This document describes how the OmniPITR internally works, why given switches exist, what they are for, and generally - why it works the way it works.

If you're looking for developer docs - just run perldoc on individual modules in omnipitr/lib directory.

Since the replication setup involves 3 distinct types of activities:

  • segment archival

  • segment recovery

  • database backup

These will be major parts of this document.

Before I will go further - backup, as described in here, is filesystem level backup - that is copy of PostgreSQL data files (commonly described as $PGDATA), and not something comparable with pg_dump. The biggest difference is that pg_dump can be easily (usually) loaded to any version of PostgreSQL, while filesystem level backup requires recovery on the same version (major), and the same architecture as the system the backup was made on.

Segment archival

Technical background

When PostgreSQL has to write any specific data to database, it doesn't actually write it to table or index files. It stores the modified data (up to ~ shared_buffers) in memory, and writes to actual tables and indexes on (so called) CHECKPOINTS. Checkpoints usually happen automatically, every 5 minutes (default interval), or you can invoke them manually issuing CHECKPOINT SQL command.

This creates potential for problems - what will happen if we will have modification done by transaction that did commit, but server crashed (power outage) before there was checkpoint? For such situations - there is WAL - Write Ahead Log. As soon as there is any data to be written - there is information about this fact written to this log. Even before transaction commits - its all there. WAL should be seen as a single, very long "area", which (for various reasons) has been split into multiple files, each file containing exactly 16MB of data.

So, when there is any write, it gets logged to WAL and stored in memory. When commit happens, WAL file is being fsync'ed, to be sure that it's on disk, and then commit returns. This is very important - that commit returns correctly only after changes in WAL have been fully saved to disk (as long as disk doesn't lie about results of fsync, and you didn't disable fsync in configuration).

If power outage happens, next time PostgreSQL will start, it will simply read from WAL what should be applied to data files, and apply it.

Now, for very, very important information:

WAL segments are reused.

This is to avoid requirement to create 16MB file when we've used all previous segments.

Let me explain this in example.

In PGDATA/pg_wal there is set of files, which could be named like this:

  • 000000010000000000000051

  • 000000010000000000000052

  • 000000010000000000000053

  • 000000010000000000000054

  • 000000010000000000000055

  • 000000010000000000000056

  • 000000010000000000000057

Usually (I'll write about it later) PostgreSQL writes to first file (000000010000000000000051 in this case).

When it will write 16MB data there, it switches to 000000010000000000000052, and so on. And after checkpoint - all segments that are "before" current one, will get renamed to be at the end of list.

So, if there will be CHECKPOINT while PostgreSQL writes to 000000010000000000000052, segment 000000010000000000000051 will get renamed to 000000010000000000000058.

PostgreSQL (since version 8.0, but OmniPITR has been tested only with 8.2 and newer) supports WAL Segments Archiving.

What it really is, is that you can define a command, that will be run as soon as given segment is full, and this command can do copy of it (WAL segment file) to any place it wants, using any method it wants.

What's more - even if there will be checkpoint - WAL segment file cannot be renamed (and thus reused and overwritten) unless archive_command succeeded, and PostgreSQL will not start working on archive on next segment if previous hasn't finished with success.

This fact has couple of important consequences:

  • we can be sure that when archive_command is called, WAL segment is full, and will not be changed anymore (i.e. until it will get renamed, and reused, but this will be under different name, so it doesn't matter)

  • archive_command will be called sequentially, in order of WAL segments.

  • if, for whatever reason, archiving will fail - your pg_wal directory will get bigger and bigger - as PostgreSQL will be creating new WAL segments to accomodate new writes to database, but it will not reuse old segments because archiving is failing (until it will stop failing, where PostgreSQL will quickly call the archiving command for every WAL segment that should be archived).

Now, with some technical background being explained we can move to explaining how omnipitr-archive handles the task.

How does it work?

Upon configuring (by providing command line switches), admin can choose to archive wal segments to any number of locations, using one of supported compression schemas:

  • no compression - wal segment takes 16MB, but is immediately available to anything that needs it (compare this to description of omnipitr-backup-slave in later part of this document)

  • gzip - quick, and very portable

  • bzip2 - slower, quite portable, and compresses better than gzip

  • lzma - very slow, not very common, but best compression ratio

  • lz4 - very quick, not very common, but best speed

  • xz - slower, 30% smaller than gzip and 15% smaller than bzip2.

