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PostgreSQL Reference Manual - Volume 1 - SQL Language Reference
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 716 pages
ISBN 0954612027
RRP £32.00 ($49.95)

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10.2.1 Read Committed Isolation Level

Read Committed is the default isolation level in PostgreSQL. When a transaction runs on this isolation level, a SELECT query sees only data committed before the query began; it never sees either uncommitted data or changes committed during query execution by concurrent transactions. (However, the SELECT does see the effects of previous updates executed within its own transaction, even though they are not yet committed.) In effect, a SELECT query sees a snapshot of the database as of the instant that that query begins to run. Notice that two successive SELECT commands can see different data, even though they are within a single transaction, if other transactions commit changes during execution of the first SELECT.

UPDATE, DELETE, SELECT FOR UPDATE, and SELECT FOR SHARE commands behave the same as SELECT in terms of searching for target rows: they will only find target rows that were committed as of the command start time. However, such a target row may have already been updated (or deleted or locked) by another concurrent transaction by the time it is found. In this case, the would-be updater will wait for the first updating transaction to commit or roll back (if it is still in progress). If the first updater rolls back, then its effects are negated and the second updater can proceed with updating the originally found row. If the first updater commits, the second updater will ignore the row if the first updater deleted it, otherwise it will attempt to apply its operation to the updated version of the row. The search condition of the command (the WHERE clause) is re-evaluated to see if the updated version of the row still matches the search condition. If so, the second updater proceeds with its operation, starting from the updated version of the row. (In the case of SELECT FOR UPDATE and SELECT FOR SHARE, that means it is the updated version of the row that is locked and returned to the client.)

Because of the above rule, it is possible for an updating command to see an inconsistent snapshot: it can see the effects of concurrent updating commands that affected the same rows it is trying to update, but it does not see effects of those commands on other rows in the database. This behavior makes Read Committed mode unsuitable for commands that involve complex search conditions. However, it is just right for simpler cases. For example, consider updating bank balances with transactions like

BEGIN;
UPDATE accounts SET balance = balance + 100.00 WHERE acctnum
 = 12345;
UPDATE accounts SET balance = balance - 100.00 WHERE acctnum
 = 7534;
COMMIT;

If two such transactions concurrently try to change the balance of account 12345, we clearly want the second transaction to start from the updated version of the account's row. Because each command is affecting only a predetermined row, letting it see the updated version of the row does not create any troublesome inconsistency.

Since in Read Committed mode each new command starts with a new snapshot that includes all transactions committed up to that instant, subsequent commands in the same transaction will see the effects of the committed concurrent transaction in any case. The point at issue here is whether or not within a single command we see an absolutely consistent view of the database.

The partial transaction isolation provided by Read Committed mode is adequate for many applications, and this mode is fast and simple to use. However, for applications that do complex queries and updates, it may be necessary to guarantee a more rigorously consistent view of the database than the Read Committed mode provides.

ISBN 0954612027PostgreSQL Reference Manual - Volume 1 - SQL Language ReferenceSee the print edition