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How to create a spatial index in PostGIS

Mastering Spatial Indexes in PostGIS

Are you using PostGIS to manage your geospatial data, but find that your spatial queries are slower than you’d like? Or perhaps you’re new to the world of spatial databases and want to leverage their full potential right from the start? Then, understanding spatial indexing is an essential part of your journey.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of creating and using spatial indexes in PostGIS. By enhancing your spatial databases with indexes, you can greatly speed up your spatial queries, making your applications more responsive and your analyses more efficient.

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How to create a spatial index in PostGIS

A spatial index can be created in PostGIS with the CREATE INDEX command. Spatial indexes are typically created on geometry columns to speed up spatial queries. The most common type of spatial index is a GiST (Generalized Search Tree) index, but other types like SP-GiST, BRIN, and B-tree can also be used.

Here’s how to create a GiST index:

CREATE INDEX index_name
ON table_name
USING gist (geometry_column);

In the command above, replace index_name with the name you want to give your index, table_name with the name of your table, and geometry_column with the name of the geometry column in your table.

For example, if you have a table cities with a geometry column geom, you could create a GiST index like this:

CREATE INDEX cities_geom_gist
ON cities
USING gist (geom);

Once you’ve created an index, it’s also a good idea to run the VACUUM ANALYZE command to update the statistics for the query planner:

VACUUM ANALYZE table_name;

Again, replace table_name with the name of your table.

In our example, that would be:


Keep in mind that creating an index can take some time if you have a lot of data. Also, an index will speed up queries, but it also takes up storage space and can slow down insert and update operations. You’ll need to balance these considerations based on your specific use case.

PostGIS Spatial Index FAQs

Creating a spatial index in PostGIS can raise a variety of questions, especially for people who are new to spatial databases or indexes. Here are some common questions:

What is a spatial index?

Spatial indexing is a technique used to optimize spatial queries, such as finding all the features within a specific area. It involves creating an additional data structure that makes it quicker to search the spatial data.

What are the types of spatial indexes in PostGIS and when should I use each type?

The most common type of spatial index in PostGIS is a GiST (Generalized Search Tree) index, which is suitable for most use cases. Other types include SP-GiST, BRIN, and B-tree.

How do I know if my spatial index is being used?

You can use the EXPLAIN command in SQL to see the query plan for a given query. If the spatial index is being used, it will appear in the query plan.

Why is my spatial query still slow even after creating an index?

There could be several reasons for this. The query might be complex or not written optimally. The index might not be used because the query planner doesn’t think it would help. The index might not be fully up-to-date, in which case running the VACUUM ANALYZE command might help.

Can I create a spatial index on a view?

No, indexes can only be created on tables, not views. But if the view is based on a table that has an index, queries on the view can still benefit from the index.

What data types can be indexed?

In PostGIS, spatial indexes can be created on geometry and geography data types.
How do I remove a spatial index? You can remove an index using the DROP INDEX command. For example, DROP INDEX index_name;, replacing index_name with the name of your index.

What is the difference between a spatial index and a regular index?

A regular index, like a B-tree, is designed for simple data types like integers or strings. A spatial index, on the other hand, is designed for spatial data types, and can handle complex queries about spatial relationships.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.