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31.8. Asynchronous Notification

PostgreSQL offers asynchronous notification via the LISTEN and NOTIFY commands. A client session registers its interest in a particular notification channel with the LISTEN command (and can stop listening with the UNLISTEN command). All sessions listening on a particular channel will be notified asynchronously when a NOTIFY command with that channel name is executed by any session. A "payload" string can be passed to communicate additional data to the listeners.

libpq applications submit LISTEN, UNLISTEN, and NOTIFY commands as ordinary SQL commands. The arrival of NOTIFY messages can subsequently be detected by calling PQnotifies.

The function PQnotifies returns the next notification from a list of unhandled notification messages received from the server. It returns a null pointer if there are no pending notifications. Once a notification is returned from PQnotifies, it is considered handled and will be removed from the list of notifications.

PGnotify *PQnotifies(PGconn *conn);

typedef struct pgNotify
    char *relname;              /* notification channel name */
    int  be_pid;                /* process ID of notifying server process */
    char *extra;                /* notification payload string */
} PGnotify;

After processing a PGnotify object returned by PQnotifies, be sure to free it with PQfreemem. It is sufficient to free the PGnotify pointer; the relname and extra fields do not represent separate allocations. (The names of these fields are historical; in particular, channel names need not have anything to do with relation names.)

Example 31-2 gives a sample program that illustrates the use of asynchronous notification.

PQnotifies does not actually read data from the server; it just returns messages previously absorbed by another libpq function. In prior releases of libpq, the only way to ensure timely receipt of NOTIFY messages was to constantly submit commands, even empty ones, and then check PQnotifies after each PQexec. While this still works, it is deprecated as a waste of processing power.

A better way to check for NOTIFY messages when you have no useful commands to execute is to call PQconsumeInput, then check PQnotifies. You can use select() to wait for data to arrive from the server, thereby using no CPU power unless there is something to do. (See PQsocket to obtain the file descriptor number to use with select().) Note that this will work OK whether you submit commands with PQsendQuery/PQgetResult or simply use PQexec. You should, however, remember to check PQnotifies after each PQgetResult or PQexec, to see if any notifications came in during the processing of the command.

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