How to Upgrade PostgreSQL 11 to PostgreSQL 12 with Zero Downtime

Sebastian Insausti

The most intuitive database upgrade way that you can think of is to generate a replica in a new version and perform a failover of the application into it, and actually it works perfectly in other engines. With PostgreSQL, this used to be impossible in a native way. To accomplish upgrades you needed to think of other ways of upgrading, such as using pg_upgrade, dumping and restoring, or using some third party tools like Slony or Bucardo, all of them having their own caveats. This is because of the way that PostgreSQL used to implement replication.

PostgreSQL streaming replication (the common PostgreSQL replication) is a physical replication that replicates the changes on a byte-by-byte level, creating an identical copy of the database in another server. This method has a lot of limitations when thinking of an upgrade, as you simply cannot create a replica in a different server version or even in a different architecture.

Since PostgreSQL 10, it has implemented built-in logical replication which, in contrast with physical replication, you can replicate between different major versions of PostgreSQL. This, of course, opens a new door for upgrading strategies.

In this blog, we will see how you can upgrade your PostgreSQL 11 to PostgreSQL 12 with zero downtime using logical replication. 

PostgreSQL Logical Replication

Logical replication is a method of replicating data objects and their changes, based upon their replication identity (usually a primary key). It is based on a publish and subscribe mode, where one or more subscribers subscribe to one or more publications on a publisher node.

A publication is a set of changes generated from a table or a group of tables (also referred to as a replication set). The node where a publication is defined is referred to as publisher. A subscription is the downstream side of logical replication. The node where a subscription is defined is referred to as the subscriber, and it defines the connection to another database and set of publications (one or more) to which it wants to subscribe. Subscribers pull data from the publications they subscribe to.

Logical replication is built with an architecture similar to physical streaming replication. It is implemented by "walsender" and "apply" processes. The walsender process starts logical decoding of the WAL and loads the standard logical decoding plugin. The plugin transforms the changes read from WAL to the logical replication protocol and filters the data according to the publication specification. The data is then continuously transferred using the streaming replication protocol to the apply worker, which maps the data to local tables and applies the individual changes as they are received, in a correct transactional order.

Logical replication starts by taking a snapshot of the data on the publisher database and copying that to the subscriber. The initial data in the existing subscribed tables are snapshotted and copied in a parallel instance of a special kind of apply process. This process will create its own temporary replication slot and copy the existing data. Once the existing data is copied, the worker enters synchronization mode, which ensures that the table is brought up to a synchronized state with the main apply process by streaming any changes that happened during the initial data copy using standard logical replication. Once the synchronization is done, the control of the replication of the table is given back to the main apply process where the replication continues as normal. The changes on the publisher are sent to the subscriber as they occur in real-time.

How to Upgrade PostgreSQL 11 to PostgreSQL 12 Using Logical Replication

We are going to configure logical replication between two different major versions of PostgreSQL (11 and 12), and of course, after you have this working, it is only a matter of performing an application failover into the database with the newer version.

We are going to perform the following steps to put logical replication to work:

  • Configure the publisher node
  • Configure the subscriber node
  • Create the subscriber user
  • Create a publication
  • Create the table structure in the subscriber
  • Create the subscription
  • Check the replication status

So let’s start.

On the publisher side, we are going to configure the following parameters in the postgresql.conf file:

  • listen_addresses: What IP address(es) to listen on. We'll use '*' for all.
  • wal_level: Determines how much information is written to the WAL. We are going to set it to “logical”.
  • max_replication_slots: Specifies the maximum number of replication slots that the server can support. It must be set to at least the number of subscriptions expected to connect, plus some reserve for table synchronization.
  • max_wal_senders: Specifies the maximum number of concurrent connections from standby servers or streaming base backup clients. It should be set to at least the same as max_replication_slots plus the number of physical replicas that are connected at the same time.

Keep in mind that some of these parameters required a restart of PostgreSQL service to apply.

The pg_hba.conf file also needs to be adjusted to allow replication. You need to allow the replication user to connect to the database.

