18.4. Resource Consumption

18.4.1. Memory

shared_buffers (integer)

Sets the amount of memory the database server uses for shared memory buffers. The default is typically 128 megabytes (128MB), but might be less if your kernel settings will not support it (as determined during initdb). This setting must be at least 128 kilobytes. (Non-default values of BLCKSZ change the minimum.) However, settings significantly higher than the minimum are usually needed for good performance. This parameter can only be set at server start.

If you have a dedicated database server with 1GB or more of RAM, a reasonable starting value for shared_buffers is 25% of the memory in your system. There are some workloads where even large settings for shared_buffers are effective, but because PostgreSQL also relies on the operating system cache, it is unlikely that an allocation of more than 40% of RAM to shared_buffers will work better than a smaller amount. Larger settings for shared_buffers usually require a corresponding increase in max_wal_size, in order to spread out the process of writing large quantities of new or changed data over a longer period of time.

On systems with less than 1GB of RAM, a smaller percentage of RAM is appropriate, so as to leave adequate space for the operating system. Also, on Windows, large values for shared_buffers aren't as effective. You may find better results keeping the setting relatively low and using the operating system cache more instead. The useful range for shared_buffers on Windows systems is generally from 64MB to 512MB.

huge_pages (enum)

Enables/disables the use of huge memory pages. Valid values are try (the default), on, and off.

At present, this feature is supported only on Linux. The setting is ignored on other systems when set to try.

The use of huge pages results in smaller page tables and less CPU time spent on memory management, increasing performance. For more details, see Section 17.4.5.

With huge_pages set to try, the server will try to use huge pages, but fall back to using normal allocation if that fails. With on, failure to use huge pages will prevent the server from starting up. With off, huge pages will not be used.

temp_buffers (integer)

Sets the maximum number of temporary buffers used by each database session. These are session-local buffers used only for access to temporary tables. The default is eight megabytes (8MB). The setting can be changed within individual sessions, but only before the first use of temporary tables within the session; subsequent attempts to change the value will have no effect on that session.

A session will allocate temporary buffers as needed up to the limit given by temp_buffers. The cost of setting a large value in sessions that do not actually need many temporary buffers is only a buffer descriptor, or about 64 bytes, per increment in temp_buffers. However if a buffer is actually used an additional 8192 bytes will be consumed for it (or in general, BLCKSZ bytes).

max_prepared_transactions (integer)

Sets the maximum number of transactions that can be in the prepared state simultaneously (see PREPARE TRANSACTION). Setting this parameter to zero (which is the default) disables the prepared-transaction feature. This parameter can only be set at server start.

If you are not planning to use prepared transactions, this parameter should be set to zero to prevent accidental creation of prepared transactions. If you are using prepared transactions, you will probably want max_prepared_transactions to be at least as large as max_connections, so that every session can have a prepared transaction pending.

When running a standby server, you must set this parameter to the same or higher value than on the master server. Otherwise, queries will not be allowed in the standby server.

work_mem (integer)

Specifies the amount of memory to be used by internal sort operations and hash tables before writing to temporary disk files. The value defaults to four megabytes (4MB). Note that for a complex query, several sort or hash operations might be running in parallel; each operation will be allowed to use as much memory as this value specifies before it starts to write data into temporary files. Also, several running sessions could be doing such operations concurrently. Therefore, the total memory used could be many times the value of work_mem; it is necessary to keep this fact in mind when choosing the value. Sort operations are used for ORDER BY, DISTINCT, and merge joins. Hash tables are used in hash joins, hash-based aggregation, and hash-based processing of IN subqueries.

maintenance_work_mem (integer)

Specifies the maximum amount of memory to be used by maintenance operations, such as VACUUM, CREATE INDEX, and ALTER TABLE ADD FOREIGN KEY. It defaults to 64 megabytes (64MB). Since only one of these operations can be executed at a time by a database session, and an installation normally doesn't have many of them running concurrently, it's safe to set this value significantly larger than work_mem. Larger settings might improve performance for vacuuming and for restoring database dumps.

