Read my latest article: 8 things I look for in a Ruby on Rails app (posted Thu, 06 Jul 2017 16:59:00 GMT)

PostgreSQL cheat sheet

Posted by Thu, 08 Sep 2005 12:44:10 GMT

Pete Freitag has posted a nice little PostgreSQL Cheat Sheet

PL/Ruby loves RubyGems and DRb

Posted by Mon, 22 Aug 2005 20:09:00 GMT

I admit it. I have had a torrid love affair with procedural languages ever since I started playing with PostgreSQL. The ability to share logic amongst all the applications touching the same database server.. was…well… a breath of fresh air.

What is a procedural language in Postgresql?

PostgreSQL docs describe them as, ”…allows user-defined functions to be written in other languages besides SQL and C. “

Well, PostgreSQL has PLs for Perl, Python, Java, C, PHP… and even RUBY!

CREATE FUNCTION ruby_max(int4, int4) RETURNS int4 AS '
    if args[0].to_i > args[1].to_i
        return args[0]
        return args[1]
' LANGUAGE 'plruby';

PL/PGSQL is nice and all, but it’s not as fun as playing with Ruby. PL/Perl… well is perl, and PL/Python… is python. Both PL/Perl and PL/Python have untrusted variants. You see, they don’t want your PostgreSQL server to do anything harmful to the machine by being able to do stuff like system(‘cat /dev/null > /etc/passwd). But for some people, (like me) they want the flexibility of their language anyways. :-)

Note: Never do this if your system user that runs PostgreSQL has privileges to do anything harmful on your system.

The PL/Ruby documentation is minimal at the moment, but covers enough to get you started. I don’t know if many people are using it out there… but hopefully that is about to change! I’ve played with it a bit, but always wanted to be able to do stuff like require ‘rubygems’, but this is a feature of an untrusted language. I even found myself digging around in C code to see if I could figure out how to hack the plruby language to skip over those checks… but I am not a C programmer and I got lost in some header files.

Then it hit me. “Why haven’t you emailed the author?”

So I emailed the author of PL/Ruby, Guy Decoux, who responded pretty quickly with the answer to my dreams! Okay, I do have bigger dreams than this… but you get the idea.

First of all, some of you might be thinking, ”Why on Earth would you want to do this?”

Well, here is a simple example of how it could be used with RedCloth Let’s say that I want to be able to perform the following query from within SQL.

SELECT redcloth(‘strong text and emphasized text‘);

Why not do this in the application? Well, I do actually have a case where I have an older PHP application that I will be porting to Ruby in the future, but would like to give the application some access to some of the features of Ruby that I will be using, such as RedCloth.

Okay, so show me an example of one of these scary PostgreSQL functions.

CREATE FUNCTION redcloth(text) RETURNS text AS '

  require ''rubygems''
  require ''redcloth''

  content = args[0]

  rc =

  return rc.to_html

' LANGUAGE 'plruby';

”Wait! You said this would be scary!?”

Well, PL/Ruby allows you to write… plain ole Ruby within your functions. (do you see where I am getting here?)

PL/Ruby meets RedCloth

 rb=# SELECT redcloth('*strong text* and _emphasized text_');
 <p><strong>strong text</strong> and <em>emphasized text</em></p>
(1 row)

PL/Ruby meets ShortURL

CREATE FUNCTION rubyurlize(text) RETURNS text AS '

  require ''rubygems''
  require ''shorturl''

  return ShortURL.shorten(args[0])

' LANGUAGE 'plruby';

...which allows for

 rb=# SELECT
rb-#   rubyurlize('') as link1,
rb-#   rubyurlize('') as link2;
          link1           |         link2
--------------------------+------------------------ |
(1 row)

PostgreSQL meets DRb

Okay, this is one of the reasons why I wanted to play with PL/Ruby a bit more. Distributed Ruby Objects… from PostreSQL?

What is DRb?

If you don’t know already… per the description in RDOC, “dRuby is a distributed object system for Ruby. It allows an object in one Ruby process to invoke methods on an object in another Ruby process on the same or a different machine.”