So based on this, let’s configure the publisher (in this case the PostgreSQL 11 server) as follows:


listen_addresses = '*'

wal_level = logical

max_wal_senders = 8

max_replication_slots = 4


# TYPE  DATABASE        USER            ADDRESS                 METHOD

host     all     rep1     md5


You must change the user (in this example rep1), which will be used for replication, and the IP address for the IP that corresponds to your PostgreSQL 12 node.

On the subscriber side, it also requires the max_replication_slots to be set. In this case, it should be set to at least the number of subscriptions that will be added to the subscriber.

The other parameters that also need to be set here are:

  • max_logical_replication_workers: Specifies the maximum number of logical replication workers. This includes both apply workers and table synchronization workers. Logical replication workers are taken from the pool defined by max_worker_processes. It must be set to at least the number of subscriptions, again plus some reserve for the table synchronization.
  • max_worker_processes: Sets the maximum number of background processes that the system can support. It may need to be adjusted to accommodate for replication workers, at least max_logical_replication_workers + 1. This parameter requires a PostgreSQL restart.

So, you must configure the subscriber (in this case the PostgreSQL 12 server) as follows:


listen_addresses = '*'

max_replication_slots = 4

max_logical_replication_workers = 4

max_worker_processes = 8

As this PostgreSQL 12 will be the new primary node soon, you should consider adding the wal_level and archive_mode parameters in this step, to avoid a new restart of the service later.

wal_level = logical

archive_mode = on

These parameters will be useful if you want to add a new replica or for using PITR backups.

In the publisher, you must create the user with which the subscriber will connect:



The role used for the replication connection must have the REPLICATION attribute. Access for the role must be configured in pg_hba.conf and it must have the LOGIN attribute.

In order to be able to copy the initial data, the role used for the replication connection must have the SELECT privilege on a published table.

world=# GRANT SELECT ON ALL TABLES IN SCHEMA public to rep1;


We will create pub1 publication in the publisher node, for all the tables:



The user that will create a publication must have the CREATE privilege in the database, but to create a publication that publishes all tables automatically, the user must be a superuser.

To confirm the publication created we are going to use the pg_publication catalog. This catalog contains information about all publications created in the database.

world=# SELECT * FROM pg_publication;

-[ RECORD 1 ]+-----

pubname      | pub1

pubowner     | 10

puballtables | t

pubinsert    | t

pubupdate    | t

pubdelete    | t

pubtruncate  | t

Column descriptions:

  • pubname: Name of the publication.
  • pubowner: Owner of the publication.
  • puballtables: If true, this publication automatically includes all tables in the database, including any that will be created in the future.
  • pubinsert: If true, INSERT operations are replicated for tables in the publication.
  • pubupdate: If true, UPDATE operations are replicated for tables in the publication.
  • pubdelete: If true, DELETE operations are replicated for tables in the publication.
  • pubtruncate: If true, TRUNCATE operations are replicated for tables in the publication.

As the schema is not replicated, you must take a backup in PostgreSQL 11 and restore it in your PostgreSQL 12. The backup will only be taken for the schema, since the information will be replicated in the initial transfer.

In PostgreSQL 11:

$ pg_dumpall -s > schema.sql

In PostgreSQL 12:

$ psql -d postgres -f schema.sql

Once you have your schema in PostgreSQL 12, you need to create the subscription, replacing the values of host, dbname, user, and password with those that correspond to your environment.

PostgreSQL 12:

world=# CREATE SUBSCRIPTION sub1 CONNECTION 'host= dbname=world user=rep1 password=*****' PUBLICATION pub1;

NOTICE:  created replication slot "sub1" on publisher


The above will start the replication process, which synchronizes the initial table contents of the tables in the publication and then starts replicating incremental changes to those tables.

The user creating a subscription must be a superuser. The subscription apply process will run in the local database with the privileges of a superuser.

