DEV Community

Aadil Bashir
Aadil Bashir

Posted on

Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL - A Comprehensive Guide

Welcome to the eighth article of my blog series, in this blog I will be discussing Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL.


PostgreSQL, an open-source object-relational database system, offers a robust platform for storing and scaling complex data workloads while utilizing and expanding upon the SQL language. At the core of PostgreSQL lies the Buffer Manager, a vital component that efficiently handles the movement of data between shared memory and persistent storage. The Buffer Manager plays a pivotal role in optimizing the performance of the database management system, making it indispensable for system developers and database administrators aiming to enhance performance and effectively manage data.


The PostgreSQL Buffer Manager consists of essential components such as the buffer table, buffer descriptors, and a buffer pool. The buffer pool is responsible for storing data file pages, including tables, indexes, freespace maps, and visibility maps. Each slot within the buffer pool can hold a single page of a data file, and the buffer_ids serve as indices for the buffer pool array.

To efficiently manage and access data, PostgreSQL assigns a unique tag called a buffer tag to each page of all data files. The buffer tag comprises three values: the RelFileNode, which identifies the file the page belongs to, the fork number indicating the relation type (e.g., main relation, FSM, visibility map), and the block number denoting the specific page within the file. This tag-based system allows PostgreSQL to effectively track and locate data pages.

The Buffer Manager also employs various locks, such as the BufMappingLock and content_lock, to control access to data and maintain data integrity. These locks ensure that concurrent transactions interact with the buffer pool and data pages in a controlled manner, preventing conflicts and inconsistencies.

Understanding the components and operations of the Buffer Manager, including the buffer table, buffer descriptors, buffer pool, buffer tags, and locks, is crucial for comprehending how PostgreSQL efficiently manages and accesses data within its storage subsystem.


The Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL is a highly efficient and well-designed component. When a backend process requires a page, it communicates with the Buffer Manager by providing the page's buffer_tag. In response, the Buffer Manager returns the buffer_ID of the slot where the requested page is stored. If the requested page is not currently present in the buffer pool, the Buffer Manager loads it from persistent storage into one of the buffer pool slots and then returns the corresponding buffer_ID.

When a backend process modifies a page within the buffer pool, the modified page is referred to as a dirty page. These dirty pages need to be eventually written back to persistent storage to ensure data consistency. PostgreSQL employs two background processes, namely the checkpointer and the background writer, to handle this task. The checkpointer process initiates the writing of dirty pages to storage based on a predefined checkpoint interval, while the background writer continuously flushes dirty pages to storage in the background. These background processes ensure that modified data is persisted and kept up-to-date, even in the event of a system crash.

Buffer Manager Structure

To fully grasp the efficiency of the Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL, it's important to explore its underlying structure, which comprises three key components: the buffer table, buffer descriptors, and the buffer pool.

• Buffer Table: The buffer table serves as a hash table that facilitates the mapping of a buffer tag to a corresponding buffer descriptor. This enables rapid retrieval of pages from the buffer pool without the need to scan the entire pool. To mitigate contention when multiple backend processes access the table simultaneously, the buffer table is divided into partitions.

• Buffer Descriptors: Buffer descriptors hold metadata about the pages stored in the buffer pool. Each descriptor includes information such as the buffer tag, flags indicating usage count and dirty status, and locks for concurrency control. These descriptors are stored in a shared array, where the index of the array serves as the buffer ID.

• Buffer Pool: The buffer pool itself is a shared memory area that acts as a repository for actual data pages. Each slot within the buffer pool can store a single page from a data file. When a backend process requires access to a specific page, it references the page within the buffer pool using the corresponding buffer ID.

Understanding the interplay between these components is crucial to comprehending how the Buffer Manager optimizes data access and storage in PostgreSQL. The buffer table enables efficient lookup of pages, the buffer descriptors provide essential metadata and control mechanisms, and the buffer pool efficiently stores and retrieves data pages to minimize I/O operations.

Buffer Manager Locks

Locks play a vital role in maintaining data integrity and controlling access within the Buffer Manager of PostgreSQL. Here are some key locks used for specific purposes:

• BufMappingLock: This lock safeguards the integrity of the buffer table. It ensures that modifications to the buffer table, such as creating or updating entries, are not performed concurrently by multiple processes. By acquiring this lock, PostgreSQL prevents inconsistencies and maintains the integrity of the buffer table.

