Matthew J. Clemente

TIL: The Easiest Way to Select the Last 30 Days (or Any Interval) in PostgreSQL

May 18, 2021
4 minutes

Thanks to my ignorance, PostgreSQL is an ongoing source of TILs. Today, I learned about using interval to easily select a range of time.

While reviewing data from a logging table, I needed to select records from the past 30 days. On a whim, I decided to see if PostgreSQL provided any clever ways to do this. My searches lead me to learn about a new data type: interval.[1] Here’s a link to the docs, as well as the post I stumbled upon that demonstrated how to write this type of query. Let’s take a closer look.

Previous Approach Using the Specific Date

My typical approach for selecting data based on a time interval is first to calculate the specific date/time implied by the interval and then query based on whether records are from before or after that date.[2] So, to select data from within the past 30 days, I’d determine that 30 days ago was April 18, and the I’d write the query something like this:

-- Example 1
SELECT
*
FROM
book
WHERE
completed_at > '04/18/2021 00:00:00'

New Approach Using interval

What I learned today was that this can also be written using an interval. Here’s what it looks like:

-- Example 2
SELECT
*
FROM
book
WHERE
completed_at > now() - interval '30 day'

The code now() - interval '30 day' automatically calculates the date 30 days in the past. My response to learning this was 🤯! Yes, it merited my first use of an emoji in a sentence. That’s so cool!

The available units for the interval data type are: microsecond, millisecond, second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, decade, century, millennium, all of which can be abbreviated or written as plurals.

Now, there’s apparently a lot more that’s possible with interval, most of which I obviously don’t know. But here are two more features I found:

  • You can combine units expressively. So, for example, you can declare a very specific time interval like this:

    WHERE completed_at > now() - interval '1 year 137 days 12 hours'

    The combination of accuracy (down the the microsecond) and natural language syntax is really powerful. I don’t have a use case for this yet, but I was impressed by it.

  • Within INSERT statements, you can combine interval and now() to generate timestamps at a specifically timed interval in the past or future. I did this when creating the second example table:

    INSERT INTO book
    VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle', now() - interval '28 day', now());

    Inserting future timestamps could be useful when you want to schedule a later event based on the current time, like a welcome email being sent one day after a new user signs up.

That’s it for today!

Examples

Run Example 1.

Run Example 2.

For my own reference, and in the event the DB Fiddle links die one day, here’s the code for the Example 2 database:

-- Schema (PostgreSQL v13)
CREATE TABLE genre (
genre_id serial NOT NULL CONSTRAINT genre_pk PRIMARY KEY,
name varchar(255) NOT NULL
);

CREATE TABLE book (
book_id serial NOT NULL CONSTRAINT book_pk PRIMARY KEY,
genre_id int NOT NULL CONSTRAINT books_type_type_id_fk REFERENCES genre,
name varchar(255) NOT NULL,
started_at date NOT NULL,
completed_at date NOT NULL
);

INSERT INTO genre VALUES (DEFAULT, 'Classic');
INSERT INTO genre VALUES (DEFAULT, 'Humor');
INSERT INTO genre VALUES (DEFAULT, 'Drama');
INSERT INTO genre VALUES (DEFAULT, 'Biography');
INSERT INTO genre VALUES (DEFAULT, 'History');

INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 4, 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek', now() - interval '1001 day', now() - interval '875 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'David Copperfield', now() - interval '867 day', now() - interval '794 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'A Tale of Two Cities', now() - interval '793 day', now() - interval '639 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'The Scarlet Letter', now() - interval '638 day', now() - interval '503 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 3, 'Long Day''s Journey into Night', now() - interval '562 day', now() - interval '536 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 2, 'We are in a Book!', now() - interval '867 day', now() - interval '502 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 2, 'A Confederacy of Dunces', now() - interval '495 day', now() - interval '243 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'Pride and Prejudice', now() - interval '401 day', now() - interval '212 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'Beloved', now() - interval '211 day', now() - interval '135 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 5, '1776', now() - interval '134 day', now() - interval '78 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'Perelandra', now() - interval '80 day', now() - interval '67 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 4, 'The World''s Largest Man', now() - interval '66 day', now() - interval '28 day');
INSERT INTO book
VALUES (DEFAULT, 1, 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle', now() - interval '28 day', now());

Footnotes

  1. New, as in “new to me”. The docs show it being a part of PostgreSQL going back to at least version 7.1. ↩︎

  2. In the interest of accuracy, I suppose I should say that typically it’s my application that’s actually doing the calculating, but the point is that the query is based on the date. ↩︎