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Pausing Hot Standby Replay in PostgreSQL 9.0

When using a PostgreSQL Hot Standby master/replica pair, it can be useful to temporarily pause WAL replay on the replica. While future versions of Postgres will include the ability to pause recovery using administrative SQL functions, the current released version does not have this support. This article describes two options for pausing recovery for the rest of us that need this feature in the present. These two approaches are both based around the same basic idea: utilizing a "pause file", whose presence causes recovery to pause until the file has been removed.

Option 1: patched pg_standby

pg_standby is a fairly standard tool that is often used as a restore_command for WAL replay. I wrote a patch for it (available at my github repo) to support the "pause file" notion. The patch adds a -p path/to/pausefile optional argument, which if present will check for the pausefile and wait until it is removed before proceeding with recovery.

The benefit of patching pg_standby is that the we're building on mature production-level code, adding a functionality at its most relevant place. In particular, we know that signal handling is already sensibly handled; (this was something I was less than positive about with when it comes to the wrapper shell script described later). The downside here is that you need to compile your own version of pg_standby in order to take advantage of it. However, it may be considered useful enough of a patch to accept in the 9.0 tree, so future releases could support it out-of-the-box.

After patching, compiling, and installing the modified version of pg_standby the only change to an existing restore_command already using pg_standby would be the addition of the -p /path/to/pausefile argument; e.g.:

restore_command = 'pg_standby -p /tmp/pausefile /path/to/archive %f %p'

After restarting the standby, simply touching the /tmp/pausefile file will pause recovery until the file is subsequently removed.

Option 2: a shell script

The pause-while script is a simple wrapper script I wrote which can be used to gate the invocation of any command by checking if the "pause file" (a file path passed as the first argument) exists. If the pause file exists, we loop in a sleep cycle until it is removed. Once the pause file does not exist (or if it did not exist in the first place), we execute the rest of the provided command string.

Sample invocation:

[user@host<1>] $ touch /tmp/pausefile; pause-while /tmp/pausefile echo hi
... # pauses, notifying of status

[user@host<2>] $ rm /tmp/pausefile
... # shell 1 will now output "hi"

Here's the script:



# we're trapping this signal
trap 'exit 1' INT;


while [ -f $PAUSE_FILE ]; do
 echo "'$PAUSE_FILE' present; pausing. remove to continue" >&2
 sleep 1;

[ "$PAUSED" ] && echo "'$PAUSE_FILE' removed; " >&2

# untrap so we don't block the invoked command's expected signal handling
trap INT;

# now we know the pause file doesn't exist, proceed to execute our
# command as normal

exec $@;

We need to trap SIGINT to prevent the wrapped command from executing if the sleep cycle is interrupted.

Putting this to use in our Hot Standby case, we will want to use pause-while as a wrapper for the existing restore_command, thus adjusting recovery.conf to something like this:

restore_command = 'pause-while /tmp/standby.pause pg_standby ... <args>'

With this configuration, when you want to pause WAL replay on the replica simply touch the /tmp/standby.pause pause file and the next invocation of restore_command will wait until that file is removed before proceeding.

The wrapper script approach has the benefit of working with any defined restore_command and is not limited to just working with pg_standby.


  • Since this is based on WAL archive restoration, this has a very coarse granularity; recovery can only pause between WAL files, which are 16MB. It is likely that future SQL support functions will support this at arbitrary transaction boundaries and will not have this specific limitation.
  • Neither of these options will work with Streaming Replication. Streaming Replication uses a non-zero exit status of the restore_command as the "End of Archive" marker to flip from archive restoration/catchup mode to WAL Streaming mode. pg_standby's default behavior (even before this patch) is to wait for the next archive file to appear before returning a zero exit status, and returning a non-zero exit status only on error, signal, or because its failover trigger file now exists. This means that if you use pg_standby as the restore_command with Streaming Replication enabled, you will never actually flip over into WAL streaming mode, and will stay pointlessly in rechive restoration mode. (Technically speaking you could touch the failover trigger file; that would get you out of the archive mode, and into WAL streaming mode, but would not result in actually failing over.) It is likely that future SQL support functions for pausing recovery will not have this same dependency/limitation, and will be able to pause recovery when utilizing Streaming Replication.
  • While reviewed/manually tested, these programs have not been production-tested. I've done basic testing on both the shell script and pg_standby patch, however this has not been battle-tested, and likely has some corner cases that haven't been considered (I'm particularly concerned about the shell script's signal handling interactions.)
  • pg_standby has been deprecated and removed in future releases of PostgreSQL. I believe it would still be possible to compile/use pg_standby for future releases based on the version in the 9.0 source tree, but I believe it was removed because of the issues in conjunction with Streaming Replication. Presumably it (and this approach) would still be relevant if people wanted to utilize a traditional log-shipping standby with Hot Standby.

Comments/improvements welcome/appreciated!


Simon Riggs said...

Pausing has always been possible when using file-based replication, as long as you pause at file boundaries. Streaming replication in 9.0 didn't use the restore_command so we were could no longer use that.

The new features for pause/resume of recovery in 9.1 will allow you to search for a recovery target, pause and use hot standby to validate the selected location before continuing. You can be very specific about the recovery target, so its much better than using the restore_command.

David Christensen said...

Hi Simon,

As far a pausing in the file-based approach is concerned, do you mean something similar to the technique I've described, or is there already something built-in to accommodate that? (I was not aware of any such facility existing.)

I agree that the restore_command is a very crude tool, insofar as it requires that you deal in individual WAL segment files. I definitely look forward to the specific recovery pause/resume function available in the upcoming version.

Thanks for commenting,


Robert Treat said...

I think he means in a way similar to what you implemented in pg_standby. We implemented "wal application delay" in omnipitr (see which let's you have the slave lag behind the master for various reason, it would be very easy to build a similar pause mechanism into omnipitr (guess I'll add that to the todo list).

We actually implemented a pause mechanism too but for xlog purging; surprised we didn't do pausing on application; but we found that toggling the delay usually served our purposes. It's a good idea though until people can upgrade to 9.1.