To verify the created subscription you can use the pg_stat_subscription catalog. This view will contain one row per subscription for the main worker (with null PID if the worker is not running), and additional rows for workers handling the initial data copy of the subscribed tables.

world=# SELECT * FROM pg_stat_subscription;

-[ RECORD 1 ]---------+------------------------------

subid                 | 16422

subname               | sub1

pid                   | 476

relid                 |

received_lsn          | 0/1771668

last_msg_send_time    | 2020-09-29 17:40:34.711411+00

last_msg_receipt_time | 2020-09-29 17:40:34.711533+00

latest_end_lsn        | 0/1771668

latest_end_time       | 2020-09-29 17:40:34.711411+00

Column descriptions:

  • subid: OID of the subscription.
  • subname: Name of the subscription.
  • pid: Process ID of the subscription worker process.
  • relid: OID of the relation that the worker is synchronizing; null for the main apply worker.
  • received_lsn: Last write-ahead log location received, the initial value of this field being 0.
  • last_msg_send_time: Send time of last message received from origin WAL sender.
  • last_msg_receipt_time: Receipt time of last message received from origin WAL sender.
  • latest_end_lsn: Last write-ahead log location reported to origin WAL sender.
  • latest_end_time: Time of last write-ahead log location reported to origin WAL sender.

To verify the status of replication in the primary node you can use pg_stat_replication:

world=# SELECT * FROM pg_stat_replication;

-[ RECORD 1 ]----+------------------------------

pid              | 527

usesysid         | 16428

usename          | rep1

application_name | sub1

client_addr      |

client_hostname  |

client_port      | 35570

backend_start    | 2020-09-29 17:40:04.404905+00

backend_xmin     |

state            | streaming

sent_lsn         | 0/1771668

write_lsn        | 0/1771668

flush_lsn        | 0/1771668

replay_lsn       | 0/1771668

write_lag        |

flush_lag        |

replay_lag       |

sync_priority    | 0

sync_state       | async

Column descriptions:

  • pid: Process ID of a WAL sender process.
  • usesysid: OID of the user logged into this WAL sender process.
  • usename: Name of the user logged into this WAL sender process.
  • application_name: Name of the application that is connected to this WAL sender.
  • client_addr: IP address of the client connected to this WAL sender. If this field is null, it indicates that the client is connected via a Unix socket on the server machine.
  • client_hostname: Hostname of the connected client, as reported by a reverse DNS lookup of client_addr. This field will only be non-null for IP connections, and only when log_hostname is enabled.
  • client_port: TCP port number that the client is using for communication with this WAL sender, or -1 if a Unix socket is used.
  • backend_start: Time when this process was started.
  • backend_xmin: This standby's xmin horizon reported by hot_standby_feedback.
  • state: Current WAL sender state. The possible values are: startup, catchup, streaming, backup and stopping.
  • sent_lsn: Last write-ahead log location sent on this connection.
  • write_lsn: Last write-ahead log location written to disk by this standby server.
  • flush_lsn: Last write-ahead log location flushed to disk by this standby server.
  • replay_lsn: Last write-ahead log location replayed into the database on this standby server.
  • write_lag: Time elapsed between flushing recent WAL locally and receiving notification that this standby server has written it (but not yet flushed it or applied it).
  • flush_lag: Time elapsed between flushing recent WAL locally and receiving notification that this standby server has written and flushed it (but not yet applied it).
  • replay_lag: Time elapsed between flushing recent WAL locally and receiving notification that this standby server has written, flushed and applied it.
  • sync_priority: Priority of this standby server for being chosen as the synchronous standby in a priority-based synchronous replication.
  • sync_state: Synchronous state of this standby server. The possible values are async, potential, sync, quorum.

To verify when the initial transfer is finished you can check the PostgreSQL log on the subscriber:

2020-09-29 17:40:04.403 UTC [476] LOG:  logical replication apply worker for subscription "sub1" has started

2020-09-29 17:40:04.411 UTC [477] LOG:  logical replication table synchronization worker for subscription "sub1", table "city" has started

2020-09-29 17:40:04.422 UTC [478] LOG:  logical replication table synchronization worker for subscription "sub1", table "country" has started

2020-09-29 17:40:04.516 UTC [477] LOG:  logical replication table synchronization worker for subscription "sub1", table "city" has finished

2020-09-29 17:40:04.522 UTC [479] LOG:  logical replication table synchronization worker for subscription "sub1", table "countrylanguage" has started

2020-09-29 17:40:04.570 UTC [478] LOG:  logical replication table synchronization worker for subscription "sub1", table "country" has finished

2020-09-29 17:40:04.676 UTC [479] LOG:  logical replication table synchronization worker for subscription "sub1", table "countrylanguage" has finished

