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External file access extension

Allow access to "external files" from PostgreSQL server file systems.

This extension adds the same functionalities given by the Oracle's BFILE data type that stores unstructured binary data in flat files outside the database. A BFILE column stores a file locator that points to an external file containing the data: (DIRECTORY, FILENAME). Here the data type is called EFILE.

The extension access to external files using secure call to the server side lo_* functions and not by directly reading/writing to files.

Installation requirements

PostgreSQL 9.1 or better are required. User with PostgreSQL superuser role for creating extension.


external_file has been written as a PostgreSQL extension and uses the Extension Building Infrastructure "PGXS".

You will need PostgreSQL headers and PGXS installed (if your PostgreSQL was installed with packages, install the development package).

Get/Unpack the source code in a fresh directory Then the software installation should be as simple as

$ make (In these version do nothing)
$ make install

To install the extension in a database, connect as superuser and

CREATE EXTENSION external_file;

By default all objects of the extension are created in the external_file schema. If you want to change the schema name you must edit the external_file.control file. Note that this schema must not be writable by normal user to not allow bypassing of the search path set with the security definer.

When using schema with extension, it's better to include this schema in the default search path. For example:

ALTER DATABASE <mydb> SET search_path="$user",public,external_file;

Also you can restrict USAGE grant on external_file schema to specific user and change the default search path at user level too.

GRANT USAGE ON SCHEMA external_file TO <username>;

Please refer to the PostgreSQL documentation for more information.


External file are accessed using two values, an alias for the path of the directory where the file is, and the file name.

So, first, alias must be defined for the path. This definition is performed using the "directories" table. For security reason, only superuser can insert, update, delete directory definition. It's possible, with GRANT command, to change this but it's NOT recommended.


INSERT INTO directories(directory_name,directory_path) VALUES ('temporary','/tmp/');


  • the directory path must use the terminal file system separator!
  • the system user running PostgreSQL server (generally postgres) must have the system rights to read and/or write files. See pg_read_server_files and pg_write_server_files privileges introduced in PostgreSQL 11.
  • the filename don't include any / or \ character for security reason

Second, rights for user and/or role are defined using the "directory_access" table.


INSERT INTO directory_roles(directory_name,directory_role,directory_read,directory_write) VALUES ('temporary','a_role',true,false);

Now standard user can use external files.


-- Store a new external file blahblah.txt into the directory
SELECT writeEfile('\x48656c6c6f2c0a0a596f75206172652072656164696e67206120746578742066696c652e0a0a526567617264732c0a', ('temporary', 'blahblah.txt'));

ls -la /tmp/blahblah.txt 
-rw-r--r-- 1 postgres postgres 47 janv. 22 19:16 /tmp/blahblah.txt

-- Create a table that will use external files
CREATE TABLE efile_test ( id smallint primary key, the_file efile);
-- Insert a row to access the external file called blahblah.txt
INSERT INTO efile_test VALUES (1,('temporary','blahblah.txt'));
-- Assuming user has right to read, and the file exists
SELECT id, readefile(the_file) FROM efile_test;
-- Make a physical copy of the external file assuming user has right to read AND write
SELECT copyefile(('temporary','blahblah.txt'),('temporary','copy_blahblah.txt'));
INSERT INTO efile_test VALUES (2, ('temporary','copy_blahblah.txt'):::efile);
-- or the equivalent using efilename()
INSERT INTO efile_test VALUES (3, efilename('temporary','copy_blahblah.txt'));

ls /tmp/*blahblah.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 postgres postgres 47 janv. 22 19:16 /tmp/blahblah.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 postgres postgres 47 janv. 22 19:24 /tmp/copy_blahblah.txt

file=# SELECT id, readefile(the_file) FROM efile_test;
 id |                                            readefile                                             
  1 | \x48656c6c6f2c0a0a596f75206172652072656164696e67206120746578742066696c652e0a0a526567617264732c0a
  2 | \x48656c6c6f2c0a0a596f75206172652072656164696e67206120746578742066696c652e0a0a526567617264732c0a
(2 lines)

Function reference

  • efilename(directory in name, filename in varchar(256)) returns efile

    Returns an EFILE data type that is referencing the external file on the server filesystem. Returns NULL on null imput.

  • readEfile(e_file in efile) returns bytea

    copy the external file into a bytea. Error will be generated if something wrong.

  • writeEfile(buffer in bytea, e_file in efile) returns void

    copy a bytea into a external file. Error will be generated if something wrong.

  • copyEfile(src in efile, dest in efile) returns void

    duplicate file defined by src into file dest Error will be generated if something wrong.

  • getEfilePath(e_file efile, need_read in boolean, need_write in boolean) returns text

    giving an efile and booleans, one for read and one for write need, return the full path for the file, otherwise an error is generated useful to check if session user has access to this external file


  • Dominique Legendre
  • Gilles Darold


external_file is free software distributed under the PostgreSQL Licence.

  • Copyright (c) 2012-2018 Brgm - All rights reserved.
  • Copyright (c) 2022 MigOps Inc - All rights reserved.

See LICENSE file.


Allow access to "external files" from PostgreSQL server file systems.







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