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PostgreSQL Reference Manual - Volume 3 - Server Administration Guide
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 204 pages
ISBN 0954612043
RRP £13.95 ($24.95)

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10.4.1 Planning

It is usually wise to create the primary and standby servers so that they are as similar as possible, at least from the perspective of the database server. In particular, the path names associated with tablespaces will be passed across as-is, so both primary and standby servers must have the same mount paths for tablespaces if that feature is used. Keep in mind that if CREATE TABLESPACE is executed on the primary, any new mount point needed for it must be created on both the primary and all standby servers before the command is executed. Hardware need not be exactly the same, but experience shows that maintaining two identical systems is easier than maintaining two dissimilar ones over the lifetime of the application and system. In any case the hardware architecture must be the same--shipping from, say, a 32-bit to a 64-bit system will not work.

In general, log shipping between servers running different major release levels will not be possible. It is the policy of the PostgreSQL Global Development Group not to make changes to disk formats during minor release upgrades, so it is likely that running different minor release levels on primary and standby servers will work successfully. However, no formal support for that is offered and you are advised to keep primary and standby servers at the same release level as much as possible. When updating to a new minor release, the safest policy is to update the standby servers first--a new minor release is more likely to be able to read WAL files from a previous minor release than vice versa.

There is no special mode required to enable a standby server. The operations that occur on both primary and standby servers are entirely normal continuous archiving and recovery tasks. The only point of contact between the two database servers is the archive of WAL files that both share: primary writing to the archive, standby reading from the archive. Care must be taken to ensure that WAL archives for separate primary servers do not become mixed together or confused.

The magic that makes the two loosely coupled servers work together is simply a restore_command used on the standby that waits for the next WAL file to become available from the primary. The restore_command is specified in the ‘recovery.conf’ file on the standby server. Normal recovery processing would request a file from the WAL archive, reporting failure if the file was unavailable. For standby processing it is normal for the next file to be unavailable, so we must be patient and wait for it to appear. A waiting restore_command can be written as a custom script that loops after polling for the existence of the next WAL file. There must also be some way to trigger failover, which should interrupt the restore_command, break the loop and return a file-not-found error to the standby server. This ends recovery and the standby will then come up as a normal server.

Pseudocode for a suitable restore_command is:

triggered = false;
while (!NextWALFileReady() && !triggered)
    sleep(100000L);         /* wait for ~0.1 sec */
    if (CheckForExternalTrigger())
        triggered = true;
if (!triggered)

PostgreSQL does not provide the system software required to identify a failure on the primary and notify the standby system and then the standby database server. Many such tools exist and are well integrated with other aspects required for successful failover, such as IP address migration.

The means for triggering failover is an important part of planning and design. The restore_command is executed in full once for each WAL file. The process running the restore_command is therefore created and dies for each file, so there is no daemon or server process and so we cannot use signals and a signal handler. A more permanent notification is required to trigger the failover. It is possible to use a simple timeout facility, especially if used in conjunction with a known archive_timeout setting on the primary. This is somewhat error prone since a network problem or busy primary server might be sufficient to initiate failover. A notification mechanism such as the explicit creation of a trigger file is less error prone, if this can be arranged.

ISBN 0954612043PostgreSQL Reference Manual - Volume 3 - Server Administration GuideSee the print edition