Creating Multiple Concentric Ring Buffers in PostGIS

Whenever possible I recently try to get all my GIS work done in QGIS. Most of the time this is no problem at all. Sometimes it makes things even easier, such as when you’re trying to work with your geospatial data in a PostgreSQL/PostGIS database (good luck trying that in ArcGIS!). But sometimes you come across a task that is just so exotic that nobody has ever come across it. Or at least nobody wrote about coming across it…

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The Power of Subqueries in PostgreSQL

I’m pretty sure everything I’m writing here is true for most other RDBMS, too, but since I’m currently using PostgreSQL I had a chance to test it and show some hard figures here.

The problem to solve is actually a common one and rather easy to solve conceptually: Take attributes from table1 and store them in corresponding rows in table2, using a common id to join them. The straight-forward (and almost direct) translation into SQL is therefore:

UPDATE schema.table1 a 
SET attribute = b.attribute 
FROM schema.table2 b 

There’s nothing wrong with that statement and it’s going to do exactly what’s intended. Only, it’s not very clever, and hence not very performant. This obviously only matters if your tables are on the bigger end. In my case table1 (the one to update) has 576,806 rows while table2 (the one providing the attribute data) has a whopping 848,664,485 rows. Also I should mention that table2 contains multiple rows for each corresponding row in table1. In that concrete case table2 contains data about point locations (latitude, longitude, timestamp) of people whose attributes (age, gender, etc…) are stored in table1. And there is this one attribute which is wrongly and inefficiently stored with each point location, while it is only dependent on the person and should hence be stored there.

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