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Postgres guides/Functions/String functions

Postgres substring() function

Extract a substring from a string

The substring() function in Postgres is used to extract a portion of a string based on specified start and end positions, or a regular expression pattern.

It's useful for data cleaning and transformation where you might need to extract relevant parts of a string. For example, when working with semi-structured data like an address, where you want to extract the zip code. Or, to extract the timestamp of events when working with machine-generated data like logs.

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Function signature

The substring() function has two forms:

substring(string text [from int] [for int]) -> text
  • string: The input string to extract the substring from.
  • from (optional): The starting position for the substring (1-based index). If omitted, it defaults to 1.
  • for (optional): The length of the substring to extract. If omitted, the substring extends to the end of the string.
substring(string text from pattern text) -> text
  • string: The input string to extract the substring from.
  • pattern: A POSIX regular expression pattern. The substring matching this pattern is returned.

Example usage

Consider a table users with a user_id column that contains IDs in the format "user_123". We can use substring() to extract just the numeric part of the ID.

WITH users AS (
  SELECT 'user_123' AS user_id
  SELECT 'user_482892' AS user_id
SELECT substring(user_id from 6) AS numeric_id
FROM users;

This query extracts the substring starting from the 6th character of user_id (1-based index) and returns it as numeric_id.

(2 rows)

You can also use a regular expression pattern to find and extract a substring.

WITH addresses AS (
  SELECT '123 Main St, Anytown, CA 12345, (555) 123-4567' AS address
  SELECT '456 Oak Ave, Somewhere, NY 54321, (555) 987-6543' AS address
SELECT substring(address from '\d{5}') AS zip_code
FROM addresses;

This query extracts the 5-digit zip code from the address column using the regular expression pattern \d{5}, which matches exactly 5 consecutive digits.

(2 rows)

Advanced examples

Extract a substring of a specific length

You can specify both the starting position and the length of the substring to extract.

WITH logs AS (
  SELECT '2023-05-15T10:30:00.000Z - User 123 logged in' AS log_entry
  SELECT '2023-05-15T11:45:30.000Z - User 456 logged out' AS log_entry
SELECT substring(log_entry from 1 for 23) AS timestamp
FROM logs;

This query extracts the timestamp portion from the log_entry column. It assumes that the timestamp always appears at the beginning of the log entry and has a fixed length of 23 characters

(2 rows)

Extract a substring matching a regex pattern with capture groups

The substring() function extracts the first part of the string that matches the regular expression pattern. However, if the pattern contains capture groups (specified using parentheses), it returns the substring matched by the first parenthesized subexpression.

WITH orders AS (
  SELECT 'Order #1234 - $150.00' AS order_info
  SELECT 'Order #5678 - $75.50' AS order_info
  SELECT 'Order #9012 - $200.00' AS order_info
  substring(order_info from 'Order #(\d+)') AS order_number,
  substring(order_info from '\$(\d+\.\d+)') AS order_amount
FROM orders;

This query extracts the order number and order amount from the order_info column using regular expressions with capture groups.

  • The pattern Order #(\d+) matches the string "Order #" followed by one or more digits. The parentheses around \d+ create a capture group that extracts just the order number.
  • The pattern \$(\d+\.\d+) matches a dollar sign followed by a decimal number. The parentheses around \d+\.\d+ create a capture group that extracts just the order amount.
order_number | order_amount
 1234         | 150.00
 5678         | 75.50
 9012         | 200.00
(3 rows)

Use substring() in a WHERE clause

You can use substring() in a WHERE clause to filter rows based on a substring condition.

WITH users AS (
  SELECT '' AS email
  SELECT '' AS email
  SELECT '' AS email
FROM users
WHERE substring(email from '.*@(.*)\.') = 'example';

This query selects all rows from the users table where the email address has the domain name example. The regular expression pattern .*@(.*)\. extracts the domain part of the email address.

(2 rows)

Additional considerations

Performance implications

When working with large datasets, using substring() in a WHERE clause may impact query performance since it requires scanning the entire string column to extract substrings and compare them.

If you frequently filter based on substrings, consider creating a functional index on the relevant column using the substring expression, to improve query performance.

Alternative functions

  • left - Extracts the specified number of characters from the start of a string.
  • right - Extracts the specified number of characters from the end of a string.
  • split_part - Splits a string on the specified delimiter and returns the nth substring.
  • regexp_match - Extracts the first substring matching a regular expression pattern. Unlike substring(), it returns an array of all the captured substrings when the regex pattern contains multiple parentheses.


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