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Is PostgreSQL good enough? (renesd.blogspot.com)
403 points by richardboegli on Feb 14, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments

I've been attempting to preach the PostgreSQL Gospel (http://www.brightball.com/articles/why-should-you-learn-post...) for a few years now about this exact same thing.

When you look at your database as a dumb datastore, you're really selling short all of the capabilities that are in your database. PG is basically a stack in a box.

Whenever I started getting into Elixir and Phoenix and realized that the entire Elixir/Erlang stack was also basically a full stack on it's own...and that by default Phoenix wants to use PG as it's database...I may have gone a little overboard with excitement.

If you build with Elixir and PostgreSQL you've addressed almost every need that most projects can have with minimal complexity.

This reminds me of the days of J2EE containers where we tried to write applications that never took advantage of vendor specific features so that our applications could be portable across application servers and databases. It was extremely rare to swap out from IBM to Oracle or vice versa but conceptually we could.

The upside was that when a vendor's licensing fees became prohibitive we could conceptually swap platforms. The downside was, well plenty. Like dealing with generic errors, building your own services that the platform stack already provided.

So, I love that we now have a OSS stack that folks are taking full advantage of rather than trying to abstract away the platform.

Totally agree with you there. I worked for a telecom right out of school and they hired a couple of consultants to implement some horrible Java single sign on system (I think it was called JOSSO?) backed by our Oracle database. The system was really buggy and as we were navigating the issues with the Java code, we ended up porting most of the core functionality to Oracle Stored Procedures.

Eventually, the Java code continued giving us so much trouble that I mouthed off to our VP that I could rewrite this entire system in PHP in one night. He said, "Okay, do it."

So we did it...and because the core functionality was in stored procedures it was really easy to switch from Java to something else. The system never had a single issue the next 2 years that I was there after the move either.

Opting to not use vendor specific features just let's you make a commitment on where you want to be locked in harder.

When I first started out, I treated my database as just a dumb datastore. Thankfully my database was Postgres (a decision made by the team I got a job with, who obviously were much smarter than me). I think most programmers start out this way, probably because they learn a procedural language (PHP, Python, Perl) before SQL. So it's easier to write their application rules there.

Regardless, even when I was using Postgres as a dumb store, I was still using it to enforce uniqueness --- which is otherwise very hard to do anywhere else. Later I started to add foreign-key constraints (I know!). Slowly I found out that other things, like eligibility checking, complex calculations, and other processing, were always much shorter in SQL than in my procedural language (which had to pull the data from the database anyway to work on it). And all other things being equal, my criterion for how to do something is, "Which way is shorter?" That's usually also the fastest to run and the easiest to maintain (though I'm not talking about using one-letter names for variables and functions --- at least not always ;).

Now I'm slowly moving toward my middle language (PHP) being little more than a templating language. I think I heard that Oracle had even moved HTML formatting to the database in one of their products, but that's going a little too far.

I think part of the issue is that SQL is not a programming language. You cannot really express algorithms in the normal sense in SQL. Instead you specify a result and let the db decide the algorithm. So SQL is a language you program around, not a language you program in. I.e. you can extend and consume SQL.

BTW, don't move your HTML into the db :-) Separate presentation and data logic.

(We are teaching a course[1] in Sweden on programming against PostgreSQL. It focuses on much of this as well as trying to look under the hood to deal with what happens when the abstraction fails to deliver what is expected.)

At the end, this is a longish path and one that took me personally a long time to make. But it is something that he more we share, the better off others will be I think.


> I think part of the issue is that SQL is not a programming language. You cannot really express algorithms in the normal sense in SQL.

1) You can (namely: PL/SQL). 2) The same situation as in SQL (the query part, not procedural language) you have in Prolog (though SQL query is not Turing-complete). It's a different paradigm of working with data, but it's still a programming language.

> Instead you specify a result and let the db decide the algorithm.

The term you're looking for is declarative programming.

Very true, the only downside to PG is a bit of naming craziness still using names from pre SQL days for some things, but overall very solid product.

care to give a few examples?

tuple - row, relation - table

PG calls tables "tables". It does refer to "relation" as the general term for a class of objects that includes tables and views, both of which are realizations of the abstract concept of a "relation" from relational database theory.

There was a similar talk[1] at FOSDEM, where the speaker describes how, as an experiment, he replaces a full ELK stack plus other monitoring tools with PostgreSQL. He even goes as far as implementing a minimal logstash equivalent (i.e. log parsing) into the database itself.

It wasn't an "we do this at scale" talk, but I'd love to see more experiments like it.

For the impatient: Skip to 17 minutes into the video, where he describes the previous architecture and what parts are replaced with Postgres.

1. https://fosdem.org/2017/schedule/event/postgresql_infrastruc...

> It wasn't an "we do this at scale" talk, but I'd love to see more experiments like it.

Well, I will be conducting such thing in near future. From ELK stack, I never used Logstash in the first place and used Fluentd instead (and now I'm using a mixture of my own data forwarder and Fluentd as a hub). I'm planning mainly to replace Elasticsearch, and probably will settle with a command line client for reading, searching, and analyzing (I dislike writing web UIs).

