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9.4. Serializable Isolation Level

Serializable provides the highest transaction isolation. This level emulates serial transaction execution, as if transactions had been executed one after another, serially, rather than concurrently. However, applications using this level must be prepared to retry transactions due to serialization failures.

When a transaction is on the serializable level, a SELECT query sees only data committed before the transaction began and never sees either uncommitted data or changes committed during transaction execution by concurrent transactions. (However, the SELECT does see the effects of previous updates executed within this same transaction, even though they are not yet committed.) This is different from Read Committed in that the SELECT sees a snapshot as of the start of the transaction, not as of the start of the current query within the transaction.

If a target row found by a query while executing an UPDATE statement (or DELETE or SELECT FOR UPDATE) has already been updated by a concurrent uncommitted transaction then the second transaction that tries to update this row will wait for the other transaction to commit or rollback. In the case of rollback, the waiting transaction can proceed to change the row. In the case of a concurrent transaction commit, a serializable transaction will be rolled back with the message

ERROR:  Can't serialize access due to concurrent update

because a serializable transaction cannot modify rows changed by other transactions after the serializable transaction began.

When the application receives this error message, it should abort the current transaction and then retry the whole transaction from the beginning. The second time through, the transaction sees the previously-committed change as part of its initial view of the database, so there is no logical conflict in using the new version of the row as the starting point for the new transaction's update. Note that only updating transactions may need to be retried --- read-only transactions never have serialization conflicts.

The Serializable transaction level provides a rigorous guarantee that each transaction sees a wholly consistent view of the database. However, the application has to be prepared to retry transactions when concurrent updates make it impossible to sustain the illusion of serial execution, and the cost of redoing complex transactions may be significant. So this level is recommended only when update queries contain logic sufficiently complex that they may give wrong answers in the Read Committed level.