CSV import with PostgreSQL

Importing data is one of the tasks I like the least. It requires to write messy code and it will inevitably be really slow, maybe too slow to be viable.

A good approach in these cases is to rely as much as possible on the database engine using a temporary table to store the CSV content and then calling the various insert into select or update from select queries needed to import data from the temp table. They can definitely save your day.

Last day I stumbled upon this wonderful feature of PostgreSQL that could avoid even the need of parsing the CSV. So, let’s say we have the following database:

Sample ER Model

And the following CSV:

SHO32_LEA01_BLA10;Black shoes;Black leather shoes
SHO32_LEA01_RED10;Red shoes;Red leather shoes
SHO32_PLA90_BLA10;Black shoes;Black plastic shoes
SHO32_PLA90_RED10;Red shoes;Red plastic shoes
HAT76_LEA01_BLA10;Black hat;Black leather hat
HAT76_LEA01_RED10;Red hat;Red leather hat
HAT76_PLA90_BLA10;Black hat;Black plastic hat
HAT76_PLA90_RED10;Red hat;Red plastic hat

we can write the entire import algorithm in the DB. Pseudocode:

  • import the csv inside a temporary table;
  • for each row, detect the correct model code, material code and color code splitting the code we have in the first column;
  • create all missing colors, materials and models;
  • update all existing products (setting the new name and description);
  • insert all new products;

To achieve this we can write a PostgreSQL function. Basically you can see a function like an aggregate of SQL statements. With a function we can store in the DB all the import logic and when we have to effectively import the data, we can simply execute the function.

Okay, let’s see a function that will load our CSV and will import the data (see the comments for info):

/* a function named import_products that requires an argument an returns nothing */
CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION import_products(file_path text)
      DROP TABLE IF EXISTS tmp_import_data;
       * create the temporary table
       * we start inserting only not null columns
       * and then we update the other columns to set references
      CREATE TEMP TABLE tmp_import_data(
        product_id     integer,
        product_code   varchar(255) NOT NULL,
        model_id       integer,
        model_code     varchar(5),
        material_id    integer,
        material_code  varchar(5),
        color_id       integer,
        color_code     varchar(5),
        name           varchar(255) NOT NULL,
        description    text NOT NULL

      /* copy the entire csv in tmp_import_data */
      execute format (
        $$copy tmp_import_data (product_code, name, description)
        from %L
        delimiter ';'
      , file_path);

       * set model code, material code and color code individually
       * splitting the product code
      UPDATE tmp_import_data
          model_code    = split_part(product_code, '_', 1),
          material_code = split_part(product_code, '_', 2),
          color_code    = split_part(product_code, '_', 3);
      /* insert new colors */
      INSERT INTO models (code)
        SELECT DISTINCT model_code FROM tmp_import_data
        WHERE NOT EXISTS (SELECT id FROM models WHERE code = model_code);
      /* set references */
      UPDATE tmp_import_data
        SET model_id = s.id FROM (SELECT id, code FROM models) AS s
        WHERE s.code = model_code;
      /* insert new materials */
      INSERT INTO materials (code)
        SELECT DISTINCT material_code FROM tmp_import_data
        WHERE NOT EXISTS (SELECT code FROM materials WHERE code = material_code);
      /* set references */
      UPDATE tmp_import_data
        SET material_id = s.id FROM (SELECT id, code FROM materials) AS s
        WHERE s.code = material_code;
      /* insert new colors */
      INSERT INTO colors (code)
        SELECT DISTINCT color_code FROM tmp_import_data
        WHERE NOT EXISTS (SELECT code FROM colors WHERE code = color_code);
      /* set references */
      UPDATE tmp_import_data
        SET color_id = s.id FROM (SELECT id, code FROM colors) AS s
        WHERE s.code = color_code;
      /* update name and description for existing products */
      UPDATE products 
        SET name = s.name, description = s.description
        FROM (SELECT model_id, material_id, color_id, name, description FROM tmp_import_data) AS s
          products.model_id    = s.model_id AND
          products.material_id = s.material_id AND
          products.color_id    = s.color_id;
      /* insert new products */
      INSERT INTO products (model_id, material_id, color_id, name, description)
        SELECT DISTINCT t.model_id, t.material_id, t.color_id, t.name, t.description
          FROM tmp_import_data AS t
          SELECT id FROM products
          WHERE model_id = t.model_id AND material_id = t.material_id AND color_id = t.color_id
  LANGUAGE plpgsql;

Now we need only to call the function passing a file name, and the function will take care of loading the stuff:

SELECT import_products("/home/user/import.csv");

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