Rails N+1 query optimization to get records counts in PSQL

Performance of the Rails application becomes slower if the application has a lot of N+1 queries. In this article, we will go through a performance optimization that removes N+1 queries to fetch recourd counts based on certain conditions.

Let’s consider a schema for Address model / table as gives below.

  # id
  # user_id
  # address_1
  # address_2
  # address_3
  # created_at
  # updated_at
  class Address < ApplicationRecord

Let’s say, we want to get

  • The number of records that do not have address_1 value
  • The number of records that do not have address_2 value
  • The number of records that do not have address_3 value

This can be written with Ruby on Rails ORM as given below.

  column_names = %i(address_1 address_2 address_3)

  column_names.inject({}) do |column_counts, column_name|
    count = Address.where(column_name => [nil, '']).select(column_name).count
    column_counts[column_name] = count

If we run this piece of code, we get following output on a sample database with some records in addresses table.

    :address_1 => 23,
    :address_2 => 51,
    :address_3 => 1233

We’ve obtained the required information from the database using Rails ORM.

Let’s look at the queries being fired to get this data.

count = Address.where(column_name => [nil, '']).select(column_name).count

And the line is being called in a loop. When inspected, we can see following queries.

SELECT COUNT("addresses"."address_1") FROM "addresses" WHERE "addresses"."deleted_at" IS NULL AND ("addresses"."address_1" = $1 OR "addresses"."address_1" IS NULL)  [["address_1", ""]]

SELECT COUNT("addresses"."address_2") FROM "addresses" WHERE "addresses"."deleted_at" IS NULL AND ("addresses"."address_2" = $1 OR "addresses"."address_2" IS NULL)  [["address_2", ""]]

SELECT COUNT("addresses"."address_3") FROM "addresses" WHERE "addresses"."deleted_at" IS NULL AND ("addresses"."address_3" = $1 OR "addresses"."address_3" IS NULL)  [["address_3", ""]]

As we can see it has fired 3 queries. Now, if this piece of / method gets called huge number of times in an application, this can become a bottleneck quickly.

General rule of thumb can be considered as:

If any line of code which fires a query is written in a loop, there may be a scope of performance optmization to remove those N+1 queries.

Remove N+1 querying using a SQL

Upon taking a close look at the SQL queries being fired, we can get the required data in a single SQL query using PostgreSQL’s Conditional Expresions

column_names = %i(address_1 address_2 address_3)

sql = <<-SQL
    column_names.map do |column_name|
      "COALESCE(SUM(CASE WHEN #{column_name} IS NULL THEN 1 ELSE 0 END), 0) AS #{column_name}"
    end.join(', ')
  FROM addresses

Here we are getting the count of records for each column in a select clause based on condition in case .. when expressions. The record is counted if the value is NULL. We have used COALESCE in order to ensure default value 0 is returned if there are no records in addresses table.

It gives the output as given below.

  :address_1 => 23,
  :address_2 => 51,
  :address_3 => 1233

This is exactly the result that we wanted. But, using PostgreSQL’s features, we have obtained this result in a single query.


Akshay Mohite

Hi there! I am a Ruby on Rails & ReactJS Enthusiast, building some cool products at DTree Labs.

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