Optimizing, monitoring, and troubleshooting VACUUM operations in PostgreSQL

This document describes the fundamentals of the VACUUM operation in PostgreSQL databases. It also describes the mechanisms to monitor and tune the database engine that maintains the health of database instances.

PostgreSQL uses a snapshot-based concurrency protocol that creates multiple versions of data rows while modifying the data. These data row versions are used to read a visible version of the data using a computed snapshot without acquiring read-lock on the data row. PostgreSQL maintains transaction IDs (inserted and deleted transaction IDs) for every row of data and uses the transaction IDs along with the computed snapshot to determine the visibility of the row. As the data keeps growing due to old versions of data, the time taken to scan the data (table scan or index scan) increases. To optimize the response time of the scan operation and to use space efficiently, you need to reclaim the versions and the metadata (for example, transaction ID) that is used to maintain the versions.

The VACUUM operation reclaims the deleted versions (garbage collection) and transaction IDs (freeze transaction ID). The VACUUM operation operates on data in different modes with different levels of data availability. Freezing transaction IDs is crucial to the health of the database system because the system blocks writers whenever the used transaction ID space enters reserved space.

The autovacuum jobs that you configure constantly try to reclaim the transaction ID, but they can fail. This failure is either due to insufficient configuration or because the creation rate for transaction IDs is so high that the autovacuum job cannot catch up with workload. The purpose of this document is to show how to use the VACUUM operations along with the mechanisms to tune and monitor different aspects of VACUUM operations.


This document covers the following:

  • Freezing transaction IDs.
  • Monitoring transaction IDs.
  • Reclaiming storage space.
  • Configuring automated Cloud Monitoring alerts.

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