Top 10 PostgreSQL Extensions You Should Know About

Aditi Prakash
July 27, 2023
TL;DRPostgreSQL is a powerful relational database management system (RDBMS). It’s become a mainstay in most modern data stacks because of its extensibility, with the platform’s diverse extensions giving users tons of added functionalities.

Postgres extensions revolutionize the way developers and data teams interact with databases. They enable data engineers to build robust databases that precisely match their application’s requirements.

In this article, we’ve listed the 10 best PostgreSQL extensions that every data professional must know about, along with tips to install and use them effectively.

Understanding PostgreSQL Extensions

PostgreSQL extensions are add-on modules that enhance the functionality of the database solution. They provide additional features, data types, functions, and operators that are not present in the core Postgres system.

Extensions are created by the PostgreSQL community or third-party developers to address specific use cases or to provide specialized functionalities for different application scenarios.

The extension architecture in PostgreSQL allows developers to create and package their features as self-contained units, making it easy to install, update, and manage extensions independently of the main PostgreSQL installation. 

This modular approach ensures that the core database remains lean and efficient while allowing users to extend its capabilities to match their needs.

How to Install and Manage PostgreSQL Extensions

To install a PostgreSQL extension, follow these steps:

  • Check for Extension Availability: Before installing an extension, check if your current PostgreSQL version supports it. You can browse the official PostgreSQL documentation or search for the extension’s name on the PostgreSQL Extension Network (PGXN) website.
  • Install the Extension: Once you’ve identified the extension you want to install, use the CREATE EXTENSION SQL command to install it. Replace extension_name with the actual name of the extension.
CREATE EXTENSION extension_name;

          If the extension has any specific configuration options, you can set them using the WITH clause:

CREATE EXTENSION extension_name WITH option = value;
  • Verify Installation: After executing the CREATE EXTENSION command, check for error messages. If the command runs successfully, the extension is installed and ready for use.

Managing PostgreSQL extensions

Over time, you’ll need to manage and update Postgres extensions so that they are relevant to your current use cases. Here’s how you can do that: 

  • Listing Installed Extensions: To see a list of all the extensions installed in the database, you can use the \dx command in the psql tool or execute the following SQL query:
SELECT * FROM pg_extension;

           This will display information about each installed extension, such as its name, version, and default schema.

  • Updating Extensions: If you want to install a newer version of an extension, you can use the ALTER EXTENSION command. It will update the Postgres extension to the latest version. Use this SQL query:

          Note that some extensions require specific steps for updating, as mentioned in their documentation.

  • Uninstalling Extensions: To remove an installed extension from the database, use the DROP EXTENSION command. This will remove all objects associated with the extension, so be cautious when using this command.
DROP EXTENSION extension_name;
  • Managing Extension Versions: PostgreSQL allows you to have multiple versions of an extension installed simultaneously. You can control which version is active for a particular database using the ALTER EXTENSION command with the VERSION option:
ALTER EXTENSION extension_name SET SCHEMA new_schema;

           This will set the active version of the extension to the one installed in the new_schema schema.

  • Viewing Extension Details: You can get detailed information about a specific Postgres extension using the \dx extension_name command in the psql tool or by querying the pg_extension catalog table:
SELECT * FROM pg_extension WHERE extname = 'extension_name';
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The Top 10 PostgreSQL Extensions

Let’s take a closer look at each of the 10 best Postgres extensions available today:

1. PostGIS

PostGIS is a powerful open-source extension that enables PostgreSQL to handle geographic objects and spatial data. This eliminates the need for separate specialized systems and allows location queries to be run in SQL.

PostGIS extends PostgreSQL by introducing new data types and functions for storing, querying, and analyzing spatial data, such as points, lines, polygons, and more complex geometries.