All this because I'm tired of elastic.co. I can't upgrade my Elasticsearch 1.7.5 to the newest version, because then I would need to upgrade this small(ish) 4MB Kibana 3.x to a monstrosity that weihgs more than whole Elasticsearch engine itself for no good reason at all. And now that I'm stuck with ES 1.x, it's only somewhat stable; it can hang up for no apparent reasonat unpredictable intervals, sometimes three times per week, and sometimes working with no problem for two months. And to add an insult to an injury, processing logs with grep and awk (because I store the logs in flat files as well as in ES) is often faster than letting ES do the job. I only keep ES around because Kibana gives nice search interface and ES provides a declarative query language, which is easier to use than building awk program.

> He even goes as far as implementing a minimal logstash equivalent (i.e. log parsing) into the database itself.

As for parsing logs, I would stay away from database. Logs should be parsed earlier and available for machine processing as a stream of structured messages. I have implemented such thing using Rainer Gerhards' liblognorm and I'm very happy with the results, to the point that I derive some monitoring metrics and was collecting inventory from logs.

> I can't upgrade my Elasticsearch 1.7.5 to the newest version, because then I would need to upgrade this small(ish) 4MB Kibana 3.x to a monstrosity that weihgs more than whole Elasticsearch engine

...is that really a good reason to reinvent this whole solution, though? You're basically saying you're going to spend the time to replace your entire log storage/analysis system because you object to the disk size of Kibana. (Which, without knowing your platform specifically, looks like it safely sits under 100 megs).

The rest of your complaints seem to stem from not having upgraded elasticsearch, aside from possibly hitting query scenarios that continue to be slower-than-grep after the upgrade.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your explanation, but if I'm not this sounds like a lot of effort to save yourself tens of megs of disk space.

> ...is that really a good reason to reinvent this whole solution, though?

The system being dependency-heavy and pulling an operationally awful stack (Node)? Yes, this alone is enough of a reason for me. And I haven't mentioned yet other important reasons, like memory requirements and processing speed (less than satisfactory), elasticity of processing (ES is mostly query-based tool, and whatever pre-defined aggregations it has, it's too constrained paradigm for processing streams of logs), and me wanting to take a shot at log storage, because our industry actually doesn't have any open source alternative to Elasticsearch.

> Kibana. (Which, without knowing your platform specifically, looks like it safely sits under 100 megs).

Close, but missed. It's 130MB unpacked.

> Maybe I'm misunderstanding your explanation, but if I'm not this sounds like a lot of effort to save yourself tens of megs of disk space.

I'm fed up with the outlook of the whole thing. Here ridiculous disk space for what the thing does, there slower-than-grep search speed, another place that barely keeps up with the rate I'm throwing data at it (single ES instance should not loose its breath under just hundreds of megabytes per day), upgrade that didn't make things faster or less memory-consuming, but failed to accept my data stream (I was ready to patch Kibana 3.x for ES 5.x, but then I got bitten twice in surprising, undocumented ways and gave up, because I lost my trust that it won't bite me again).

Sorry, but no, I don't see Elasticsearch as a state-of-the-art product. I would gladly see some competition for log storage, but all our industry has now is SaaS or paid software. I'm unhappy with this setting and that's why I want to write my own tool.

The problem you run into is "we need some more information that is in the logs but we didn't thin to parse before." Here PL/Perl is awesome because you can write a function, index the output, and then query against the function output.

One reason I always store full source data in the db.

> The problem you run into is "we need some more information that is in the logs but we didn't thin to parse before."

Agreed, though with liblognorm rules you just shove every single variable field into JSON field and that mostly does the job. And in the case you were talking about logs with no matching rules, liblognorm reports all unparsed logs, and my logdevourer sends them along the properly parsed logs, so no data is actually omitted.

Thanks for the tip about liblognorm. Looks quite useful!

Oh yes it is. The rules syntax is nice and is a big improvement over regexps that are popular with almost every other log parser out there, but the best thing is that if your rules fail, liblognorm reports precisely what part of the log could not be consumed, not just the fact that none of the rules matched.

Liblognorm has only one major user: rsyslog, for which it was written, but at some point I thought that it would be nice to have a separate daemon that only parses logs, so I wrote logdevourer (https://github.com/korbank/logdevourer).

This talk is specifically mentioned in the article :-)

I do use PostgreSQL wherever possibly. Add http://postgrest.com/ and nginx as a url-rewriting proxy and you have a performant, highly adaptable REST-Server.

Nice, Postgrest looks really amazing, especially for long-term production needs. I've previously used Sandman, which is much easier to set up, which makes it ideal for more quick-and-dirty needs: https://github.com/jeffknupp/sandman2

Me too, never failed me for the things I use it for. Unlike other data stores, it has predictable, consistent performance, production ready releases, and reasonable opensource contributors who really deliver the awesomeness. Its architecture is unique, at least in the FOSS word.

I looked at Postgrest and liked what I saw, until it came to authentication and authorization - the docs mention that this is an area that tends to blur the line between application and database layer, and then just sort of punts on the whole thing, suggesting that maybe you want to use the auth0 SaaS. Have you had to deal with this?

