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19.5. Write Ahead Log

For additional information on tuning these settings, see Section 29.4.

19.5.1. Settings

wal_level (enum)

wal_level determines how much information is written to the WAL. The default value is replica, which writes enough data to support WAL archiving and replication, including running read-only queries on a standby server. minimal removes all logging except the information required to recover from a crash or immediate shutdown. Finally, logical adds information necessary to support logical decoding. Each level includes the information logged at all lower levels. This parameter can only be set at server start.

In minimal level, WAL-logging of some bulk operations can be safely skipped, which can make those operations much faster (see Section 14.4.7). Operations in which this optimization can be applied include:

CREATE TABLE AS
CREATE INDEX
CLUSTER
COPY into tables that were created or truncated in the same transaction

But minimal WAL does not contain enough information to reconstruct the data from a base backup and the WAL logs, so replica or higher must be used to enable WAL archiving (archive_mode) and streaming replication.

In logical level, the same information is logged as with replica, plus information needed to allow extracting logical change sets from the WAL. Using a level of logical will increase the WAL volume, particularly if many tables are configured for REPLICA IDENTITY FULL and many UPDATE and DELETE statements are executed.

In releases prior to 9.6, this parameter also allowed the values archive and hot_standby. These are still accepted but mapped to replica.

fsync (boolean)

If this parameter is on, the PostgreSQL server will try to make sure that updates are physically written to disk, by issuing fsync() system calls or various equivalent methods (see wal_sync_method). This ensures that the database cluster can recover to a consistent state after an operating system or hardware crash.

While turning off fsync is often a performance benefit, this can result in unrecoverable data corruption in the event of a power failure or system crash. Thus it is only advisable to turn off fsync if you can easily recreate your entire database from external data.

Examples of safe circumstances for turning off fsync include the initial loading of a new database cluster from a backup file, using a database cluster for processing a batch of data after which the database will be thrown away and recreated, or for a read-only database clone which gets recreated frequently and is not used for failover. High quality hardware alone is not a sufficient justification for turning off fsync.

For reliable recovery when changing fsync off to on, it is necessary to force all modified buffers in the kernel to durable storage. This can be done while the cluster is shutdown or while fsync is on by running initdb --sync-only, running sync, unmounting the file system, or rebooting the server.

In many situations, turning off synchronous_commit for noncritical transactions can provide much of the potential performance benefit of turning off fsync, without the attendant risks of data corruption.

fsync can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line. If you turn this parameter off, also consider turning off full_page_writes.

synchronous_commit (enum)

Specifies whether transaction commit will wait for WAL records to be written to disk before the command returns a success indication to the client. Valid values are on, remote_apply, remote_write, local, and off. The default, and safe, setting is on. When off, there can be a delay between when success is reported to the client and when the transaction is really guaranteed to be safe against a server crash. (The maximum delay is three times wal_writer_delay.) Unlike fsync, setting this parameter to off does not create any risk of database inconsistency: an operating system or database crash might result in some recent allegedly-committed transactions being lost, but the database state will be just the same as if those transactions had been aborted cleanly. So, turning synchronous_commit off can be a useful alternative when performance is more important than exact certainty about the durability of a transaction. For more discussion see Section 29.3.

If synchronous_standby_names is non-empty, this parameter also controls whether or not transaction commits will wait for their WAL records to be replicated to the standby server(s). When set to on, commits will wait until replies from the current synchronous standby(s) indicate they have received the commit record of the transaction and flushed it to disk. This ensures the transaction will not be lost unless both the primary and all synchronous standbys suffer corruption of their database storage. When set to remote_apply, commits will wait until replies from the current synchronous standby(s) indicate they have received the commit record of the transaction and applied it, so that it has become visible to queries on the standby(s). When set to remote_write, commits will wait until replies from the current synchronous standby(s) indicate they have received the commit record of the transaction and written it out to their operating system. This setting is sufficient to ensure data preservation even if a standby instance of PostgreSQL were to crash, but not if the standby suffers an operating-system-level crash, since the data has not necessarily reached stable storage on the standby. Finally, the setting local causes commits to wait for local flush to disk, but not for replication. This is not usually desirable when synchronous replication is in use, but is provided for completeness.

If synchronous_standby_names is empty, the settings on, remote_apply, remote_write and local all provide the same synchronization level: transaction commits only wait for local flush to disk.

