In order to get the best performance from our database engine, most of the times, we have to take advantage of its exclusive features. This has the disadvantage of getting farther away from standard, ANSI code, and in the case of RDBM engines, this also means, most of the ORMs will not work.

Besides that, it could sometimes be worth exploring what we can gain by adapting to the engine.

This is something learnt from the feedback of my talk given at EuroPython 2016. After the talk, an attendee told me that he liked it, and asked me about the code portrayed in one of the slides, the one about decorators with the example of moving some records from one table to another. He asked me if I ran code like that one in production, to which I answered no: the code is entirely fictional, and it was done for the mere purposes of the examples, so I just needed an excuse for a task that could be done in two SQL statements, so the example with the decorator can be shown.

The code of the example follows:

INSERT INTO archive_orders
SELECT * from orders
WHERE order_date < '2016-01-01';

DELETE from orders WHERE order_date < '2016-01-01';

Then I learnt that there is another way of writing that sort of statements, with the "returning" sentence of PostgreSQL.

It would be re-written like:

WITH deleted as (
    DELETE FROM orders WHERE order_date < '2016-01-01'
INSERT INTO archive_orders select * from deleted;

Or... the other way around:

WITH to_delete as(
    INSERT INTO archive_orders
    SELECT id, description, order_date FROM orders WHERE order_date < '2016-01-01'
DELETE FROM orders where id in (select id from to_delete);

The interesting point here, is that it entails a single command, instead of two. So this can be done with a single call to the database, saving an extra round trip.

The point here is that the delete statement of PostgreSQL (as well as the rest of the statements, INSERT, UPDATE, for instance), can be specified to return the data they affect, and this can be used in an intermediate table to pipe it to another statement.

By default, if you run the delete statement, it should return the number of affected rows, like:

delete from orders where id > 3;

But, we can make it to return the rows themselves:

delete from orders where id > 3 returning \*;
id|   description    |     order_date
4 | to be archived   | 2014-12-09 00:00:00
5 | First sale order | 2016-07-17 00:00:00
6 | First sale order | 2016-07-20 00:00:00
7 | First sale order | 2016-07-24 00:00:00
(4 rows)


Or, specific columns if we select them:

delete from orders where id > 3 returning id, description;
id |   description
4 | to be archived
5 | First sale order
6 | First sale order
7 | First sale order
(4 rows)


So, we can use the "returning" feature of PostgreSQL, to do in a single command what we usually would do in two or more, and in some cases, it might be something worth exploring. It was great learning things like this one, and getting tips as a result from the feedback of the talk (it does not change the meaning, and the example could remain the same for the aforementioned reasons; it is just an example :-).