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Setting up Streaming Replication

Now that it has been decided which replication type to use and that you have learned how it works, it's time to investigate how streaming replication is configured.

As general advice for data service automation, it is wise to understand the operational first, before diving into writing automation code.

Therefore, before diving into the depths of Kubernetes automation it makes to understand how a manual configuration of PostgreSQL streaming replication works. In other words, we need to understand what a database administrator would do before we can automate his work.

Setting up Streaming Replication

The PostgreSQL documentation [1] explains how streaming replication can be configured.

The configuration procedure is similar to setting up a file-based log shipping. Remember that write-ahead log shipping transfers entire WAL files (containing many WAL records) while streaming replication continuously ships WAL records.

The configuration step on a secondary that switches from log shipping to streaming replication is setting the primary_conninfo setting to point to the primary server.

This will tell PostgreSQL on the secondary to connect to the primary to retrieve WAL records. In order for this to work, the primary PostgreSQL must be configured to authenticate incoming replication requests from secondaries.

To make the primary ready, the listen_addresses must be set so that PostgreSQL will bind to the right network interface and not only to localhost. This ensures that secondaries can establish socket connections to the primary PostgreSQL.

This can be achieved by modifying the postgresql.conf similar to this:

# Possible values are replica|minimal|logical
wal_level = replica

# required for pg_rewind capability when standby goes out of sync with master

wal_log_hints = on
# sets the maximum number of concurrent connections from the standby servers.

max_wal_senders = 3

wal_keep_size = 152

# The below parameter enables read only connection on the node when it is in standby role. This is ignored when the server is running as master.
hot_standby = on

Furthermore, the primary must successfully authenticate these incoming network connections. As streaming replication requests are implemented as PostgreSQL connections, it is necessary to create a replication user with appropriate access privileges.

Once the primary_conninfo is set, secondaries when starting will first replay all WAL files available in their archive and then connect to the primary. After a successful start of a secondary the process list will show a walreceiver process:

postgres    20    15  0 Jun22 ?        00:02:21 postgres: walreceiver   streamin

There are more details to a production grade configuration such as:

  • Ensuring WAL segments are kept on the primary long enough so that secondaries can retrieve them.
  • Ensuring that max_wal_senders is set appropriately.
  • SSL encryption
  • ...

Just to name few. For now, these settings are left aside, and the focus is to establish a minimal streaming replication setup.

Authenticating Secondaries on the Primary

In order to allow secondaries to connect to the primary, a replication user (role) has to be created on the primary, e.g. with the username replicator.

This replicator user will be granted the REPLICATION and LOGINprivilege. In contrast to the SUPERUSER privilege, the REPLICATION privilege doesn't allow altering any data. For the purpose of replication this isn't necessary.

Creating the replication user on the primary server can be achieved by using psql:


In PostgreSQL authentication is controlled by the configuration file pg_hba.conf so that a record for the replicator user is necessary.

The necessary pg_hba.conf entries have the following format:

host    replication  replicator  host1  md5
host replication replicator host2 md5
host replication replicator host3 md5

Note, that actually we only need two hosts for two secondaries. However, we may want to enable leader election at some point. So it makes sense to have a single pg_hba.conf that will work if applied to any of the servers when elected to become the new primary.

Configure Access of Secondaries to the Primary

Now that the primary is configured to accept incoming replication requests from secondaries, secondaries have to be configured to do exactly this.

As mentioned before, the primary_conninfo has to be configured in the postgresql.conf config file. It is not necessary to make this adjustment manually.

A secondary node may join a PostgreSQL replication cluster at a later time. In this case the primary as well as older secondaries already have data but the new secondary hasn't. In order to bring such a new secondary up to speed, PostgreSQL offers the pg_basebackup command [2]. Executing pg_basebackup will achieve two important goals.

It will:

  1. Create a in the $PGDATA directory with a proper primar_conninfo setting.
  2. Retrieve a binary copy of all data files of the entire primary server. While doing so it will activate the backup mode when necessary.

Hence, after running pg_basebackup the new secondary will be properly configured to connect to the primary in both regards: knowing which primary to connect to and having the dataset ready to begin streaming replication of subsequent changes.

Backup data directory of the primary using pg_basebackup:

-h primary.hostname -U replicator -p 5432 -D $PGDATA -Fp -Xs -R

Where primary.hostname has to be replaced with the actual hostname.

Note that initializing an empty set of three cluster nodes: one primary and two secondaries requires to initialize the primary by executing initdb while on the secondaries pg_basebackup is to be executed.


In order to set up streaming replication both the primary and the secondary servers have to be configured.

  • postgresql.conf has to be changed to enable write-ahead logging (WAL).
  • A replication user with REPLICATION and LOGIN privileges has to be created.
  • Changes of pg_hba.conf grant secondaries access to the primary using the replication user.
  • Execute initdb on the primary and pg_basebackup on secondaries.
  1. PostgreSQL 12 Documentation - Streaming Replication,
  2. PostgreSQL 12 Documentation - pg_basebackup,