Just enough Postgres

Understand the primary data-store of Zotonic.


Data persistence in Zotonic is provided by PostgreSQL, a mature feature-rich open-source relational database.

Since Zotonic provides both a data model and wrapper around PostgreSQL queries, the Zotonic user is substantially insulated from routine Postgres operation. But now and again, for issues ranging from installation, backup/restore, and debugging, familiarity with a few PostgreSQL commands can save considerable time.

Sadly, PostgreSQL user documentation is abundant, but not as well organized as one might hope.


These commands have been tested on Ubuntu 16.04.

Familiarity with SQL and relational databases advised.

NOTE: The string “VERSION,” as used below, refers to your PostgreSQL version.


Where can I find PostgreSQL documentation?

If PostreSQL is installed: /usr/share/doc/postgresql-common/README.Debian.gz.

For on-line documentation: https://www.postgresql.org/docs/VERSION/static/

For instance, in Ubuntu 18, look for: https://www.postgresql.org/docs/10/static/

Is PostgreSQL installed?

In a shell:

ls /usr/lib | grep postgresql

You should see:


What version?

In the shell:

ls -l /usr/lib/postgresql/

You should see:

drwxr-xr-x 4 root root 4096 2011-06-23 14:13 VERSION

How can I install PostgreSQL?

In the shell:

apt-get update
apt-get install postgresql postgresql-client

Or, from source: http://www.postgresql.org/docs/9.4/static/install-short.html

Where are Postresql files located?

Configuration files: /etc/postgresql/[version]/[cluster]/ Binaries: /usr/lib/postgresql/[version] Data files: /var/lib/postgresql/[version]/[cluster]

Is the PostgreSQL server running?

In the shell:

/etc/init.d/postgresql status

You should see something like:

postgresql.service - PostgreSQL RDBMS
 Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/postgresql.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
 Active: active (exited) since Fri 2021-04-02 10:24:08 CEST; 4 days ago
Process: 871 ExecStart=/bin/true (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
Main PID: 871 (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)

How can I stop the PostgreSQ server?

In the shell:

/etc/init.d/postgresql stop

You should see something like:

* Stopping PostgreSQL 10.16 database server     [ OK  ]

How can I start the Postgres server?

In the shell:

/etc/init.d/postgresql start

You should see something like:

* Starting PostgreSQL 10.16 database server      [ OK ]

How can I restart the PostgreSQL server?

In the shell:

/etc/init.d/postgresql restart

You should see something like:

* Restarting PostgreSQL 10.16 database server

How can I switch to database ‘zotonic_blog’ in psql?

In the shell:

zotonic@host $ psql
zotonic=# \c zotonic_blog

You should now be on psql for the zotonic_blog database:

You are now connected to database “zotonic_pcc”.

How can I enter the PostgreSQL interactive terminal?

In the shell:


You should now be on the interactive terminal:

psql (10.14)
Type “help” for help.


How can I list databases?

From psql:


Or directly from the Zotonic User’s shell:

psql -l

You should see a list of databases like the following:

                                   List of databases
     Name     |  Owner   | Encoding |  Collation  |    Ctype    |   Access privileges
 postgres     | postgres | UTF8     | en_US.UTF-8 | en_US.UTF-8 |
 template0    | postgres | UTF8     | en_US.UTF-8 | en_US.UTF-8 | =c/postgres
                                                                : postgres=CTc/postgres
 template1    | postgres | UTF8     | en_US.UTF-8 | en_US.UTF-8 | =c/postgres
                                                                : postgres=CTc/postgres
 zotonic      | zotonic  | UTF8     | en_US.UTF-8 | en_US.UTF-8 |
 zotonic_blog | zotonic  | UTF8     | en_US.UTF-8 | en_US.UTF-8 |
(5 rows)

How can I see if a database exists?

In the shell:

psql test

If the database doesn’t exist:

psql: FATAL: database “test” does not exist

If the database exists, you’ll see something like:

psql (10.14)
Type “help” for help.


How can I tell if the database for site ‘blog’ exists in the local postgres installation?

In the shell:

psql -l | grep blog

You should see something like:

zotonic_blog | zotonic  | UTF8     | en_US.UTF-8 | en_US.UTF-8 |

How do I list the relations (tables, views , sequences) in a database?

In the shell:

psql zotonic_blog
zotonic_blog=# \d

You should see something like:

                       List of relations
 Schema |               Name                |   Type   |  Owner
 public | category                          | table    | zotonic
 public | comment                           | table    | zotonic
 public | comment_id_seq                    | sequence | zotonic
 public | config                            | table    | zotonic
 public | config_id_seq                     | sequence | zotonic
 public | edge                              | table    | zotonic
{…etc. }

If psql displays this in a pager (prompt is a :) you can escape by hitting q.

How can I create a table in a database?

NOTE: Many fine books and tutorials are available to help you learn SQL, the standard query language for relational databases. See references below.

