PostgreSQL Feature Set

As stated previously in this chapter, PostgreSQL is widely considered the most advanced open source database in the world. PostgreSQL provides a wealth of features that are usually only found in commercial databases such as DB2 or Oracle. The following is a brief listing of some of these core features, as of PostgreSQL 7.1.x.

Object-relational DBMS

PostgreSQL is capable of handling complex objects and rules. Examples of the functionality that PostgreSQL supports are declarative queries in SQL, concurrency control, transactions, query optimization, and multiuser support.

Highly extensible

PostgreSQL supports user-defined operators, functions, access methods, and data types.

Comprehensive SQL support

PostgreSQL supports the core SQL99 specification and includes advanced features such as SQL92 joins, inheritance, and arrays.

Referential integrity

PostgreSQL supports referential integrity, which is used to insure the validity of a database's data.

Flexible API

PostgreSQL includes an extensive API. The flexibility of the PostgreSQL API has allowed vendors to provide development support easily for the PostgreSQL database. PostgreSQL arguably has the largest amount of interface capabilities of any database. These interfaces include Object Pascal, Python, Perl, PHP, ODBC, Java/JDBC, Ruby, TCL, C/C++, and Pike.

Procedural languages

PostgreSQL has support for internal procedural languages, including a native language called PL/pgSQL. The language is comparable to the Oracle procedural language, PL/SQL. Another real advantage to PostgreSQL is its ability to use Perl, Python, or TCL as an embedded procedural language.


MVCC, or Multi-Version Concurrency Control, is the technology that PostgreSQL uses to manage database locking. If you have ever used another SQL capable DBMS, such as MySQL or Access, you will notice that there are times when a reader has to wait for access to information in the database. The waiting is caused by people who are writing to the database. In short, the reader is blocked by writers who are updating records.

By using MVCC, PostgreSQL avoids this problem entirely. MVCC is considered better than row-level locking because a reader is never blocked by a writer. Instead, PostgreSQL keeps track of all transactions performed by the database users. PostgreSQL is then able to manage the records without causing people to wait for records to become available.


PostgreSQL uses a process-per-user client/server architecture. This is similar to the Apache 1.3.x method of handling processes. There is a master process that forks to provide additional connections for each client attempting to connect to PostgreSQL.

Write Ahead Logging (WAL)

The PostgreSQL feature known as Write Ahead Logging increases the reliability of the database by logging changes before they are written to the database. This ensures that, in the unlikely occurrence of a database crash, there will be a record of transactions from which to restore. This can be greatly beneficial in the event of a crash, as any changes that were not written to the database can be recovered by using the data that was previously logged. Once the system is restored, a user can then continue to work from the point that they were at before the crash occurred.