What is PostgreSQL?


PostgreSQL is one of the world’s most widely used database systems in the world, offering support for not only structured query language (SQL), but JSON as well, making it a great choice for database-driven enterprise applications. In this database programming and database administration tutorial, we discuss what PostgreSQL is, its relation to SQL, and the benefits of working with the hybrid database system.

Read: What is MySQL?

Overview of PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL, like other offshoots of SQL database systems, is often viewed as a database programming language. However, this is a misnomer, as PostgreSQL is actually an open source relational database system. What is unique about PostgreSQL is that it supports not only structured query language (SQL) querying (like other relational database management systems), but JSON as well, which is used for non-relational database queries.

The phrase relational in the realm of databases refers to the way in which data is structured in a database. Using structures known as tables, which are comprised of rows (horizontal) and columns (vertical) that intersect to create a cell that stores a singular data point, relational databases store data in such a way that information has relationships with other pieces of data.

For instance, you may have a table with columns named FirstName, LastName, and Social. These columns, which run vertically or up and down, hold that representative of the column headers. Database administrators can infer that column FirstName will hold “first names”.

The same logic follows for LastName (for “last names”) and Social (presumably for social security numbers). Meanwhile, the rows running horizontally will hold those data points. The first row, for instance, might contain these three data points:

FirstName  LastName  Social
Ronnie     Payne     111-11-1111

Because we are using a relational database, the data points Ronnie, Payne, and 111-11-1111 are all related. If we queried the database to find all records associated with Social whose value is 111-11-1111, then the values Ronnie and Payne would be returned as well, but no other records, unless they also contained the Social value of 111-11-1111.

That is a loose example of how relational databases work.

One last point about relational databases. You may also here a relational database referred to as a relational database management system (RDBMS); the two, however, are not the same thing. A relational database is simply a type of database, while an RDBMS is an entire database system, including database management tools.

To learn more, check out our tutorial: What is a Relational Database Management System?

What are the Benefits of PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL first hit the scene back in 1986 at the University of Berkeley in California. Originally called “POSTGRES” after the original “Ingres” database. The intention of its developers was to create a database that supported multiple data types, which it currently does.

With over two decades of support and development, PostgreSQL has a number of benefits for both database developers and database administrators, which we will highlight below.

Language Support

PostgreSQL supports many programming languages, including, of course, SQL. Other languages supported by the relational database include:

  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • Perl
  • Python
  • R
  • Shell
  • Tcl
  • Lua
  • Go and Golang
  • C#
  • C and C++
  • Ruby

Support for Data Types

As stated, PostgreSQL was created with the thought of having the primary feature of supporting many data types. To that end, PostgreSQL supports the following data types:

  • Primitives (integers, strings, Booleans, datetimes)
  • Geometric types
  • hstore type
  • Ranges
  • Monetary types for currency types
  • Multidimensional arrays
  • Network addresses
  • JSON objects

Open Source

PostgreSQL is an open source relational database, meaning its source code is available for download. With this codebase in hand, developers can tailor the database to their organizations needs. This also means that the codebase is available to the general public, who help contribute to the reliability, functionality, and security of the database.

Further, since PostgreSQL is open source, it is free, making it an ideal choice for budget conscience software development teams looking for license free database options.

Hybrid Database

PostgreSQL offers support for both relational and non-relational queries. This means that database developers and database administrators can perform SQL queries on rows containing transaction or statistics data (where the data is related) while also using NoSQL to store and process JSON documents.

This hybrid functionality is great for flexible development shops that require multiple types of database systems.

Data Compliance

Another benefit of PostgreSQL has to do with data compliancy. PostgreSQL supports ACID semantics, which are used for transactions. In addition PostgreSQL allows for foreign keys, joins, views, triggers, and stored procedures.

Binary large objects, like images, videos, and sound can also be stored in PostgreSQL databases, making it an excellent choice for media heavy, database-driven applications.

PostgreSQL is Object Oriented

PostgreSQL is also an object-relational database, meaning it supports object oriented programming (OOP) concepts such as classes, objects, function overloading, and custom data type creation. This includes support for inheritance as well, as a child table can inherit columns from parent tables, making PostgreSQL a truly powerful database option.

PostgreSQL is Extensible

In computer programming, the phrase extensible means that you can add to the functionality of a given technology – usually the language or database itself. PostgreSQL is an extensible database, meaning database programmers and database administrators can extend the functionality of PostgreSQL by adding new data types, index methods, aggregate functions, functions, and operators.

Spatial Data

PostgreSQL is well-known for its support of spatial data, such as having a specific data type for handling geometrical objects and geographic objects. Using the PostGIS extension, PostgreSQL can be used as a geospatial data store, making it popular among government agencies, geographic information systems (GIS), and location-based service providers.

PostgreSQL Features

PostgreSQL supports the following database features:

  • Foreign keys
  • Table inheritance
  • Object orientation via classes and objects
  • User-defined types
  • Multiple data types
  • Async replication
  • Multi-version concurrency control (MVCC) architecture
  • Nested transactions
  • Tablespaces
  • Point-in-time recovery

Final Thoughts on PostgreSQL

Is PostgreSQL the right solution for your software development team? That will depend largely on your organizations needs. If your team wants a flexible database that can handle both SQL and NoSQL queries, then you should strongly consider working with PostgreSQL. Likewise, if your company relies works with geospatial or location-based datasets, you can not go wrong choose PostgreSQL as your database.

On the other hand, if you develop web applications that are database-driven, you might want to choose a PostgreSQL alternative such as MySQL. If your development team technology stack is heavily dependent on Microsoft-related technologies and languages like C# and ASP.NET, MSSQL Server is probably a better option.

Read: Best Online Courses to Learn SQL

Ronnie Payne
Ronnie Payne
Ronnie Payne has a background in e-commerce marketing and web development, having acted as a digital marketing consultant and operator of several online stores. He specializes in e-commerce, Internet marketing, content marketing, and web design.

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