It basically allows you to share an object to other machines… at the same time!

mmm…distributed objects…

DRb Object

Here is a simple ruby script that you would run from the shell. It creates a DRb object which accepts connections at localhost:9000.


require 'drb'

class MyRemoteObject
  def say(str)
    return "You say #{str}. I say #{str.reverse.upcase}!" 

server =

DRb.start_service('druby://localhost:9000', server)

Start me up!

$ ruby mydrb.rb

Now that we have DRb running and listening for connections…we need a client to connect to it.

DRb function in PL/Ruby

Here is a very simple DRb client script and I just drop that into a PostgreSQL function.

CREATE FUNCTION drb_test(text) RETURNS text AS '

  require ''drb''


  ro =, ''druby://localhost:9000'')

  return ro.say(args[0])

' LANGUAGE 'plruby';

The result?

rb=# SELECT drb_test('Potato');
 You say Potato. I say OTATOP!
(1 row)

Are we having fun yet?

Okay, so how do I manage to get this to work? Well… for that, you will have to read my blog post, Installing untrusted PL/Ruby for PostgreSQL

Let’s all go get some coffee (or tea) and start playing with PL/Ruby today!

Installing untrusted PL/Ruby for PostgreSQL

Posted by Mon, 22 Aug 2005 12:55:00 GMT

This is going to be short and sweet.

“PL/Ruby is a loadable procedural language for the Postgres database system that enable the Ruby language to create functions and trigger procedures”

Method 1. The standard, safe, PL/Ruby.

Before running this, you need to have all the PostgreSQL headers installed. (se INSTALL in the postgresql directory) make install-all-headers

To install PL/Ruby, you need to download the tarball from here. As you can see, I download it with wget and then install like I would any ruby library. (maybe plruby could become a gem?)

cd /usr/local/src
tar zxvf plruby.tar.gz
cd plruby
ruby extconf.rb
make install

Method 2: The untrusted, but super cool PL/Ruby.

Guy Decoux, author of PL/Ruby, was kind enough to share a secret about the PL/Ruby install. (from his email…)

Well plruby normally run with $SAFE = 12, this value if fixed at compile time. 

Now it has an undocumented option, if you compile it with

ruby extconf.rb --with-safe-level=0 ...

 it will run with $SAFE = 0 and you have the equivalent of an untrusted language.

Pretty simple solution, eh?

On my server I was able to run the following:

cd /usr/local/src
tar zxvf plruby.tar.gz
cd plruby
sudo ruby extconf.rb \ --with-pgsql-dir=/usr/local/pgsql-8.0 \ --with-safe-level=0 \ --with-suffix=u
make install

Update: the --with-suffix=u was added after someone commented on this. This allows you to install plruby and plrubyu.

Installing PL/Ruby in PostgreSQL Up until now, you haven’t actually installed the language into the database. We’re close though!

All that you need to do is run the following commands to install it to a specific database in your server.

$ psql template1
template1=# CREATE DATABASE plruby;
template1=# \c plruby
You are now connected to database "plruby".
plruby=#    create function plruby_call_handler() returns language_handler
plruby-#    as '/usr/lib/site_ruby/1.8/i386-linux/'
plruby-#    language 'C';
plruby=#    create  language 'plruby'
plruby-#    handler plruby_call_handler
plruby-#    lancompiler 'PL/Ruby';

That should be all there is to it!

Where do we go from here?

See my post: PL/Ruby loves RubyGems and DRb

When TSearch2 Met AJAX

Posted by Mon, 22 Aug 2005 01:48:00 GMT

Last night, a local PDX.rb-ist, asked about full text searching in PostgreSQL. I pointed him to TSearch2, which is a nice little addon to handle full text searching with indexing, ranking, highlighting, etc. To my knowledge, it’s the closest to a google-like search that you can get with PostgreSQL. Some people in #postgresql (, said that you can build custom functions that will allow you to quote content, and do other fun stuff within your search string. We can discuss that another time.

After thinking it over, I thought, “why not put ajax on top of a full text search and see what it can do?”