This parameter can be changed at any time; the behavior for any one transaction is determined by the setting in effect when it commits. It is therefore possible, and useful, to have some transactions commit synchronously and others asynchronously. For example, to make a single multistatement transaction commit asynchronously when the default is the opposite, issue SET LOCAL synchronous_commit TO OFF within the transaction.

wal_sync_method (enum)

Method used for forcing WAL updates out to disk. If fsync is off then this setting is irrelevant, since WAL file updates will not be forced out at all. Possible values are:

  • open_datasync (write WAL files with open() option O_DSYNC)

  • fdatasync (call fdatasync() at each commit)

  • fsync (call fsync() at each commit)

  • fsync_writethrough (call fsync() at each commit, forcing write-through of any disk write cache)

  • open_sync (write WAL files with open() option O_SYNC)

The open_* options also use O_DIRECT if available. Not all of these choices are available on all platforms. The default is the first method in the above list that is supported by the platform, except that fdatasync is the default on Linux. The default is not necessarily ideal; it might be necessary to change this setting or other aspects of your system configuration in order to create a crash-safe configuration or achieve optimal performance. These aspects are discussed in Section 29.1. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

full_page_writes (boolean)

When this parameter is on, the PostgreSQL server writes the entire content of each disk page to WAL during the first modification of that page after a checkpoint. This is needed because a page write that is in process during an operating system crash might be only partially completed, leading to an on-disk page that contains a mix of old and new data. The row-level change data normally stored in WAL will not be enough to completely restore such a page during post-crash recovery. Storing the full page image guarantees that the page can be correctly restored, but at the price of increasing the amount of data that must be written to WAL. (Because WAL replay always starts from a checkpoint, it is sufficient to do this during the first change of each page after a checkpoint. Therefore, one way to reduce the cost of full-page writes is to increase the checkpoint interval parameters.)

Turning this parameter off speeds normal operation, but might lead to either unrecoverable data corruption, or silent data corruption, after a system failure. The risks are similar to turning off fsync, though smaller, and it should be turned off only based on the same circumstances recommended for that parameter.

Turning off this parameter does not affect use of WAL archiving for point-in-time recovery (PITR) (see Section 25.3).

This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line. The default is on.

wal_log_hints (boolean)

When this parameter is on, the PostgreSQL server writes the entire content of each disk page to WAL during the first modification of that page after a checkpoint, even for non-critical modifications of so-called hint bits.

If data checksums are enabled, hint bit updates are always WAL-logged and this setting is ignored. You can use this setting to test how much extra WAL-logging would occur if your database had data checksums enabled.

This parameter can only be set at server start. The default value is off.

wal_compression (boolean)

When this parameter is on, the PostgreSQL server compresses a full page image written to WAL when full_page_writes is on or during a base backup. A compressed page image will be decompressed during WAL replay. The default value is off. Only superusers can change this setting.

Turning this parameter on can reduce the WAL volume without increasing the risk of unrecoverable data corruption, but at the cost of some extra CPU spent on the compression during WAL logging and on the decompression during WAL replay.

wal_buffers (integer)

The amount of shared memory used for WAL data that has not yet been written to disk. The default setting of -1 selects a size equal to 1/32nd (about 3%) of shared_buffers, but not less than 64kB nor more than the size of one WAL segment, typically 16MB. This value can be set manually if the automatic choice is too large or too small, but any positive value less than 32kB will be treated as 32kB. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as WAL blocks, that is XLOG_BLCKSZ bytes, typically 8kB. This parameter can only be set at server start.

The contents of the WAL buffers are written out to disk at every transaction commit, so extremely large values are unlikely to provide a significant benefit. However, setting this value to at least a few megabytes can improve write performance on a busy server where many clients are committing at once. The auto-tuning selected by the default setting of -1 should give reasonable results in most cases.

wal_writer_delay (integer)

Specifies how often the WAL writer flushes WAL, in time terms. After flushing WAL the writer sleeps for the length of time given by wal_writer_delay, unless woken up sooner by an asynchronously committing transaction. If the last flush happened less than wal_writer_delay ago and less than wal_writer_flush_after worth of WAL has been produced since, then WAL is only written to the operating system, not flushed to disk. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as milliseconds. The default value is 200 milliseconds (200ms). Note that on many systems, the effective resolution of sleep delays is 10 milliseconds; setting wal_writer_delay to a value that is not a multiple of 10 might have the same results as setting it to the next higher multiple of 10. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

wal_writer_flush_after (integer)

