Continuous Views

PipelineDB’s fundamental abstraction is called a continuous view. A continuous view is much like a regular view, except that it selects from a combination of streams and tables as its inputs and is incrementally updated in realtime as new data is written to those inputs.

As soon as a stream row has been read by the continuous views that must read it, it is discarded. It is not stored anywhere. The only data that is persisted for a continuous view is whatever is returned by running a SELECT * FROM that_view. Thus you can think of a continuous view as a very high-throughput, realtime materialized view.


Here’s the syntax for creating a continuous view:


where query is a subset of a PostgreSQL SELECT statement:

SELECT [ DISTINCT [ ON ( expression [, ...] ) ] ]
    expression [ [ AS ] output_name ] [, ...]
    [ FROM from_item [, ...] ]
    [ WHERE condition ]
    [ GROUP BY expression [, ...] ]
    [ HAVING condition [, ...] ]
    [ WINDOW window_name AS ( window_definition ) [, ...] ]

where from_item can be one of:

    stream_name [ [ AS ] alias [ ( column_alias [, ...] ) ] ]
    table_name [ [ AS ] alias [ ( column_alias [, ...] ) ] ]
    from_item [ NATURAL ] join_type from_item [ ON join_condition ]


This section references streams, which are similar to tables and are what continuous views read from in their FROM clause. They’re explained in more depth in the Streams section, but you can think of them as append-only tables for now.


A PostgreSQL expression


An optional identifier to name an expression with


Any expression that evaluates to a result of type boolean. Any row that does not satisfy this condition will be eliminated from the output. A row satisfies the condition if it returns true when the actual row values are substituted for any variable references.


A name that can be referenced from OVER clauses or subsequent window definitions.


[ existing_window_name ]
[ PARTITION BY expression [, ...] ]
[ ORDER BY expression ] [ NULLS { FIRST | LAST } ] [, ...] ]
[ frame_clause ]


PipelineDB’s window_definitions do not support an ORDER BY clause if the input rows come from a stream. In such cases, the stream row’s arrival_timestamp field is implictly used as the ORDER BY clause.


Defines the window frame for window functions that depend on the frame (not all do). The window frame is a set of related rows for each row of the query (called the current row). The frame_clause can be one of

[ RANGE | ROWS ] frame_start
[ RANGE | ROWS ] BETWEEN frame_start AND frame_end

frame_start, frame_end

Each can be one of the following:



An integral value


This has mainly covered only the syntax for CREATE CONTINUOUS VIEW. To learn more about the semantics of each of these query elements, you should consult the PostgreSQL SELECT documentation.


To DROP a continuous view from the system, use the DROP CONTINUOUS VIEW command. Its syntax is simple:


This will remove the continuous view from the system along with all of its associated resources.


To remove all of a continuous view’s data without removing the continuous view itself, the truncate_continuous_view function can be used:

SELECT truncate_continuous_view('name');

This command will efficiently remove all of the continuous view’s rows, and is therefore analagous to PostgreSQL’s TRUNCATE command.

Viewing Continuous Views

To view the continuous views currently in the system, you can run the following query:

SELECT * FROM pipeline_views();

Don’t worry about all of the columns returned–most of them are only for internal use. The important columns are name, which contains the name you gave the continuous view when you created it; and query, which contains the continuous view’s query definition.

Data Retrieval

Since continuous views are a lot like regular views, retrieving data from them is simply a matter of performing a SELECT on them:

SELECT * FROM some_continuous_view
user event_count
a 10
b 20
c 30

Any SELECT statement is valid on a continuous view, allowing you to perform further analysis on their perpetually updating contents:

SELECT, sum(v.value) + sum(t.table_value) AS total
FROM some_continuous_view v JOIN some_table t ON = GROUP BY
name total
usman 10
jeff 20
derek 30

Time-to-Live (TTL) Expiration

A common PipelineDB pattern is to include a time-based column in aggregate groupings and removing old rows that are no longer needed, as determined by that column. While there are a number of ways to achieve this behavior, PipelineDB provides native support for row expiration via time-to-live (TTL) critera specified at the continuous view level.

