The Anatomy of a PostgreSQL - Part 1

In the next couple of sections we will outline the various things one will find in a PostgreSQL database. Many of these exist in other DBMS systems, but some of these are quite unique to PostgreSQL.

Exploring PostgreSQL with PgAdmin III

PgAdmin III is the Administrative console that comes packaged with PostgreSQL. It works equally well on most OSes - Linux, Unix, Windows, MacOS and any OS supported by WsWidgets. It is an extremely nice and capable management tool. PostgreSQL server comes packaged with this, but if you want to install this on a computer that doesn't have PostgreSQL server installed or you want the bleeding edge version or latest version, I suggest downloading from PgAdmin Site: We will be exploring PostgreSQL with the newest stable releaseof PgAdmin III - 1.8.

When you first launch PgAdmin III and register your postgres server, you may be amazed at the number of things shown. In fact what is shown may not be all the objects that exist in PostgreSQL. PgAdmin III 1.8 and above hides a lot of things by default. For this exercise we will turn these settings on so we can see these objects and explore them.

To do so do the following

  1. Open up PgAdminIII
  2. Register a Postgres server if you haven't already by going to File->Add Server
  3. Next go to File->Options and click on the Display tab
  4. Check everything you see including the Show System Objects in the treeview?
  5. Right mouse click on your registered server in the tree, click disconnect and then click connect
The Anatomy Lesson Begins

When you expand the Server tree, you will be first confronted with 4 groups of objects. As outlined below:

In the next couple of sections, we will explore these areas a little deeper.


The first thing you will notice is that there are 3 system databases (databases you did not create) and they are postgres, template0, template1. These are outlined below

Question: Why the heck are their 2 template databases?
template1 is the default template used for new databases. Most people will use template1 as a template for their databases or create more derivative templates. template0 is basically a pristine template unadulterated by any thing except the core postgres stuff. In fact you can not change template0, but you can change template1.

Tablespaces as I mentioned, represent physical locations on disk where things reside. There are 2 tablespaces installed by default:

If you look at the location property of these 2 tablespaces, you will see nothing there. That is because these are always stored in the same location as where you initialized your PostgreSQL database cluster. Tablespaces that are user created on the other hand, can be stored anywhere on any disk and these you will see location information for.

In general there is rarely a reason to create new tablespaces and such unless you are creating a system with massive numbers of users, databases, and intensive queries. Tablespaces gives you the flexibility to leverage OS space in interesting ways - e.g. fast disks for commonly used tables, ability to have multiple disks in different RAID configurations for maximum seek performance, recoverability, or stability etc. Finding Optimum tables placement in 2 tablespace situation by Hubert Lubaczewski is particularly interesting. Also check out Robert Treat's tablespace configuration variable tweaking tips.

There are a couple of facts I would like to close with on the topic of tablespaces.

  1. Databases are homed in a tablespace. Basically you may say a database resides in X tablespace, but not all tables of a database need to be stored in X tablespace.
  2. The tablespace you denote for a database is the default location where objects of that database are stored. Also all objects that are not tables and indexes (e.g. functions, views, etc.) are stored in X tablespace and when creating new tables or indexes, they too will be stored in X tablespace unless otherwise noted.
  3. As a corrollary to the above, you can only specifically designate a location for tables, indexes, and a database.
Group Roles and Login Roles

Prior to PostgreSQL 8.1, there existed Users and Groups, in 8.1 these were deprecated and replaced with Roles in order to be more ANSI compliant. This is actually a simplification of the security model. For more details check out the Chapter 18. Database Roles and Privileges


I'll summarize a few key facts about Group Roles and Login Roles

  1. In PgAdmin III - Group Roles and Login Roles look like two different kinds of objects. In actuality a Login Role is really a subclass of a group role so to speak. It is a role that has login rights.
  2. PostgreSQL has a feature which is a little different than some other databases, and that is that a role need not inherit rights from roles it is a member of.

    If you are not aware of this, it can bite you. For example if you create a login role and have it set to not inherit rights from its parent roles, you may be surprised to find out that even though the roles it is a member of has rights to certain tables, the login role does not. In order to use those rights, the logged in user needs to do SET ROLE somerolename.

    Now one may ask why would I ever need this feature? One reason that comes to mind is for debugging - you may want to create a user that is a member of several roles, and you want to test what rights each role has by constantly setting roles etc. Another reason is for security reasons - you may want to create a role that acts like an Application role and regardless of what login a user is logged into, you only want that user to have rights dictated by the security policy you set forth for that application. So within the application you could have logic that sets the role to that of the application, but allow the user to login with their standard login role.

  3. Roles can be nested. You may have a role that is a member of yet another role, but you are prevented by the system from creating circular dependency roles -Roles that are members of other roles that those roles are a member of these roles
  4. A role can be a member of multiple roles
  5. LOGIN, SUPERUSER, CREATEDB, and CREATEROLE are not inheritable, but can be accessed by doing a SET ROLE call. Similar to in unix/linux when you do sudo
Coming Next Database Objects

In the next issue of this journal, we will go over database objects. In fact there are tons of these. I will leave you with a snapshot to wet your appetite.

Database Objects in PostgreSQL