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18.2. Creating a Database Cluster

18.2.1. Use of Secondary File Systems
18.2.2. Use of Network File Systems

Before you can do anything, you must initialize a database storage area on disk. We call this a database cluster. (The SQL standard uses the term catalog cluster.) A database cluster is a collection of databases that is managed by a single instance of a running database server. After initialization, a database cluster will contain a database named postgres, which is meant as a default database for use by utilities, users and third party applications. The database server itself does not require the postgres database to exist, but many external utility programs assume it exists. Another database created within each cluster during initialization is called template1. As the name suggests, this will be used as a template for subsequently created databases; it should not be used for actual work. (See Chapter 22 for information about creating new databases within a cluster.)

In file system terms, a database cluster is a single directory under which all data will be stored. We call this the data directory or data area. It is completely up to you where you choose to store your data. There is no default, although locations such as /usr/local/pgsql/data or /var/lib/pgsql/data are popular. To initialize a database cluster, use the command initdb, which is installed with PostgreSQL. The desired file system location of your database cluster is indicated by the -D option, for example:

$ initdb -D /usr/local/pgsql/data

Note that you must execute this command while logged into the PostgreSQL user account, which is described in the previous section.


As an alternative to the -D option, you can set the environment variable PGDATA.

Alternatively, you can run initdb via the pg_ctl program like so:

$ pg_ctl -D /usr/local/pgsql/data initdb

This may be more intuitive if you are using pg_ctl for starting and stopping the server (see Section 18.3), so that pg_ctl would be the sole command you use for managing the database server instance.

initdb will attempt to create the directory you specify if it does not already exist. Of course, this will fail if initdb does not have permissions to write in the parent directory. It's generally recommendable that the PostgreSQL user own not just the data directory but its parent directory as well, so that this should not be a problem. If the desired parent directory doesn't exist either, you will need to create it first, using root privileges if the grandparent directory isn't writable. So the process might look like this:

root# mkdir /usr/local/pgsql
root# chown postgres /usr/local/pgsql
root# su postgres
postgres$ initdb -D /usr/local/pgsql/data

initdb will refuse to run if the data directory exists and already contains files; this is to prevent accidentally overwriting an existing installation.

Because the data directory contains all the data stored in the database, it is essential that it be secured from unauthorized access. initdb therefore revokes access permissions from everyone but the PostgreSQL user.

However, while the directory contents are secure, the default client authentication setup allows any local user to connect to the database and even become the database superuser. If you do not trust other local users, we recommend you use one of initdb's -W, --pwprompt or --pwfile options to assign a password to the database superuser. Also, specify -A md5 or -A password so that the default trust authentication mode is not used; or modify the generated pg_hba.conf file after running initdb, but before you start the server for the first time. (Other reasonable approaches include using peer authentication or file system permissions to restrict connections. See Chapter 20 for more information.)

initdb also initializes the default locale for the database cluster. Normally, it will just take the locale settings in the environment and apply them to the initialized database. It is possible to specify a different locale for the database; more information about that can be found in Section 23.1. The default sort order used within the particular database cluster is set by initdb, and while you can create new databases using different sort order, the order used in the template databases that initdb creates cannot be changed without dropping and recreating them. There is also a performance impact for using locales other than C or POSIX. Therefore, it is important to make this choice correctly the first time.

initdb also sets the default character set encoding for the database cluster. Normally this should be chosen to match the locale setting. For details see Section 23.3.

Non-C and non-POSIX locales rely on the operating system's collation library for character set ordering. This controls the ordering of keys stored in indexes. For this reason, a cluster cannot switch to an incompatible collation library version, either through snapshot restore, binary streaming replication, a different operating system, or an operating system upgrade.

18.2.1. Use of Secondary File Systems

Many installations create their database clusters on file systems (volumes) other than the machine's root volume. If you choose to do this, it is not advisable to try to use the secondary volume's topmost directory (mount point) as the data directory. Best practice is to create a directory within the mount-point directory that is owned by the PostgreSQL user, and then create the data directory within that. This avoids permissions problems, particularly for operations such as pg_upgrade, and it also ensures clean failures if the secondary volume is taken offline.

18.2.2. Use of Network File Systems

Many installations create their database clusters on network file systems. Sometimes this is done via NFS, or by using a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device that uses NFS internally. PostgreSQL does nothing special for NFS file systems, meaning it assumes NFS behaves exactly like locally-connected drives. If the client or server NFS implementation does not provide standard file system semantics, this can cause reliability problems (see Specifically, delayed (asynchronous) writes to the NFS server can cause data corruption problems. If possible, mount the NFS file system synchronously (without caching) to avoid this hazard. Also, soft-mounting the NFS file system is not recommended.

Storage Area Networks (SAN) typically use communication protocols other than NFS, and may or may not be subject to hazards of this sort. It's advisable to consult the vendor's documentation concerning data consistency guarantees. PostgreSQL cannot be more reliable than the file system it's using.