Comprehensive Guide to PostgreSQL Backups with pg_basebackup

What is pg_basebackup?

pg_basebackup is a tool included with PostgreSQL that is used to take a base backup of a PostgreSQL database cluster. This tool creates a binary copy of the database files, ensuring a quick and consistent backup process. It is designed to be used for creating a backup of a running PostgreSQL database cluster without affecting its operation, which makes it ideal for point-in-time recovery and setting up standby servers for replication.

How pg_basebackup Works

pg_basebackup connects to the PostgreSQL database cluster and copies the data files, while also ensuring that they remain consistent by leveraging the built-in write-ahead logging (WAL). It can create a backup as regular files or as a tar archive, and it has the option to include or exclude the WAL files in the backup.

Setting Up a Backup with pg_basebackup

To take a backup using pg_basebackup, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that PostgreSQL is configured to allow connections from the machine where pg_basebackup will be run.
  2. Decide on the backup mode (plain file system or tar), the destination directory, and whether to include the WAL files.

Example Command

pg_basebackup -h localhost -D /path/to/backup/directory -U replication_user -P -v

This command will create a base backup of the cluster running on localhost, saving it to /path/to/backup/directory, using the replication_user PostgreSQL user, with progress report (-P) and verbose output (-v).

Use Cases for pg_basebackup

  • Disaster Recovery: Create a consistent backup of your database that can be restored in case of data corruption or loss.
  • Replication: Set up a standby server that can be promoted to a primary server in case of failure, by restoring from a base backup.
  • Point-in-Time Recovery (PITR): Combined with continuous archiving of WAL files, pg_basebackup can be used to restore the database to a particular point in time.

Common Mistakes and Issues

  • Connection Failures: Ensure that the PostgreSQL user specified in the pg_basebackup command has the necessary replication privileges and that the PostgreSQL server is configured to accept connections from the backup host.
  • Insufficient Disk Space: Before running pg_basebackup, verify that there is enough disk space available on the target directory to store the backup.
  • Incorrect File Permissions: The user running pg_basebackup must have write permissions to the target directory.

Troubleshooting Errors

  • Authentication Errors: If pg_basebackup fails due to authentication issues, check pg_hba.conf for appropriate entries allowing the backup host to connect.
  • Network Issues: Any network instability between the backup host and the database server can cause pg_basebackup to fail. Ensure a stable network connection.
  • Resource Limitations: Running pg_basebackup on a busy server can lead to high load and slow performance. Consider running backups during off-peak hours.


pg_basebackup is an essential tool for any PostgreSQL DBA or system administrator looking to implement robust backup strategies. It provides a straightforward and reliable method for creating full backups of PostgreSQL clusters, which are vital for disaster recovery and high availability setups. By understanding and correctly utilizing pg_basebackup, you can ensure that your data is securely backed up and can be restored when needed.

Leave a Comment