Note that when autovacuum runs, up to autovacuum_max_workers times this memory may be allocated, so be careful not to set the default value too high. It may be useful to control for this by separately setting autovacuum_work_mem.

autovacuum_work_mem (integer)

Specifies the maximum amount of memory to be used by each autovacuum worker process. It defaults to -1, indicating that the value of maintenance_work_mem should be used instead. The setting has no effect on the behavior of VACUUM when run in other contexts.

max_stack_depth (integer)

Specifies the maximum safe depth of the server's execution stack. The ideal setting for this parameter is the actual stack size limit enforced by the kernel (as set by ulimit -s or local equivalent), less a safety margin of a megabyte or so. The safety margin is needed because the stack depth is not checked in every routine in the server, but only in key potentially-recursive routines such as expression evaluation. The default setting is two megabytes (2MB), which is conservatively small and unlikely to risk crashes. However, it might be too small to allow execution of complex functions. Only superusers can change this setting.

Setting max_stack_depth higher than the actual kernel limit will mean that a runaway recursive function can crash an individual backend process. On platforms where PostgreSQL can determine the kernel limit, the server will not allow this variable to be set to an unsafe value. However, not all platforms provide the information, so caution is recommended in selecting a value.

dynamic_shared_memory_type (enum)

Specifies the dynamic shared memory implementation that the server should use. Possible values are posix (for POSIX shared memory allocated using shm_open), sysv (for System V shared memory allocated via shmget), windows (for Windows shared memory), mmap (to simulate shared memory using memory-mapped files stored in the data directory), and none (to disable this feature). Not all values are supported on all platforms; the first supported option is the default for that platform. The use of the mmap option, which is not the default on any platform, is generally discouraged because the operating system may write modified pages back to disk repeatedly, increasing system I/O load; however, it may be useful for debugging, when the pg_dynshmem directory is stored on a RAM disk, or when other shared memory facilities are not available.

18.4.2. Disk

temp_file_limit (integer)

Specifies the maximum amount of disk space that a session can use for temporary files, such as sort and hash temporary files, or the storage file for a held cursor. A transaction attempting to exceed this limit will be canceled. The value is specified in kilobytes, and -1 (the default) means no limit. Only superusers can change this setting.

This setting constrains the total space used at any instant by all temporary files used by a given PostgreSQL session. It should be noted that disk space used for explicit temporary tables, as opposed to temporary files used behind-the-scenes in query execution, does not count against this limit.

18.4.3. Kernel Resource Usage

max_files_per_process (integer)

Sets the maximum number of simultaneously open files allowed to each server subprocess. The default is one thousand files. If the kernel is enforcing a safe per-process limit, you don't need to worry about this setting. But on some platforms (notably, most BSD systems), the kernel will allow individual processes to open many more files than the system can actually support if many processes all try to open that many files. If you find yourself seeing Too many open files failures, try reducing this setting. This parameter can only be set at server start.

18.4.4. Cost-based Vacuum Delay

During the execution of VACUUM and ANALYZE commands, the system maintains an internal counter that keeps track of the estimated cost of the various I/O operations that are performed. When the accumulated cost reaches a limit (specified by vacuum_cost_limit), the process performing the operation will sleep for a short period of time, as specified by vacuum_cost_delay. Then it will reset the counter and continue execution.

The intent of this feature is to allow administrators to reduce the I/O impact of these commands on concurrent database activity. There are many situations where it is not important that maintenance commands like VACUUM and ANALYZE finish quickly; however, it is usually very important that these commands do not significantly interfere with the ability of the system to perform other database operations. Cost-based vacuum delay provides a way for administrators to achieve this.

This feature is disabled by default for manually issued VACUUM commands. To enable it, set the vacuum_cost_delay variable to a nonzero value.

vacuum_cost_delay (integer)

The length of time, in milliseconds, that the process will sleep when the cost limit has been exceeded. The default value is zero, which disables the cost-based vacuum delay feature. Positive values enable cost-based vacuuming. Note that on many systems, the effective resolution of sleep delays is 10 milliseconds; setting vacuum_cost_delay to a value that is not a multiple of 10 might have the same results as setting it to the next higher multiple of 10.

When using cost-based vacuuming, appropriate values for vacuum_cost_delay are usually quite small, perhaps 10 or 20 milliseconds. Adjusting vacuum's resource consumption is best done by changing the other vacuum cost parameters.

vacuum_cost_page_hit (integer)

The estimated cost for vacuuming a buffer found in the shared buffer cache. It represents the cost to lock the buffer pool, lookup the shared hash table and scan the content of the page. The default value is one.

vacuum_cost_page_miss (integer)

The estimated cost for vacuuming a buffer that has to be read from disk. This represents the effort to lock the buffer pool, lookup the shared hash table, read the desired block in from the disk and scan its content. The default value is 10.

vacuum_cost_page_dirty (integer)

The estimated cost charged when vacuum modifies a block that was previously clean. It represents the extra I/O required to flush the dirty block out to disk again. The default value is 20.

vacuum_cost_limit (integer)

The accumulated cost that will cause the vacuuming process to sleep. The default value is 200.


