The idea behind the SQL-dump method is to generate a text file with SQL
commands that, when fed back to the server, will recreate the
database in the same state as it was at the time of the dump.
PostgreSQL provides the utility program
pg_dump for this purpose. The basic usage of this
pg_dump dbname > outfile
As you see, pg_dump writes its results to the
standard output. We will see below how this can be useful.
pg_dump is a regular PostgreSQL
client application (albeit a particularly clever one). This means
that you can do this backup procedure from any remote host that has
access to the database. But remember that pg_dump
does not operate with special permissions. In particular, you must
have read access to all tables that you want to back up, so in
practice you almost always have to be a database superuser.
To specify which database server pg_dump should
contact, use the command line options -h
host and -p port. The
default host is the local host or whatever your
PGHOST environment variable specifies. Similarly,
the default port is indicated by the PGPORT
environment variable or, failing that, by the compiled-in default.
(Conveniently, the server will normally have the same compiled-in
As any other PostgreSQL client application,
pg_dump will by default connect with the database
user name that is equal to the current operating system user name. To override
this, either specify the -U option or set the
environment variable PGUSER. Remember that
pg_dump connections are subject to the normal
client authentication mechanisms (which are described in Chapter 6).
Dumps created by pg_dump are internally consistent,
that is, updates to the database while pg_dump is
running will not be in the dump. pg_dump does not
block other operations on the database while it is working.
(Exceptions are those operations that need to operate with an
exclusive lock, such as VACUUM FULL.)
Important: When your database schema relies on OIDs (for instance as foreign
keys) you must instruct pg_dump to dump the OIDs
as well. To do this, use the -o command line
option. "Large objects" are not dumped by default, either.
See pg_dump's command reference page if you use
The text files created by pg_dump are intended to
be read in by the psql program. The
general command form to restore a dump is
psql dbname < infile
where infile is what
you used as outfile
for the pg_dump command. The database dbname will not be created by this
command, you must create it yourself from template0 before executing
psql (e.g., with createdb -T template0
psql supports similar options to pg_dump
for controlling the database server location and the user names. See
its reference page for more information.
If the objects in the original database were owned by different
users, then the dump will instruct psql to connect
as each affected user in turn and then create the relevant
objects. This way the original ownership is preserved. This also
means, however, that all these users must already exist, and
furthermore that you must be allowed to connect as each of them.
It might therefore be necessary to temporarily relax the client
The ability of pg_dump and psql to
write to or read from pipes makes it possible to dump a database
directly from one server to another, for example
pg_dump -h host1 dbname | psql -h host2 dbname
Important: The dumps produced by pg_dump are relative to
template0. This means that any languages, procedures,
etc. added to template1 will also be dumped by
pg_dump. As a result, when restoring, if you are
using a customized template1, you must create the
empty database from template0, as in the example
The above mechanism is cumbersome and inappropriate when backing
up an entire database cluster. For this reason the
pg_dumpall program is provided.
pg_dumpall backs up each database in a given
cluster and also makes sure that the state of global data such as
users and groups is preserved. The call sequence for
pg_dumpall is simply
pg_dumpall > outfile
The resulting dumps can be restored with psql as
described above. But in this case it is definitely necessary that
you have database superuser access, as that is required to restore
the user and group information.
Acknowledgement: Originally written by Hannu Krosing
(<email@example.com>) on 1999-06-19
Since PostgreSQL allows tables larger
than the maximum file size on your system, it can be problematic
to dump the table to a file, since the resulting file will likely
be larger than the maximum size allowed by your system. As
pg_dump writes to the standard output, you can
just use standard *nix tools to work around this possible problem.
Use compressed dumps. Use your favorite compression program, for example
pg_dump dbname | gzip > filename.gz
gunzip -c filename.gz | psql dbname
cat filename.gz | gunzip | psql dbname
Use split. This allows you to split the output into pieces that are
acceptable in size to the underlying file system. For example, to
make chunks of 1 megabyte:
pg_dump dbname | split -b 1m - filename
cat filename* | psql dbname
Use the custom dump format. If PostgreSQL was built on a system with the zlib compression library
installed, the custom dump format will compress data as it writes it
to the output file. For large databases, this will produce similar dump
sizes to using gzip, but has the added advantage that the tables can be
restored selectively. The following command dumps a database using the
custom dump format:
pg_dump -Fc dbname > filename
See the pg_dump and pg_restore reference pages for details.
pg_dump (and by implication
pg_dumpall) has a few limitations which stem from
the difficulty to reconstruct certain information from the system
Specifically, the order in which pg_dump writes
the objects is not very sophisticated. This can lead to problems
for example when functions are used as column default values. The
only answer is to manually reorder the dump. If you created
circular dependencies in your schema then you will have more work
For reasons of backward compatibility, pg_dump does
not dump large objects by default. To dump large objects you must use
either the custom or the TAR output format, and use the -b option in
pg_dump. See the reference pages for details.
The directory contrib/pg_dumplo of the
PostgreSQL source tree also contains a program that can
dump large objects.
Please familiarize yourself with the
pg_dump reference page.