Yes, we found the same issue. We worked around this by organizing our application (an admittedly basic REST API) in two layers. The external one exposed to API consumers, developed in a language/framework you may like (Python/Tornado for us), and the internal data access layer which uses Postgrest, and is only accessed locally from within the REST API application servers

Why not just query the database using standard drivers then ? What am I missing here ?

Maybe the the exposed application acts like a proxy for the internal apis, only check authentication info and pass on the request to the postgrest servers.

I know the docs are lacking but have you guys looked into how roles + RLS + views can work together to solve authorization?

Yes the docs are lacking but the hope is that the users will get the basic idea and look into things like roles+RLS in the official Postgre docs (although those are lacking too :) it's a very powerful feature, this RLS thing, but since it's new, there are not a lot of examples explaining it)

That is of course until someone finds the time to write a long article/tutorial explaining how all the pieces fit together and how PG 90% of the time can solve all your authorization needs (in regard to the data it stores itself)

It's more than just roles though - it's validating email addresses at signup, resetting passwords... annoying to build yourself and easy to screw up.

In the end I went with Django Rest Framework.

Validating email is a CHECK constraint using a regexp on the email filed, resetting password is probably two short stored procedures. I get that you don't usually find code to copy/paste for something like this but it's not hard to implement either (i would say the whole signup/login/reset flow can be done in 100-150 LOC). Out of curiosity, how much time did it take to implement the API you needed?

A general rule of thumb is that Identity and Access Management aren't businesses you want to accidentally get into. Yes, you can write IAM code yourself, but at scale it's a way better plan to trust a dedicated IdP.

Is there a way to have combined permissions, based on both row and column?

For example, considering the `passwd` table example https://www.postgresql.org/docs/9.6/static/ddl-rowsecurity.h..., allowing user to select their own pwhash, but no other users' pwhashes.

I find owner-dependent field-level permissions to be a fairly frequent requirement.

I know of some relatively high end systems which are doing that, which used postgrest for prototyping purposes and then found it performed too well to give up!

Ha :)! can you maybe give some links?

I think internally the upcoming Kosovo property tax management system will use it.

This is one of those things you frame and put on the wall :)

Nice writeup though I would add a few things.

Listen/Notify work great for short-term job queues. For longer term ones, you have some serious difficulties on PostgreSQL which require care and attention to detail to solve. In those cases, of course, you can solve them, but they take people who know what they are doing.

Also in terms of storing images in the database, this is something that really depends on what you are doing, what your database load is, and what your memory constraints are. At least when working with Perl on the middleware, decoding and presenting the image takes several times the RAM that loading it off the filesystem does. That may not be the end of the world, but it is something to think about.

Also TOAST overhead in retrieved columns doesn't show up in EXPLAIN ANALYZE because the items never get untoasted. Again by no means a deal breaker, but something to think about.

In general, PostgreSQL can be good enough but having people know know it inside and out is important as you scale. That's probably true with any technology, however.

Is anyone actually utilising a recent version of PostgreSQL for full-text searching beyond a hobby project? How do you find the speed and accuracy versus Elasticsearch?

Used it for 10,000+ document and 1 million document projects. Was good enough for me (but I guess I wouldn't have written the article if it was bad).

I've also used Elasticsearch, and I reckon that's pretty damn amazing.

Anyone wanting more in-depth information should read or watch this FTS presentation from last year. It's by some of the people who has done a lot of work on the implementation, and talks about 9.6 improvements, current problems, and things we might expect to see in version 10. https://www.pgcon.org/2016/schedule/events/926.en.html

There's also some previous presentations on the same topic which are interesting. You can see the RUM index (which has faster ranking here): https://github.com/postgrespro/rum

For our intranet's collection of tens of thousands of pages, results come back in a fraction of a second. Accuracy seems as good as the ten-year-old Google Mini Search Appliance that it replaced, but I had to write a good chunk of SQL. I weigh whether the terms are in the web address, title, or just the body, and also the number of backlinks. This took making a few tables, views, and SQL functions, as well as a daily cron job.

Yes we've used full text search for quite some time for one of our products, it's great, we really haven't had any issues performance or otherwise with it. For one of our other products we index data from PostgreSQL / PostGIS into elasticsearch and that's also good, in other ways.

At a guess stemming from ignorance of Elasticsearch, I'm going to assume you'd join PostgreSQL and Elasticsearch like that in situations where you need to perform more complex analysis over the queries to provide results, is this correct? I've seen this particular architecture before and my biggest question was whether or not it was a piece that could be eliminated.

For, say, a tag-based search system (think any forum or booru-style imageboard), is Elasticsearch completely overkill?

I realise I could probably just google itâ„¢, but it's a lot easier to understand a product's strengths when they're put in a situational context.

Your guess is pretty much it: Postgres full text search is great for simpler scenarios, but elasticsearch provides more powerful search capabilities and simpler implementation of complex features (such as "search all shops in this geographical area with products that match these words the user typed".) That said, I've had good results with both systems, and always found the elasticsearch query syntax pretty arcane and difficult to put together from the docs. The docs essentially assume you are very familiar with Lucene concepts and that you'll be able to figure out what goes where in the JSON object from your past experience. If you are implementing a simple tag system, then I'd use Postgres first and only when performance becomes an issue move to elasticsearch.

