Simplifying PostgreSQL Upgrades with pg_upgrade

What is pg_upgrade?

pg_upgrade (formerly known as pg_migrator) is a PostgreSQL utility that allows you to upgrade your PostgreSQL server instance from one major version to another without the need for a full dump and restore. This tool is essential for database administrators who want to minimize downtime during an upgrade process.

How pg_upgrade Works

pg_upgrade works by creating a new data directory for the new version of PostgreSQL, then it copies or links the data files from the old data directory to the new one. It also updates the system catalogs to be compatible with the new version. Once the upgrade is complete, the new PostgreSQL server can be started using the new data directory.

Using pg_upgrade for Efficient Upgrades

Before using pg_upgrade, ensure that you have both the old and new versions of PostgreSQL installed on your system.

Example Command

pg_upgrade -b /old/bin -B /new/bin -d /old/data -D /new/data -p 5432 -P 5433

This command specifies the old and new binary directories (-b and -B), the old and new data directories (-d and -D), and the old and new server ports (-p and -P).

Use Cases for pg_upgrade

  • Major Version Upgrades: When moving from one major version of PostgreSQL to another, such as from 12 to 13, pg_upgrade facilitates the process with reduced downtime.
  • Minimizing Downtime: For production systems where downtime must be kept to a minimum, pg_upgrade can perform upgrades much faster than a traditional dump and restore.
  • Resource Efficiency: By potentially using hard links (-k option) instead of copying files, pg_upgrade can save significant disk space and reduce the time required for the upgrade.

Common Mistakes and Issues

  • Failing to Backup: Always take a full backup of your database before attempting an upgrade. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to restore the original database.
  • Incompatible Extensions: Some PostgreSQL extensions may not be compatible with newer versions. Check extension compatibility before upgrading and update them if necessary.
  • Incorrect Version Usage: pg_upgrade requires that the server binaries for both the old and new versions be installed. Ensure you are referencing the correct paths for each version.

Troubleshooting Errors

  • Permission Problems: Ensure that the user running pg_upgrade has the necessary permissions to access both the old and new data directories.
  • Port Conflicts: If the old and new instances are set to run on the same port, pg_upgrade will fail. Make sure to specify different ports for the old and new instances.
  • Post-upgrade Issues: After running pg_upgrade, reindex all databases and run ANALYZE to update statistics. Some users may forget this step, which can lead to suboptimal performance.


pg_upgrade is a powerful tool that significantly simplifies the process of upgrading PostgreSQL servers to newer major versions. It provides an efficient path for database administrators to keep their systems up to date with the latest features and improvements while minimizing the impact on availability and performance. By understanding the capabilities and proper usage of pg_upgrade, you can ensure a smooth transition to a new PostgreSQL version with confidence.

For detailed instructions and best practices on using pg_upgrade, refer to the official PostgreSQL documentation.

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