Using Postgres range data type in Ecto

Since PostgreSQL 9.2 we have the ability to store and query range of values with specific operators and functions. This is a super nice feature that removes complexity when handling logic around two pieces of information that can also be representing a third one.

Let's say that we have a model that has price_range as one of its attributes. Instead of handling two fields like minimum_price and maximum_price, we can use ranges of age like [0, 45.67], [30.04, 98.50], [100, 500] and so one. This way, we can perform queries using range operators that will match things like "2.5 <@ numrange(1.50,7)" that means element 2.5 is contained by range from 1.50 to 7, what is true in this example.

PostgreSQL comes with the following built-in range types:

  • int4range — Range of integer
  • int8range — Range of bigint
  • numrange — Range of numeric
  • tsrange — Range of timestamp without time zone
  • tstzrange — Range of timestamp with time zone
  • daterange — Range of date

Based on the fact that Ecto has a PostgreSQL adapter called Postgrex, it should be very trivial to take advantage of the range data type, like any other common data type as string, integer or boolean. However, that is not true as Ecto doesn't provide an out-of-box Range data type. The good news is that Ecto allow you to create custom data types when needed that will match the adapter data type available, and it is really simple to do it.

Postgrex comes with a data type %Postgrex.Range{}, this will be our reference in our custom Ecto data type. The %Postgrex.Range{} accepts 4 attributes: lower, upper, lower_inclusive, upper_inclusive (both lower and upper inclusive attributes are set as true by default) that pretty much maps with how Postgres sets ranges.

Let's take a look in our custom Ecto data type for ranges:

defmodule MyApp.Numrange do  
  @behaviour Ecto.Type

  def type, do: :numrange

  def cast([lower, upper]) do
    {:ok, [lower, upper]}
  end
  def cast(_), do: :error

  def load(%Postgrex.Range{lower: lower, upper: nil}) do
    {lower, _} = lower |> to_float
    {:ok, [lower, nil]}
  end
  def load(%Postgrex.Range{lower: lower, upper: upper}) do
    {lower, _} = lower |> to_float
    {upper, _} = upper |> to_float
    {:ok, [lower, upper]}
  end

  def dump([lower, upper]) do
    {:ok, %Postgrex.Range{lower: lower, upper: upper, upper_inclusive: false}}
  end
  def dump(_), do: :error

  defp to_float(value) do
   value |> Decimal.to_string |> Float.parse
  end

end  

Let's break down the code above.

The first thing we notice is that our custom data type module behaves like an Ecto.Type.

@behaviour Ecto.Type

That means that it expects 4 functions to be implemented (from Ecto documentation):

  • type/0 should output the name of the db type;
  • cast/1 should receive any type and output your custom Ecto type;
  • load/1 should receive the db type and output your custom Ecto type;
  • dump/1 should receive your custom Ecto type and output the db type.

The cast/1 function is defining what is the input that the data type will receive and what to pass along to the adapter.

def cast([lower, upper]) do  
  {:ok, [lower, upper]}
end

def cast(_), do: :error  

The load/1 function will receive from the adapter a struct called %Postgrex.Range{}. Notice that depending on the case we can have ranges using infinity (passing nil as value), so we can pattern match those cases. The return is a tuple with the second element being a list of 2 values.

Also, any transformation can happen in this stage, in the case below I am converting to float the value the adapter sends, that is a Decimal.

def load(%Postgrex.Range{lower: lower, upper: nil}) do  
  {lower, _} = lower |> to_float
  {:ok, [lower, nil]}
end

def load(%Postgrex.Range{lower: lower, upper: upper}) do  
  {lower, _} = lower |> to_float
  {upper, _} = upper |> to_float
  {:ok, [lower, upper]}
end  

The dump/1 function will prepare the data to be sent to our adapter. In our case, as I want to modify the adapter's default for inclusive boundary for my upper level, I set false for upper_inclusive.

def dump([lower, upper]) do  
  {:ok,
   %Postgrex.Range{
     lower: lower, upper: upper, upper_inclusive: false
   }
  }
end

def dump(_), do: :error  

To know more about inclusive boundaries I suggest PostgreSQL documentation.

Having that in place, the migration can use the new data type as the example below:

defmodule MyApp.Repo.Migrations.Product do  
  use Ecto.Migration

  def change do
    create table(:products) do
      add :price_range, :numrange
      timestamps
    end
  end

end  

The next step is set our model to use our custom type in the schema.

defmodule MyApp.Product do  
  use MyApp.Web, :model

  schema “products” do
    field :price_range, MyApp.Numrange
    timestamps
  end

  ### Rest of the model omitted.
end  

Also, part of the model is ensuring that the contract between the model and the custom data type is valid. In our case, a valid price_range is:

  • a list with 2 elements;
  • with the second element greater than the first one;
  • having the second element as nil, representing infinity bound in the upper side (optional).

Of course, this validation and even the contract could be different. We could use maps or structs to pass along the values if preferred.

With that in place you can take advantage of this data type and perform queries or functions over the range type. Below is an example:

defmodule MyApp.ProductQuery do  
  import Ecto.Query
  alias MyApp.{Repo, Product}

  def within_price_range(price) do
    query =
      from p in Product,
      where: fragment(“?::numeric <@ ?”, ^price, p.price_range)
    query |> Repo.all
  end

end  

The another nice feature from Ecto is that you can use the function fragment/1 to execute specific database operations or functions that are not available in Ecto.Query.API.

Ecto, besides all great features and design, provides everything we need to extend it, what makes it really powerful and enjoyable.

Pedro Assumpcao

Son of the Creator, brother of the Redeemer, husband of the wonderful, father of a brainy boy and an adorable girl. A blessed one.