Mastering Continuous Archiving with pg_receivewal

What is pg_receivewal?

pg_receivewal is a utility that comes with PostgreSQL, designed to stream Write-Ahead Logging (WAL) records from a running PostgreSQL server to a local or remote location. This tool is a key component in implementing continuous archiving and point-in-time recovery (PITR) strategies, as it allows you to safely and efficiently archive the transaction log files that are essential for database recovery.

How pg_receivewal Works

The utility connects to the PostgreSQL server and streams WAL data as it’s generated, writing it to local files or a remote location. This ensures that you have a real-time or near-real-time copy of the transaction logs, which can be used to restore the database to any point within the retention period.

Using pg_receivewal for Reliable WAL Archiving

Before using pg_receivewal, make sure that the PostgreSQL server is configured to allow WAL streaming (wal_level set to replica or logical and appropriate max_wal_senders).

Starting WAL Streaming

pg_receivewal -D /path/to/wal_archive -h dbhost -U replication_user --slot my_slot

This command starts streaming WAL data to the directory /path/to/wal_archive using the replication slot my_slot.

Streaming to a Remote Location

pg_receivewal -D /path/to/wal_archive -h dbhost -U replication_user --slot my_slot | ssh user@remote_host "cat > /path/to/remote/wal_archive/%f"

This command streams the WAL records to a remote host via SSH, which can be useful for off-site backups.

Use Cases for pg_receivewal

  • Disaster Recovery: By continuously archiving WAL files, you can recover your database to the point of failure, minimizing data loss.
  • Off-Site Backups: Stream WAL files to a remote location to ensure that you have off-site backups available in case of a local disaster.
  • Replica Creation: Use the archived WAL files to create new replicas of your database without impacting the performance of the primary server.

Common Mistakes and Issues

  • Misconfiguration of PostgreSQL: Forgetting to configure the PostgreSQL server for WAL streaming can prevent pg_receivewal from functioning correctly.
  • Incorrect Permissions: Ensure that the user running pg_receivewal has write access to the target directory and the necessary replication privileges on the PostgreSQL server.
  • Network Instability: An unstable network can disrupt the streaming of WAL records. Use reliable network connections, especially when streaming to remote locations.

Troubleshooting Errors

  • Connection Failures: If pg_receivewal cannot connect to the database, check network connectivity, authentication settings, and the status of the replication slot.
  • Disk Space Issues: Monitor the disk space where WAL files are being stored. An out-of-space condition can halt WAL streaming and jeopardize your archiving strategy.
  • Replication Slot Conflicts: If you encounter errors related to the replication slot, verify that the slot exists and is not already in use by another process.


pg_receivewal is an indispensable tool for PostgreSQL database administrators looking to implement robust backup and disaster recovery solutions. It provides a streamlined approach to WAL archiving, enabling continuous backup workflows and ensuring that critical transaction logs are safely stored and accessible for recovery purposes. By mastering pg_receivewal, you can enhance the resilience of your PostgreSQL databases and protect against data loss.

For further guidance and advanced usage of pg_receivewal, consult the official PostgreSQL documentation.

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