Specifies how often the WAL writer flushes WAL, in volume terms. If the last flush happened less than wal_writer_delay ago and less than wal_writer_flush_after worth of WAL has been produced since, then WAL is only written to the operating system, not flushed to disk. If wal_writer_flush_after is set to 0 then WAL data is always flushed immediately. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as WAL blocks, that is XLOG_BLCKSZ bytes, typically 8kB. The default is 1MB. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

commit_delay (integer)

Setting commit_delay adds a time delay before a WAL flush is initiated. This can improve group commit throughput by allowing a larger number of transactions to commit via a single WAL flush, if system load is high enough that additional transactions become ready to commit within the given interval. However, it also increases latency by up to the commit_delay for each WAL flush. Because the delay is just wasted if no other transactions become ready to commit, a delay is only performed if at least commit_siblings other transactions are active when a flush is about to be initiated. Also, no delays are performed if fsync is disabled. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as microseconds. The default commit_delay is zero (no delay). Only superusers can change this setting.

In PostgreSQL releases prior to 9.3, commit_delay behaved differently and was much less effective: it affected only commits, rather than all WAL flushes, and waited for the entire configured delay even if the WAL flush was completed sooner. Beginning in PostgreSQL 9.3, the first process that becomes ready to flush waits for the configured interval, while subsequent processes wait only until the leader completes the flush operation.

commit_siblings (integer)

Minimum number of concurrent open transactions to require before performing the commit_delay delay. A larger value makes it more probable that at least one other transaction will become ready to commit during the delay interval. The default is five transactions.

19.5.2. Checkpoints

checkpoint_timeout (integer)

Maximum time between automatic WAL checkpoints. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as seconds. The valid range is between 30 seconds and one day. The default is five minutes (5min). Increasing this parameter can increase the amount of time needed for crash recovery. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

checkpoint_completion_target (floating point)

Specifies the target of checkpoint completion, as a fraction of total time between checkpoints. The default is 0.5. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

checkpoint_flush_after (integer)

Whenever more than this amount of data has been written while performing a checkpoint, attempt to force the OS to issue these writes to the underlying storage. Doing so will limit the amount of dirty data in the kernel's page cache, reducing the likelihood of stalls when an fsync is issued at the end of the checkpoint, or when the OS writes data back in larger batches in the background. Often that will result in greatly reduced transaction latency, but there also are some cases, especially with workloads that are bigger than shared_buffers, but smaller than the OS's page cache, where performance might degrade. This setting may have no effect on some platforms. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as blocks, that is BLCKSZ bytes, typically 8kB. The valid range is between 0, which disables forced writeback, and 2MB. The default is 256kB on Linux, 0 elsewhere. (If BLCKSZ is not 8kB, the default and maximum values scale proportionally to it.) This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

checkpoint_warning (integer)

Write a message to the server log if checkpoints caused by the filling of WAL segment files happen closer together than this amount of time (which suggests that max_wal_size ought to be raised). If this value is specified without units, it is taken as seconds. The default is 30 seconds (30s). Zero disables the warning. No warnings will be generated if checkpoint_timeout is less than checkpoint_warning. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

max_wal_size (integer)

Maximum size to let the WAL grow to between automatic WAL checkpoints. This is a soft limit; WAL size can exceed max_wal_size under special circumstances, such as heavy load, a failing archive_command, or a high wal_keep_segments setting. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as megabytes. The default is 1 GB. Increasing this parameter can increase the amount of time needed for crash recovery. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

min_wal_size (integer)

As long as WAL disk usage stays below this setting, old WAL files are always recycled for future use at a checkpoint, rather than removed. This can be used to ensure that enough WAL space is reserved to handle spikes in WAL usage, for example when running large batch jobs. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as megabytes. The default is 80 MB. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

19.5.3. Archiving

archive_mode (enum)

When archive_mode is enabled, completed WAL segments are sent to archive storage by setting archive_command. In addition to off, to disable, there are two modes: on, and always. During normal operation, there is no difference between the two modes, but when set to always the WAL archiver is enabled also during archive recovery or standby mode. In always mode, all files restored from the archive or streamed with streaming replication will be archived (again). See Section 26.2.9 for details.

archive_mode and archive_command are separate variables so that archive_command can be changed without leaving archiving mode. This parameter can only be set at server start. archive_mode cannot be enabled when wal_level is set to minimal.

archive_command (string)

The local shell command to execute to archive a completed WAL file segment. Any %p in the string is replaced by the path name of the file to archive, and any %f is replaced by only the file name. (The path name is relative to the working directory of the server, i.e., the cluster's data directory.) Use %% to embed an actual % character in the command. It is important for the command to return a zero exit status only if it succeeds. For more information see Section 25.3.1.