There are certain operations that hold critical locks and should therefore complete as quickly as possible. Cost-based vacuum delays do not occur during such operations. Therefore it is possible that the cost accumulates far higher than the specified limit. To avoid uselessly long delays in such cases, the actual delay is calculated as vacuum_cost_delay * accumulated_balance / vacuum_cost_limit with a maximum of vacuum_cost_delay * 4.

18.4.5. Background Writer

There is a separate server process called the background writer, whose function is to issue writes of dirty (new or modified) shared buffers. When the number of clean shared buffers appears to be insufficient, the background writer writes some dirty buffers to the file system and marks them as clean. This reduces the likelihood that server processes handling user queries will be unable to find clean buffers and have to write dirty buffers themselves. However, the background writer does cause a net overall increase in I/O load, because while a repeatedly-dirtied page might otherwise be written only once per checkpoint interval, the background writer might write it several times as it is dirtied in the same interval. The parameters discussed in this subsection can be used to tune the behavior for local needs.

bgwriter_delay (integer)

Specifies the delay between activity rounds for the background writer. In each round the writer issues writes for some number of dirty buffers (controllable by the following parameters). It then sleeps for bgwriter_delay milliseconds, and repeats. When there are no dirty buffers in the buffer pool, though, it goes into a longer sleep regardless of bgwriter_delay. The default value is 200 milliseconds (200ms). Note that on many systems, the effective resolution of sleep delays is 10 milliseconds; setting bgwriter_delay to a value that is not a multiple of 10 might have the same results as setting it to the next higher multiple of 10. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

bgwriter_lru_maxpages (integer)

In each round, no more than this many buffers will be written by the background writer. Setting this to zero disables background writing. (Note that checkpoints, which are managed by a separate, dedicated auxiliary process, are unaffected.) The default value is 100 buffers. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

bgwriter_lru_multiplier (floating point)

The number of dirty buffers written in each round is based on the number of new buffers that have been needed by server processes during recent rounds. The average recent need is multiplied by bgwriter_lru_multiplier to arrive at an estimate of the number of buffers that will be needed during the next round. Dirty buffers are written until there are that many clean, reusable buffers available. (However, no more than bgwriter_lru_maxpages buffers will be written per round.) Thus, a setting of 1.0 represents a just in time policy of writing exactly the number of buffers predicted to be needed. Larger values provide some cushion against spikes in demand, while smaller values intentionally leave writes to be done by server processes. The default is 2.0. This parameter can only be set in the postgresql.conf file or on the server command line.

Smaller values of bgwriter_lru_maxpages and bgwriter_lru_multiplier reduce the extra I/O load caused by the background writer, but make it more likely that server processes will have to issue writes for themselves, delaying interactive queries.

18.4.6. Asynchronous Behavior

effective_io_concurrency (integer)

Sets the number of concurrent disk I/O operations that PostgreSQL expects can be executed simultaneously. Raising this value will increase the number of I/O operations that any individual PostgreSQL session attempts to initiate in parallel. The allowed range is 1 to 1000, or zero to disable issuance of asynchronous I/O requests. Currently, this setting only affects bitmap heap scans.

A good starting point for this setting is the number of separate drives comprising a RAID 0 stripe or RAID 1 mirror being used for the database. (For RAID 5 the parity drive should not be counted.) However, if the database is often busy with multiple queries issued in concurrent sessions, lower values may be sufficient to keep the disk array busy. A value higher than needed to keep the disks busy will only result in extra CPU overhead.

For more exotic systems, such as memory-based storage or a RAID array that is limited by bus bandwidth, the correct value might be the number of I/O paths available. Some experimentation may be needed to find the best value.

Asynchronous I/O depends on an effective posix_fadvise function, which some operating systems lack. If the function is not present then setting this parameter to anything but zero will result in an error. On some operating systems (e.g., Solaris), the function is present but does not actually do anything.

The default is 1 on supported systems, otherwise 0.

max_worker_processes (integer)

Sets the maximum number of background processes that the system can support. This parameter can only be set at server start.

When running a standby server, you must set this parameter to the same or higher value than on the master server. Otherwise, queries will not be allowed in the standby server.