PostgreSQL & recovery.conf

According to the documentation for the upcoming version 12, the recovery.conf file has gone! The release note states it clearly: the server will not start if recovery.conf is in place and all the configuration parameters have moved to the classic postgresql.conf (or included files).

The change proposal is quite old, but represents a deep change in the way PostgreSQL handles the server startup and recovery and could take a while to get all the software out there to handle it too.

Please note that since PostgreSQL 12 is still in beta, things could change a little, even if the discussion and the implementation is nearly ended.

Two files can be created to instrument a standby node:
  • standby.signal if present in the PGDATA directory the host will work as a standby, that is it will wait for new incoming WAL segments and replay them for the rest of its life;
  • recovery.signal if present will stop the WAL replaying as soon as all the WALs have been consumed or the recovery_target parameter has been reached.

It is interesting to note that standby.signal takes precedence on recovery.signal, meaning that if both file exists the node will act as a standby. Both files may be empty, they act now as as triggering files rather than configuration files (here the change in the suffix).

So, what is the rationale for this change? There are several reasons, including the not needing for a duplication of configuration files. But what I like the most is that having the parameters into the trunk configuration make them good candidate to be changed via an ALTER SYSTEM and the machinery (see later for an example).

While all recovery parameters have been kept the same, the trigger_file one has been renamed to promote_trigger_file to clearly emphasize its meaning.

The above is not the only big difference in recovery handling: now it is no more possible to specify multiple recovery_target_xxx variables and “hope” to get the server to do it right (selecting the last one, effectively). The administrator is required to do a better job in selecting precisely which target to recover to! Last, also the timeline defaults to recover to the last one and not the current one.
As you can expect, pg_basebackup has been changed accordingly and therefore the --write-recovery-conf option (-R) now only puts a standby.signal file within the PGDATA directory. Settings are now appended to

So, a lot of changes in the way the cluster manages the recovery/stand-by modes, and I hope all the automated backup software out there will respond properly.


Contexts of the included setting GUCs have not changed so far:
template1=# SELECT name, context FROM pg_settings WHERE category like '% Archiv%';
          name           |  context   
 archive_cleanup_command | sighup
 archive_command         | sighup
 archive_mode            | postmaster
 archive_timeout         | sighup
 recovery_end_command    | sighup
 restore_command         | postmaster

What happens if you keep around recovery.conf?

Let’s try it:
% sudo -u postgres touch /pgdata/12beta2/recovery.conf
% sudo -u postgres pg_ctl -D /pgdata/12beta2  start
FATAL:  using recovery command file "recovery.conf" is not supported
LOG:  startup process (PID 5837) exited with exit code 1
LOG:  aborting startup due to startup process failure
LOG:  database system is shut down
as already detailed, the database refuses to start.

What does happen when you issue an ALTER SYSTEM?

Easy pal, configuration is put on
% psql -U postgres template1
psql (12beta2)
Type "help" for help.

template1=# ALTER SYSTEM SET restore_command TO 'cp %p %f';
that results in:
% sudo cat /pgdata/12beta2/
# Do not edit this file manually!
# It will be overwritten by the ALTER SYSTEM command.
restore_command = 'cp %p %f'

The article PostgreSQL & recovery.conf has been posted by Luca Ferrari on July 8, 2019