Hypothetical Indexes in PostgreSQL — Need and Usage

Sahil Aggarwal
4 min readMay 23, 2021


In this Blog We will first cover what are hypothetical indexes and what is need of these type of indexes and then secondly we shall see the practical usage of these indexes .

Need of Hypothetical Indexes :

As the name suggests these are not real indexes, these are hypothetical indexes i.e.. They are virtual indexes which PostgreSQL query planner does not consider when running queries .

Now the question arises where these Hypothetical Indexes are useful ? ? ?

First Let’s discuss one scenario , we have a large table which is currently in the production environment and we need to make some index on live db and we are not sure whether that index will be useful or not , we even don’t know if by making that index our production environment may be down !!!

So , Solution of above problem will be following :

  • Lets ignore the risk and make the index on live table which can result the following scenario

first of all it will take lots of time depending on data present in table

Live queries may get affected badly if we are not sure if the index we are making will increase or decrease the cost .

We also do not know the size of the index it may be too large which can again impact the production database server .

  • Another solution is to replicate the production database to the local dev environment and then apply all the hits and try there and then apply at the production environment . it seems a very safe and effective approach in almost all cases but this will take too much of time in setting up the things and testing with actual scenario .
  • Third Solution is Hypothetical Indexes as this functionality will create imaginary indexes not real indexes . But there are some things to note about these indexes :

it creates an index in our connection’s private memory. None of the catalog tables nor the original tables are actually touched.

The only way to see if we can benefit from that index is by running an EXPLAIN <QUERY>.

If you wish to run an EXPLAIN ANALYZE that runs that SQL and provides the run time stats, it would not be able to use that hypothetical index. This is because a hypothetical index does not exist in reality.

Currently these indexes will work on BTREE ONLY . However you can try if it works on other type of indexes .

Usage of Hypothetical indexes :


I am using PostgreSQL10 on CentOS7 .

  • Download hypopg by following command :
Wget  https://download.postgresql.org/pub/repos/yum/10/redhat/rhel-7-x86_64/hypopg_10-1.1.4-1.rhel7.x86_64.rpm
  • Then install it on CentOS7 :
yum install hypopg_10-1.1.4-1.rhel7.x86_64.rpm
  • Now create extension using following query
testdb=# CREATE EXTENSION hypopg ;
  • On Creating extension following functions will be created .
testdb=#  select proname from pg_proc where proname ilike '%hyp%';


Now Let’s make a table with 10 Crores rows as following :

testdb=# create table orders as select s as orderno, md5(random()::text) as orderitem , now() as order_created from generate_Series(1,100000000) s;
SELECT 100000000

Now check COST of a query by running explain :

testdb=# explain select * from orders where orderno > 80000  order by order_created desc  limit 100 ;
Limit (cost=3600088.98..3600089.23 rows=100 width=44)
-> Sort (cost=3600088.98..3688095.27 rows=35202513 width=44)
Sort Key: order_created DESC
-> Seq Scan on orders (cost=0.00..2254674.25 rows=35202513 width=44)
Filter: (orderno > 80000)
(5 rows)

Now create the Hypothetical Index :

testdb=# SELECT * FROM hypopg_create_index('create index order_created_idx on orders(order_created)');
indexrelid | indexname
24797 | <24797>btree_orders_order_created
(1 row)

Now again do Explain to check if above index may be useful or not :

testdb=# explain select * from orders where orderno > 80000  order by order_created desc  limit 100 ;
Limit (cost=0.07..4.29 rows=100 width=45)
-> Index Scan Backward using "<24797>btree_orders_order_created" on orders (cost=0.07..4215496.19 rows=99917459 width=45)
Filter: (orderno > 80000)
(3 rows)

from both Explain command output we can clearly see the diffrence in cost and can also see that planner is using newly created hypothetical index .

We can Drop the index as follows :

testdb=# select * from hypopg_drop_index(24797);
(1 row)

We can also check the estimated size of index created virtually as follows :

testdb=# SELECT * FROM hypopg_create_index('create index order_created_idx on orders(order_created)');
indexrelid | indexname
24798 | <24798>btree_orders_order_created
(1 row)
testdb=# select * from pg_size_pretty(hypopg_relation_size(24798));
2990 MB
(1 row)

Now lets create actual index and see what will be the actual size

testdb=# create index order_created_idx on orders(order_created);
testdb=# \di+ order_created_idx
List of relations
Schema | Name | Type | Owner | Table | Size | Description
public | order_created_idx | index | postgres | orders | 2142 MB |
(1 row)

As seen estimated and actual size is comparable .

I Hope it clears the usage if hypothetical index in PostgreSQL . In one of our blogs we learned about why index is not working and also how to check on which tables index needed .

In our future blogs we will talk about how you will get to know about exact index you need to make in database .

Stay Tuned to hello worlds . . .

References : https://www.percona.com/blog/2019/06/21/hypothetical-indexes-in-postgresql/

See the Original Article at hello-worlds.in



Sahil Aggarwal