PostgreSQL Tutorial: Create custom metrics in Prometheus

April 22, 2024

Summary: In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create custom PostgreSQL metrics in Prometheus.

Table of Contents

The queries that are run by postgres_exporter by default may not be sufficient for a user to visualize a lot of important metrics. For this purpose, we could always create custom queries and ask postgres_exporter to expose the output of the custom queries. The postgres exporter has been recently moved to the Prometheus Community repository, and it has been tested from PostgreSQL versions 9.4 to 14.

This tool will help you to add visibility to your PostgreSQL cluster, through which you can check how it behaves, and expose the metrics through the 9187 (default) port.


The postgres exporter has some defaults metrics and they are very helpful, but also gives you the flexibility of adding your own metrics using a yaml file. This yaml file must contain the queries to get the data you want to monitor and needs to have a specific structure:

  master: true  (optional)
  cache_seconds: 30 (optional)
  query: "SELECT metric_1, metric_2 FROM table"
    - metric_1:
        usage: "LABEL"
        description: "Metric 1 description"
    - metric_2:
        usage: "GAUGE"
        description: "Metric 2 description"

The structure is very simple and there are some consideration you need to know about each part of it:

  • metric_name: Simple as the name you want for your metric.
  • master: This value is often confused with the Leader host in a replication environment but what it really means is that the query will only be executed in the database configured in the DATA_SOURCE_NAME parameter.
  • cache_seconds: The amount of time to keep the last value scraped before running the query again. Consider adding this parameter if the metrics data does not change very often.
  • query: Here goes your query definition and it doesn’t matter the complexity, it could be a simple or a very complex one just make sure the execution is fast. Each field returned by your query will represent a metric in the definition.
  • metrics: This is an array of each field returned by your query. Define it in the order as the query results and for each metric(field), you need to specify:
    • usage: LABEL, GAUGE, COUNTER OR HISTROGRAM. This will depend on the data retrieved and how you plan to show it in a graph.
    • description: A short description of the data retrieved.

How the metrics are built and exposed

Postgres exporter will expose the metrics making a concatenation of the metric name and the metric field, such as metric_name_metric_1 and metric_name_metric_2.

Metrics with LABEL type are not exposed by the API because they will be part of the numeric metrics and they will be very useful to apply filters. This implies that there must be at least a numeric value (GAUGE, COUNTER OR HISTROGRAM) in every metric.

Metric definition

A basic metric definition, could look like this:

  query: "SELECT pg_database.datname, pg_database_size(pg_database.datname) as bytes FROM pg_database"
  master: true
  cache_seconds: 30
    - datname:
        usage: "LABEL"
        description: "Name of the database"
    - bytes:
        usage: "GAUGE"
        description: "Disk space used by the database"

The example above will be shown as:


Checking the metric from the postgres-exporter REST-API:

$ curl http://localhost:9187/metrics -s | grep pg_database_size_bytes
# HELP pg_database_size_bytes Disk space used by the database in bytes
# TYPE pg_database_size_bytes gauge
pg_database_size_bytes{datname="postgres",server="postgres:5432"} 8.758051e+06
pg_database_size_bytes{datname="template0",server="postgres:5432"} 8.602115e+06
pg_database_size_bytes{datname="template1",server="postgres:5432"} 8.602115e+06

As you can see, the metric also shows the information added to the definition, the TYPE and the description as HELP, and all fields with LABEL type are added to the metric between the curly brackets among others gathered from the environment.

Now check it from Prometheus:

Prometheus metric

And a simple representation using Grafana:

Grafana graph

This is only a very simple example of what you can do. Now check some takeaways about the postgres-exporter configuration.


Depending on your environment you could have one postgres-exporter per PostgreSQL instance or one per many instances, you can define this in the DATA_SOURCE_NAME environment variable with a comma separation between connection strings.

To gather metrics for a single instance, you can set the DATA_SOURCE_NAME environment variable like this:


If you want one postgres-exporter for multiple PostgreSQL instances, you can set the environment variable like this:


It is possible to configure a postgres-exporter to gather metrics from more than one PostgreSQL instance, but right now is not the recommended config due to an existing bug not solved yet that opens too many connections to gather metrics. Check the issue here.

It is recommended each PostgreSQL instance to have its own postgres-exporter, so you can monitor all the nodes in your dashboard.

It is quite common that it is needed to collect metrics related to business related information, such as number of users created in the last N hours, core business related processes sustained, etc.

All this can be added on each postgres-exporter service configuration. Sometimes, reporting or continuous aggregation queries are done in replica servers, and that’s where you may find suitable to place business related metrics, to move load out of the primary node.

Auto discover databases

To configure this option you need to set the next environment variable:


Also you can combined it with PG_EXPORTER_EXCLUDE_DATABASES and PG_EXPORTER_INCLUDE_DATABASES environment variables.

This option allows you to gather metrics from all existing databases or just a selection of them in the PostgreSQL instance. The databases are gathered from the pg_database catalog table from the database configured in DATA_SOURCE_NAME then a connection is open per database found. In environments with many databases per instance could be a problem due to the amount of connections used by the exporter. Check the reported issue here.

Query file

Use the environment variable PG_EXPORTER_EXTEND_QUERY_PATH to add your custom queries.yaml file, the value must contain the path to your file. For example:


Constant Labels

PG_EXPORTER_CONSTANT_LABELS will append the labels you set in all metrics. It is recommended to add at least one label that helps you to identify where your metrics come from like the cluster_name. It will be easier to filter them when you have multiple clusters.


The recommendations made in this post are based on the experience using the exporter and configuration made in on-prem environments and cloud environments. Not all the configuration parameters were mentioned but the important ones with some considerations. Postgres exporter is open source and a very useful tool to monitor your PostgreSQL clusters, don’t go blind and add visibility to your cluster.

See more

PostgreSQL Monitoring