DISTINCT ON subquery with correct ordering

I needed to write an API for direct_messages#index, which returns the latest direct_message per sender, and it has to be paginated. The first idea was to approach this with a DISTINCT ON clause, something like: DirectMessage.select('DISTINCT ON (sender_id) sender_id', :id, :sender_id, :message, :created_at) .where(recipient: current_profile) .order(:sender_id, created_at: :desc) .page(params[:page]) As I'm writing this I realised I really need to implement some kind of syntax highlighting..

While this returns one latest message per sender, the results were not ordered across senders based on created_at.

This meant that I needed to do a second order - this is because Postgres requires the leftmost ORDER clause to be the one we are performing DISTINCT ON with.

So, I tried something like: dms = DirectMessage.select('DISTINCT ON (sender_id) sender_id', :id, :sender_id, :message, :created_at) .where(recipient: current_profile) .order(:sender_id, created_at: :desc) .page(params[:page]) DirectMessage.where(ids: dms.ids).order(created_at: :desc).page(params[:page]) However, this posed two issues:

  1. The pagination will not work as intended as the first query will be paginated and then the second result will always be one page (since dms will always only have one page's worth of ids.
  2. The queries are executed twice - ideally we should only have one sql execution here. If you were to run explain on the second query, you'll see that the ids have already been populated.

To solve this, I used a FROM clause to make it a subquery, and paginate on the outer query: dms = DirectMessage.select('DISTINCT ON (sender_id) sender_id', :id, :sender_id, :message, :created_at) .where(recipient: current_profile) .order(:sender_id, created_at: :desc) DirectMessage.select('*') .from(dms, :dms) .order("dms.created_at DESC") .page(params[:page]) To check that the query is expected, lets run explain on it: DirectMessage.select('*') .from(dms, :dms) .order("dms.created_at DESC") .page(params[:page]) .explain "EXPLAIN for: SELECT * FROM (SELECT DISTINCT ON (sender_id) sender_id, \"direct_messages\".\"id\", \"direct_messages\".\"sender_id\", \"direct_messages\".\"message\", \"direct_messages\".\"created_at\" FROM \"direct_messages\" WHERE \"direct_messages\".\"recipient_id\" = $1 ORDER BY \"direct_messages\".\"sender_id\" ASC, \"direct_messages\".\"created_at\" DESC) dms ORDER BY dms.created_at DESC LIMIT $3 OFFSET $4 [[\"recipient_id\", \"f5a3a717-a81a-48e8-9f10-31c825c52fb9\"], [\"LIMIT\", 10], [\"OFFSET\", 0]]\n" + " QUERY PLAN\n" + "---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------\n" + " Limit (cost=9.56..9.57 rows=2 width=88)\n" + " -> Sort (cost=9.56..9.57 rows=2 width=88)\n" + " Sort Key: direct_messages.created_at DESC\n" + " -> Unique (cost=9.52..9.53 rows=2 width=88)\n" + " -> Sort (cost=9.52..9.53 rows=2 width=88)\n" + " Sort Key: direct_messages.sender_id, direct_messages.created_at DESC\n" + " -> Bitmap Heap Scan on direct_messages (cost=4.17..9.51 rows=2 width=88)\n" + " Recheck Cond: (recipient_id = 'f5a3a717-a81a-48e8-9f10-31c825c52fb9'::uuid)\n" + " -> Bitmap Index Scan on index_direct_messages_on_recipient_id (cost=0.00..4.17 rows=2 width=0)\n" + " Index Cond: (recipient_id = 'f5a3a717-a81a-48e8-9f10-31c825c52fb9'::uuid)\n" + "(11 rows)\n" This shows that the query will indeed only run once, while also preserving the pagination.

The query return was what I wanted:
one latest message per sender, sorted by the messages' created_at date with the latest one first.