I worked on a huge (12TB) bioinformatic project which was using PostgreSQL full text search as a primary component. One would compare with Solr which also was looked at as a possible replacement.

Solr had more functionality (largely by being able to throw more nodes at the problem), but for our purposes, PostgreSQL's fts was certainly good enough. There were a few cases where we had to be careful so the full text index would be used (because data distribution did not always match the planner's assumptions) but on the whole it worked very well.

Several years ago I was responsible for a CMS for a local newspapers website. A contractor making updates used ElasticSearch to search for articles. It was a rather botched setup with ES crashing once in a while and the search index sliding out of sync with the database.

I was using Django and rewrote the search just simply collecting a dictionary of terms that I would then explode into filter on the model.

A database of order 100k articles with something like 50 fields, about 20 of them foreign keys, bulk text fields of several to tens of KB responded within milliseconds on a 4 core 4GB machine under load.

The "weird thing" about it that I didn't understand at the time was that using a more complex query would often result in speedups. I understand it better now after this article since PG builds some sort of index on text fields.

PG is one of the infrastructure pieces that you install and then it just runs performantly without much fuss. There probably are cases where it fails horribly but in almost a decade of use I have yet to see a single operations failure.

This comes from experience with SQL Server, not postgres and lucene instead of elastic search, but no, I don't think full-text search replaces lucene/elastic for any but the simplest searches. Especially if you want to rank results based on a number of factors, not just a text match. The last time I was using them for instance, we wanted geographic location to be weighted strongly and the database approach did not under performed on result speed, result accuracy and developer time (excluding learning lucene, which isn't that hard anyway).

PostgreSQL is pretty unique as an RDBMS in its ability to do multi-facet weighted search over disparate types including geographical information as part of a single index query (due to GiST indices): there is a reason why the GIS community has essentially standardized around PostgreSQL (via PostGIS); I do not think it works to use experience from SQL Server to comment on PostgreSQL for this use case.

Interesting, thanks. Is query performance on par with Lucerne? How about indexing cost/latency?

is it good enough? yes. in fact, its probably an overkill for most. i think the question of good enough wouldve been perfect for sqlite.

I love sqlite but it's really difficult to recommend it in a situation where you need parallel r/w access to the database (ie. any web-type situation, even for light loads).

The sqlite client implementation details definitely matter. The default one that Django uses to talk to sqlite will lock on parallel reads in addition to the typical issues with parallel writes, due to some specific issue in that client's code. So every single request locks the entire database for everybody.

I think there was a plan to fix this but I don't know if it happened yet because I'm still on the LTS release. And because I don't plan to use sqlite in production anyway.

If care is taken to cache query results and clear on insert/update, one can get stupendous performance from sqlite. I used Apache, mod_lua, and redis to implement a system that does this for example.

SQLite is wonderful for some things but write concurrency is not one of them. This means you really need to segregate reads from writes, and use a different path for that.

I actually think SQLite in general is fairly underrated, but there are important limits.

PostgreSQL is my go-to db, but I love the ability to have the callbacks to SQL functions being in my main code. For lots of data analysis work, the way custom functions and custom aggregates work in SQLite is wonderful.

But again, a chasing hammer is not the same as a machine hammer.

This a thousand of times.

My biggest concern for sqlite WAS that it is only embedded and not clients server which is a problem if I have more process trying to access it.

I solved it writing a Redis modules that embed sqlite [1] so you get a client server sqlite for all your relational/ACID need and redis for everything else.

[1]: https://github.com/redbeardlab/redisql

This looks pretty cool.

Thanks, someone else call it the "worst idea ever"...

It is nice to have some positive feedback once in a while.

Definitely if you have suggestions or feedback (the negative) please please share it. Either open an issue, write me an email or keep this conversation going ;)


Very nice article for those of us who have never used PostgreSQL much. I've been starting to use it with Elixir & this gives me a good understanding of why someone would use it, especially when when starting a new app.

Out of curiosity, does anyone have a favorite article saved that does a great comparison of when to use certain databases?

Yes, for all projects and small businesses I start, Postgres and Redis is what I use from the beginning. Then if it ever gets to the point where I need a different DB for something, I replace components with the new tool. People get fascinated with these fly-by-night data stores and put their operations at serious risk. Start with the tried and tested technologies, then carefully augment your stack as needed.

Using an RDBMS as a work queue is an anti-pattern, but if you're going to do it, you probably can't do much better than LISTEN/NOTIFY.

Listen/notify doesn't queue messages if the listener isn't online, so isn't usually appropriate as a work queue.

I encourage everyone to challenge the conventional wisdom that using postgresql as a work queue is an anti-pattern. I've never found a queing software, out of countless options, that I was satisfied with. In concept, a queue is very simple. In practice, I've never seen the end of messy real world constraints that need to be imposed on queues.