Here are three examples of how to use the PostGIS extension: 

  • Creating a spatially-enabled table:
CREATE TABLE spatial_data (
    name VARCHAR,
    location GEOMETRY(Point, 4326) -- 4326 is the SRID (Spatial Reference Identifier) for WGS 84
  • Querying spatial data. For example, to find all points within 1000 meters of a given point:
SELECT * FROM spatial_data
WHERE ST_DWithin(location, ST_GeomFromText('POINT(-73.975972 40.782865)', 4326), 1000);
  • Spatial joins. If you want to find points within a polygon:
SELECT, AS polygon_name
FROM points p
JOIN polygons pg
ON ST_Within(p.location, pg.location);

These examples demonstrate just a fraction of PostGIS’ capabilities. It is a versatile extension that unlocks the potential for building spatially-aware applications, handling geospatial data in GIS projects, and performing complex analyses within the PostgreSQL database.

2. hstore

The hstore module is a Postgres extension that allows you to store and manipulate sets of key-value pairs as a single value in a PostgreSQL table.

The hstore extension is designed to be lightweight and efficient. It allows data teams to store semi-structured data within a relational database.

Here are three examples of how to use this extension: 

  • Creating a table with an hstore column:
CREATE TABLE products (
    product_id SERIAL PRIMARY KEY,
    product_name VARCHAR,
    properties hstore
  • Querying data from the hstore column. Let’s say you want to retrieve all products with the “color” property as “red”:
SELECT * FROM products
WHERE properties -> 'color' = 'red';
  • Deleting a key-value pair from the hstore column. So, to remove the “weight” property from a specific product
UPDATE products
SET properties = delete(properties, 'weight')
WHERE product_id = 1;

3. pg_stat_statements

pg_stat_statements is a built-in PostgreSQL extension that provides a way to collect and track statistics about SQL statements executed in the database. 

It records information like the total execution time, number of calls, and number of rows returned for each SQL statement. 

This extension is a valuable tool for developers to analyze and optimize queries. It makes optimizing the database system and improving the overall application performance easier.

Here are three examples of how to use this extension:

  • To view query statistics:
SELECT query, total_time, calls, rows
FROM pg_stat_statements
ORDER BY total_time DESC

          This query will show the top 10 most time-consuming SQL statements in terms of total execution time, and the number of calls and rows returned.

  • If you want to reset the collected statistics:
SELECT pg_stat_statements_reset();

         This will reset all the gathered statistics to zero.

  • Configuration options:

           pg_stat_statements provides some configuration options that you can set in the postgresql.conf file or in a session. For example, you can adjust the number of            queries to track or specify whether to include or exclude query text.

          To track all statements:

ALTER SYSTEM SET pg_stat_statements.max ON;

          To include query text in the statistics:

ALTER SYSTEM SET pg_stat_statements.track = all;

          To exclude query text in the statistics:

ALTER SYSTEM SET pg_stat_statements.track = none;

4. pgcrypto

pgcrypto is a Postgres extension that enables cryptographic functions and data encryption capabilities within the database.

This extension enhances the data security and privacy of PostgreSQL databases by allowing data engineers to store hashed passwords, encrypt sensitive information, and perform cryptographic operations on the server side, reducing the risk of exposing sensitive data in transit or at rest.

Developers can perform operations like hashing, encryption, and decryption directly within SQL queries or PL/pgSQL functions. 

Here are three examples of how to use this extension:

  • Hashing a password and storing it in the “Users” table:
INSERT INTO users (username, password_hash)
VALUES ('user123', crypt('password123', gen_salt('bf')));
  • Encrypting sensitive data: 
INSERT INTO sensitive_data (id, encrypted_info)
VALUES (1, pgp_sym_encrypt('sensitive_info', 'passphrase'));
  • Generating cryptographic hashes, like an SHA-256 hash of a string:
SELECT digest('Hello, world!', 'sha256');

5. citext

citext stands for “case-insensitive text.” It allows database users to store and compare textual data in a case-insensitive manner. Using the citext data type, they can compare text without considering the letter case.

