Postgres WAL Replication: Easy Step-By-Step Guide

Last Modified: September 20th, 2023

postgres wal replication

Data replication ensures the duplication of data on an ongoing basis so that replicate is in a consistently updated state and is synchronized with the source. This ensures high data availability and safety of data against undesired events such as crashes, system errors, etc. Postgres WAL replication meets this requirement through a feature called streaming replication. This feature is achieved through a master-slave configuration.  

This blog is aimed at providing a detailed explanation of how to perform Postgres WAL replication (Write-Ahead logging).

Table Of Contents

Introduction To Replication

Replication refers to the process of copying modifications in data from the publisher database to the subscriber database. In layman’s terms, it creates a replica of one database in another. Both these databases are usually located on different physical servers and help in distributing various types of database queries. This helps to form a load balancing framework.

Replication is implemented in PostgreSQL using a master-slave configuration. The master acts as the primary instance and is responsible for handling the primary database and its operations. The slave acts as the secondary instance and implements all modifications made to the primary database on itself, thus making itself an identical copy. The master is the read/write server whereas the slave is a read-only server.

For further information on replication in PostgreSQL, you can check the documentation manual.

Introduction To WAL

WAL stands for Write-Ahead Logging. It is the standard protocol being used to ensure that all the changes made to the database are being logged properly in their order of occurrence. It helps maintain data integrity by facilitating a recovery process in the case of a database crash.

WAL is enabled in PostgreSQL by default and has a default size of 16MB. These files are found in pg_xlog or pg_wal (PostgreSQL 10) directory. The log files are written sequentially and hence the cost of scanning through these files is quite less. These files have a unique name in the format of :

“00000001 00000000 00000000”

One major advantage of WAL is that it supports online-backup and point-in-time recovery. It also reduces the number of disk writes as only the log file needs to be flushed to the disk to guarantee that a transaction has occurred.

For further information on WAL, you can check the documentation manual.

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  • Working knowledge of PostgresSQL.
  • PostgresSQL installed on the host workstation.

Postgres WAL Replication

WAL helps to replicate data between the database servers in two ways:

File-Based Log Shipping

Postgres WAL Replication: File-based Log Shipping.

To always keep the data in sync, the master directly sends the WAL logs to the slave. The master can either copy the logs to the slave servers storage or simply share storage with them.

All WAL logs have a maximum storage capacity of 16MBs and are shipped only after they reach the threshold value. This can cause a delay in the replication process and increase the chances of a data loss due to a possible master crash.

Streaming WAL Records

Postgres WAL Replication: Streaming WAL Records.

The database servers stream WAL records in chunks to ensure that the data is always in sync. The slave servers receive the WAL chunks by establishing a connection with the master server. The advantage of streaming WAL records is that it doesn’t wait for the capacity to be full, these are streamed immediately. This helps in keeping the standby server up-to-date.

Streaming replication is asynchronous by default however, it supports synchronous replication mode as well.

Setting Up Streaming Replication In PostgreSQL

postges wal replication

Postgres WAL replication or streaming replication can be set up quite easily upon installing the PostgreSQL on all servers. Here you need to configure both the master node & the standby node.

Configuring Master Node

The master node can be configured using the following steps:

Step 1: Database Initialization

To initialize the database, make use of the initidb utility command.

Step 2: Creating A New User

Create a new user with replication privileges using the following command:


The user must specify a username and password for the given query. The replication keyword is used to provide the user with the necessary privileges.

Example query:


Step 3: Configuring Streaming Properties

You can configure the streaming properties using the PostgreSQL configuration file (postgresql.conf). Make the following changes in the file:

wal_level = replica
wal_log_hints = on
max_wal_senders = 3
wal_keep_segments = 8
hot_standby = on

The parameters used are:

  • wal_level: This is used to enable Postgres WAL replication/ streaming replication. The possible values here are replica, minimal, and logical.
  • wal_log_hints: It is required for the pg_rewind capability, this helps when the standby server is out of sync with the master server.
  • max_wal_senders: It is used to specify the maximum numbers of concurrent connections that can be established with the standby servers.
  • wal_keep_segments: It is used to specify a minimum number of WAL logs segments so that they are not deleted before standby consumes the entire capacity.
  • hot_standby: This parameter enables a read-only connection with the slave when it is set to ON.

Step 4: Replication Entry In pg_hba.conf File

This is used to allow the servers to establish a connection between each other for replication. The file is usually found in the data directory of PostgreSQL.

Use the following lines of code:

host replication rep_user IPaddress md5

The master server now allows a user named rep_user to connect & act as the slave server using the specified IP for replication.

Example query:

host replication rep_user md5

This is how master node can be set up for Postgres WAL replication.

Configuring Standby Node

Once the master node is configured, the next step for Postgres WAL replication is to configure the standby node. You can configure the standby node in two simple steps:

Step 1: Create A Backup Of The Master Node

Use the pg_basebackup utility to create a backup of the master node. This will be used as the starting point for the slave mode.

The utility must be used with the following syntax:

pg_basebackp -D <data_directory> -h <master_host> -X stream -c fast -U rep_user -W

The parameters used are:

  • -D: This indicates the directory you are working on.
  • -h: This is used to specify the master host.
  • -X: This is used to include the necessary transactional log files.
  • -C: This is used to set the checkpoints.
  • -W: This is used to prompt the user for a password before connecting to the database.

Step 2: Creating The Replication Configuration File

Check if the replication configuration file exists. If it doesn’t, create the replication configuration file as recovery.conf. The file should be created in the data directory of the PostgreSQL installation.

You can create the file automatically making use of the -R option in pg_basebackup utility.

The recovery.conf file should have the following commands:

standby_mode = ‘on’
primary_conninfo  = ‘host=<master_host> port=<postgres_port> user=<replication_user> password=<password> application_name=”host_name”’
recovery_target_timeline = ‘latest’

The parameters used are:

  • standby_mode: When this parameter is set to ON, it causes the server to start as the slave.
  • primary_conninfo: This parameter is used to establish a connection between the slave & the master server with the help of a connection string.
  • recovery_target_timeline: It is used to set the recovery time.

You need to give the IP address, username & password of the master server as values for the primary_conninfo parameter to establish a connection.

Example query:

primary_conninfo = 'host= port=5432 user=rep_user password=rep_password'

Now restart the slave server to complete the process.

This is how the slave server is configured for Postgres WAL replication.

Making Streaming Replication Synchronous

Postgres WAL replication is asynchronous by default however, it is possible to make streaming replication synchronous by using the following command:

synchronous_standby_names = ‘num_sync ( standby_name [, ...] )’

The parameters used are:

  • num_sync: It denotes the number of synchronous slave servers from where the transactions should wait for a reply.
  • standby_name: This parameter should have the same value as that of the application_name parameter in recovery.conf file.

If you want all slave servers to be considered synchronous, set the value of standby_name to “*”, otherwise you can mention specific names by separating them with a comma.


This article teaches you how to perform Postgres WAL replication with ease and answers all your queries regarding it. It provides a brief introduction of various concepts related to it & helps the users understand them better and use them to perform data replication & recovery in the most efficient way possible. This helps maintain data integrity & availability. It also introduces an alternative method that is Hevo Data, a No-code Data Pipeline to help users replicate data in an effortless and highly secure manner without having to write any code.

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Nicholas Samuel
Freelance Technical Content Writer, Hevo Data

Skilled in freelance writing within the data industry, Nicholas is passionate about unraveling the complexities of data integration and data analysis through informative content for those delving deeper into these subjects.

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