Or checking the srsubstate variable on pg_subscription_rel catalog. This catalog contains the state for each replicated relation in each subscription.

world=# SELECT * FROM pg_subscription_rel;

 srsubid | srrelid | srsubstate | srsublsn


   16422 |   16386 | r          | 0/1771630

   16422 |   16392 | r          | 0/1771630

   16422 |   16399 | r          | 0/1771668

(3 rows)

Column descriptions:

  • srsubid: Reference to subscription.
  • srrelid: Reference to relation.
  • srsubstate: State code: i = initialize, d = data is being copied, s = synchronized, r = ready (normal replication).
  • srsublsn: End LSN for s and r states.

You can insert some test records in your PostgreSQL 11 and validate that you have them in your PostgreSQL 12:

PostgreSQL 11:

world=# INSERT INTO city (id,name,countrycode,district,population) VALUES (5001,'city1','USA','District1',10000);


world=# INSERT INTO city (id,name,countrycode,district,population) VALUES (5002,'city2','ITA','District2',20000);


world=# INSERT INTO city (id,name,countrycode,district,population) VALUES (5003,'city3','CHN','District3',30000);


PostgreSQL 12:

world=# SELECT * FROM city WHERE id>5000;

  id  | name  | countrycode | district  | population


 5001 | city1 | USA         | District1 |      10000

 5002 | city2 | ITA         | District2 |      20000

 5003 | city3 | CHN         | District3 |      30000

(3 rows)

At this point, you have everything ready to point your application to your PostgreSQL 12.

For this, first of all, you need to confirm that you don't have replication lag.

On the primary node:

world=# SELECT  application_name,  pg_wal_lsn_diff(pg_current_wal_lsn(), replay_lsn) lag FROM pg_stat_replication;

-[ RECORD 1 ]----+-----

application_name | sub1

lag              | 0

And now, you only need to change your endpoint from your application or load balancer (if you have one) to the new PostgreSQL 12 server.

If you have a load balancer like HAProxy, you can configure it using the PostgreSQL 11 as active and the PostgreSQL 12 as backup, in this way:

So, if you just shut down the old primary node in PostgreSQL 11, the backup server, in this case in PostgreSQL 12, starts to receive the traffic in a transparent way for the user/application.

At the end of the migration, you can delete the subscription in your new primary node in PostgreSQL 12:


NOTICE:  dropped replication slot "sub1" on publisher


And verify that it is removed correctly:

world=# SELECT * FROM pg_subscription_rel;

(0 rows)

world=# SELECT * FROM pg_stat_subscription;

(0 rows)


Before using the logical replication, please keep in mind the following limitations:

  • The database schema and DDL commands are not replicated. The initial schema can be copied using pg_dump --schema-only.
  • Sequence data is not replicated. The data in serial or identity columns backed by sequences will be replicated as part of the table, but the sequence itself would still show the start value on the subscriber.
  • Replication of TRUNCATE commands is supported, but some care must be taken when truncating groups of tables connected by foreign keys. When replicating a truncate action, the subscriber will truncate the same group of tables that was truncated on the publisher, either explicitly specified or implicitly collected via CASCADE, minus tables that are not part of the subscription. This will work correctly if all affected tables are part of the same subscription. But if some tables to be truncated on the subscriber have foreign-key links to tables that are not part of the same (or any) subscription, then the application of the truncate action on the subscriber will fail.
  • Large objects are not replicated. There is no workaround for that, other than storing data in normal tables.
  • Replication is only possible from base tables to base tables. That is, the tables on the publication and on the subscription side must be normal tables, not views, materialized views, partition root tables, or foreign tables. In the case of partitions, you can replicate a partition hierarchy one-to-one, but you cannot currently replicate to a differently partitioned setup.


Keeping your PostgreSQL server up to date by performing regular upgrades has been a necessary but difficult task until PostgreSQL 10 version. Luckily now it is a different story thanks to logical replication.

In this blog we made a brief introduction to logical replication, a PostgreSQL feature introduced natively in version 10, and we have shown you how it can help you accomplish this upgrade from PostgreSQL 11 to PostgreSQL 12 challenge with a zero downtime strategy.

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