When choosing which compression method to use, you have to remember that segments are processed sequentially - so if compression of segment takes more than it takes PostgreSQL to fill new one - you will create backlog, and the whole replication/archiving will fail.

On top of choosing compression, admin can also setup so called "destinations" - which are basically paths to where to store the files.

Some of the destinations are local - i.e. it's a directory mounted on the database server that is running omnipitr-archive, and some are remote - for example on slave server.

In the case of remote destination you have to provide paswordless access via rsync (using rsync:// protocol) or rsync-over-ssh.

For performance reasons, it's better to use rsync://, but since it's far less common, most admins prefer well known rsync-over-ssh with authentication using passwordless ssh keys.

The important thing is that when having multiple compressed destinations - you don't actually have to compress them multiple times.

To avoid having to do multiple compressions, omnipitr-archive first checks list of all required compressions. For example - if one chose uncompressed local destionation, gzip compressed local destination, and two bzip2 destinations - one local and one remote, we need to make two compressions - to gzip and then to bzip2.

omnipitr-archive tries to limit the work it has to do, so when choosing what to do it follow basically this logic:

  • iterate over local destinations

    • if given destination doesn't use compression - use simple copy from pg_wal/ directory (source of wal segments) to final destination

    • if given destination requires compression that wasn't done before - compress source wal segment (without modifying source file, as it will be used by PostgreSQL), and save to destination

    • if given destination requires compression that was previously used - copy the compressed file from the first local destination that used the same compression schema

  • iterate over remote destinations

    • if given destination doesn't use compression - send the file from source directory to remote destination with rsync

    • if given destination requires compression that was used for any previous destination - send already compressed version of the file to remote destination

    • if given destination requires compression that was not used for any previous destination - compress it to temporary, local, directory, and then send from there. The temporary file will be removed only after all destination will be handled.

There is a problem though - what will happen if omnipitr-archive was called with two remote destinations, and second one would fail.

By definition - archive-command cannot return "success" if it didn't deliver the wal segments to all required locations.

So. In case that there would be potentially "partial success" - omnipitr-archive has to return failure to PostgreSQL (so that it will be called next time), but it shouldn't deliver the already delivered file again to destinations that already got it!

This is why there is a notion of state dir. This is special directory, that contains information about deliveries of given wal segment - but only until it will be delivered to all places.

So, if there are 3 destinations, after delivering to first of them, omnipitr-archive will write to state-dir file, saying that given wal segment was delivered to first destination. After second destination - new info will be added. And after successfully sending wal segment to final destination - the state file will be removed, and omnipitr-archive will return "success" to PostgreSQL.

Thanks to this, if delivery to third destination would fail, upon next run, omnipitr-archive will be able to skip delivering to first and second destinations, which already had the file delivered to them.

There is also third possible destination type - backup destination. For explanation what it's for please check below in part about omnipitr-backup-master, but the summary is very simple: backup destination is a local destination, that cannot be compressed, and generally shouldn't exist (i.e. the directory to which --dst-backup points, shouldn't exist, usually).

As for options - we aleady covered the most important of them - state-dir and various dst-*

temp-dir is used to specify where to create temp files - which is used if you have remote destination that uses compression that wasn't used for any local destination.

Since I'm big fan of logging - there is logging support with --log option, which is also mandatory. You have to have log, at the very least to know where to look in if anything would go wrong.

Logging from OmniPITR supports automatic rotation of logs (based on time), but not archival - this has to be handled by some other tool.

Standard when dealing with time based formats is %x notation - as in strftime() call. Unfortunately, PostgreSQL also uses %x (%f, %p and %r actually) for it's own purposes, so, to avoid clashing with its options, I decided to use ^x notation - where "x" is the same as in %x notation of strftime().

So, strftime() format "%Y-%m-%d" has to be written as "^Y-^m-^d" in omnipitr --log path. But aside from this small difference - you can use full power of time based rotations, including auto-generated directories, like in case of:

--log "/some/path/^Y/^m/^d/OmniPITR-^Y-^m-^d_^H.log"

There are also switches for letting omnipitr-archive know where is $PGDATA (as it expects path to wal segment to be relative to it), but this virtually always not needed, as when using normally omnipitr-archive as "archive_command" - current working directory is set to $PGDATA, and so the --data-dir defaults to sane ".". If you're interested as of - when it would be useful - please check below in section on omnipitr-restore.

There is also option to set pid-file, but this was only added for completness, as PostgreSQL will never run two copies of archive_command, so it shouldn't be a problem at any time.