This is especially useful for user authentication (username and password comparisons), searching for records based on names or titles, and performing case-insensitive queries.

Without this extension, developers typically need to use the LOWER() or UPPER() functions to convert text to a common case for comparisons, which can be time-consuming and also hinder query performance. 

Here are three examples of how to use this extension:

  • Creating a table with a citext column:
    username CITEXT,
    email CITEXT
  • To search for a user by username without worrying about the case:
SELECT * FROM users WHERE username = 'jOhNDoE';
  • Inserting case-insensitive data:
INSERT INTO users (username, email)
VALUES ('JohnDoe', '');

6. pg_trgm

pg_trgm adds support for trigram-based text search and similarity ranking. Trigrams are three-character sequences extracted from words. They serve as the basis for similarity comparisons between strings.

The extension enhances PostgreSQL’s full-text search functionality. It provides a mechanism for applications to handle complex queries more intelligently, even when the query terms have typographical errors or are not an exact match to the data stored in the system.

Traditional exact text search methods might not be sufficient when dealing with user input, misspellings, or variations in word forms. pg_trgm offers a solution in these situations.

Here are three examples of how to use this Postgres extension:

  • Creating an index on a text column for trigram-based similarity search:
CREATE INDEX trgm_index ON your_table USING gin (your_text_column gin_trgm_ops);
  • Find similar strings based on trigram similarity:
SELECT * FROM your_table
WHERE your_text_column % 'search_term';

           Here, the % operator performs a similarity search based on trigrams. It returns rows where the your_text_column is similar to the given ‘search_term.’

  • Ranking similarity using trigram similarity score:
SELECT *, similarity(your_text_column, 'search_term') AS trigram_similarity
FROM your_table
WHERE your_text_column % 'search_term'
ORDER BY trigram_similarity DESC;

          In this example, the similarity() function calculates the trigram similarity score between the “your_text_column” and the given ‘search_term’, and the results are           ordered by the similarity score in descending order.

7. tablefunc

tablefunc provides additional table functions. These can be applied to queries to generate crosstab results, pivot tables, and perform data transformations.

The extension enables users to convert row data into columns, which helps present data in a pivot table-like format. It can also fill in missing data in the crosstab results, helping to improve data visualization and reporting.

Data analysts can use tablefunc to pivot data based on specific criteria, making it easier to analyze and summarize information. They can also run dynamic crosstab queries, where the number of resulting columns may vary based on the data.

Here are two examples of how to use this extension:

  • Crosstab queries:

          Let’s say you have a table named “Sales” with columns for month, product, and revenue. To convert the data into a crosstab format with months as rows and           products as columns, you can use the crosstab function from tablefunc:

FROM crosstab(
    'SELECT month, product, revenue FROM sales ORDER BY 1, 2',
    'VALUES (''January''), (''February''), (''March''), (''April''), (''May''), (''June'')'
) AS ct(month text, product1 revenue1 numeric, product2 revenue2 numeric, product3 revenue3 numeric);
  • You can use the crosstab function with NULL filling to handle missing data. To replace NULL values with 0:
FROM crosstab(
    'SELECT month, product, revenue FROM sales ORDER BY 1, 2',
    'VALUES (''January''), (''February''), (''March''), (''April''), (''May''), (''June'')'
) AS ct(month text, product1 revenue1 numeric, product2 revenue2 numeric, product3 revenue3 numeric)

8. intarray

intarray adds support for one-dimensional arrays of integers to the Postgres database. It enables data engineers to store and manipulate arrays of integers in a single database column. 

With intarray, users can store and manipulate integer arrays directly within PostgreSQL, simplifying data handling and enabling better query performance for array-related operations.