The follow queries are for illustration only:

postgres=# CREATE TABLE books (
postgres(# title text NOT NULL);

How to add a column to a table:

postgres=# ALTER TABLE books
postgres-# ADD author text NOT NULL;

How to examine the structure of a table:

postgres=# \d books
   Table “public.books”
 Column | Type | Modifiers
 title  | text | not null
 author | text | not null

How to insert a record into a table:

postgres=# INSERT INTO books ( title, author )
postgres-# VALUES (‘Programming Erlang’, ‘Joe Armstrong’);

How to examine records in a table:

postgres=# SELECT * FROM books;

       title        |    author
 Programming Erlang | Joe Armstrong
(1 row)

How to select a record from a table:

postgres=# SELECT title FROM books
postgres-# WHERE author = ‘Joe Armstrong’;
 Programming Erlang
(1 row)

How to create a database user:

postgres=# CREATE USER myuser WITH PASSWORD ‘userpassword’ LOGIN;

How to create a database:

postgres=# CREATE DATABASE testdb WITH OWNER = myuser ENCODING = ‘UTF8’;
postgres=# GRANT ALL ON DATABASE testdb TO myuser;

How to initialize a database:


How can I back-up a database:

— Method 1: Use Backing up your site.

— Method 2: Dump can be created on the source machine with the following command (replace zotonic_blog with your site’s db name):

pg_dump zotonic_blog > zotonic_blog.sql

How to delete a database named ‘test’ and all its contents:

pg_dump test > test.sql
dropdb test

How can I restore the contents of a database from backup

See Restore/upgrade content db from backup

Zotonic Conveniences that avoid direct Postgres interaction

How can I create a database for my first Zotonic?:

zotonic createdb blog
zotonic addsite -d zotonic_blog blog

How can I create a database for an additional Zotonic site?:

zotonic createdb blog
zotonic addsite -d zotonic_blog blog

Notice the pattern ;)

How can I open the Zotonic shell?

In the terminal:

zotonic shell

How can I select records from the Zotonic shell?

In the zotonic shell:

1> m_rsc:get(page_home, z:c(blog)).
  <<"category_id">> => 104,
  <<"created">> => {{2011,6,8},{22,21,55}},
  <<"creator_id">> => 1,
  <<"id">> => 313,
  <<"is_authoritative">> => true,
  <<"is_featured">> => false,
  <<"is_protected">> => false,
  <<"is_published">> => true,
  <<"modified">> => {{2011,6,8},{22,21,55}},
  <<"modifier_id">> => ,1,
  <<"name">> => <<“page_home”>>,
  <<"page_path">> => <<“/”>>,
  <<"publication_end">> => ,{{9999,8,17},{12,0,0}},
  <<"publication_start">> => ,{{2011,6,8},{22,21,55}},
  <<"slug">> => <<“home”>>,
  <<"uri">> => undefined,
  <<"version">> => 1,
  <<"visible_for">> => 0,
  <<"title">> => <<“Home”>>,
  <<"summary">> => <<“Welcome to your blog!”>>,
  <<"managed_props">> => #{
        <<"title">> => <<“Home”>>,
        <<"summary">> => <<“Welcome ”…>>,
        <<"page_path">> => <<“/”>>}},
  <<"installed_by">> => <<"z_install_defaultdata">>


Pay GREAT attention to permissions. Your tables and sequences should be owned by the user specified in the site’s config file. GRANT may not be enough. So, if you see Zotonic trying to recreate tables or if Zotonic fails with a 3D000 error (database object doesn’t exist) even if you are positive already exist, it means your permissions are wrong.


You try to get an psql shell:


And it refuses to work:

psql: FATAL:  Ident authentication failed for user “postgres”


You need to configure pg_hba.conf

Note: For maximum security, correct configuration of pg_hba.conf is essential.

See Enabling trust-authentication in PostgreSQL in this manual, or look at the Postgresql docs:

https://www.postgresql.org/docs/10/interactive/client-authentication.html https://www.postgresql.org/docs/10/interactive/auth-pg-hba-conf.html


In postgres, you get the following:

testdb=> CREATE USER testdb WITH PASSWORD ‘testdb’ LOGIN;
ERROR:  permission denied to create role


You need to create a database user. Retry as the Postgres superuser:

sudo su postgres psql

And it will work:

postgres=# CREATE USER testdb  WITH PASSWORD ‘testb’ LOGIN;


In the shell:

cd /etc/postgresql
bash: cd: /etc/postgresql: No such file or directory


This is evidently a bug in certain Debian Lenny installs when /etc/postgresql is inadvertently deleted. Uninstalling postgresql-client (apt-get —purge remove postgresql-client) is supposed to fix it. But it won’t if the system has an older version of udev.

See: http://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=517389

Need updated version of udev


Erratic performance of database


Examine PostgreSQL installation files. Expect trouble if, by happenstance, you have more than one instance of PostgreSQL server running. You may have to back-up your data, uninstall all PostgreSQL files and reinstall.

Note: On some Lenny installations apt-get —purge remove postgresql will NOT remove all configuration files. And, apt-get install posgtresql will not replace missing a missing /etc/postgresql directory and files.


Momjian, Bruce, PostgreSQL: Introduction and Concepts, 2001, Addison-Wesley, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 462 pp

Worsley, John C. and Joshua D. Drake, Practical PostgreSQL, 2002, O’Reilly & Associates, Inc., Sebastopol, CA, 618 pp