Please also note that there is "--verbose" option, which makes logs that are a bit larger, but a lot more useful.

For example. This is snippet of log, about two WAL files being archived, without --verbose:

2011-01-20 20:25:40.079230 +0000 : 28544 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Segment ./pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000092 successfully sent to all destinations.
2011-01-20 20:27:05.547792 +0000 : 28770 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Segment ./pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000093 successfully sent to all destinations.

Simple and to the point. But with --verbose, it looks like this:

2011-01-20 20:25:37.359384 +0000 : 28544 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Called with parameters: -v -l /var/log/omnipitr/omnipitr-^Y-^m-^d.log -s /var/lib/pgsql/omnipitr/state/ -t /var/tmp/ -dr gzip=db2:/mnt/db/prod/walarchive/ -dr db2:/mnt/db/prod/db2-walarchive/ -db /var/lib/pgsql/omnipitr/backup.xlogs pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000092
2011-01-20 20:25:38.705074 +0000 : 28544 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Timer [Compressing with gzip] took: 1.299s
2011-01-20 20:25:39.418690 +0000 : 28544 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Timer [Sending /var/tmp/omnipitr-archive/00000001000000DE00000092/00000001000000DE00000092.gz to db2:/mnt/db/prod/walarchive/00000001000000DE00000092.gz] took: 0.657s
2011-01-20 20:25:40.033344 +0000 : 28544 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Timer [Sending ./pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000092 to db2:/mnt/db/prod/db2-walarchive/00000001000000DE00000092] took: 0.573s
2011-01-20 20:25:40.079230 +0000 : 28544 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Segment ./pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000092 successfully sent to all destinations.
2011-01-20 20:27:03.014960 +0000 : 28770 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Called with parameters: -v -l /var/log/omnipitr/omnipitr-^Y-^m-^d.log -s /var/lib/pgsql/omnipitr/state/ -t /var/tmp/ -dr gzip=db2:/mnt/db/prod/walarchive/ -dr db2:/mnt/db/prod/db2-walarchive/ -db /var/lib/pgsql/omnipitr/backup.xlogs pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000093
2011-01-20 20:27:04.350370 +0000 : 28770 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Timer [Compressing with gzip] took: 1.279s
2011-01-20 20:27:04.889989 +0000 : 28770 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Timer [Sending /var/tmp/omnipitr-archive/00000001000000DE00000093/00000001000000DE00000093.gz to db2:/mnt/db/prod/walarchive/00000001000000DE00000093.gz] took: 0.481s
2011-01-20 20:27:05.503586 +0000 : 28770 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Timer [Sending ./pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000093 to db2:/mnt/db/prod/db2-walarchive/00000001000000DE00000093] took: 0.563s
2011-01-20 20:27:05.547792 +0000 : 28770 : omnipitr-archive : LOG : Segment ./pg_wal/00000001000000DE00000093 successfully sent to all destinations.

as you can see we now see exact command line that was used to run the omnipitr-archive, and we see times of all important operations: compressing with gzip, and two remote deliveries (rsync over ssh).

This timing information can be later used for debugging or tuning.

Aside from all of this, omnipitr-archive, like any other OmniPITR program, lets you point to programs that it uses. That is - nice, gzip, bzip2, lzma, lz4, xz and rsync.

It is important to note that if path to given program is not provided, omnipitr-archive (like any program from OmniPITR) simply lets shell find it using $PATH environment variable.

What's more - using of the --program-path options is suggested, and supported, way of passing non-standard options to various programs.

If one would want to pass "--rsync-path" option to rsync program (because on remote location rsync binary is not in $PATH), the suggested approach is to write simple shell wrapper:

exec rsync --rsync-path "$@"

then make it executable, and pass it's location to omnipitr-archive with --rsync-path option.

For some time I have been playing with idea of adding special --program-opts options that would be used to pass additional parameters to programs, but finally decided against it for couple of reasons:

  • it gets tricky to make it work reliably in case some parameters would need to contain white space (quoting problem)

  • wrapper has much more power, and can do much nicer things

  • we need to provide --program-path anyway, but generally --program-opts is much less often needed/useful

  • I'm lazy.

The only thing to remember is that when writing custom compressor wrappers (adding new compressors themselves is not trivial, as it requires also changes in OmniPITR::Tools module in ext_for_compression() function), is that they are called by omnipitr-archive with --stdout option, so the wrapper should either handle it, or pass to underlying compressor.

The OmniPITR project is Copyright (c) 2009-2013 OmniTI. All rights reserved.