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Copy a Postgres database to a target Postgres server (pg_dump | pg_restore on steroids)


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pgcopydb is a tool that automates running pg_dump | pg_restore between two running Postgres servers. To make a copy of a database to another server as quickly as possible, one would like to use the parallel options of pg_dump and still be able to stream the data to as many pg_restore jobs.

The idea would be to use pg_dump --jobs=N --format=directory postgres://user@source/dbname | pg_restore --jobs=N --format=directory -d postgres://user@target/dbname in a way. This command line can't be made to work, unfortunately, because pg_dump --format=directory writes to local files and directories first, and then later pg_restore --format=directory can be used to read from those files again.

Given that, pgcopydb then uses pg_dump and pg_restore for the schema parts of the process, and implements its own data copying multi-process streaming parts. Also, pgcopydb bypasses pg_restore index building and drives that internally so that all indexes may be built concurrently.

Base Copy and Change Data Capture

pgcopydb implements both the base copy of a database and also Change Data Capture to allow replay of changes from the source database to the target database. The Change Data Capture facility is implemented using Postgres Logical Decoding infrastructure and the wal2json plugin.

The pgcopydb follow command implements a logical replication client for the logical decoding plugin wal2json.

The pgcopydb clone --follow command implements a full solution for online migration. Beware that online migrations involve a lot more complexities when compared to offline migration. It is always a good idea to first implement offline migration first. The command pgcopydb clone is used to implement the offline migration approach.


Full documentation is available online, including manual pages of all the pgcopydb sub-commands. Check out

$ pgcopydb help
    clone     Clone an entire database from source to target
    fork      Clone an entire database from source to target
    follow    Replay changes from the source database to the target database
    snapshot  Create and export a snapshot on the source database
  + compare   Compare source and target databases
  + copy      Implement the data section of the database copy
  + dump      Dump database objects from a Postgres instance
  + restore   Restore database objects into a Postgres instance
  + list      List database objects from a Postgres instance
  + stream    Stream changes from the source database
    ping      Attempt to connect to the source and target instances
    help      Print help message
    version   Print pgcopydb version

  pgcopydb compare
    schema  Compare source and target schema
    data    Compare source and target data

  pgcopydb copy
    db           Copy an entire database from source to target
    roles        Copy the roles from the source instance to the target instance
    extensions   Copy the extensions from the source instance to the target instance
    schema       Copy the database schema from source to target
    data         Copy the data section from source to target
    table-data   Copy the data from all tables in database from source to target
    blobs        Copy the blob data from the source database to the target
    sequences    Copy the current value from all sequences in database from source to target
    indexes      Create all the indexes found in the source database in the target
    constraints  Create all the constraints found in the source database in the target

  pgcopydb dump
    schema     Dump source database schema as custom files in work directory
    roles      Dump source database roles as custom file in work directory

  pgcopydb restore
    schema      Restore a database schema from custom files to target database
    pre-data    Restore a database pre-data schema from custom file to target database
    post-data   Restore a database post-data schema from custom file to target database
    roles       Restore database roles from SQL file to target database
    parse-list  Parse pg_restore --list output from custom file

  pgcopydb list
    databases    List databases
    extensions   List all the source extensions to copy
    collations   List all the source collations to copy
    tables       List all the source tables to copy data from
    table-parts  List a source table copy partitions
    sequences    List all the source sequences to copy data from
    indexes      List all the indexes to create again after copying the data
    depends      List all the dependencies to filter-out
    schema       List the schema to migrate, formatted in JSON
    progress     List the progress

  pgcopydb stream
    setup      Setup source and target systems for logical decoding
    cleanup    Cleanup source and target systems for logical decoding
    prefetch   Stream JSON changes from the source database and transform them to SQL
    catchup    Apply prefetched changes from SQL files to the target database
    replay     Replay changes from the source to the target database, live
  + sentinel   Maintain a sentinel table
    receive    Stream changes from the source database
    transform  Transform changes from the source database into SQL commands
    apply      Apply changes from the source database into the target database

  pgcopydb stream sentinel
    setup   Setup the sentinel table
    get     Get the sentinel table values
  + set     Set the sentinel table values

  pgcopydb stream sentinel set
    startpos  Set the sentinel start position LSN
    endpos    Set the sentinel end position LSN
    apply     Set the sentinel apply mode
    prefetch  Set the sentinel prefetch mode


When using pgcopydb it is possible to achieve the result outlined before with this simple command line:

$ export PGCOPYDB_SOURCE_PGURI="postgres://"
$ export PGCOPYDB_TARGET_PGURI="postgres://"

$ pgcopydb clone --table-jobs 8 --index-jobs 2

A typical output from the command would contain lots of lines of logs, and then a table summary with a line per table and some information (timing for the table COPY, cumulative timing for the CREATE INDEX commands), and then an overall summary that looks like the following:

