PostgreSQL:Physical vs Logical Replication (w/ TL;DR)

postgresql replication, logical, streaming, physical, logical vs streaming

Replication—the act of duplicating data across multiple database servers— is a cornerstone feature in PostgreSQL. It facilitates high availability, enhances read scalability, and provides a means for data distribution. PostgreSQL mainly supports two replication types: physical and logical replication. Let’s dive deeper into the world of PostgreSQL replication and unravel the difference between these replication methods. We’ll compare logical vs physical replication you can make the best decision on replication setup on PostgreSQL.


  • PostgreSQL provides two types of replication, logical and streaming (a form of physical replication), with each addressing different requirements and constraints.
  • Logical replication in PostgreSQL allows for selective data replication and cross-version compatibility, providing granularity and flexibility, but it can incur a heavier server load due to row-based replication.
  • Streaming replication, on the other hand, provides a byte-for-byte copy of the entire database, ensuring high data consistency. However, it doesn’t support replication at the row level or between different PostgreSQL versions.
  • Both logical and streaming replication rely heavily on Write-Ahead Log (WAL) mechanisms, with differing application levels.
  • The synchronous vs asynchronous aspect affects the data durability and performance of both replication types. Synchronous replication provides higher data durability but can affect performance, while asynchronous replication improves performance with a slight risk of data loss.
  • When considering logical vs streaming replication, the choice depends on specific needs such as failover support, data granularity, or write operations on replica servers.

Physical (Streaming) vs. Logical Replication PostgreSQL

Data replication is a critical component of modern database systems, enabling high availability, data distribution, and scalability. PostgreSQL, a robust and feature-rich database management system, offers two primary replication methods: physical and logical replication. Understanding the intricacies, benefits, and trade-offs of these approaches is essential for selecting the most suitable replication strategy for your specific requirements. In this article, we will delve into the workings of physical and logical replication, examining their characteristics, advantages, and drawbacks.

Physical Replication: Creating Exact Copies

Physical replication, also known as binary or streaming replication, involves creating an exact byte-for-byte replica of the primary database cluster on one or more standby servers. It mirrors the entire database, including tables, indexes, and system catalogs, ensuring that the standby servers have an identical copy of the data.

How Physical Replication Works

In physical replication, changes made on the primary server are captured in the Write-Ahead Log (WAL), a transaction log that stores all modifications to the database. The primary server continuously streams the WAL records to the standby server(s) over a network connection. The standby server(s) then apply these changes to their own copy of the database, keeping it in sync with the primary server.

Pros of Physical Replication

  • High Availability: Physical replication provides a robust failover mechanism. In the event of a primary server failure, one of the standby servers can be promoted to become the new primary server, ensuring continuous database operation.
  • Consistency and Data Integrity: With physical replication, standby servers have an exact copy of the primary server’s data. This guarantees consistency and data integrity across all servers.
  • Read Scalability: Standby servers in physical replication can handle read operations, offloading the primary server’s workload and improving overall system performance.
See also  Postgres GROUP BY Month, Year, Day: A Detailed Guide with Examples

Cons of Physical Replication

  • Higher Storage Requirements: Physical replication requires storage space on the standby servers to accommodate an entire replica of the primary database. This can be a limiting factor in environments with limited storage capacity.
  • Limited Flexibility: Physical replication does not offer granular control over which data gets replicated. It replicates the entire database, which may not be necessary or desirable in certain scenarios.
  • Version Compatibility: Physical replication is constrained by version compatibility. The primary and standby servers must be running the same PostgreSQL major version for successful replication.

Logical Replication: Fine-Grained Control

Logical replication, as the name implies, operates at a logical level, replicating specific tables, databases, or even individual rows based on defined replication rules. It provides a more flexible and selective approach to data replication.

How Logical Replication Works

In logical replication, changes made on the primary server are captured in the WAL just like in physical replication. However, instead of streaming the WAL records directly to the standby server(s), the changes are decoded into logical changesets—sequences of SQL statements representing the modifications. These changesets are then applied to the replica server(s) following the defined replication rules.

Pros of Logical Replication

  • Selective Replication: Logical replication allows for granular control over the replicated data. You can choose specific tables, databases, or even filter rows based on defined replication rules, providing flexibility in data distribution.
  • Cross-Version Compatibility: Unlike physical replication, logical replication supports replication between different PostgreSQL major versions, facilitating easier version upgrades and migrations.
  • Multi-Master Replication: With logical replication, it’s possible to have multiple primary servers, enabling a multi-master replication setup where write operations can be performed on any of the replica servers.

