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Humza Tareen
Humza Tareen

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PostgreSQL Background Processes: A Simple Guide

PostgreSQL, a highly advanced open-source relational database system, is built to be robust and dynamic. Part of what makes it so reliable is the set of background processes that ensure smooth operation, data integrity, and performance optimization. In this guide, we'll delve into these background processes, what they do, and why they are crucial for maintaining database performance.

1. Postmaster Process

  • What it does: It's the primary process that starts up and manages all other PostgreSQL processes.
  • Importance: It initializes shared memory, monitors server status, and ensures the database's overall health. If any of the child processes (like the backend process) dies unexpectedly, postmaster intervenes and restores stability.

2. Backend Processes

  • What it does: These are spawned for every new client connection. Each backend process is isolated from others, ensuring that processes don't interfere with each other.
  • Importance: This isolation enhances the database's reliability. If a client causes a backend process to crash, it won’t affect others.

3. Autovacuum Process

  • What it does: It reclaims storage occupied by "dead tuples" (rows which have been deleted or made obsolete by updates) and updates statistics used by PostgreSQL's query planner.
  • Importance: Ensures that the database doesn't become bloated with obsolete data. It also helps in keeping the query planner's statistics up-to-date, leading to optimized query execution.

4. Background Writer

  • What it does: Periodically flushes "dirty" data pages (pages that have been modified in-memory but not yet written to disk) to the database on the disk.
  • Importance: Reduces the work needed to be done during checkpoints, leading to smoother database operations and reducing the I/O load during checkpoint operations.

5. WAL Writer

  • What it does: Writes the Write-Ahead Log (WAL) to disk. PostgreSQL uses WAL to record changes made to its data for durability.
  • Importance: Helps in achieving data durability without having to write every database change to the main data files immediately. This allows for improved performance.

6. Archiver Process

  • What it does: Transfers WAL files to a long-term storage location once they are filled up.
  • Importance: Ensures that the WAL is stored safely, which is crucial for Point-In-Time Recovery and certain replication setups.

7. Stats Collector

  • What it does: Gathers statistics about the PostgreSQL server activity.
  • Importance: Provides insights for the query planner to optimize queries and for administrators to monitor the database.

8. Logger Process

  • What it does: Handles the server's log messages.
  • Importance: Logging is crucial for diagnostics, troubleshooting, and monitoring. Proper handling of logs ensures that administrators have the necessary information when needed.

9. Checkpointer

  • What it does: At specific intervals, this process ensures that all dirty pages and transaction logs are flushed to disk.
  • Importance: Helps maintain the durability of the database and ensures data consistency.

10. WAL Receiver & WAL Sender

  • What they do: These processes are responsible for replication. WAL Receiver receives WAL records from a primary server, and WAL Sender sends them from a primary to standby servers.
  • Importance: Ensures data consistency and availability in replication setups.


The myriad background processes of PostgreSQL, from the postmaster to the WAL sender, play pivotal roles in ensuring the database's reliability, performance, and durability. Understanding them provides insights into the internal workings of PostgreSQL, which can be beneficial for administrators and developers alike.

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