Replication in PostgresSQL

With replication, you copy data from one database server, the source, to another server, the replica. Replication is a powerful database feature, providing high availability and supporting disaster recovery.


You can also create replica servers to use for testing and reporting purposes, reducing the load on production Online Transactional Processing (OLTP) databases. This post helps you understand the different types of replication in PostgreSQL® and the necessary steps to implement streaming replication of a PostgreSQL database.

Replication details

Now, it’s time to understand the replication modes, models, and types of replication in PostgreSQL and learn about write-ahead logging.

Asynchronous and synchronous modes

The following diagram shows the modes of PostgreSQL replication:

In asynchronous replication, the source server does not need to wait for transaction-completion acknowledgment from the replica server. The replication transactions queue up on the replica server, and the two servers can remain out-of-sync for a specified time until the processing completes.

In synchronous mode replication, the source server waits for acknowledgment from the replica server, or servers, that each replication transaction is complete before proceeding. Both source and replica servers must be available at all times. If it receives a transaction-failed message from the replica, then the source server rolls back that transaction. In this mode of replication, source and replica servers are always in sync. The drawback is that if a replica server goes down or can’t complete a transaction, the source server goes into a hung state.

Single- and Multi-source replication models

With Single-source replication, you have only one source server and one or more replica servers. The source sends the replication transactions to all replicas.

The replica servers can accept changes only from the source server. If they do receive changes from a non-source server, the replicas do not replicate those transactions back to the source.

In Multi-source replication, you have more than one source server. If a table row changes on one source database, that source server replicates the changes to the counterpart table rows on the other source servers. For this model to succeed, you need to employ conflict resolution schemes to prevent duplicate primary keys and other issues.

Types of Replication

There are three types of replication:

  • Streaming Replication: PostgreSQL made this type of replication available in version 9 and later. Replicas are available for run-only select queries. The primary requirement for this type is the source and replica databases must be the same major version.
  • Cascading replication: Introduced in PostgreSQL 9.2, his type of replication allows you to replicate from a standby server instead of directly from the source server. This can reduce the load on the source server.
  • Logical replication: You can use this type to replicate a selected data set or database object or to replicate between different major versions of PostgreSQL. In logical replication, you can use the standby server for writes, but it has some limitations. It cannot replicate Truncate, large objects like (lob, blob, clob ), sequences, schemas, and DDL.

Write-ahead logging

Before you start using streaming replication, you should understand write-ahead logging (WAL) and how it works.

In PostgreSQL, the system first saves any changes made to a database in a log file before saving them in a data file, and these changes are called WAL records. Every WAL record has a unique number called a log sequence number (LSN).

With streaming replication in PostgreSQL, the replica database server uses the WAL file to replicate changes on the source database server.

Three mandatory processes play a significant role in streaming replication on a PostgreSQL database:

  • WAL sender
  • WAL receiver
  • Startup

A WAL sender process runs on the source server, whereas the WAL receiver and startup processes run on the replica server. When you start the replication, the following events occur:

  1. A WAL receiver process sends the LSN until the replica replays the WAL data to the master.
  2. The WAL sender process on the source then sends the WAL data to the replica until it reaches the latest LSN sent by the WAL receiver.
  3. Next, the WAL receiver writes the WAL data sent by the WAL sender to WAL segments.
  4. The startup process on the replica replays the data written to a WAL segment.
  5. Finally, the streaming replication begins.

Test case

Here are the steps to set up streaming replication in PostgreSQL between a source and one replica:

Step one

First, we need to ensure that both source and replica servers have passwordless SSH authentication configured. If not, we need to configure it by using ssh-keygen.

To learn about passwordless SSH configuration, see

Source node 
Replica node
Username `postgres` on both source and replica.

