Working with Change Column Type in Postgres



Often when developing we will want to change the column types on an existing table. We can do this using the ALTER TABLE and TYPE clauses. In this article, we will learn how to change column data types in Postgresql.

The Syntax

The basic syntax of Change Column Type is as follows:

ALTER TABLE [table_name]
  column_name TYPE data_type;

Getting Setup

We will be using docker in this article, but feel free to install your database locally instead. Once you have docker installed, create a new file called docker-compose.yml and add the following.

version: '3'
    image: 'postgres:latest'
      - 5432:5432
      POSTGRES_USER: username
      POSTGRES_PASSWORD: password
      POSTGRES_DB: default_database
      - psqldata:/var/lib/postgresql

    image: phpmyadmin/phpmyadmin
      - db
      PMA_HOST: db
      PMA_PORT: 3306
    restart: always
      - 8081:80


Next, run docker-compose up.

Now, navigate to http://localhost:8081/ to access phpMyAdmin. Then log in with the username username and pass password.

Click the SQL tab and you are ready to go.

Creating a DB

In this article, we will need some data to work with. If you don't understand these commands, don't worry, we will cover them in later articles.

We will be using the sample db provided here: However, we will only enter what we need rather than import the whole db.

Next, let's create an employees table. This is a slightly simplified version of the sakila database.

CREATE TABLE employees (
    emp_no      INT             NOT NULL,
    birth_date  DATE            NOT NULL,
    first_name  VARCHAR(14)     NOT NULL,
    last_name   VARCHAR(16)     NOT NULL,
    gender      VARCHAR(1),
    hire_date   DATE            NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY (emp_no)

Now, let's enter a few rows

INSERT INTO employees VALUES (10001,'1953-09-02','Georgi','Facello','M','1986-06-26'),

An Example

Now that we are set up, let's see two examples of altering our column's data type.

In this first example, we will update the first name column to use 16 characters instead of 14.

alter table employees alter column first_name type varchar(16);

And for one more example, let's change our gender column to be an integer, in case we want to use numerical enums in our code.

alter table employees alter column gender type int;

Here postgres gives us an error type varchar and not be automatically converted to type int. So we need to add the using statement and force cast our type.

alter table employees 
  alter column gender type int 
  using gender::integer;