We have somewhere around 50-100 queues in postgresql databases at MixRank, nearly all of them with millions of records or more, being hammered constantly. We get transactional consistency, automatic insertion with triggers, expression and partial indexes for prioritization and partitioning, joins, constraints and foreign keys, and everything else that comes with postgresql. It works great.

Also if your queue takes a month to clear because you bulk inserted a few hundred million jobs..... Listen/Notify isn't going to help you.

Have you tried AMPS: http://www.crankuptheamps.com/

Author here. Yeah, pretty much everything in the article is an anti-pattern. However, people are doing these things, and the implementations are correct, and perform well enough for us. There are downsides, and dragons... beware!

What wasn't clear to me from the article is if Postgres can guarantee at-least-once semantics? I.e.: can it be guaranteed that messages are delivered to the consumer at least once given all kinds of failure situations?

I think these slides describe it best. https://www.pgcon.org/2016/schedule/attachments/414_queues-p... Page 34. The key is SKIP LOCKED, so you do not try and grab an item off the queue which is already locked.

Thanks. Reading the 'problems' section: a simple solution for "Resilience against crashing or hanging workers" would be having a TTL on the lock. If only...

> Using an RDBMS as a work queue is an anti-pattern

I don't want to appear too ignorant but why? I hear many claims of this but few explanations. The best I've heard is something about not being able to handle the load but I don't really buy that unless you don't need persistence/integrity.

Primarily, because it's hard to get right. Of course it can be done well, or correctly (and as The Fine Article points out, adding SKIP LOCKED to SELECT ... FOR UPDATE will go a long way towards that). But most people do them terribly.

As just one example, from a previous job: they were using SQL Alchemy in the code that interacted with the work queue, but somehow didn't realize that the DBAPI being implicitly transactional meant they'd need to manage transaction-state themselves. Consequently, they never released the implicitly opened transactions that every poll for new work created. No-one thought it was strange that the work queue system needed to be shut down weekly, so that a VACUUM FULL could reclaim the gibibytes of space that were wasted because the db couldn't clean up tuples (row version) that still appeared live to stale, abandoned transactions. Until I was all, "Uh, guys?"

The fix was obvious: disable implicit transactions. But that's just one example, if particularly egregious. I've seen and heard countless more.

It is definitely hard to get right, for sure. I am actually planning on taking what I have learned on this and releasing it soon. And a lot of cookie-cutter solutions out there don't scale.

But a lot of things are less about outlines than details and that is true here. If you do get it right, you get a work queue where jobs disappear properly when completed and if they fail remain in the queue to be retried.

The fact is, work queues are hard to get right on any technology. You have a ridiculous number of corner cases and failure conditions you need to account for and the question ends up coming down to what you want the default failure state to be.

PgQ, part of Skype's SkyTools package, is a good example of queues in Postgres. It's used by their Londiste, a replication tool that was developed before built-in replication was mature.


But you have a fairly major problem with all these solutions and that is when a message leaves a queue. For a message queue you want it to leave the queue when delivered. For a job queue you want it to leave the queue when the work is completed but not to be sent out in the mean time. Now imagine you have processing jobs that take two weeks with 16 cores to complete.

That's one thing that makes this a hard problem. If you have open transactions for two weeks "Deleting this...." then autovacuum is going to be totally ineffective. So failure detection and recovery is an important (and probably the hardest) part of the problem.

PgQ looks to me like it is a solution to a message queue problem not a work queue problem.

IIRC (it's been a while), PgQ doesn't keep transactions open while events are processed: events are fetched and marked as in process; they're then marked succeeded or failed to finish the event. The bulk copy of initial data which bootstraps replication is a long duration process: I don't believe transactions are held open this entire time.

If I understand you correctly, this handles your work queue case.

Not quite.

In my experience you have several critical issues:

1. What happens when a job silently fails?

2. What happens when a job takes a lot longer than expected to succeed?

If you solve the first with a timeout, the second leads to a job rerun. The best (only?) solution I have found is to have some awareness in the job queue of the fact that the job is currently being processed. In my previous work we used advisory locks for that.

It wasn't clear to me how closely you've looked at PgQ. Have you looked into the design (other than the README), or used it and found these failings? I'm certainly not going to be able to answer your questions off the top of my head given the time passed since I last used it.

Given your critiques of everything else out there (from what I gather from the rest of your comments in this thread), it seems like your identified a possible business opportunity.

It's been a little while but I actually read through the source code of it and Londiste. It's possible I missed something, but I didn't see anything that would automatically reset messages if a connection goes away between receiving the message and marking it as completed.

BTW one example of a long-running task would be a genome assembly task. You take in raw reads in a tar of fastq files, turn it into a BAM file, and from there find overlapping read sections so you can detect continuous read zones, and then determine the consensus nucleotide sequence in each contiguous read zone.

What happens if someone trips over a power cord after a week of this job running? How do you detect and recover? What if, due to the size of data passed in, the job takes a week longer than expected?

This is why you cannot always reduce a work queue to a message queue.

> I am actually planning on taking what I have learned on this and releasing it soon.

Consider me interested. Any way I could be kept in the loop?