19:18:24.447 76974 INFO   Running pgcopydb version 0.15.74.gc74047a from "/usr/bin/pgcopydb"
19:18:24.451 76974 INFO   [SOURCE] Copying database from "postgres://pagila:0wn3d@source/pagila?keepalives=1&keepalives_idle=10&keepalives_interval=10&keepalives_count=60"
19:18:24.451 76974 INFO   [TARGET] Copying database into "postgres://pagila:0wn3d@target/pagila?keepalives=1&keepalives_idle=10&keepalives_interval=10&keepalives_count=60"
19:18:24.506 76974 INFO   Using work dir "/tmp/pgcopydb"
19:18:24.519 76974 INFO   Exported snapshot "00000003-00000023-1" from the source database
19:18:24.522 76985 INFO   STEP 1: fetch source database tables, indexes, and sequences
19:18:24.886 76985 INFO   Fetched information for 5 tables (including 0 tables split in 0 partitions total), with an estimated total of 1000 thousands tuples and 128 MB on-disk
19:18:24.892 76985 INFO   Fetched information for 4 indexes (supporting 4 constraints)
19:18:24.894 76985 INFO   Fetching information for 1 sequences
19:18:24.909 76985 INFO   Fetched information for 1 extensions
19:18:25.030 76985 INFO   Found 0 indexes (supporting 0 constraints) in the target database
19:18:25.042 76985 INFO   STEP 2: dump the source database schema (pre/post data)
19:18:25.046 76985 INFO    /usr/bin/pg_dump -Fc --snapshot 00000003-00000023-1 --section=pre-data --section=post-data --file /tmp/pgcopydb/schema/schema.dump 'postgres://pagila:0wn3d@source/pagila?keepalives=1&keepalives_idle=10&keepalives_interval=10&keepalives_count=60'
19:18:25.182 76985 INFO   STEP 3: restore the pre-data section to the target database
19:18:25.202 76985 INFO    /usr/bin/pg_restore --dbname 'postgres://pagila:0wn3d@target/pagila?keepalives=1&keepalives_idle=10&keepalives_interval=10&keepalives_count=60' --section pre-data --jobs 2 --use-list /tmp/pgcopydb/schema/pre-filtered.list /tmp/pgcopydb/schema/schema.dump
19:18:25.354 77000 INFO   STEP 4: starting 8 table-data COPY processes
19:18:25.428 77002 INFO   STEP 8: starting 8 VACUUM processes
19:18:25.451 76985 INFO   Skipping large objects: none found.
2024-06-10 19:18:25.462 +03 [77031] LOG:  unexpected EOF on client connection with an open transaction
19:18:25.471 77001 INFO   STEP 6: starting 2 CREATE INDEX processes
19:18:25.471 77001 INFO   STEP 7: constraints are built by the CREATE INDEX processes
19:18:25.482 76985 INFO   STEP 9: reset sequences values
19:18:25.483 77040 INFO   Set sequences values on the target database
19:18:33.807 76985 INFO   STEP 10: restore the post-data section to the target database
19:18:33.821 76985 INFO    /usr/bin/pg_restore --dbname 'postgres://pagila:0wn3d@target/pagila?keepalives=1&keepalives_idle=10&keepalives_interval=10&keepalives_count=60' --section post-data --jobs 2 --use-list /tmp/pgcopydb/schema/post-filtered.list /tmp/pgcopydb/schema/schema.dump
19:18:33.879 76985 INFO   All step are now done,  9s352 elapsed
19:18:33.880 76985 INFO   Printing summary for 5 tables and 4 indexes

  OID | Schema |             Name | Parts | copy duration | transmitted bytes | indexes | create index duration
16398 | public | pgbench_accounts |     1 |         7s130 |             91 MB |       1 |                 878ms
16395 | public |  pgbench_tellers |     1 |          69ms |            1002 B |       1 |                  44ms
16401 | public | pgbench_branches |     1 |          46ms |              71 B |       1 |                  37ms
16386 | public |           table1 |     1 |          56ms |               0 B |       1 |                  40ms
16392 | public |  pgbench_history |     1 |          67ms |               0 B |       0 |                   0ms

                                               Step   Connection    Duration    Transfer   Concurrency
 --------------------------------------------------   ----------  ----------  ----------  ------------
   Catalog Queries (table ordering, filtering, etc)       source       183ms                         1
                                        Dump Schema       source       134ms                         1
                                     Prepare Schema       target       128ms                         1
      COPY, INDEX, CONSTRAINTS, VACUUM (wall clock)         both       8s483                        18
                                  COPY (cumulative)         both       7s368      128 MB             8
                          CREATE INDEX (cumulative)       target       965ms                         2
                           CONSTRAINTS (cumulative)       target        34ms                         2
                                VACUUM (cumulative)       target       120ms                         8
                                    Reset Sequences         both        38ms                         1
                         Large Objects (cumulative)       (null)         0ms                         0
                                    Finalize Schema         both        61ms                         2
 --------------------------------------------------   ----------  ----------  ----------  ------------
                          Total Wall Clock Duration         both       9s352                        24

Installing pgcopydb

See our documentation.

