Backfill historical data on compressed chunks

In the TimescaleDB extras GitHub repository, we provide explicit functions for backfilling batch data to compressed chunks, which is useful for inserting a batch of backfilled data (as opposed to individual row inserts). By "backfill", we mean inserting data corresponding to a timestamp well in the past, which given its timestamp, already corresponds to a compressed chunk.

In the below example, we backfill data into a temporary table; such temporary tables are short-lived and only exist for the duration of the database session. Alternatively, if backfill is common, one might use a normal table for this instead, which would allow multiple writers to insert into the table at the same time before the decompress_backfill process.

To use this procedure:

  1. Create a table with the same schema as the hypertable (in this example, cpu) that we are backfilling into:

  2. Insert data into the backfill table.

  3. Use a supplied backfill procedure to perform the above steps: halt compression policy, identify those compressed chunks to which the backfilled data corresponds, decompress those chunks, insert data from the backfill table into the main hypertable, and then re-enable compression policy:

    CALL decompress_backfill(staging_table=>'cpu_temp', destination_hypertable=>'cpu');`

If using a temp table, the table is automatically dropped at the end of your database session. If using a normal table, after you are done backfilling the data successfully, you will likely want to truncate your table in preparation for the next backfill (or drop it completely).

Manually decompressing chunks for backfill

To perform these steps more manually, we first identify and turn off our compression policy, before manually decompressing chunks. To accomplish this we first find the job_id of the policy using:

SELECT s.job_id
  INNER JOIN timescaledb_information.job_stats s ON j.job_id = s.job_id
WHERE j.proc_name = 'policy_compression' AND s.hypertable_name = <target table>;

Next, pause the job with:

SELECT alter_job(<job_id>, scheduled => false);

We have now paused the compress chunk policy from the hypertable which will leave us free to decompress the chunks we need to modify via backfill or update. To decompress the chunk(s) that we will be modifying, for each chunk:

SELECT decompress_chunk('_timescaledb_internal._hyper_2_2_chunk');

Similar to above, you can also decompress a set of chunks based on a time range by first looking up this set of chunks via show_chunks:

SELECT decompress_chunk(i) from show_chunks('conditions', newer_than, older_than) i;
You need to run 'decompress_chunk' for each chunk that will be impacted by your INSERT or UPDATE statement in backfilling data. Once your needed chunks are decompressed you can proceed with your data backfill operations._

Once your backfill and update operations are complete we can simply re-enable our compression policy job:

SELECT alter_job(<job_id>, scheduled => true);

This job will re-compress any chunks that were decompressed during your backfilling operation the next time it runs. To have it run immediately, you can expressly execute the command via run_job:

CALL run_job(<job_id>);

Future Work

One of the current limitations of TimescaleDB is that once chunks are converted into compressed column form, we do not allow updates and deletes of the data or changes to the schema without manual decompression, except as noted above. In other words, chunks are partially immutable in compressed form. Attempts to modify the chunks' data in those cases will either error or fail silently (as preferred by users). We plan to remove this limitation in future releases.