autonomous transactions

From: Peter Eisentraut <peter(dot)eisentraut(at)2ndquadrant(dot)com>
To: pgsql-hackers <pgsql-hackers(at)postgresql(dot)org>
Subject: autonomous transactions
Date: 2016-08-31 01:50:05
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I would like to propose the attached patch implementing autonomous
transactions for discussion and review.

This work was mostly inspired by the discussion about pg_background a
while back [0]. It seemed that most people liked the idea of having
something like that, but couldn't perhaps agree on the final interface.
Most if not all of the preliminary patches in that thread were
committed, but the user interface portions were then abandoned in favor
of other work. (I'm aware that rebased versions of pg_background
existing. I have one, too.)

The main use case, in a nutshell, is to be able to commit certain things
independently without having it affected by what happens later to the
current transaction, for example for audit logging.

My patch consists of three major pieces. (I didn't make them three
separate patches because it will be clear where the boundaries are.)

- A API interface to open a "connection" to a background worker, run
queries, get results: AutonomousSessionStart(), AutonomousSessionEnd(),
AutonomousSessionExecute(), etc. The communication happens using the
client/server protocol.

- Patches to PL/pgSQL to implement Oracle-style autonomous transaction

AS $$
FOR i IN 0..9 LOOP
IF i % 2 = 0 THEN


This is very incomplete and has some open technical issues that I will
discuss below. But those are all issues of PL/pgSQL, not really issues
of how autonomous sessions work.

Basically, a block that is declared with that pragma uses the autonomous
C API instead of SPI to do its things.

- Patches to PL/Python to implement a context manager for autonomous
sessions (similar to how subtransactions work there):

with plpy.autonomous() as a:
for i in range(0, 10):
a.execute("INSERT INTO test1 (a) VALUES (%d)" % i)
if i % 2 == 0:

This works quite well, except perhaps some tuning with memory management
and some caching and some refactoring.

While the PL/pgSQL work is more of a top-level goal, I added the
PL/Python implementation because it is easier to map the C API straight
out to something more accessible, so testing it out is much easier.

The main technical problem I had with PL/pgSQL is how to parse named
parameters. If you're in PL/Python, say, you do

plan = a.prepare("INSERT INTO test1 (a, b) VALUES ($1, $2)",
["int4", "text"])

and that works fine, because it maps straight to the client/server
protocol. But in PL/pgSQL, you will want something like

x, y ...
INSERT INTO test1 (a, b) VALUES (x, y)

When running in-process (SPI), we install parser hooks that allow the
parser to check back into PL/pgSQL about whether x, y are variables and
what they mean. When we run in an autonomous session, we don't have
that available. So my idea was to extend the protocol Parse message to
allow sending a symbol table instead of parameter types. So instead of
saying, there are two parameters and here are their types, I would send
a list of symbols and types, and the server would respond to the Parse
message with some kind of information about which symbols it found. I
think that would work, but I got lost in the weeds and didn't get very
far. But you can see some of that in the code. If anyone has other
ideas, I'd be very interested.

Other than that, I think there are also other bits and pieces that are
worth looking at, and perhaps have some overlap with other efforts, such as:

- Refining the internal APIs for running queries, with more flexibility
than SPI. There have recently been discussions about that. I just used
whatever was in tcop/postgres.c directly, like pg_background does, and
that seems mostly fine, but if there are other ideas, they would be
useful for this, too.

- An exception to the "mostly fine" is that the desirable handling of
log_statement, log_duration, log_min_duration_statement for
non-top-level execution is unclear.

- The autonomous session API could also be useful for other things, such
as perhaps implementing a variant of pg_background on top of them, or
doing other asynchronous or background execution schemes. So input on
that is welcome.

- There is some overlap with the protocol handling for parallel query,
including things like error propagation, notify handling, encoding
handling. I suspect that other background workers will need similar
facilities, so we could simplify some of that.

- Client encoding in particular was recently discussed for parallel
query. The problem with the existing solution is that it makes
assign_client_encoding() require hardcoded knowledge of all relevant
background worker types. So I tried a more general solution, with a hook.

- I added new test files in the plpgsql directory. The main test for
plpgsql runs as part of the main test suite. Maybe we want to move that
to the plpgsql directory as well.

- More guidance for using some of the background worker and shared
memory queue facilities. For example, I don't know what a good queue
size would be.

- Both PL/pgSQL and PL/Python expose some details of SPI in ways that
make it difficult to run some things not through SPI. For example,
return codes are exposed directly by PL/Python. PL/pgSQL is heavily
tied to the API flow of SPI. It's fixable, but it will be some work. I
had originally wanted to hide the autonomous session API inside SPI or
make it fully compatible with SPI, but that was quickly thrown out.
PL/Python now contains some ugly code to make certain things match up so
that existing code can be used. It's not always pretty.

- The patch "Set log_line_prefix and application name in test drivers"
( is helpful in testing and
debugging this.


Peter Eisentraut
PostgreSQL Development, 24x7 Support, Remote DBA, Training & Services

Attachment Content-Type Size
autonomous.patch text/x-patch 75.2 KB


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