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The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1A - SQL Language Reference
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 454 pages
ISBN 9781906966041
RRP £14.95 ($19.95)

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11.3.3 Deadlocks

The use of explicit locking can increase the likelihood of deadlocks, wherein two (or more) transactions each hold locks that the other wants. For example, if transaction 1 acquires an exclusive lock on table A and then tries to acquire an exclusive lock on table B, while transaction 2 has already exclusive-locked table B and now wants an exclusive lock on table A, then neither one can proceed. PostgreSQL automatically detects deadlock situations and resolves them by aborting one of the transactions involved, allowing the other(s) to complete. (Exactly which transaction will be aborted is difficult to predict and should not be relied upon.)

Note that deadlocks can also occur as the result of row-level locks (and thus, they can occur even if explicit locking is not used). Consider the case in which two concurrent transactions modify a table. The first transaction executes:

UPDATE accounts SET balance = balance + 100.00 WHERE acctnum 
  = 11111;

This acquires a row-level lock on the row with the specified account number. Then, the second transaction executes:

UPDATE accounts SET balance = balance + 100.00 WHERE acctnum 
  = 22222;
UPDATE accounts SET balance = balance - 100.00 WHERE acctnum 
  = 11111;

The first UPDATE statement successfully acquires a row-level lock on the specified row, so it succeeds in updating that row. However, the second UPDATE statement finds that the row it is attempting to update has already been locked, so it waits for the transaction that acquired the lock to complete. Transaction two is now waiting on transaction one to complete before it continues execution. Now, transaction one executes:

UPDATE accounts SET balance = balance - 100.00 WHERE acctnum 
  = 22222;

Transaction one attempts to acquire a row-level lock on the specified row, but it cannot: transaction two already holds such a lock. So it waits for transaction two to complete. Thus, transaction one is blocked on transaction two, and transaction two is blocked on transaction one: a deadlock condition. PostgreSQL will detect this situation and abort one of the transactions.

The best defense against deadlocks is generally to avoid them by being certain that all applications using a database acquire locks on multiple objects in a consistent order. In the example above, if both transactions had updated the rows in the same order, no deadlock would have occurred. One should also ensure that the first lock acquired on an object in a transaction is the most restrictive mode that will be needed for that object. If it is not feasible to verify this in advance, then deadlocks can be handled on-the-fly by retrying transactions that abort due to deadlocks.

So long as no deadlock situation is detected, a transaction seeking either a table-level or row-level lock will wait indefinitely for conflicting locks to be released. This means it is a bad idea for applications to hold transactions open for long periods of time (e.g., while waiting for user input).

ISBN 9781906966041The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1A - SQL Language ReferenceSee the print edition