• Content Lock and IO In Progress Lock: Each buffer descriptor in the buffer pool is associated with two lightweight locks. The content_lock controls access to the stored page within the corresponding buffer pool slot. It ensures that only one backend process can read or modify the page at a time, preventing concurrent conflicting operations.

The io_in_progress_lock is another lock used at the buffer descriptor level. Its purpose is to prevent multiple backend processes from simultaneously performing I/O operations on the same page. By acquiring this lock, PostgreSQL ensures that only one process is actively performing I/O on a particular page, preventing potential data corruption or inconsistencies.

How Buffer Manager Works

Now, let's delve into the operations of the Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL, which revolve around managing data transfers between the buffer pool in shared memory and the data files on disk. Here's an overview of how it functions:

• Accessing a Page in the Buffer Pool: When a backend process requires access to a page that is already stored in the buffer pool, it communicates with the Buffer Manager by providing the page's buffer_tag. The Buffer Manager then returns the buffer_ID of the slot that holds the requested page. This allows the backend process to read or modify the page directly from the buffer pool without the need for disk access.

• Loading a Page from Storage to an Empty Slot: If the requested page is not present in the buffer pool and an empty slot is available, the Buffer Manager proceeds to load the page from the corresponding data file on disk into the empty slot. It updates both the buffer table and the buffer descriptor to reflect the presence of the new page. Finally, the Buffer Manager returns the buffer_ID of the slot to the requesting backend process, enabling it to access the page from the buffer pool.

• Loading a Page from Storage to a Victim Buffer Pool Slot: In the event that the requested page is not present in the buffer pool and no empty slots are available, the Buffer Manager needs to select a victim page for eviction in order to make room for the requested page. This process is managed by a page replacement algorithm, which determines which page should be replaced. We'll delve into page replacement algorithms in the next section.

Understanding these operations provides insight into how the Buffer Manager efficiently handles data transfers and manages the buffer pool, ensuring that frequently accessed data remains in memory for faster access while efficiently managing space constraints.

Page Replacement Algorithm

In situations where all the slots in the buffer pool are occupied and a requested page is not stored, the Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL utilizes a page replacement algorithm to select a page from the buffer pool to be replaced. This selected page is known as the victim page. PostgreSQL employs a clock sweep algorithm for this purpose, which is a variation of the Least Recently Used (LRU) algorithm.

The clock sweep algorithm operates by maintaining a circular list of pages within the buffer pool and utilizing a clock hand that points to one of the pages. When a victim page needs to be chosen, the Buffer Manager advances the clock hand and examines the usage count associated with the page it points to. If the usage count is zero, indicating that the page has not been recently used, it is selected as the victim page. On the other hand, if the usage count is non-zero, the count is decremented, and the clock hand moves to the next page. This process continues until a victim page with a usage count of zero is found.

The clock sweep algorithm offers simplicity and efficiency compared to the LRU algorithm used in earlier versions of PostgreSQL. By avoiding the need to maintain a fully ordered list of pages based on their recent usage, the clock sweep algorithm reduces the management overhead. This efficiency contributes significantly to the overall performance of the Buffer Manager in PostgreSQL.

Overall, the clock sweep algorithm plays a vital role in page replacement within the buffer pool, ensuring efficient memory utilization and optimal performance in PostgreSQL's Buffer Manager.


The PostgreSQL Buffer Manager is a sophisticated and efficient system that holds a vital role in the overall performance of the database management system. By comprehending its structure, operations, and the page replacement algorithm, one can gain valuable insights into optimizing database performance and effectively managing data. Having a good understanding of the Buffer Manager empowers users to make informed decisions when working with PostgreSQL, leading to enhanced performance and efficient data management. So, keep the Buffer Manager in mind as you navigate the world of PostgreSQL to leverage its capabilities and unlock the full potential of your database.


If you want to further read about Buffer Manager, please click the link below.
Chapter-8 The Internals of PostgreSQL

Top comments (0)