Here are three examples of how to use this extension:

  • Creating a table with an integer array column:
    player_name VARCHAR,
    scores INT[]
  • Querying data from the integer array column. If you want to find all players with a score greater than 90:
SELECT * FROM scores
WHERE 90 = ANY(scores);
  • Aggregating data from the integer array column. So, you can calculate the average score for each player using:
SELECT player_name, AVG(score) AS average_score
FROM scores, unnest(scores) score
GROUP BY player_name;

9. earthdistance

The earthdistance module adds support for geolocation-based calculations and queries in PostgreSQL databases. It lets users calculate the distance between two points specified by latitude and longitude coordinates. 

The extension provides two approaches - cube-based and point-based - for calculating distances accurately on the Earth’s surface. This enables developers to perform proximity searches, location-based queries, and other geospatial analyses.

Here are three examples of how to use this extension:

  • Creating a table with latitude and longitude columns:
CREATE TABLE locations (
    location_id SERIAL PRIMARY KEY,
    name VARCHAR,
    latitude DOUBLE PRECISION,
    longitude DOUBLE PRECISION
  • Querying locations within a certain distance. Let’s say you want to find locations within 100 kilometers from a given point:
SELECT name, latitude, longitude
FROM locations
WHERE earth_box(ll_to_earth(40.7128, -74.0060), 100000) @> ll_to_earth(latitude, longitude);
  • Calculating distances between locations:
SELECT earth_distance(ll_to_earth(40.7128, -74.0060), ll_to_earth(34.0522, -118.2437)) AS distance_km;

10. cube

cube introduces a new data type called “cube,” so users can efficiently store and manipulate multidimensional points. The extension also offers indexing support, enabling fast queries and operations on multidimensional data.

By using the cube module, users can store and process n-dimensional points, perform range queries, calculate distances between points, and use indexing for faster data retrieval in higher-dimensional spaces.

Here are three examples of how to use this extension:

  • Creating a table with a cube column:
    point_id SERIAL PRIMARY KEY,
    position CUBE
  • Querying data using cube operators. For example, to find points within a specific range in a 2-dimensional space:
FROM points
WHERE position @ cube(array[1, 1], array[2, 4]);

           To find the distance between two 3-dimensional points:

SELECT cube_distance(position, CUBE(array[1.0, 2.0, 3.0]))
FROM points
WHERE point_id = 1;
  • Using cube indexing. To create an index on the cube column:
CREATE INDEX idx_points_position ON points USING gist (position);

          To perform a range query using the index: 

FROM points
WHERE position @ cube(array[0, 0], array[2, 5]);

How to Choose the Right PostgreSQL Extension

There are seven main factors to consider when choosing a PostgreSQL extension:

  • Functionality: Consider the specific functionality you need for your application or database and choose an extension that addresses these requirements.
  • Compatibility: Ensure that the extension is compatible with your PostgreSQL version. Some extensions might not be available or supported in older or newer versions of PostgreSQL.
  • Performance: Evaluate the performance impact of extensions loaded on your database. Some extensions may introduce overhead or have specific hardware requirements, so consider the potential impact on query performance.
  • Support and Maintenance: Check the level of support and maintenance for the extension. Active and well-maintained extensions are more likely to receive updates and bug fixes, ensuring the extension remains compatible with future PostgreSQL versions.
  • Documentation: Look for extensions with clear and comprehensive documentation. Good documentation helps you understand how to use the extension effectively and troubleshoot any issues.
  • Community and Adoption: Consider the popularity and adoption of the extension within the PostgreSQL community. Widely-used and well-established extensions can generally be more reliable and trustworthy.
  • Security: Evaluate the security implications of using the extension. Extensions should follow best practices for data security and should not introduce vulnerabilities into your system.

