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Re: We should Axe /contrib/start-scripts

From: Tom Lane <tgl(at)sss(dot)pgh(dot)pa(dot)us>
To: "Kevin Grittner" <Kevin(dot)Grittner(at)wicourts(dot)gov>
Cc: "Josh Berkus" <josh(at)agliodbs(dot)com>, "Chander Ganesan" <chander(at)otg-nc(dot)com>, "PostgreSQL-development" <pgsql-hackers(at)postgresql(dot)org>
Subject: Re: We should Axe /contrib/start-scripts
Date: 2009-08-19 21:03:52
Message-ID: (view raw, whole thread or download thread mbox)
Lists: pgsql-hackers
"Kevin Grittner" <Kevin(dot)Grittner(at)wicourts(dot)gov> writes:
> Tom Lane <tgl(at)sss(dot)pgh(dot)pa(dot)us> wrote: 
>>> we do NOT use pg_ctl for [postmaster start], as it adds no value
>>> and can cause the postmaster to misrecognize a stale lock file
>> And?  That statement was and remains perfectly correct.
> Is this mentioned in the documentation somewhere that I've missed?
> I'm curious what the issues are, and why we can solve it in a bash
> script but not pg_ctl.

It's been covered repeatedly in the archives, but I'm not sure if it's
in the docs anywhere.  The problem is that after a system crash and
reboot, an old file might be left behind.  The postmaster
can only safely remove this lock file if it is *certain* that it doesn't
represent another live postmaster process.  Otherwise it is honor-bound
to commit hara-kiri instead of starting up.  It can tell whether or not 
the PID in the file belongs to a live process and whether that process
belongs to the postgres userid (by attempting kill(PID, 0) and seeing
what it gets).  If not, it can remove the file with a clear conscience.
However, because of the way that Unix startup works, it is very likely
that successive system boots will assign nearly (but not necessarily
exactly) the same PID that the postmaster had on the previous cycle.
So there's a high probability of a false positive from this test.
If the PID matches our own exactly, we can discount it as a false
positive.  If it matches our parent's exactly, we can also discount it
(knowing that a postmaster would never launch another postmaster
directly, and being able to get the parent's PID via getppid()).
But further up the chain, we're out of luck, because there is no
"get grandparent pid" operation in Unix.

What this all leads to is that it's safe to launch a postmaster from
an init script via something like
	su - postgres sh -c "postmaster ..."
The postmaster's parent process is a shell belonging to postgres,
which it can discount via getppid(), and all further-up ancestors
belong to root, so we can discount them via the kill test.  So a
false PID match cannot lead to failing to start.  (You still have to
be a bit careful about the form of the shell command, or there might
be an intermediate postgres-owned shell process.)

On the other hand, if you do
	su - postgres sh -c "pg_ctl ..."
then the postmaster's parent process is pg_ctl, and its grandparent
is a postgres-owned shell process, and it cannot tell that
postgres-owned shell process apart from a genuine conflicting
postmaster.  So a chance match of the shell process's PID to what is in
the leftover file will force it to refuse to start.
And that chance match is not a low probability --- in my experience
it's one in ten or worse, in a reasonably stable system environment.

You can imagine various workarounds involving having pg_ctl pass down
its parent's PID, but you'll still get screwed if the initscript author
is careless about how many levels of postgres-owned shell process there
are.  The long and the short of it is that it's best to not use pg_ctl.
As mentioned, it doesn't buy much of anything for an initscript anyway.

These considerations don't apply to ordinary hand launching of the
postmaster, for the primary reason that the chance of a false PID match
is several orders of magnitude smaller when you're talking about a
manual restart --- the likely postmaster PID now ranges over the whole
PID space instead of being within a few counts of the same thing.  So we
don't need to discourage people from using pg_ctl for ordinary restarts.
The whole thing is really only a problem for initscript authors (who all
know about it by now ;-))

			regards, tom lane

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Subject: Re: We should Axe /contrib/start-scripts
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