TTL expiration behavior can be assigned to continuous views via the ttl and ttl_column storage parameters. Expiration is handled by one or more “reaper” processes that will DELETE any rows having a ttl_column value that is older than the interval specified by ttl (relative to wall time). Here’s an example of a continuous view definition that will tell the reaper to delete any rows whose minute column is older than one month:

CREATE CONTINUOUS VIEW v_ttl WITH (ttl = '1 month', ttl_column = 'minute') AS
  SELECT minute(arrival_timestamp), COUNT(*) FROM some_stream GROUP BY minute;

Note that TTL behavior is a hint to the reaper, and thus will not guarantee that rows will be physically deleted exactly when they are expired.

If you’d like to guarantee that no TTL-expired rows will be read, you should create a view over the continuous view with a WHERE clause that excludes expired rows at read time.

Modifying TTLs

TTLs can be added, modified, and removed from continuous views via the set_ttl function:

set_ttl ( cv_name, ttl, ttl_column )

Update the given continuous view’s TTL with the given paramters. ttl is an interval expressed as a string (e.g. '1 day'), and ttl_column is the name of a timestamp-based column.

Passing NULL for both the ttl and ttl_column parameters will effectively remove a TTL from the given continuous view. Note that a TTL cannot be modified on or removed from a sliding-window continuous view.

Activation and Deactivation

Because continuous views are continuously processing input streams, it can be useful to have a notion of starting and stopping that processing without having to completely shutdown PipelineDB. For example, if a continuous view incurs an unexpected amount of system load or begins throwing errors, it may be useful to temporarily stop continuous processing for that view (or all of them) until the issue is resolved.

This level of control is provided by the activate and deactivate functions, which are synonymous with “play” and “pause”. When continuous views are active, they are actively reading from their input streams and incrementally updating their results accordingly. Conversely, inactive continuous views are not reading from their input streams and are not updating their results. PipelineDB remains functional when continuous views are inactive, and continuous views themselves are still readable–they’re just not updating.

The function signatures take only a continuous view or transform name:

SELECT activate('continuous_view_or_transform');
SELECT deactivate('continuous_view_or_transform');


When continuous views are inactive, any events written to their input streams while they’re inactive will never be read by that continuous view, even after they’re activated again.


Putting this all together, let’s go through a few examples of continuous views and understand what each one accomplishes.


It is important to understand that the only data persisted by PipelineDB for a continuous view is whatever would be returned by running a SELECT * on it (plus a small amount of metadata). This is a relatively new concept, but it is at the core of what makes continuous views so powerful!

Emphasizing the above notice, this continuous view would only ever store a single row in PipelineDB (just a few bytes), even if it read a trillion events over time:

CREATE CONTINUOUS VIEW avg_of_forever AS SELECT AVG(x) FROM one_trillion_events_stream

Calculate the number of unique users seen per url referrer each day using only a constant amount of space per day:

SELECT date_trunc('day', arrival_timestamp) AS day,
  referrer, COUNT(DISTINCT user_id)
FROM users_stream GROUP BY day, referrer;

Compute the linear regression of a stream of datapoints bucketed by minute:

SELECT date_trunc('minute', arrival_timestamp) AS minute,
  regr_slope(y, x) AS mx,
  regr_intercept(y, x) AS b
FROM datapoints_stream GROUP BY minute;

How many ad impressions have we served in the last five minutes?

SELECT COUNT(*) FROM imps_stream
WHERE (arrival_timestamp > clock_timestamp() - interval '5 minutes');

What are the 90th, 95th, and 99th percentiles of my server’s request latency?

SELECT percentile_cont(array[90, 95, 99]) WITHIN GROUP (ORDER BY latency)
FROM latency_stream;

How many of my sensors have ever been within 1000 meters of San Francisco?

-- PipelineDB ships natively with geospatial support
CREATE CONTINUOUS VIEW sf_proximity_count AS
FROM geo_stream WHERE ST_DWithin(

  -- Approximate SF coordinates
  ST_GeographyFromText('SRID=4326;POINT(37 -122)'), sensor_coords, 1000);

We hope you enjoyed learning all about continuous views! Next, you should probably check out how Streams work.