This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line. It is ignored unless archive_mode was enabled at server start. If archive_command is an empty string (the default) while archive_mode is enabled, WAL archiving is temporarily disabled, but the server continues to accumulate WAL segment files in the expectation that a command will soon be provided. Setting archive_command to a command that does nothing but return true, e.g. /bin/true (REM on Windows), effectively disables archiving, but also breaks the chain of WAL files needed for archive recovery, so it should only be used in unusual circumstances.

archive_timeout (integer)

The archive_command is only invoked for completed WAL segments. Hence, if your server generates little WAL traffic (or has slack periods where it does so), there could be a long delay between the completion of a transaction and its safe recording in archive storage. To limit how old unarchived data can be, you can set archive_timeout to force the server to switch to a new WAL segment file periodically. When this parameter is greater than zero, the server will switch to a new segment file whenever this amount of time has elapsed since the last segment file switch, and there has been any database activity, including a single checkpoint (checkpoints are skipped if there is no database activity). Note that archived files that are closed early due to a forced switch are still the same length as completely full files. Therefore, it is unwise to use a very short archive_timeout — it will bloat your archive storage. archive_timeout settings of a minute or so are usually reasonable. You should consider using streaming replication, instead of archiving, if you want data to be copied off the master server more quickly than that. If this value is specified without units, it is taken as seconds. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

19.5.4. Archive Recovery

This section describes the settings that apply only for the duration of the recovery. They must be reset for any subsequent recovery you wish to perform.

Recovery covers using the server as a standby or for executing a targeted recovery. Typically, standby mode would be used to provide high availability and/or read scalability, whereas a targeted recovery is used to recover from data loss.

To start the server in standby mode, create a file called standby.signal in the data directory. The server will enter recovery and will not stop recovery when the end of archived WAL is reached, but will keep trying to continue recovery by connecting to the sending server as specified by the primary_conninfo setting and/or by fetching new WAL segments using restore_command. For this mode, the parameters from this section and Section 19.6.3 are of interest. Parameters from Section 19.5.5 will also be applied but are typically not useful in this mode.

To start the server in targeted recovery mode, create a file called recovery.signal in the data directory. If both standby.signal and recovery.signal files are created, standby mode takes precedence. Targeted recovery mode ends when the archived WAL is fully replayed, or when recovery_target is reached. In this mode, the parameters from both this section and Section 19.5.5 will be used.

restore_command (string)

The local shell command to execute to retrieve an archived segment of the WAL file series. This parameter is required for archive recovery, but optional for streaming replication. Any %f in the string is replaced by the name of the file to retrieve from the archive, and any %p is replaced by the copy destination path name on the server. (The path name is relative to the current working directory, i.e., the cluster's data directory.) Any %r is replaced by the name of the file containing the last valid restart point. That is the earliest file that must be kept to allow a restore to be restartable, so this information can be used to truncate the archive to just the minimum required to support restarting from the current restore. %r is typically only used by warm-standby configurations (see Section 26.2). Write %% to embed an actual % character.

It is important for the command to return a zero exit status only if it succeeds. The command will be asked for file names that are not present in the archive; it must return nonzero when so asked. Examples:

restore_command = 'cp /mnt/server/archivedir/%f "%p"'
restore_command = 'copy "C:\\server\\archivedir\\%f" "%p"'  # Windows

An exception is that if the command was terminated by a signal (other than SIGTERM, which is used as part of a database server shutdown) or an error by the shell (such as command not found), then recovery will abort and the server will not start up.

This parameter can only be set at server start.

archive_cleanup_command (string)

This optional parameter specifies a shell command that will be executed at every restartpoint. The purpose of archive_cleanup_command is to provide a mechanism for cleaning up old archived WAL files that are no longer needed by the standby server. Any %r is replaced by the name of the file containing the last valid restart point. That is the earliest file that must be kept to allow a restore to be restartable, and so all files earlier than %r may be safely removed. This information can be used to truncate the archive to just the minimum required to support restart from the current restore. The pg_archivecleanup module is often used in archive_cleanup_command for single-standby configurations, for example:

archive_cleanup_command = 'pg_archivecleanup /mnt/server/archivedir %r'

Note however that if multiple standby servers are restoring from the same archive directory, you will need to ensure that you do not delete WAL files until they are no longer needed by any of the servers. archive_cleanup_command would typically be used in a warm-standby configuration (see Section 26.2). Write %% to embed an actual % character in the command.

