yum upgrade postgresql11 panic!

How hard could it be to upgrade PostgreSQL within minor versions?
Usually it is very simple, and it is very simple but not when you don’t know your tools!
And in this case that’s my fault.
However, I’m writing this short note in order to avoid other people experience the same problem I had.

The current setup

The machine is a CentOS 7 running PostgreSQL 11.1 installed by packages provided by the PostgreSQL Global Development Group.

Preparing to upgrade

Of course, I took a full backup before proceeding, just in case. The cluster I’m talking about is a low traffice cluster with roughly ~12 GB~ of data, that is the backup and restore are not a zero downtime (and no, I’m not in the position of having a WAL based backup, but that’s another story).
Having a backup helps keeping the amount of panic at a fair level.

Performing the upgrade

I do like yum(8) and its transactional approach. Doing the upgrade was a matter of:
% sudo yum upgrade postgresql11
and all dependencies are, of course, calculated and applied. Then I confirmed, waited a couple of minutes for the upgrade to apply, and I started keeping my breath:
psql: could not connect to server: Connection refused
        Is the server running on host "xxx" ( and accepting
        TCP/IP connections on port 5432?

Inspecting and solving the problem

Apparently PostgreSQL has not been restarted after the upgrade, but what is worst is that is not going to restart again:
10:33:25 lnx168 systemd[1]: Starting PostgreSQL 11 database server...
10:33:25 lnx168 postgresql-11-check-db-dir[10214]: "/var/lib/pgsql/11/data/" is missing or empty.
10:33:25 lnx168 postgresql-11-check-db-dir[10214]: Use "/usr/pgsql-11/bin/postgresql-11-setup initdb" to initialize the database cluster.
10:33:25 lnx168 postgresql-11-check-db-dir[10214]: See /usr/share/doc/postgresql11-11.4/README.rpm-dist for more information.
10:33:25 lnx168 systemd[1]: postgresql-11.service: control process exited, code=exited status=1
10:33:25 lnx168 systemd[1]: Failed to start PostgreSQL 11 database server.
What the hell! (I’m allowed to spell it loud because my colleague was on vacation and I was alone in my office).
First of all, do not run initdb as suggested because chances are you will destroy all your data. But that’s a good hint about the problem: systemd was trying to launch PostgreSQL with an empty PGDATA.

Of course, the PGDATA was not empty and was still in place, but yum upgraded my systemd configuration for PostgreSQL to the CentOS default, therefore my file /usr/lib/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service was overriden without any advice!

And in fact, to confirm the above, I was able to start the server manually using pg_ctl, and at least I had the server running.

Now that the server is running, I have more time to inspect /usr/lib/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service and adjust the PGDATA parameter to the right value:
% sudo grep PGDATA /usr/lib/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service
I also double checked that the systemd startup script correctly links to the edited file:
$ ls -l /etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/postgresql-11.service
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 45 20 dic  2018 /etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/postgresql-11.service 
                                           -> /usr/lib/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service

Seems fine, right?

Nested problems

No matter how fine the setup was, systemd still refused to restart the cluster:
$ sudo service postgresql-11 restart                      
Redirecting to /bin/systemctl restart postgresql-11.service
Job for postgresql-11.service failed because the control process exited with error code. See "systemctl status postgresql-11.service" and "journalctl -xe" for details.
For a reason I don’t really know, it seems that systemd keeps track that it hasn’t started the service, and that the latter is in failed mode. The solution was to manually stop the cluster via pg_ctl and that asks systemd to start it again, and this time it gets running.

Fixing the problem with `systemd**: the right approach

updated on 2019-07-22
As pointed out by Andrew Gierth in a comment, editing the systemd unit service file is not the right approach to configure services. Here it is the right approach, so that my changes do not get overwritten by systemd: 1) run systemctl edit postgresql-11; 2) add a line with Environment=PGDATA=/data/pgdata within the Service section:
3) inspect the service with systemctl status postgresql-11, that will show the following:
$ systemctl status postgresql-11
● postgresql-11.service - PostgreSQL 11 database server
   Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service; enabled; vendor preset: disabled)
  Drop-In: /etc/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service.d
   Active: active (running) since lun 2019-07-22 15:43:50 CEST; 31s ago
     Docs: https://www.postgresql.org/docs/11/static/
 Main PID: 16114 (postmaster)
   CGroup: /system.slice/postgresql-11.service
           ├─16114 /usr/pgsql-11/bin/postmaster -D /postgres/data
           ├─16116 postgres: logger   
           ├─16118 postgres: checkpointer   
           ├─16119 postgres: background writer   
           ├─16120 postgres: walwriter   
           ├─16121 postgres: autovacuum launcher   
           ├─16122 postgres: stats collector   
           ├─16123 postgres: pg_cron scheduler   
           └─16124 postgres: logical replication launcher   
The important part in the above is the Drop-In line that points to a freshly created directory /etc/systemd/system/postgresql-11.service.d with a single file, override.conf that contains the new PGDATA definition. In other words, systemd keeps the service units under its own control, and you have to create an override.conf file to place other variable values.


Not knowing your tools, systemd in this case, can lead to panic when they do not behave as you expect. Unluckily, there are too many little details to know about every different system, and I wish systemd becomes a little less rude and at least warns the user that his files are going to be overriden.
While the unit file states, in its beginning, to not modify the file, it is not clear what is the best approach to use to re-define variables (include or override file?).

The article yum upgrade postgresql11 panic! has been posted by Luca Ferrari on July 22, 2019