How to rename a column in PostgreSQL?

How to rename a column in PostgreSQL?

Renaming a column in a PostgreSQL database is a common operation, but one that requires careful consideration. Maybe you’re refactoring your code, aligning with new naming conventions, or simply correcting a typo. Whatever the reason, it’s essential to know how to do it right. This article aims to walk you through the process, covering everything from pre-requisites to permissions, and of course, the SQL syntax involved.


To follow along, make sure you have PostgreSQL 9.1 or later installed, as the commands may differ in older versions. You’ll also need access to a PostgreSQL database and a SQL client like pgAdmin or psql for executing queries. Official PostgreSQL Documentation can help you with the installation.

Backing Up Data

Before you proceed with renaming a column, it’s crucial to backup your data. There are two primary methods for creating backups: SQL Dump and Snapshots.

SQL Dump

An SQL dump is essentially a text file containing a sequence of SQL statements that can be executed to recreate the original database. You can create an SQL dump using the pg_dump utility:

pg_dump -U username -W -F c -b -v -f "/path/to/your/backup.sql" your_database_name

Replace username with your PostgreSQL username and your_database_name with the database you’re targeting.


Another way to backup your data is by taking a snapshot, which is essentially a point-in-time image of your data. This can be done using various tools like AWS RDS snapshots if your database is hosted there. Ensure to read through the official documentation to understand how to create and restore from a snapshot.

Syntax Overview

Let’s move to the core part—renaming the column. In PostgreSQL, the SQL command used for renaming a column is ALTER TABLE.

Basic Syntax

Here’s how you can rename a column:

ALTER TABLE table_name RENAME COLUMN old_column_name TO new_column_name;

Replace table_name with the name of the table, old_column_name with the existing column name, and new_column_name with the new name you wish to give the column.


To rename a column in PostgreSQL, you’ll need specific permissions, which are typically either owner permissions or superuser permissions.

Owner Permissions

If you are the owner of the table, you inherently have the right to alter its structure, which includes renaming columns. In PostgreSQL, ownership is granted by default to the role that creates the table. You can check the ownership by running:

\d+ table_name

Superuser Permissions

PostgreSQL superusers bypass all permission checks except the right to log in. If you have superuser permissions, you’ll be able to rename columns in any table. However, having superuser permissions is generally reserved for administrative tasks and isn’t recommended for routine operations due to security concerns.

And there you have it! Now you know the ins and outs of renaming a column in PostgreSQL. Take the appropriate backup, ensure you have the necessary permissions, and you’re good to go.

Renaming a Column Using SQL

Via Command Line (psql)

Renaming a column in PostgreSQL can be easily done using the ALTER TABLE statement with the RENAME COLUMN option. The basic syntax is as follows:

ALTER TABLE table_name RENAME COLUMN old_column_name TO new_column_name;


Let’s consider a table named employees with a column fname. To rename this column to first_name, execute the following command:

ALTER TABLE employees RENAME COLUMN fname TO first_name;

This command is to be executed in the PostgreSQL command-line interface (psql).

Via GUI Tools

Tools like PgAdmin and DBeaver offer graphical interfaces for database management. Here’s how to rename columns using these tools.


  1. Navigate to your table and right-click.
  2. Choose ‘Properties’.
  3. Go to ‘Columns’.
  4. Right-click on the column name and choose ‘Properties’.
  5. Change the name and save.


  1. Navigate to your table.
  2. Go to ‘Edit Table’.
  3. Select the column and click on ‘Edit’.
  4. Change the column name.
  5. Click ‘Save’.

Advanced Scenarios

Renaming Indexed Columns

If the column you are renaming is part of an index, the index name doesn’t change, but the column name within the index will update automatically.

ALTER TABLE employees RENAME COLUMN fname TO first_name;

You don’t need to separately rename the indexed column.

Renaming Columns with Constraints

When a column with constraints like NOT NULL or UNIQUE is renamed, the constraints are carried over to the new column name.

ALTER TABLE employees RENAME COLUMN emp_id TO employee_id;

Renaming Columns in Foreign Keys

If a column is part of a foreign key constraint, you have to drop the foreign key constraint, rename the column, and then re-add the constraint.

ALTER TABLE orders DROP CONSTRAINT orders_customer_id_fkey;
ALTER TABLE orders RENAME COLUMN customer_id TO new_customer_id;
ALTER TABLE orders ADD CONSTRAINT orders_new_customer_id_fkey FOREIGN KEY (new_customer_id) REFERENCES customers(id);

Caveats and Considerations

Impact on Views

Renaming a column that is used in a view will cause the view to break. You’ll have to update the view manually.

Impact on Stored Procedures and Triggers

Similarly, stored procedures and triggers referencing the old column name will need to be updated.

Performance Implications

Renaming columns is a lightweight operation and generally doesn’t impact performance. However, dropping and adding constraints can affect performance.

Best Practices

Atomic Changes

Always perform changes like renaming in transactions to ensure atomicity. This prevents partial updates that can lead to an inconsistent state.

Stakeholder Notification

Inform stakeholders of the change, especially if the column is accessed by application code or reporting tools. Update the dependent code accordingly.


Renaming columns in PostgreSQL is a straightforward operation but comes with caveats such as the impact on views, stored procedures, and constraints. Following best practices like atomic changes and stakeholder notification can make the process smoother.

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