On 28th of March 2018, Andrew Dunstan committed patch:
Fast ALTER TABLE ADD COLUMN with a non-NULL default Currently adding a column to a table with a non-NULL default results in a rewrite of the table. For large tables this can be both expensive and disruptive. This patch removes the need for the rewrite as long as the default value is not volatile. The default expression is evaluated at the time of the ALTER TABLE and the result stored in a new column (attmissingval) in pg_attribute, and a new column (atthasmissing) is set to true. Any existing row when fetched will be supplied with the attmissingval. New rows will have the supplied value or the default and so will never need the attmissingval. Any time the table is rewritten all the atthasmissing and attmissingval settings for the attributes are cleared, as they are no longer needed. The most visible code change from this is in heap_attisnull, which acquires a third TupleDesc argument, allowing it to detect a missing value if there is one. In many cases where it is known that there will not be any (e.g. catalog relations) NULL can be passed for this argument. Andrew Dunstan, heavily modified from an original patch from Serge Rielau. Reviewed by Tom Lane, Andres Freund, Tomas Vondra and David Rowley. Discussion: https://postgr.es/m/-7002-4c27-59f5-@2ndQuadrant.com
This is absolutely amazing.
So, for the longest time, when you did:
alter table x add column z text;
it was virtually instantaneous. Get a lock on table, add information about new column to system catalogs, and it's done.
But when you tried:
alter table x add column z text default 'some value';
then it took long time. How long it did depend on size of table.
This was because postgresql was actually rewriting the whole table, adding the column to each row, and filling it with default value.
Now, thanks to this patch – this is no longer true.
On Pg 10.3:
$ create table z (id int4 primary key); CREATE TABLE Time: 99.873 ms $ insert into z (id) select generate_series(1,10000000); INSERT 0 10000000 Time: 52770.843 ms (00:52.771) $ alter table z add column x text default 'xx'; ALTER TABLE Time: 27271.854 ms (00:27.272) $ select * from z limit 2; id | x ----+---- 1 | xx 2 | xx (2 rows) Time: 1.306 ms
But in new Pg11:
$ create table z (id int4 primary key); CREATE TABLE Time: 10.255 ms $ insert into z (id) select generate_series(1,10000000); INSERT 0 10000000 Time: 13695.293 ms (00:13.695) $ alter table z add column x text default 'xx'; ALTER TABLE Time: 19.509 ms $ select * from z limit 2; id | x ----+---- 1 | xx 2 | xx (2 rows)
This is great. Thanks to all involved.