sqlpostgresqllocalizationindexingpattern-matching

Does PostgreSQL support "accent insensitive" collations?


In Microsoft SQL Server, it's possible to specify an "accent insensitive" collation (for a database, table or column), which means that it's possible for a query like

SELECT * FROM users WHERE name LIKE 'João'

to find a row with a Joao name.

I know that it's possible to strip accents from strings in PostgreSQL using the unaccent_string contrib function, but I'm wondering if PostgreSQL supports these "accent insensitive" collations so the SELECT above would work.


Solution

  • Update for Postgres 12 or later

    Postgres 12 adds nondeterministic ICU collations, enabling case-insensitive and accent-insensitive grouping and ordering. The manual:

    ICU locales can only be used if support for ICU was configured when PostgreSQL was built.

    If so, this works for you:

    CREATE COLLATION ignore_accent (provider = icu, locale = 'und-u-ks-level1-kc-true', deterministic = false);
    
    CREATE INDEX users_name_ignore_accent_idx ON users(name COLLATE ignore_accent);
    
    SELECT * FROM users WHERE name = 'João' COLLATE ignore_accent;
    

    fiddle

    Read the manual for details. This blog post by Laurenz Albe may help to understand.

    But ICU collations also have drawbacks. The manual:

    [...] they also have some drawbacks. Foremost, their use leads to a performance penalty. Note, in particular, that B-tree cannot use deduplication with indexes that use a nondeterministic collation. Also, certain operations are not possible with nondeterministic collations, such as pattern matching operations. Therefore, they should be used only in cases where they are specifically wanted.

    My "legacy" solution is typically still superior:

    For all versions

    Use the unaccent module for that - which is completely different from what you are linking to.

    unaccent is a text search dictionary that removes accents (diacritic signs) from lexemes.

    Install once per database with:

    CREATE EXTENSION unaccent;
    

    If you get an error like:

    ERROR: could not open extension control file
    "/usr/share/postgresql/<version>/extension/unaccent.control": No such file or directory
    

    Install the contrib package on your database server like instructed in this related answer:

    Among other things, it provides the function unaccent() you can use with your example (where LIKE seems not needed).

    SELECT *
    FROM   users
    WHERE  unaccent(name) = unaccent('João');
    

    Index

    To use an index for that kind of query, create an index on the expression. However, Postgres only accepts IMMUTABLE functions for indexes. If a function can return a different result for the same input, the index could silently break.

    unaccent() only STABLE not IMMUTABLE

    Unfortunately, unaccent() is only STABLE, not IMMUTABLE. According to this thread on pgsql-bugs, this is due to three reasons:

    1. It depends on the behavior of a dictionary.
    2. There is no hard-wired connection to this dictionary.
    3. It therefore also depends on the current search_path, which can change easily.

    Some tutorials on the web instruct to just alter the function volatility to IMMUTABLE. This brute-force method can break under certain conditions.

    Others suggest a simple IMMUTABLE wrapper function (like I did myself in the past).

    There is an ongoing debate whether to make the variant with two parameters IMMUTABLE which declares the used dictionary explicitly. Read here or here.

    Another alternative would be this module with an IMMUTABLE unaccent() function by Musicbrainz, provided on Github. Haven't tested it myself. I think I have come up with a better idea:

    Best for now

    This approach is more efficient than other solutions floating around, and safer.
    Create an IMMUTABLE SQL wrapper function executing the two-parameter form with hard-wired, schema-qualified function and dictionary.

    Since nesting a non-immutable function would disable function inlining, base it on a copy of the C-function, (fake) declared IMMUTABLE as well. Its only purpose is to be used in the SQL function wrapper. Not meant to be used on its own.

    The sophistication is needed as there is no way to hard-wire the dictionary in the declaration of the C function. (Would require to hack the C code itself.) The SQL wrapper function does that and allows both function inlining and expression indexes.

    CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION public.immutable_unaccent(regdictionary, text)
      RETURNS text
      LANGUAGE c IMMUTABLE PARALLEL SAFE STRICT AS
    '$libdir/unaccent', 'unaccent_dict';
    

    Then:

    CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION public.f_unaccent(text)
      RETURNS text
      LANGUAGE sql IMMUTABLE PARALLEL SAFE STRICT AS
    $func$
    SELECT public.immutable_unaccent(regdictionary 'public.unaccent', $1)
    $func$;
    

    In Postgres 14 or later, an SQL-standard function is slightly cheaper, yet. Using the short form for a single statement:

    CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION public.f_unaccent(text)
      RETURNS text
      LANGUAGE sql IMMUTABLE PARALLEL SAFE STRICT
    RETURN public.immutable_unaccent(regdictionary 'public.unaccent', $1);
    

    See:

    Drop PARALLEL SAFE from both functions for Postgres 9.5 or older.

    public being the schema where you installed the extension (public is the default).

    The explicit type declaration (regdictionary) defends against hypothetical attacks with overloaded variants of the function by malicious users.

    Previously, I advocated a wrapper function based on the STABLE function unaccent() shipped with the unaccent module. That disabled function inlining. This version executes ten times faster than the simple wrapper function I had here earlier.
    And that was already twice as fast as the first version which added SET search_path = public, pg_temp to the function - until I discovered that the dictionary can be schema-qualified, too. Still (Postgres 12) not too obvious from documentation.

    If you lack the necessary privileges to create C functions, you are back to the second best implementation: An IMMUTABLE function wrapper around the STABLE unaccent() function provided by the module:

    CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION public.f_unaccent(text)
      RETURNS text
      LANGUAGE sql IMMUTABLE PARALLEL SAFE STRICT AS
    $func$
    SELECT public.unaccent('public.unaccent', $1)  -- schema-qualify function and dictionary
    $func$;
    

    Finally, the expression index to make queries fast:

    CREATE INDEX users_unaccent_name_idx ON users(public.f_unaccent(name));
    

    Remember to recreate indexes involving this function after any change to function or dictionary, like an in-place major release upgrade that would not recreate indexes. Recent major releases all had updates for the unaccent module.

    Adapt queries to match the index (so the query planner will use it):

    SELECT * FROM users
    WHERE  f_unaccent(name) = f_unaccent('João');
    

    We don't need the function in the expression to the right of the operator. There we can also supply unaccented strings like 'Joao' directly.

    The faster function does not translate to much faster queries using the expression index. Index look-ups operate on pre-computed values and are very fast either way. But index maintenance and queries not using the index benefit. And access methods like bitmap index scans may have to recheck values in the heap (the main relation), which involves executing the underlying function. See:

    Security for client programs has been tightened with Postgres 10.3 / 9.6.8 etc. You need to schema-qualify function and dictionary name as demonstrated when used in any indexes. See:

    Ligatures

    In Postgres 9.5 or older ligatures like 'Œ' or 'ß' have to be expanded manually (if you need that), since unaccent() always substitutes a single letter:

    SELECT unaccent('Œ Æ œ æ ß');
    
    unaccent
    ----------
    E A e a S
    

    You will love this update to unaccent in Postgres 9.6:

    Extend contrib/unaccent's standard unaccent.rules file to handle all diacritics known to Unicode, and expand ligatures correctly (Thomas Munro, Léonard Benedetti)

    Bold emphasis mine. Now we get:

    SELECT unaccent('Œ Æ œ æ ß');
    
    unaccent
    ----------
    OE AE oe ae ss
    

    Pattern matching

    For LIKE or ILIKE with arbitrary patterns, combine this with the module pg_trgm in PostgreSQL 9.1 or later. Create a trigram GIN (typically preferable) or GIST expression index. Example for GIN:

    CREATE INDEX users_unaccent_name_trgm_idx ON users
    USING gin (f_unaccent(name) gin_trgm_ops);
    

    Can be used for queries like:

    SELECT * FROM users
    WHERE  f_unaccent(name) LIKE ('%' || f_unaccent('João') || '%');
    

    GIN and GIST indexes are more expensive (to maintain) than plain B-tree:

    There are simpler solutions for just left-anchored patterns. More about pattern matching and performance:

    pg_trgm also provides useful operators for "similarity" (%) and "distance" (<->).

    Trigram indexes also support simple regular expressions with ~ et al. and case insensitive pattern matching with ILIKE: