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Postgres 9.6 feature highlight - Lock reductions

ALTER TABLE has been known for many years in the Postgres ecosystem as being a command taking systematically an ACCESS EXCLUSIVE lock on the relation being modified, preventing all operations on the relation in parallel. Those locks are getting more and more relaxed, with for example in Postgres 9.4 the following commands that got improvements:
  • VALIDATE CONSTRAINT
  • CLUSTER ON
  • SET WITHOUT CLUSTER
  • ALTER COLUMN SET STATISTICS
  • ALTER COLUMN SET and ALTER COLUMN RESET for attribute options
In 9.5 as well those commands have been improved:
  • ENABLE TRIGGER and DISABLE TRIGGER
  • ADD CONSTRAINT FOREIGN KEY
Now, Postgres 9.6, which is currently in development, brings in more lock reduction, with the following commit:
commit: 47167b7907a802ed39b179c8780b76359468f076
author: Simon Riggs <simon@2ndQuadrant.com>
date: Fri, 14 Aug 2015 14:19:28 +0100
Reduce lock levels for ALTER TABLE SET autovacuum storage options

Reduce lock levels down to ShareUpdateExclusiveLock for all
autovacuum-related relation options when setting them using ALTER TABLE.

Add infrastructure to allow varying lock levels for relation options in
later patches. Setting multiple options together uses the highest lock
level required for any option. Works for both main and toast tables.

Fabrízio Mello, reviewed by Michael Paquier, mild edit and additional
regression tests from myself
Code speaking, ALTER TABLE SET has been improved to be able to define different types of locks depending on the parameter touched, and in the case of this commit all the parameters tuning autovacuum and auto-analyze at relation level have been updated to use SHARE UPDATE EXCLUSIVE LOCK. In short, this allows read as well as write operations to occur in parallel of the ALTER TABLE, something that will definitely help leveraging activity bloat on such relations.
Note as well that when multiple subcommands are used, the stronger lock of the whole set is taken for the duration of the ALTER TABLE command. So for example, should an update on the parameter fillfactor be mixed with a modification of autovacuum_enabled, an ACCESS EXCLUSIVE lock will be taken on the relation instead of a SHARE UPDATE EXCLUSIVE lock. ALTER TABLE uses the following set of locks, and those having a monotonic relationship it is possible to establish a hierarchy of them, the strongest one being the first listed here:
  • ACCESS EXCLUSIVE LOCK
  • SHARE ROW EXCLUSIVE LOCK
  • SHARE UPDATE EXCLUSIVE LOCK
Hence be sure to read the online documentation when planning to combine multiple subcommands with ALTER TABLE, all the details are there.

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