It will be here: https://github.com/einhverfr/pg_titanides

Not sure on timeline yet. Have not had the time to actually write the first generation of the code. Here was my initial announcement (Old, I know but I haven't committed the code yet and need to do that): http://ledgersmbdev.blogspot.se/2016/08/forthcoming-new-scal...

FYI with recent commits, it is mostly done.

I actually had some unpushed commits, and expect to try to finish up the selection logic this week or next.

That sounds like a problem with using SQL at all more than a problem with using it for a work queue. And really it's not even a problem with SQL, it's a problem with Python's weirdass DBAPI.

Wouldn't using a basic wrapper like Celery take care of most of that for you though?

That's just the point. People seem to think that because we don't even know how to use the current technology correctly, adding dozens of new alternate technologies would somehow make the situation better. - Then they're surprised that adding all those new cool technologies didn't actually fix the issue(s), probably made those just worse. Because nobody knows how to use the new tools correctly either.

It's Python DBAPI used wrongly. Use the connection in a connection manager (e.g. "with sqlite3.connect(":memory:") as connection:").

That's a nice summary. But, does that really make it an anti-pattern?

I'd argue that a pattern as prone to subtly (or grossly) incorrect implementation as databases-as-work-queues is qualifies, yes.

But all work queue architectures I have worked with have subtle problems which are easy to get wrong. Might we conclude that the use of a work queue is an antipattern?

   Using an RDBMS as a work queue is an anti-pattern...
Good. If there is one thing we need less of, it is dogmatism about 'patterns'. Patterns are guidelines, not targets to be reached.

Everything is anti-pattern when applied in wrong place.

Except following blanket advance. Following blanket advice is always antipattern ;-)

It depends. There is a tradeoff for sure. But there is the advantage that you can tie the job completion to the db transactions of the main job.

Like a lot of things, craftmanship depends on detail far more than it does on outlines.

Might want to look into pgq and/or logical decoding. Both can give more guarantees than LISTEN/NOTIFY.

Now imagine if we understand that the relational model is no for "just data storage" but also can be use for everything.

The closest thing(1) was dbase/foxpro. You can actually build a full app with it. Send email from the database? Yes. Is not that wrong? Is wrong just because RDBMS (2) made it wrong, not because is actually wrong. Why is better to split in separated languages/run times/models a app than one integrated?

(1): Taking in consideration that neither Fox or any "modern" rdbms have take the relational model to it full extension.

(2): A RDBMS is a full-package with a defined role, and limited capabilities. A relational-alike language will not be a exact replica of that. Not even is demanded to implement a full-storage solution.

The biggest mistake the relational guys have commited is to think always in terms of full-databases instead of micro-database. Ironically, kdb+ (or lisp? or rebol?) could be the closest thing to the idea (where data+code are not enemies but friends).

Have a look at Eve


Yeah, it look interesting. I wonder how it could be for a full realistic app.

From my experience with both PostgreSQL and RethinkDB (and other NoSQL stores):

For SQL, complex queries, and data warehousing: yes. It's an excellent database and I'm not sure why you'd pick another SQL DB unless it were a lot better on point two.

For high availability and scaling: no, absolutely not.

The problem with the latter is an arcane deployment process and arcane error messages that provide constant worry that you're doing something wrong. It's a many week engineering project to deploy HA Postgres, while HA RethinkDB takes hours -- followed by some testing for prudence... our testing revealed that it does "just work" at least at our scale. We were overjoyed.

The docs for Postgres HA and clustering are also horrible. There are like five different ways to do it and they're all in an unknown state of completion or readiness.

Of course if/when we do want complex queries and more compact storage, we will probably offload data from the RethinkDB cluster to... drum roll... a PostgreSQL database. Of course that will probably be for analytics done "offline" in the sense that if the DB goes down for a bit we are fine. HA is not needed there.

TL;DR: everything has its limitations.

I do not get what you refer to by arcane error messages that give constant worry. While some error messages need to be googled I think PostgreSQL is pretty good at only printing error messages when something is wrong. So if you are getting strange errors from PostgreSQL it is almost certainly an issue which should be fixed.

Scaling (horizontal + vertical) and HA are the biggest weaknesses of Postgres. It's modern in features and flexibility but still struggles with core infrastructure issues and performance.

I love Postgres, but the one thing I think sucks is it's COUNT() performance.

I've read all sorts of hacks but I would love for someone to solve this for me!

One trick with counts is that you very rarely need a perfectly accurate count for that exact moment in time; doing an explain on an appropriate 'SELECT' and capturing the estimated number of rows returned by that is usually good enough in 98% of the cases.

When you do need an accurate count, phrasing the query so the results can be pulled exclusively from the table index is also usually good enough.

Never thought of using EXPLAIN to get an estimated count... nice trick!

Triggers on writes to update a counter? Basically you spread the cost of COUNT on INSERTs and UPDATEs. It might be a good tradeoff or a horrible one depending on your workloads.

I suspect one physical order index-only scans are supported this should be a lot faster.

I do not think anyone is working on this (I cannot recall seeing any discussion on the mailing list at least the last 2-3 years) and this is only true assuming the primary key is significantly narrower than the table, otherwise a sequential scan is the fastest way to implement count(*).