Step two

Run the following commands on both servers to stop the firewall:

$ sudo systemctl stop firewalld
$ sudo systemctl disable firewalld

Step three

  1. On the source server, go to the data directory:

     cd /var/lib/pgsql/11/data
  2. Edit the postgresql.conf file and make the following changes:

     archive_mode = on
     archive_command = ‘cp %p /var/lib/pgsql/archive/%f’
     max_wall_senders = 5
     wal_keep_segment =32
     wal_level = replica
     listen_addresses = ‘*’
  3. Add the replica server IP address entry in pg_hba.conf:

     host    postgres         postgres         (ip_address) trust
     host    replication      postgres         (ip_address) trust
  4. For every change in pg_hba.conf, reload the service:

     $ /usr/local/pgsql_11/bin/pg_ctl -D /var/lib/pgsql/11/ reload
  5. Create the /var/lib/pgsql/archive/ archive directory if it doesn’t exist.

  6. Restart the server to reflect the changes.

Step four

On the replica server:

  1. Go to the data directory and stop the service:

     $ /usr/pgsql-11/bin/pg_ctl -D /var/lib/pgsql/11/data/ stop
  2. Remove everything from the data directory on the replica and try to connect to the source by using the following command:

     $ /usr/pgsql-11/bin/psql -h
  3. If it works, start the base backup from the replica:

     $ cd /var/lib/pgsql/11/data
     $ /usr/pgsql-11/bin/pg_basebackup -D /var/lib/pgsql/11/data/ -X fetch -h -R -P

These commands copy all data from the data directory of the source database to the replica data directory and create the recovery.conf file.

Step five

After the base backup completes, you need to check for recovery.conf files. Any server with a recovery.conf file in the data directory is a replica server and contains the information of the source server. Make the following modifications:

Standby_mode = ‘on’
Primary_conninfo = ‘user=postgres host= port=5432’

The file should appear as follows:

$ Vi recovery.conf
Standby_mode = ‘on’
Primary_conninfo = ‘user=postgres passfile=’’/home/postgres/.pgpass’’ host= port=5432 sslmode=disable sslcompression=0 target_session_attrs=any’

Step six

Now start the server and validate the changes:

  1. Log in to the source:

     Postgres=# Select * from pg_stat_replication;
     -[ RECORD 1 ]----+------------------------------
     pid              | 1934
     usesysid         | 26712
     usename          | postgres
     application_name | walreceiver
     client_addr      |
     client_hostname  |
     client_port      | 52143
     backend_start    | 2020-11-07 11:30:31.035614-05
     backend_xmin     |
     state            | streaming
     sent_lsn         | 0/50000E34
     write_lsn        | 0/50000E34
     flush_lsn        | 0/50000E34
     replay_lsn       | 0/50000E34
     write_lag        |
     flush_lag        |
     replay_lag       |
     sync_priority    | 0
     sync_state       | async
  2. Log in to the replica:

     Postgres=# Select * from pg_is_in_recovery();
  3. Check with an OS-level command from the source:

     $ ps -ef|grep sender 
     postgres  1934 
     1718  0 11:31 ?        00:00:00 postgres: wal sender process replicator streaming 0/50000E34
  4. Check with an OS-level command from the replica:

     $ ps -ef|grep receiver
     postgres  1358 
     1748  0 11:31 ?        00:00:04 postgres: wal receiver process   streaming 0/50000E34

    The sender and receiver transactions should be the same, and the replica is always in read-only mode.

  5. (optional) By default, replication is in asynchronous mode. To change to synchronous replication, go to the source server and make the following change to postgresql.conf:

     synchronous_standby_names=’*’ in 

    Then, restart the services:

     $ /usr/local/pgsql-11/bin/pg_ctl -D /var/lib/pgsql/11/ restart


This post explains the types of replication and steps to set up streaming replication. You commonly use this (especially in analytics) to provide a read-only replica to take the load off the primary server.

It’s also helpful if you need a high availability environment or to failover to a hot standby server if the primary goes down.

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Shailesh Kumar

I am an Oracle DBA who strives to enrich and enhance my career where I get adequate exposure of my skills and the opportunity for career growth. Also, I love learning about new databases, using my knowledge, and contributing to the success of the organization through my sincere efforts. Finally, I continue exploring PostgreSQL.

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