The first question, where was I going to get a bunch of content that I could search through and have it be somewhat meaningful for the public, if I decide to put it up as a demo page. The RubyOnRails mailing list came to mind, so after seeing that I couldn’t download the full archive from the rails mailman page (at least not that I could tell), I decided that I would just import my Maildir for that mailing list.

This added another initial step. What would be a good way to import the 13,000~ emails that I had in the folder?

I knew that worst case, I could find a module on CPAN and build a perl script to import it… since I didn’t see anything in the standard ruby library. Then I found TMail. Someone said that they think ActionMailer uses TMail as well.

The resulting quick and dirty script became:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

require 'tmail'
require 'rubygems'
require 'postgres'
require 'dbi'

conn = DBI.connect("DBI:Pg:database=rails_mailinglist;host=localhost;port=5403", "username", "password" )

MAILBOX = ".MailingLists.Ruby.RubyOnRails"

sql = "INSERT INTO archives (sender, recipient, subject, body) VALUES (?,?,?,?)"

@sth = conn.prepare(sql)

box =

box.each do |port|
        mail =
        p mail.subject
        @sth.execute(mail.from,, mail.subject, mail.body)


Not rocket science. :-)

Okay, so I let that start running through the mailing list emails that I have, and opened up another tab in iTerm and typed our friend, rails archives followed by cd archives. The next step was to modify the config/database.yml file.

(you all know how to do that, right?)

Okay, you should still be with me…so far.

After I got my database settings in place, I ran ./script/generate scaffold Archive and watched it created my new filles to play with.

./script/server and I am looking at the first several emails that are in my RubyOnRails mailing list folder. I notice that the first one is the confirmation email from the day that I signed up on the mailing list. Mon, 24 Jan 2005 16:00:14 +0000 (GMT) . So, I delete that email and the ‘welcome to..’ one so that no one sees my mailman password/confirm info. ;-)


So, Rails has no problem with the data. So, I then head over to the Tsearch2 site and look for some installation information. I walked through this walkthrough

Database Structure

For this example, I kept it pretty simple for the database structure. I believe the create script was:

CREATE TABLE archives (
  sender VARCHAR(255),
  recipient VARCHAR(255),
  subject VARCHAR(255),
  body TEXT

The rest was basically following through with those steps and building the triggers and functions around the subject and body fields in the table.

To use the tsearch2 functionality, I used find_by_sql rather than using just find.

@archives = Archive.find_by_sql("SELECT id, headline(body,q) as headline, body, rank(idxfti,q) as rank, sender, subject  FROM archives, to_tsquery('#{@str}') AS q WHERE idxfti @@ q ORDER BY rank(idxfti,q) DESC LIMIT 100") 

The @str variable is a value that I build based on the string(s) that the user is typing in the search field. Tsearch2 requires that you sepeare each string with a pipe (|). So, I put in a few checks on the string that was being passed to my method in my controller by AJAX. (I’ll let you take the time to figure out how to get AJAX in Rails working and watching a text field… it’s not hard to find info on google. ) :-)

The end result?

I will warn you that this does’t work in all browsers, some IE people said they had issues… and I spent enough time tinkering with it to just settle with this for now. :-)

I present… fulltext searching with PostgreSQL on Rails.

There are approx 13,000 emails in the system, so I put a limit on the number of responses that show up to 100.

My Thoughts

Well, it was an interesting concept. I’m not a big fan of livesearching, it doesn’t really seem to buy us much when working with this sort of data. I do find live auto-completion to be quite useful though. It’s not practical to have AJAX peg the database every second as I type for new content and it’s obvious that a database with that much content is not going to respond as snappy as you would hope. However, I decided to compare the speed to searching in Thunderbird and Evolution. From my sophesticated benchmarking suite (my imaginary stop watch)...

AJAX won!

okay, I should be fair and say, Tsearch2 won as it is doing all the heavy lifting.


PostgreSQL sequences in Rails

Posted by Sat, 20 Aug 2005 06:05:00 GMT

Rails doesn’t support legacy or custom named sequences at the moment. (as far as I am aware). It’s kind of tricky to have it detect the SEQUENCE name automatically (every time).

