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Re: backup_label during crash recovery: do we know how to solve it?

From: Robert Haas <robertmhaas(at)gmail(dot)com>
To: Daniel Farina <daniel(at)heroku(dot)com>
Cc: pgsql-hackers <pgsql-hackers(at)postgresql(dot)org>
Subject: Re: backup_label during crash recovery: do we know how to solve it?
Date: 2011-12-01 23:47:17
Message-ID: (view raw, whole thread or download thread mbox)
Lists: pgsql-hackers
On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 9:10 PM, Daniel Farina <daniel(at)heroku(dot)com> wrote:
> Reviving a thread that has hit its second birthday:
> In our case not being able to restart Postgres when it has been taken
> down in the middle of a base backup is starting to manifest as a
> serious source of downtime: basically, any backend crash or machine
> restart will cause postgres not to start without human intervention.
> The message delivered is sufficiently scary and indirect enough
> (because of the plausible scenarios that could cause corruption if
> postgres were to make a decision automatically in the most general
> case) that it's not all that attractive to train a general operator
> rotation to assess what to do, as it involves reading and then,
> effectively, ignoring some awfully scary error messages and removing
> the backup label file.  Even if the error messages weren't scary
> (itself a problem if one comes to the wrong conclusion as a result),
> the time spent digging around under short notice to confirm what's
> going on is a high pole in the tent for improving uptime for us,
> taking an extra five to ten minutes per common encounter.
> Our problem is compounded by having a lot of databases that take base
> backups at attenuated rates in an unattended way, and therefore a
> human who may have been woken up from a sound sleep will have to
> figure out what was going on before they've reached consciousness,
> rather than a person with prior knowledge of having started a backup.
> Also, fairly unremarkable databases can take so long to back up that
> they may well have a greater than 20% chance of encountering this
> problem at any particular time:  20% of a day is less than 5 hours per
> day taken to do on-line backups.  Basically, we -- and anyone else
> with unattended physical backup schemes -- are punished rather
> severely by the current design.
> This issue has some more recent related incarnations, even if for
> different reasons:
> Because backup_label "coming or going?" confusion in Postgres can have
> serious consequences, I wanted to post to the list first to solicit a
> minimal design to solve this problem.  If it's fairly small in its
> mechanics then it may yet be feasible for the January CF.

In some ways, I feel like this problem is unsolvable by definition.
If a backup is designed to be an exact copy of the data directory
taken between pg_start_backup() and pg_stop_backup(), then by
definition you can't distinguish between the original and the copy.
That's what a copy *is*.

Now, we could fix this by requiring an additional step when creating a
backup.  For example, we could create backup_label.not_really on the
master and require the person taking the backup to rename it to
backup_label on the slave before starting the postmaster.  This could
be an optional behavior, to preserve backward compatibility.  Now the
slave *isn't* an exact copy of the master, so PostgreSQL can

But it seems that this could also be worked around outside the
database.  We don't have built-in clusterware, so there must be
something in the external environment that knows which server is
supposed to be the master and which is supposed to be the standby.
So, if you're on the master, remove the backup label file before
starting the postmaster.  If you're on the standby, don't.

Robert Haas
The Enterprise PostgreSQL Company

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