[postgresql] How to UPSERT (MERGE, INSERT ... ON DUPLICATE UPDATE) in PostgreSQL?

A very frequently asked question here is how to do an upsert, which is what MySQL calls INSERT ... ON DUPLICATE UPDATE and the standard supports as part of the MERGE operation.

Given that PostgreSQL doesn't support it directly (before pg 9.5), how do you do this? Consider the following:

CREATE TABLE testtable (
    id integer PRIMARY KEY,
    somedata text NOT NULL

INSERT INTO testtable (id, somedata) VALUES
(1, 'fred'),
(2, 'bob');

Now imagine that you want to "upsert" the tuples (2, 'Joe'), (3, 'Alan'), so the new table contents would be:

(1, 'fred'),
(2, 'Joe'),    -- Changed value of existing tuple
(3, 'Alan')    -- Added new tuple

That's what people are talking about when discussing an upsert. Crucially, any approach must be safe in the presence of multiple transactions working on the same table - either by using explicit locking, or otherwise defending against the resulting race conditions.

This topic is discussed extensively at Insert, on duplicate update in PostgreSQL?, but that's about alternatives to the MySQL syntax, and it's grown a fair bit of unrelated detail over time. I'm working on definitive answers.

These techniques are also useful for "insert if not exists, otherwise do nothing", i.e. "insert ... on duplicate key ignore".

This question is related to postgresql insert-update upsert sql-merge

The answer is


Tested on Postgresql 9.3

I am trying to contribute with another solution for the single insertion problem with the pre-9.5 versions of PostgreSQL. The idea is simply to try to perform first the insertion, and in case the record is already present, to update it:

do $$
  insert into testtable(id, somedata) values(2,'Joe');
exception when unique_violation then
  update testtable set somedata = 'Joe' where id = 2;
end $$;

Note that this solution can be applied only if there are no deletions of rows of the table.

I do not know about the efficiency of this solution, but it seems to me reasonable enough.

Since this question was closed, I'm posting here for how you do it using SQLAlchemy. Via recursion, it retries a bulk insert or update to combat race conditions and validation errors.

First the imports

import itertools as it

from functools import partial
from operator import itemgetter

from sqlalchemy.exc import IntegrityError
from app import session
from models import Posts

Now a couple helper functions

def chunk(content, chunksize=None):
    """Groups data into chunks each with (at most) `chunksize` items.
    if chunksize:
        i = iter(content)
        generator = (list(it.islice(i, chunksize)) for _ in it.count())
        generator = iter([content])

    return it.takewhile(bool, generator)

def gen_resources(records):
    """Yields a dictionary if the record's id already exists, a row object 
    ids = {item[0] for item in session.query(Posts.id)}

    for record in records:
        is_row = hasattr(record, 'to_dict')

        if is_row and record.id in ids:
            # It's a row but the id already exists, so we need to convert it 
            # to a dict that updates the existing record. Since it is duplicate,
            # also yield True
            yield record.to_dict(), True
        elif is_row:
            # It's a row and the id doesn't exist, so no conversion needed. 
            # Since it's not a duplicate, also yield False
            yield record, False
        elif record['id'] in ids:
            # It's a dict and the id already exists, so no conversion needed. 
            # Since it is duplicate, also yield True
            yield record, True
            # It's a dict and the id doesn't exist, so we need to convert it. 
            # Since it's not a duplicate, also yield False
            yield Posts(**record), False

And finally the upsert function

def upsert(data, chunksize=None):
    for records in chunk(data, chunksize):
        resources = gen_resources(records)
        sorted_resources = sorted(resources, key=itemgetter(1))

        for dupe, group in it.groupby(sorted_resources, itemgetter(1)):
            items = [g[0] for g in group]

            if dupe:
                _upsert = partial(session.bulk_update_mappings, Posts)
                _upsert = session.add_all

            except IntegrityError:
                # A record was added or deleted after we checked, so retry
                # modify accordingly by adding additional exceptions, e.g.,
                # except (IntegrityError, ValidationError, ValueError)
            except Exception as e:
                # Some other error occurred so reduce chunksize to isolate the 
                # offending row(s)
                num_items = len(items)

                if num_items > 1:
                    upsert(items, num_items // 2)
                    print('Error adding record {}'.format(items[0]))

Here's how you use it

>>> data = [
...     {'id': 1, 'text': 'updated post1'}, 
...     {'id': 5, 'text': 'updated post5'}, 
...     {'id': 1000, 'text': 'new post1000'}]
>>> upsert(data)

The advantage this has over bulk_save_objects is that it can handle relationships, error checking, etc on insert (unlike bulk operations).

SQLAlchemy upsert for Postgres >=9.5

Since the large post above covers many different SQL approaches for Postgres versions (not only non-9.5 as in the question), I would like to add how to do it in SQLAlchemy if you are using Postgres 9.5. Instead of implementing your own upsert, you can also use SQLAlchemy's functions (which were added in SQLAlchemy 1.1). Personally, I would recommend using these, if possible. Not only because of convenience, but also because it lets PostgreSQL handle any race conditions that might occur.

Cross-posting from another answer I gave yesterday (https://stackoverflow.com/a/44395983/2156909)

SQLAlchemy supports ON CONFLICT now with two methods on_conflict_do_update() and on_conflict_do_nothing():

Copying from the documentation:

from sqlalchemy.dialects.postgresql import insert

stmt = insert(my_table).values(user_email='[email protected]', data='inserted data')
stmt = stmt.on_conflict_do_update(


Here are some examples for insert ... on conflict ... (pg 9.5+) :

  • Insert, on conflict - do nothing.
    insert into dummy(id, name, size) values(1, 'new_name', 3)
    on conflict do nothing;`  
  • Insert, on conflict - do update, specify conflict target via column.
    insert into dummy(id, name, size) values(1, 'new_name', 3)
    on conflict(id)
    do update set name = 'new_name', size = 3;  
  • Insert, on conflict - do update, specify conflict target via constraint name.
    insert into dummy(id, name, size) values(1, 'new_name', 3)
    on conflict on constraint dummy_pkey
    do update set name = 'new_name', size = 4;

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