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The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 3 - Server Administration Guide
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 274 pages
ISBN 9781906966072
RRP £9.95 ($14.95)

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10.1 SQL Dump

The idea behind this dump method is to generate a text file with SQL commands that, when fed back to the server, will recreate the database in the same state as it was at the time of the dump. PostgreSQL provides the utility program pg_dump for this purpose. The basic usage of this command is:

pg_dump dbname > outfile

As you see, pg_dump writes its result to the standard output. We will see below how this can be useful.

pg_dump is a regular PostgreSQL client application (albeit a particularly clever one). This means that you can perform this backup procedure from any remote host that has access to the database. But remember that pg_dump does not operate with special permissions. In particular, it must have read access to all tables that you want to back up, so in practice you almost always have to run it as a database superuser.

To specify which database server pg_dump should contact, use the command line options -h host and -p port. The default host is the local host or whatever your PGHOST environment variable specifies. Similarly, the default port is indicated by the PGPORT environment variable or, failing that, by the compiled-in default. (Conveniently, the server will normally have the same compiled-in default.)

Like any other PostgreSQL client application, pg_dump will by default connect with the database user name that is equal to the current operating system user name. To override this, either specify the -U option or set the environment variable PGUSER. Remember that pg_dump connections are subject to the normal client authentication mechanisms (which are described in section 5 Client Authentication).

An important advantage of pg_dump over the other backup methods described later is that pg_dump's output can generally be re-loaded into newer versions of PostgreSQL, whereas file-level backups and continuous archiving are both extremely server-version-specific. pg_dump is also the only method that will work when transferring a database to a different machine architecture, such as going from a 32-bit to a 64-bit server.

Dumps created by pg_dump are internally consistent, meaning, the dump represents a snapshot of the database at the time pg_dump began running. pg_dump does not block other operations on the database while it is working. (Exceptions are those operations that need to operate with an exclusive lock, such as most forms of ALTER TABLE.)

Important: If your database schema relies on OIDs (for instance, as foreign keys) you must instruct pg_dump to dump the OIDs as well. To do this, use the -o command-line option.

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