We had to learn this the hard way. We have many of the data/services the article mentions and while we still use them when ever it gets massive we actually will go back to Postgresql.

For example for our internal analytics/logs/metrics we use ELK and Druid but believe it or not these tools despite their purported scaling abilities are actually damn expensive. These new cloud "elastic" stuff cheat and use lots and lots of memory. For a bootstrapped solvent self-funded startup like us we do care about memory usage.

For customer analytics we use... yes Postgresql.

For counters and stream like things we don't use Redis we use Pipelinedb (Postgresql fork). For Cassandra like stuff we use Citus (Postgresql extension).

Some of our external search uses SOLR (for small fields) but Postgresql text search is used for big fields.

The only part of our platform we don't really leverage on Postgresql is the message queue and this because RabbitMQ so far has done a damn good job (that and the damn JDBC driver isn't asynchronous so LISTEN/NOTIFY isn't really useful).

Here's an async JDBC driver. https://impossibl.github.io/pgjdbc-ng/

Interesting. There was a project a while back that offered async through netty but it was trying to do everything async (ie not follow the JDBC spec).

This project appears to follow the JDBC spec and thus is synchronous with the exception of the Listen/Notify (of which you have to work the driver directly as there is no JDBC analog).

Postgres' awesome extensible type system means it will continue to increase in functionality much more easily than most comparable DBs. https://www.postgresql.org/docs/9.6/static/extend-how.html

It's really amazing how far you can with a relational database. If you have very minimal constraints, keeping everything in a single place can make life so much easier. Configuration hell is real. I hadn't considered using PG for storing binary data, but I've hacked together a few toy projects where I used mongo and just shamelessly shoved everything in there.

I have a some slightly tangential questions, which I'd love to hear people's thoughts on: How do you decide where to draw the line between what's kept and defined in the application and database? For example, how strict would you make your type definitions and constraints? Do you just accept that you'll end up duplicating some of it in both places? Also, how do you track and manage changes when you have to deal with multiple environments?

In a heterogeneous language environment (Java, Ruby and Coffeescript where I am), defining types in the application doesn't give sufficient coverage because not all languages are statically typed. Referential integrity is important, but sometimes has to be sacrificed for performance reasons (ideally foreign keys are only temporarily disabled for bulk actions). Other column-level constraints are nice to have but less critical.

For the kind of work we do at my company - involving bulk upload, bulk inserts, bulk joins - thinking relationally is much more productive than thinking in objects, and really fast key-based lookups are far less important than really fast joins. Only configuration data lives in objects; other data is served up using a lightweight translation of the result set to JSON, with no business entity intermediary; one of the primary reasons being that the user gets to define their own schema, so any object would have a variable number of fields and types anyway.

Writing the same logic in different places is definitely a problem; you want to avoid that. We've taken to putting some logic in JRuby just to be able to use the same source in Rails and Java. For other logic, we have a Java service API endpoint that Rails can call. For maintenance purposes, it's really worthwhile not duplicating very complex logic in multiple places.

Relational databases - or rather, relational algebra, even if computed over something like Spark or Impala - is, to me, worth far more than something more suited for storing objects. Thinking in terms of relations is just more productive for efficient code than navigating object graphs.

Has someone played with threading model within Postgres.

I was reading the documents, looks like for every client request Postgres forks a new Process and uses shared memory model.

Using multi-processor threads/coroutines might be useful for scaling it further.

I'm more familiar with MySQL, but if PostgreSQL does not use threads, I'd eat my hat.

They're just too useful in helping to spread the load of all the IO required to return even one result.

PG pre-dates (working) threads in Unix by a long time. Processes and threads are much the same thing as far as concurrency and parallelism are concerned. PG maintains a pool of pre-forked processes so there is typically no process startup delay. Shared memory regions and SysV cross-process locks facilitate IPC. Back in the day this is how threads were done in user-land:


It does have parallel scans though : http://rhaas.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/parallel-sequential-scan...

Guess I should get some seasoning for my hat.

> Back in the day

This seems somehow problematic: a DB trying to meet modern performance requirements by relying on how it was done over 12 years and 2 major kernel versions ago.

Even MySQL makes judicious use of threads for managing periodic tasks and parallel data parsing.

Per-connection processes does make some sense to me, but it seems wasteful when most connections to a DB are idle most of the time. Having to coordinate locks cross-process also seems wasteful; more syscalls and context switches than should be necessary.

> Per-connection processes does make some sense to me, but it seems wasteful when most connections to a DB are idle most of the time.

Per-process vs per-thread overhead isn't that different in e.g. linux. Some things are more expensive with multiple processes (more page tables/more wasted space/increased process switch cost), others are cheaper (e.g. memory allocation, although that's getting better over the last few years).

> Having to coordinate locks cross-process also seems wasteful; more syscalls and context switches than should be necessary.

I don't think there's a meaningful difference here. We use atomic operations for the non-sleeping lock paths (which'd not be different in threads) and for sleeping locks when we need to sleep, we use semaphores for directed wakeups - but you'd need something similar for threads as well.

