In the world of relational databases, optimizing query performance is a top priority. One technique that stands out in this regard is the use of materialized views. Materialized views provide a way to store the results of a query as a physical table, allowing for faster data retrieval and reducing the need for expensive joins and aggregations. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what materialized views are, how they work, and provide real-world examples of their use.

What is a Materialized View?

A materialized view is a database object that stores the results of a query as a physical table. Unlike standard views (virtual views) that execute the underlying query every time they are accessed, materialized views precompute and store the query results, significantly speeding up data retrieval for frequently executed queries.

How Materialized Views Work

The creation and maintenance of materialized views involve two key processes: creation and refresh.

Creation: A materialized view is created by defining a query, much like creating a regular view. This query specifies the data to be stored in the materialized view.

Refresh: After creation, the materialized view needs to be regularly updated to reflect changes in the underlying data. Refresh can be done either manually or automatically, depending on the database system and the defined refresh strategy.

Types of Materialized Views

There are two primary types of materialized views:

On-Demand Materialized Views: These are updated explicitly by the user when needed. They offer control over when and how the materialized view is refreshed, making them suitable for scenarios where freshness of data is not critical.

Automatically Refreshed Materialized Views: These are refreshed automatically by the database system based on a predefined schedule or when changes occur in the underlying data. They are suitable for scenarios where up-to-date information is essential.

Real-World Examples of Materialized Views

Now, let’s dive into some real-world examples to see how materialized views can be applied:

Example 1: Sales Data Aggregation

Imagine a retail business that stores transaction data in a database. To generate daily, weekly, or monthly sales reports quickly, you can create materialized views that precompute the necessary aggregations like total sales, average order value, and top-selling products. This eliminates the need to perform these calculations each time a report is requested, improving query performance significantly.

Example 2: User Activity Tracking

In a web application, user activity data can grow rapidly. Materialized views can be used to summarize user activity by day, week, or month. This helps in generating activity reports, identifying trends, and making data-driven decisions efficiently.

Example 3: Geographic Data

For applications that involve geographic data, such as mapping services, materialized views can store precomputed spatial queries. For instance, a materialized view could store the nearest restaurants to a user’s location, eliminating the need to calculate distances and sort results on-the-fly.

Creating a Materialized View

Let’s go through a basic example of creating a materialized view in SQL:

-- Create a materialized view that stores the total sales per product.
CREATE MATERIALIZED VIEW product_sales_summary AS
SELECT product_id, SUM(sales_amount) AS total_sales
FROM sales
GROUP BY product_id;

In this example, we create a materialized view called product_sales_summary that stores the total sales per product by summing the sales_amount column from the sales table.

Refreshing a Materialized View

Refreshing a materialized view can be done manually or automatically. For example, in PostgreSQL, you can manually refresh a materialized view like this:

-- Refresh the materialized view manually.
REFRESH MATERIALIZED VIEW product_sales_summary;

To automate the refresh process, you can use database triggers, cron jobs, or scheduling tools provided by your database system.

Materialized views are a powerful tool in database optimization, offering significant performance benefits for queries that involve aggregations, joins, and complex computations. By intelligently choosing when and what to materialize, you can strike a balance between query performance and data freshness in your applications.

Incorporating materialized views into your database design can lead to faster query responses, improved user experiences, and more efficient data analysis, making them an essential tool for any data-driven organization.

So, the next time you find yourself dealing with slow queries or complex data transformations, consider harnessing the power of materialized views to streamline your database operations and elevate your application’s performance.

By Abhishek K.

Author is a Architect by profession. This blog is to share his experience and give back to the community what he learned throughout his career.