If the command returns a nonzero exit status then a warning log message will be written. An exception is that if the command was terminated by a signal or an error by the shell (such as command not found), a fatal error will be raised.

This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

recovery_end_command (string)

This parameter specifies a shell command that will be executed once only at the end of recovery. This parameter is optional. The purpose of the recovery_end_command is to provide a mechanism for cleanup following replication or recovery. Any %r is replaced by the name of the file containing the last valid restart point, like in archive_cleanup_command.

If the command returns a nonzero exit status then a warning log message will be written and the database will proceed to start up anyway. An exception is that if the command was terminated by a signal or an error by the shell (such as command not found), the database will not proceed with startup.

This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

19.5.5. Recovery Target

By default, recovery will recover to the end of the WAL log. The following parameters can be used to specify an earlier stopping point. At most one of recovery_target, recovery_target_lsn, recovery_target_name, recovery_target_time, or recovery_target_xid can be used; if more than one of these is specified in the configuration file, an error will be raised. These parameters can only be set at server start.

recovery_target = 'immediate'

This parameter specifies that recovery should end as soon as a consistent state is reached, i.e. as early as possible. When restoring from an online backup, this means the point where taking the backup ended.

Technically, this is a string parameter, but 'immediate' is currently the only allowed value.

recovery_target_name (string)

This parameter specifies the named restore point (created with pg_create_restore_point()) to which recovery will proceed.

recovery_target_time (timestamp)

This parameter specifies the time stamp up to which recovery will proceed. The precise stopping point is also influenced by recovery_target_inclusive.

recovery_target_xid (string)

This parameter specifies the transaction ID up to which recovery will proceed. Keep in mind that while transaction IDs are assigned sequentially at transaction start, transactions can complete in a different numeric order. The transactions that will be recovered are those that committed before (and optionally including) the specified one. The precise stopping point is also influenced by recovery_target_inclusive.

recovery_target_lsn (pg_lsn)

This parameter specifies the LSN of the write-ahead log location up to which recovery will proceed. The precise stopping point is also influenced by recovery_target_inclusive. This parameter is parsed using the system data type pg_lsn.

The following options further specify the recovery target, and affect what happens when the target is reached:

recovery_target_inclusive (boolean)

Specifies whether to stop just after the specified recovery target (on), or just before the recovery target (off). Applies when recovery_target_lsn, recovery_target_time, or recovery_target_xid is specified. This setting controls whether transactions having exactly the target WAL location (LSN), commit time, or transaction ID, respectively, will be included in the recovery. Default is on.

recovery_target_timeline (string)

Specifies recovering into a particular timeline. The value can be a numeric timeline ID or a special value. The value current recovers along the same timeline that was current when the base backup was taken. The value latest recovers to the latest timeline found in the archive, which is useful in a standby server. latest is the default.

You usually only need to set this parameter in complex re-recovery situations, where you need to return to a state that itself was reached after a point-in-time recovery. See Section 25.3.5 for discussion.

recovery_target_action (enum)

Specifies what action the server should take once the recovery target is reached. The default is pause, which means recovery will be paused. promote means the recovery process will finish and the server will start to accept connections. Finally shutdown will stop the server after reaching the recovery target.

The intended use of the pause setting is to allow queries to be executed against the database to check if this recovery target is the most desirable point for recovery. The paused state can be resumed by using pg_wal_replay_resume() (see Table 9.86), which then causes recovery to end. If this recovery target is not the desired stopping point, then shut down the server, change the recovery target settings to a later target and restart to continue recovery.

The shutdown setting is useful to have the instance ready at the exact replay point desired. The instance will still be able to replay more WAL records (and in fact will have to replay WAL records since the last checkpoint next time it is started).

Note that because recovery.signal will not be removed when recovery_target_action is set to shutdown, any subsequent start will end with immediate shutdown unless the configuration is changed or the recovery.signal file is removed manually.

This setting has no effect if no recovery target is set. If hot_standby is not enabled, a setting of pause will act the same as shutdown.

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