(This is a new documentation chapter from the PG project.)


In this chapter:


The recent update of pg-client library introduces various ways to COPY the data into or from the database. It’s much more flexible than the official JDBC Postgres driver’s standard CopyManager class.

To remind you, COPY is a massive way of writing or reading data. Copying IN is much faster than inserting the rows by chunks. Postgres starts to read the data immediately without waiting for the last bit of data to arrive. You can copy into the same table in parallel threads. The same applies to copying out: if you want to dump a table into a file, use COPY FROM with an OutputStream OutputStream rather than selecting everything in memory.

The main disadvantage of JDBC CopyManager is, that it doesn’t do anything about data encoding and encoding. It accepts either an InputStream or an OutputStream assuming you encode the data on your own. It means, right before you copy the data to the database, you’ve got to manually encode them into CSV.

This is not as easy as you might think. When encoding values into CSV, it coerces everything to a string using str. That’s OK for most of the primitive types as numbers, booleans or strings: their Clojure representation matches the way they’re represented in Postgres. But it doesn’t work for complex types like arrays. If you write a vector of [1 2 3] in CSV you’ll get "[1 2 3]" which is an improper Postgres value. It must have been {1, 2, 3} instead.

Another flaw of JDBC CopyManager is, that it doesn’t split the data by rows when sending them into the database. It simply reads 2Kb of bytes from an InputStream and writes them to a socket. At the same time, the PostgreSQL documentation recommends splitting the data chunks by rows:

The message boundaries are not required to have anything to do with row boundaries, although that is often a reasonable choice

Moreover, PostgreSQL supports not only CSV but also text and binary formats. The text format is somewhat CSV with different separators so it’s not so important. But the binary format is indeed! Binary-encoded data are faster to parse and process and thus are preferable when dealing with vast chunks of data.

CSV vs Binary

Here are a couple of measurements I made on my local machine. I made two files containing 10 million rows: in CSV and in binary format. Then I used the official CopyManager to copy these files in the database. All the server settings were default; the machine was an Apple M1 Max 32Gb with 10 Cores.

Single thread COPY

Rows Format Time, sec
10M binary 17.4
10M CSV 51.2

Parallel COPY


Rows Threads Chunk Format Time, sec
10M 8 10k binary 11.3
10M 4 10k binary 13.7
10M 1 10k binary 28.6


Rows Threads Chunk Format Time, sec
10M 8 10k CSV 10.6
10M 4 10k CSV 19.9
10M 1 10k CSV 71.7

It’s plain to see that binary encoding is three times faster than CSV. 17 vs 51 seconds is a significant difference one cannot ignore.

The good news is, the PG library does support binary encoding. It also allows you to perform COPY operations without encoding them manually. The library doesn’t make any InputStreams in the background: it encodes the rows one by one and sends them directly into the database. It also supports binary format of encoding which is a matter of passing a parameter. Also, it does split the data chunks by rows, not by the size of the buffer.


Establish a connection to the database first:

(require '[pg.client :as pg])

(def conn (pg/connect {...}))

COPY out

The copy-out function dumps a table or a query into a file. It accepts a connection object, a SQL expression describing the table, the columns, the format and other details, and an instance of an OutputStream. The rows from the table or a query get sent to that stream. The function returns a number of rows processed.

(let [sql
      "COPY (select s.x as x, s.x * s.x as square from generate_series(1, 9) as s(x))

      (new ByteArrayOutputStream)]

  (pg/copy-out conn sql out))

The expression above returns 9 (the number of rows). The actual rows are now in the out variable that stores bytes.

Of course, for massive data it’s better to use not ByteArrayOutputStream but FileOutputStream. You can produce it as follows:

(with-open [out (-> "/some/file.csv"
  (pg/copy-out conn sql out))

The PG library doesn’t close the stream assuming you may write multiple data into a single stream. It’s up to you when to close it.

To dump the data into a binary file, add the WITH (FORMAT BINARY) clause to the SQL expression. Binary files are more difficult to parse yet they’re faster in processing.

COPY IN from stream

The copy-in function copies the data from in InputStream into the database. The payload of the stream is either produced by the previous copy-out function or manually by dumping the data into CSV/binary format. The function returns the number or rows processed by the server.

(def in-stream
  (-> "/some/file.csv" io/file io/input-stream))

(pg/copy-in conn
            "copy foo (id, name, active) from STDIN WITH (FORMAT CSV)"

;; returns 6

Again, it doesn’t close the input stream. Use the with-open macro to close it explicitly.

The next two functions are more interesting as they bring functionality missing in the JDBC.

COPY IN rows

The copy-in-rows function takes a sequence of rows and sends them into the database one by one. It doesn’t do any intermediate steps like dumping them into an InputStream first. Everything is done on the fly.

The function takes a connection, a SQL expression, and a sequence of rows. A row is a sequence of values. The result is a number of rows copied into the database.

(pg/copy-in-rows conn
                 "copy foo (id, name, active, note) from STDIN WITH (FORMAT CSV)"
                 [[1 "Ivan" true nil]
                  [2 "Juan" false "kek"]])
;; 2

The fourth optional parameter is a map of options. At the moment, the following options are supported:

name default example (or enum) description
:sep ,   a character to separate columns in CSV/text formats
:end \r\n   a line-ending sequence of characters in CSV/text
:null empty string   a string to represent NULL in CSV/text
:oids nil [oid/int2 nil oid/date], {0 oid/int2, 2 oid/date} type hints for proper value encoding. Either a vector or OIDs, or a map of {index => OID}
:format :csv :csv, :bin, :txt a keyword to specify the format of a payload.

Copy rows in CSV with custom column separators and NULL representation:

(pg/copy-in-rows conn
                 "COPY foo (id, name, active, note) FROM STDIN WITH (FORMAT CSV, NULL 'NULL', DELIMITER '|')"
                 {:null "NULL"
                  :sep \|})
;; 1000

Copy rows as a binary payload with custom type hints:

(pg/copy-in-rows conn
                 "COPY foo (id, name, active, note) from STDIN WITH (FORMAT BINARY)"
                 {:format :bin
                  :oids {0 oid/int2 2 oid/bool}})
;; 1000

COPY IN maps

Often, we deal not with plain rows but maps. The copy-in-maps function acts but copy-in-rows but accepts a sequence of maps. Internally, all the maps get transformed into rows. To transform it properly, the function needs to know the order of the keys.

The funtion accepts a connection, a SQL expression, a sequence of maps and a sequence of keys. Internally, it produces a selector from the keys like this: (apply juxt keys) which gets applied to each map.

One more thing about copying maps is, that the :oids parameter is a map like {key => OID}.

An example of copying the maps in CSV. Pay attention that the second map has extra keys which are ignored.

(pg/copy-in-maps conn
                 "copy foo (id, name, active, note) from STDIN WITH (FORMAT CSV)"
                 [{:id 1 :name "Ivan" :active true :note "aaa"}
                  {:aaa false :id 2 :active nil :note nil :name "Juan" :extra "Kek" :lol 123}]
                 [:id :name :active :note]
                 {:oids {:id oid/int2}
                  :format :csv})

Another example where we copy maps using binary format. The :oids map has a single type hint so the :id fields get transformed to int2 but not bigint which is default for Long values.

(pg/copy-in-maps conn
                 "copy foo (id, name, active, note) from STDIN WITH (FORMAT BINARY)"
                 [:id :name :active :note]
                 {:oids {:id oid/int2}
                  :format :bin})