Cons of Logical Replication

  • Increased Server Load: The process of decoding WAL records into logical changesets and applying SQL statements on the replica servers can introduce additional overhead and potentially impact performance compared to physical replication.
  • Data Consistency Challenges: As logical replication operates at a logical level, there is a possibility of conflicts or inconsistencies when multiple replica servers are performing write operations simultaneously. Proper conflict resolution mechanisms need to be implemented to maintain data consistency.

Choosing the Right Replication Strategy

The decision to use physical or logical replication depends on several factors such as the nature of your application, scalability requirements, and data distribution needs. Consider the following guidelines when selecting the appropriate replication strategy:

  • Use physical replication when you require high availability, failover support, and consistent read scalability. It is suitable for scenarios where you need an exact copy of the primary server’s data, especially in environments with limited storage constraints.
  • Choose logical replication when you require selective data replication, cross-version compatibility, or a multi-master replication setup. It provides more flexibility and control over the replicated data, allowing for targeted distribution and data consolidation.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Replication Modes

The mode of replication—whether synchronous or asynchronous—determines the timing of data transfer from the primary server to the standby servers.

In synchronous replication, a transaction is considered complete only when the data is safely stored on both the primary and standby servers. This mode guarantees immediate consistency across all servers, making it ideal for scenarios where data integrity is paramount. However, the downside is potential latency, as each transaction must wait for an acknowledgment from the standby server before it can be committed.

In asynchronous replication, a transaction is marked as complete as soon as the data is committed to the primary server. Changes to the data are then propagated to the standby servers at the earliest opportunity. This mode is faster, as transactions don’t have to wait for an acknowledgment from the standby servers. However, there’s a risk that some transactions may be lost if the primary server crashes before the changes can be propagated to the standby servers.

See also  PostgreSQL High Availability: Active/Active Replication Explained

The Write-Ahead Log (WAL)

The WAL is a crucial element in the PostgreSQL replication process. Whenever a change is made to the database, it’s first recorded in the WAL. This ensures data integrity because even if a system failure occurs, PostgreSQL can use the WAL to restore the database to a consistent state.

For replication, the WAL records are vital as they contain all the data changes that need to be replicated from the primary server to the standby servers. In physical replication, the entire WAL records are shipped to the standby servers. However, in logical replication, the changes in the WAL are decoded into a logical format (i.e., SQL statements) and then sent to the subscriber servers.


Choosing between physical and logical replication in PostgreSQL often depends on your specific requirements. If you need an exact replica of your database for failover support, physical replication is the way to go. However, if you need more granular control over what data gets replicated and want to allow write operations on your replica servers, logical replication would be a better choice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is logical replication slots in Postgres?

Logical replication slots in PostgreSQL are a mechanism that helps ensure data consistency and prevent data loss during replication. They act as placeholders that retain a copy of replicated data even if the subscriber is not actively consuming it. By utilizing logical replication slots, the primary server can keep track of the replication progress and avoid overwriting data that has not been consumed by the subscriber yet, ensuring reliable and consistent data replication in PostgreSQL.

Can I enable replication on PostgreSQL on AWS RDS?

Yes, it is possible to enable replication on PostgreSQL in Amazon RDS. Amazon RDS supports replication by offering the Multi-AZ feature, which provides high availability and failover support. With Multi-AZ enabled, a standby replica of the primary database is automatically created and maintained by RDS. In the event of a primary database failure, the replica is promoted to become the new primary. This replication mechanism ensures data durability and minimizes downtime for PostgreSQL databases running on Amazon RDS.

Can I enable replication on PostgreSQL on Heroku?

Yes, you can enable replication on PostgreSQL in Heroku. Heroku offers the ability to provision dedicated followers for your primary database, which allows for replication and high availability. These followers are read-only replicas that stay in sync with the primary database. By enabling replication on Heroku, you can achieve improved performance, scalability, and data redundancy for your PostgreSQL database.

Does logical replication affect PostgreSQL performance?

Logical replication in PostgreSQL can have an impact on performance, particularly in terms of increased server load and additional overhead. The replication process involves capturing changes at a granular level and transmitting them to subscriber servers, which can consume resources and potentially lead to higher latency. However, the extent of the performance impact depends on factors such as the volume of changes, network speed, and server capacity. Proper configuration, monitoring, and optimization techniques can help mitigate any performance implications and ensure smooth operation of logical replication in PostgreSQL.

Does streaming replication affect PostgreSQL performance?

Streaming replication in PostgreSQL can have an impact on performance, although it is generally considered to be efficient and has minimal overhead. The continuous streaming of WAL (Write-Ahead Log) records from the primary server to the standby servers can introduce some additional network traffic and disk I/O activity. However, the impact is typically minimal, especially when compared to the benefits of high availability and data redundancy provided by streaming replication. Proper configuration, network optimization, and monitoring can help ensure optimal performance in a streaming replication setup.

Support us & keep this site free of annoying ads.
Shop or Donate with Paypal

Leave a Comment