Design Considerations (why oh why)

The reason why pgcopydb has been developed is mostly to allow two aspects that are not possible to achieve directly with pg_dump and pg_restore, and that requires just enough fiddling around that not many scripts have been made available to automate around.

Bypass intermediate files for the TABLE DATA

First aspect is that for pg_dump and pg_restore to implement concurrency they need to write to an intermediate file first.

The docs for pg_dump say the following about the --jobs parameter:

You can only use this option with the directory output format because this is the only output format where multiple processes can write their data at the same time.

The docs for pg_restore say the following about the --jobs parameter:

Only the custom and directory archive formats are supported with this option. The input must be a regular file or directory (not, for example, a pipe or standard input).

So the first idea with pgcopydb is to provide the --jobs concurrency and bypass intermediate files (and directories) altogether, at least as far as the actual TABLE DATA set is concerned.

The trick to achieve that is that pgcopydb must be able to connect to the source database during the whole operation, when pg_restore may be used from an export on-disk, without having to still be able to connect to the source database. In the context of pgcopydb requiring access to the source database is fine. In the context of pg_restore, it would not be acceptable.

For each table, build all indexes concurrently

The other aspect that pg_dump and pg_restore are not very smart about is how they deal with the indexes that are used to support constraints, in particular unique constraints and primary keys.

Those indexes are exported using the ALTER TABLE command directly. This is fine because the command creates both the constraint and the underlying index, so the schema in the end is found as expected.

That said, those ALTER TABLE ... ADD CONSTRAINT commands require a level of locking that prevents any concurrency. As we can read on the docs for ALTER TABLE:

Although most forms of ADD table_constraint require an ACCESS EXCLUSIVE lock, ADD FOREIGN KEY requires only a SHARE ROW EXCLUSIVE lock. Note that ADD FOREIGN KEY also acquires a SHARE ROW EXCLUSIVE lock on the referenced table, in addition to the lock on the table on which the constraint is declared.

The trick is then to first issue a CREATE UNIQUE INDEX statement and when the index has been built then issue a second command in the form of ALTER TABLE ... ADD CONSTRAINT ... PRIMARY KEY USING INDEX ..., as in the following example taken from the logs of actually running pgcopydb:

21:52:06 68898 INFO  COPY "demo"."tracking";
21:52:06 68899 INFO  COPY "demo"."client";
21:52:06 68899 INFO  Creating 2 indexes for table "demo"."client"
21:52:06 68906 INFO  CREATE UNIQUE INDEX client_pkey ON demo.client USING btree (client);
21:52:06 68907 INFO  CREATE UNIQUE INDEX client_pid_key ON demo.client USING btree (pid);
21:52:06 68898 INFO  Creating 1 indexes for table "demo"."tracking"
21:52:06 68908 INFO  CREATE UNIQUE INDEX tracking_pkey ON demo.tracking USING btree (client, ts);
21:52:06 68907 INFO  ALTER TABLE "demo"."client" ADD CONSTRAINT "client_pid_key" UNIQUE USING INDEX "client_pid_key";
21:52:06 68906 INFO  ALTER TABLE "demo"."client" ADD CONSTRAINT "client_pkey" PRIMARY KEY USING INDEX "client_pkey";
21:52:06 68908 INFO  ALTER TABLE "demo"."tracking" ADD CONSTRAINT "tracking_pkey" PRIMARY KEY USING INDEX "tracking_pkey";

This trick is worth a lot of performance gains on its own, as has been discovered and experienced and appreciated by pgloader users already.


At run-time pgcopydb depends on the pg_dump and pg_restore tools being available in the PATH. The tools version should match the Postgres version of the target database.

When you have multiple versions of Postgres installed, consider exporting the PG_CONFIG environment variable to the version you want to use. pgcopydb then uses the PG_CONFIG from the path and runs ${PG_CONFIG} --bindir to find the pg_dump and pg_restore binaries it needs.

Manual Steps

The pgcopydb command line also includes entry points that allows implementing any step on its own.

  1. pgcopydb snapshot &
  2. pgcopydb dump schema
  3. pgcopydb restore pre-data
  4. pgcopydb copy table-data
  5. pgcopydb copy blobs
  6. pgcopydb copy sequences
  7. pgcopydb copy indexes
  8. pgcopydb copy constraints
  9. pgcopydb restore post-data
  10. kill %1

Using individual commands fails to provide the advanced concurrency capabilities of the main pgcopydb clone command, so it is strongly advised to prefer that main command.

Also when using separate commands, one has to consider the --snapshot option that allows for consistent operations. A background process should then export the snapshot and maintain a transaction opened for the duration of the operations. See documentation for pgcopydb snapshot.



Copyright (c) The PostgreSQL Global Development Group.

This project is licensed under the PostgreSQL License, see LICENSE file for details.

This project includes bundled third-party dependencies, see NOTICE file for details.