Really, the majority of the cost of threading is when you explicitly want to share more state, after processes have initialized. It's e.g. a lot harder to dynamically scale the size of the buffer pool up/down. It's also one of the things that made intra-query parallelism harder.

> This seems somehow problematic: a DB trying to meet modern performance requirements by relying on how it was done over 12 years and 2 major kernel versions ago.

A newly developed product made today would use threads but we're not talking about a new product. Once the effort has been expended to make processes and shared memory work, especially for a product with a fairly constrained scope like a DB server, the argument becomes about whether it would be worthwhile re-writing today to target threads. So far for PG the answer is : no.

I think you are making assumptions on the basis that "threads == progress == better" that are not necessarily valid. For example do you have benchmark evidence that in-process locking would deliver significantly better performance for PG under workloads of interest vs the current XP locking scheme? It might, but I doubt it.

Here's a discussion on the topic that's only 16 years old:


> PG maintains a pool of pre-forked processes so there is typically no process startup delay.

Nope, we don't. You can use an external connection pooler like pgbouncer to achieve that however.

> Shared memory regions and SysV cross-process locks facilitate IPC. Back in the day this is how threads were done in user-land:

Well, that's how IPC is/was done in case of multiple processes. I'd not call that threading however, that'd imo require at least a single process space (i.e. shared virtual memory space).

The big advantage of processes is increased isolation. I.e. problems in one process are much likely to affect others, there's less locking required (e.g. in the memory allocator for local memory allocations, internally for mmaps and such). The big disadvantage is that dynamically scaling the amount of shared memory is quite ugly in multi-process models. It's hard to portably allocate shared memory after the fact and guarantee it's mapped at the same address in all processes, thereby making pointer usage hard/impossible.

That is correct Linux treats Process & threads as identical tasks.

I was thinking about control/data location. We had this three tier achitecturr, which is becoming 2-tier. I am seeing more control co-located with data for more optimal use. It will be useful to have coroutine like supprt, if someone integrates the whole Middleware layer inside postgres.

That would be a bad idea(tm).

I am more familar with MySQL as well, but I heard that Postgres uses forks, wheresas MySQL uses threads. So for heavy load (many users) like with public websites, threads or thread-pools scale better. Can someone tune in and answer how you handle such a workload with Postgres? Maybe some cache or worker-pool in front of the DB?

Postgres uses process-per-connection. Usual model is to put it behind a connection pool like pgbouncer.

How do you get a "hotstandby replica for $5/month"?

Another big plus for postgres: PL/Python, PL/R, etc

Why is the font so small on this site?

still using php+mysql here as I can find so many documents about their various usage easily.

I am more the MongoDB bandwagon. Shemaless makes prototyping so much easier. And no migrations!

Just make sure that you replace it before you try to load it with replication and sharding. Mongo's replication is not atomic, despite their claims otherwise. This includes versions in the last six months.

Mind you, you should be very cautious about loading it in a single instance as well, since it has unpleasant behaviors there, too, but you simply cannot trust it when replication is involved.

create a table with uuid and jsonb, collection_id columns and you've got a fully ACID compliant document store :).

Or just MySQL. Popular choice, unpopular opinion. I trust it more because it gives me a tried and tested path when I need replication (which tends to happen rather early). My understanding is that Postgres replication is not nearly as battle-tested.

"Postgres replication is not nearly as battle-tested." - I maintain about 2,000 Postgresql database clusters at work, in various replication configurations. Over the past several years we have had maybe a handful of issues with replication, and each one related in some way to infrastructure problems. Dozens of those systems are doing over 20k transactions per second, so they are pushing decent data through the WAL stream.

Fleshing out the Feb 30 comment a little more....

The problem is in the philosophy regarding data vs application in the two products. MySQL treats the data as king and allows any application to turn off safety measures. PostgreSQL treats data constraints as king and expects apps to honor them.

This means that the two aren't really competitors any more than either is a competitor to SQLite. MySQL is a fine choice when you want a dumb store for your data and trust the application to do all necessary checks. PostgreSQL is a lot more pedantic and that makes it better when you want multiple front-ends to the same data.

The only real problem with PostgreSQL replication is the plethora of choices surrounding it.

PostgreSQL replication has plenty of major users who stress it quite a bit, and it is over 6 years old by now and a lot of the underlying infrastructure is older than that. The direct predecessor of the current replication (warm standby with transaction log file shipping, usually with rsync) is from 2006. It was a lot of work to set up right but once we got it up running it worked flawlessly for our use case.

So with its over 10 years of history (6 of those in its current form) the built-in replication has gotten quite a bit of testing.

If you need GIS/spatial capabilities then MySQL isn't anywhere near as mature as PostgreSQL with PostGIS.

I'd be curious if anyone passing by can recommend a FOSS replacement/alternative for PostGIS.

Especially if your application wants to turn off strict mode and then store Feb 30, 2016 as a date in the db! Cannot do that in PostgreSQL!

PostgreSQL replication is very well tested and is used by a very large number of very prominent projects.

Can you give me a link? Searching for how to deploy it turns up dozens of guides of varying age that refer to different projects of different levels of maturity.

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