Potential issues while using PostgreSQL extensions

Data engineers and developers might face the following issues while using PostgreSQL extensions:

  • Dependency Conflicts: Systems using multiple extensions might have conflicting dependencies or requirements. All extensions used must be compatible with each other.
  • Performance Overhead: Some extensions may introduce performance overhead, especially if they involve complex queries or large data sets. Test the performance impact of the extension on your workload.
  • Bugs and Compatibility Issues: Extensions might not always be bug-free, and they might not work correctly with all versions of PostgreSQL. Stay updated with the latest versions and bug fixes for the extensions.
  • Upgrade Compatibility: PostgreSQL upgrades may cause issues with current extensions. Some extensions might require updates to work with the latest Postgres version.
  • Security Risks: Poorly maintained or insecure extensions could introduce vulnerabilities into the database. Always review the reputation and trustworthiness of the extension and its developer.
  • Feature Overlap: Be aware of any feature overlap between PostgreSQL core functionality and the extension. Ensure that there are no duplicate functionalities or unnecessary complexity.
  • Licensing and Legal Considerations: Check the licensing terms of the extension to ensure it aligns with the project’s requirements and complies with your organization’s policies.

Real-World Use Cases of Postgres Extensions

To illustrate how extensions can elevate PostgreSQL databases, let’s look at two example case studies:

Case study 1: Using PostGIS for geospatial data analysis

Scenario: A logistics and transportation company needs to optimize its delivery routes based on real-time traffic conditions and customer locations. They have an extensive database of geospatial data, including information about customers, delivery points, road networks, and traffic patterns.

Solution: The company uses the PostGIS extension to gain geospatial capabilities in PostgreSQL. They create tables to store customer locations, delivery points, and road network data, utilizing PostGIS data types like ‘GEOMETRY’ and ‘GEOGRAPHY’.

As a result, they can perform:

  • Geospatial Analysis: They can use PostGIS functions to calculate the distance between delivery points and customers, identify the closest warehouse for each delivery point, and determine the most efficient routes based on real-time traffic data.
  • Proximity Search: Proximity searches can find customers within a certain radius of a specific location, allowing them to target marketing campaigns effectively.
  • Spatial Indexing: PostGIS provides efficient spatial indexing, enabling fast spatial queries on large datasets. This can produce insights to streamline the entire logistics operation.
  • Geospatial Visualization: By using PostGIS in conjunction with visualization tools, they can create interactive maps displaying delivery routes, traffic conditions, and customer clusters.

Using PostGIS, the logistics company boosts its delivery operations, reduces travel times, and optimizes its resource usage, improving customer satisfaction and cost savings.

Case study 2: Using hstore for handling key-value pairs in e-commerce applications

Scenario: An e-commerce platform wants to allow sellers to add custom product attributes and specifications. However, these specifications can vary greatly between different product categories and sellers.

Solution: The company adopts the hstore extension in PostgreSQL to handle dynamic and flexible product attributes. They create a table to store product information, using the hstore data type for the custom attributes.

By implementing hstore, they can improve the user experience for sellers and customers. Here’s how:

  • Custom Product Attributes: Sellers can add custom product attributes, such as color options, size variations, and technical specifications. The hstore key-value storage allows them to efficiently add and manage these attributes without altering the table structure.
  • Search and Filtering: Customers can search for products based on custom attributes. For example, customers can filter products by color, size, or other specifications.
  • Indexing and Performance: The hstore extension supports indexing on the key-value pairs, improving the performance of attribute-based searches, even with a large number of products.
  • Scalability: As the platform grows and the number of products and sellers increases, hstore’s flexible nature allows the database schema to adapt easily to new attributes without requiring extensive schema changes.

By leveraging hstore in their PostgreSQL database, the e-commerce platform provides sellers with a flexible and customizable product listing experience while customers benefit from enhanced search options. All of these factors can lead to increased sales.


While PostgreSQL already offers a rich set of features, extensions provide additional specialized functionality that caters to diverse use cases and industries. It allows data teams to extend the capabilities of PostgreSQL without modifying the core database code.

By incorporating extensions into their PostgreSQL databases, organizations can tailor their database environments to suit their specific needs, making PostgreSQL a versatile and powerful solution.

By adopting the right extensions, data engineers can streamline development, enhance database performance, and unlock new capabilities within their PostgreSQL environment.

For more in-depth guides to PostgreSQL and data management, check out our Content Hub.

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