporal table is similar to inserting data into a regular table. For example, the following data was inserted on August 8, 2006 to the table employees:

INSERT INTO employees (name, department, salary)
VALUES ('Bernard Marx', 'Hatchery and Conditioning Centre', 10000);

INSERT INTO employees (name, department, salary)
VALUES ('Lenina Crowne', 'Hatchery and Conditioning Centre', 7000);

INSERT INTO employees (name, department, salary)
VALUES ('Helmholtz Watson', 'College of Emotional Engineering', 18500);

The employees table now contains the following data:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 10000 [2006-08-08, )
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 7000 [2006-08-08, )
Helmholtz Watson College of Emotional Engineering 18500 [2006-08-08, )

The history table employees_history is empty:

name department salary sys_period

The start of sys_period column represents the time when the row became current. The trigger generates this value by using a CURRENT_TIMESTAMP value which denotes the time when the first data change statement was executed in the current transaction.

Updating data

When a user updates the values of columns in rows of system-period temporal table, the trigger inserts a copy of the old row into the associated history table. If a single transaction makes multiple updates to the same row, only one history row is generated. For example, the following data was updated on February 27, 2007 in the table employees:

UPDATE employees SET salary = 11200 WHERE name = 'Bernard Marx';

The employees table now contains the following data:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 11200 [2007-02-27, )
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 7000 [2006-08-08, )
Helmholtz Watson College of Emotional Engineering 18500 [2006-08-08, )

The history table employees_history now contains the following data:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 10000 [2006-08-08, 2007-02-27)

Update conflicts and time adjustment

Update conflicts can occur when multiple transactions are updating the same row. For example, two transactions A and B are executing statements against the employees table at the same time:

Time Transaction A Transaction B
T1 INSERT INTO employees (name, salary) VALUES ('Bernard Marx', 10000);
T2 INSERT INTO employees (name, salary) VALUES ('Lenina Crowne', 7000);
T3 COMMIT;
T4 UPDATE employees SET salary = 6800 WHERE name = 'Lenina Crowne';
T5 INSERT INTO employees (name, salary) VALUES ('Helmholtz Watson', 18500);
T6 COMMIT;

After the inserts at T1 and T2, the employees history contains the following data:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 10000 [T1, )
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 7000 [T2, )

The history table employee_history is empty.

At time T4 the trigger must set the start of sys_period column of the row to T1 and insert the following row into the history table:

name department salary sys_period
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 7000 [T2, T1)

However, T2 > T1 and the row cannot be inserted. In this situation, the update at time T4 would fail with SQLSTATE 22000. To avoid such failures, you can specify "adjust" parameter of the trigger and set it to "true". Then the start of sys_period column at time T4 is set to time T2 plus delta (a small interval of time, typically equals to 1 microsecond). After this adjustment and the completion of transaction A, the employees table looks like this:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 10000 [T1, )
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 6800 [T2 + delta, )
Helmholtz Watson College of Emotional Engineering 18500 [T1, )

The history table employees_history contains the following data:

name department salary sys_period
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 7000 [T2, T2 + delta)

Deleting data

When a user deletes data from a system-period temporal table, the trigger adds rows to the associated history table. For example, the following data was deleted on 24 December, 2012 from the table employees:

DELETE FROM employees WHERE name = 'Helmholtz Watson';

The employees table now contains the following data:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 10000 [2007-02-27, )
Lenina Crowne Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 7000 [2006-08-08, )

The history table employees_history now looks like this:

name department salary sys_period
Bernard Marx Hatchery and Conditioning Centre 10000 [2006-08-08, 2007-02-27)
Helmholtz Watson College of Emotional Engineering 18500 [2006-08-08, 2012-12-24)

Advanced usage

Instead of using CURRENT_TIMESTAMP, you may want to set a custom system time for versioning triggers. It is useful for creating a data warehouse from a system that recorded a system time and you want to use that time instead.

SELECT set_system_time('1985-08-08 06:42:00+08');

To revert it back to the default behaviour, call the function with NULL as its argument.

SELECT set_system_time(NULL);

If the set_system_time function is issued within a transaction that is later aborted, all the changes are undone. If the transaction is committed, the changes will persist until the end of the session.

Examples and hints

Using inheritance when creating history tables

In the example above we used LIKE statement to create the history table, sometimes it is better to use inheritance for this task. For example:

CREATE TABLE employees_history
(
  name text NOT NULL,
  department text,
  salary numeric(20, 2),
  sys_period tstzrange NOT NULL
);

Then create the employees table:

CREATE TABLE employees (PRIMARY KEY(name)) INHERITS (employees_history);

Pruning history tables

History tables are always growing and so are consuming an increasing amount of storage. There are several ways you can prune old data from a history table:

  1. Periodically delete old data from a history table.
  2. Use partitioning and detach old partitions from a history table (for more information on table parititioning see PostgreSQL documentation).

There are many possible rules for pruning old rows:

  1. Prune rows older than a certain age.
  2. Retain only the latest N versions of a row.
  3. Prune rows when a corresponding row is deleted from the system-period temporal table.
  4. Prune rows that satisfy the specified business rules.

You can also set another tablespace for a history table to move it on a cheaper storage.

Using system-period temporal tables for data audit

It is possible to use system-period temporal tables for data audit. For example, you can add the following triggers to save user that modified or deleted the current row:

CREATE FUNCTION employees_modify()
RETURNS TRIGGER AS $$
BEGIN
  NEW.user_modified = SESSION_USER;
  RETURN NEW;
END;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

CREATE TRIGGER employees_modify
BEFORE INSERT OR UPDATE ON employees
FOR EACH ROW EXECUTE PROCEDURE employees_modify();

CREATE FUNCTION employees_delete()
RETURNS TRIGGER AS $$
BEGIN
  NEW.user_deleted = SESSION_USER;
  RETURN NEW;
END;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

CREATE TRIGGER employees_delete
BEFORE INSERT ON employees_history
FOR EACH ROW EXECUTE PROCEDURE employees_delete();

Notes

Temporal Tables Extension is distributed under the terms of BSD 2-clause license. See LICENSE or http://www.opensource.org/licenses/bsd-license.php for more details.