In PHP, I used this big ugly query to detect this info:
$sql = $db->prepare("SELECT seq.relname::text
                        FROM pg_class src, pg_class seq, pg_namespace, pg_attribute,
                            pg_depend.refobjsubid = pg_attribute.attnum AND
                            pg_depend.refobjid = src.oid AND
                            seq.oid = pg_depend.objid AND
                            src.relnamespace = pg_namespace.oid AND
                            pg_attribute.attrelid = src.oid AND
                            pg_namespace.nspname = ? AND
                            src.relname = ? AND
                            pg_attribute.attname = ?");

I used this to mimmick the mysql_insert_id function in PHP for PostgreSQL… ( pg_insert_id )

Well, with Rails, I thought that I would build a similar patch, as the current code just assumes the value would be {column}_id_seq.

After hours of playing around and thinking that I figured it all out ... I decided to run a quick test with a non standard sequence name… like this one:

testingdb=# \d legacy.foobar
                                     Table "legacy.foobar" 
  Column   |         Type          |                         Modifiers                          
 foobar_id | integer               | not null default nextval('legacy.old_sequence_name'::text)
 name      | character varying(40) | 
    "foobar_pkey" PRIMARY KEY, btree (foobar_id)

testingdb=# INSERT INTO legacy.foobar (name) VALUES ('abc')
testingdb-# ;
INSERT 17514 1
testingdb=# SELECT * FROM legacy.foobar ;
 foobar_id | name 
       106 | abc
(1 row)

My patch wouldn’t figure that out because the sequence was not created by SERIAL. So, my patch started to feel lame and a total waste of time, because I thought that it was fixing a problem.. that works pretty much as effectively as assuming it is _seq.. but without needing to run a SQL query to determine that. We all (should) know that the field will be named like that when working with SERIAL. So, my patch didn’t buy us anything.

However, Active Record still doesn’t support those funky sequence names. So, I found this ticket #1273.

Their approach was very similar to what caused me to use my long SQL query in the first place because this was suggested to me well over a year ago and I found it to not work in the following situation.

If I have two seperate schemas with the same table name in each like so:

=# \d legacy.people
                                       Table "legacy.people" 
  Column   |         Type          |                           Modifiers                           
 people_id | integer               | not null default nextval('legacy.people_people_id_seq'::text)
 name      | character varying(50) | 
    "people_pkey" PRIMARY KEY, btree (people_id)

=# \d foo.people
                                       Table "foo.people" 
  Column   |         Type          |                         Modifiers                          
 people_id | integer               | not null default nextval('foo.people_people_id_seq'::text)
 name      | character varying(50) | 
    "people_pkey" PRIMARY KEY, btree (people_id)      

That patch will not work because you can’t call the following query:

# SELECT adsrc FROM pg_attrdef WHERE adrelid = (SELECT oid FROM pg_class WHERE relname = 'people');
ERROR:  more than one row returned by a subquery used as an expression  

... because there are two tables with the same name! (fun, huh?)

Mine would work… but why bother with that huge query? So, I took my ticket out of [PATCH] and decided that I thought it would be best to just assume that sequences are generated with SERIAL ( link ) by default in AR.

Okay, so what can we do about custom SEQUENCE names?

Well, I am proposing the following (and mentioned this in the ticket #2016)...

class LegacyTable < ActiveRecord::Base
  def self.table_name() "legacy.foobar" end

  # new option for this
  set_primary_key "foobar_id", :sequence => "legacy.old_sequence_name" 

(or something along those lines)

With this, I can work around these legacy database scenarios with a quick option. Thoughts/opinions?

I decided to post this on my blog as well, because I do know that there are a few skeptical PostgreSQL people out there who read my blog… I want you to know that I am looking out for you. ;-)

I am sick and tired.. and going to sleep now.

Typo on PostgreSQL

Posted by Sun, 13 Mar 2005 20:02:00 GMT

As Typo only supported SQLite and MySQL so far, I submitted a PostgreSQL schema file for the project. This new blog is running on PostgreSQL 8.0 and Rails!

I am going to use this blog to follow my Rails-related projects..and post tips and tricks!


UPDATE Links have been updated as the original typo svn/trac is gone.

Older posts: 1 ... 4 5 6