Physical replication is one of the strengths of PostgreSQL and one of the reasons why some of the world's largest organizations in the world have chosen it for the management of their data in business continuity contexts. Primarily used to achieve high availability, physical replication also allows scale-out of read-only workloads and offloading some work from the primary.

Application-level replication

Having contributed throughout the years to the replication feature in PostgreSQL, we have decided to build high availability in Cloud Native PostgreSQL on top of the native physical replication technology and integrate it directly in the Kubernetes API.

In Kubernetes terms, this is referred to as application-level replication, in contrast with storage-level replication.

A very mature technology

PostgreSQL has a very robust and mature native framework for replicating data from the primary instance to one or more replicas, built around the concept of transactional changes continuously stored in the WAL (Write Ahead Log).

Started as the evolution of crash recovery and point in time recovery technologies, physical replication was first introduced in PostgreSQL 8.2 (2006) through WAL shipping from the primary to a warm standby in continuous recovery.

PostgreSQL 9.0 (2010) enhanced it with WAL streaming and read-only replicas via hot standby, while 9.1 (2011) introduced synchronous replication at the transaction level (for RPO=0 clusters). Cascading replication was released with PostgreSQL 9.2 (2012). The foundations of logical replication were laid in PostgreSQL 9.4, while version 10 (2017) introduced native support for the publisher/subscriber pattern to replicate data from an origin to a destination.

Replication within a PostgreSQL cluster

Streaming replication support

At the moment, Cloud Native PostgreSQL natively and transparently manages physical streaming replicas within a cluster in a declarative way, based on the number of provided instances in the spec:

replicas = instances - 1 (where  instances > 0)

Immediately after the initialization of a cluster, the operator creates a user called streaming_replica as follows:



Due to a pg_rewind requirement, in PostgreSQL 10 the streaming_replica user is created with SUPERUSER privileges.

Out of the box, the operator automatically sets up streaming replication within the cluster over an encrypted channel and enforces TLS client certificate authentication for the streaming_replica user - as highlighted by the following excerpt taken from pg_hba.conf:

# Require client certificate authentication for the streaming_replica user
hostssl postgres streaming_replica all cert
hostssl replication streaming_replica all cert


For details on how Cloud Native PostgreSQL manages certificates, please refer to the "Certificates" section in the documentation.

Continuous backup integration

In case continuous backup is configured in the cluster, Cloud Native PostgreSQL transparently configures replicas to take advantage of restore_command when in continuous recovery. As a result, PostgreSQL is able to use the WAL archive as a fallback option everytime pulling WALs via streaming replication fails.

Synchronous replication

Cloud Native PostgreSQL supports configuration of quorum-based synchronous streaming replication via two configuration options called minSyncReplicas and maxSyncReplicas which are the minimum and maximum number of expected synchronous standby replicas available at any time. For self-healing purposes, the operator always weights these two values with the available number of replicas in order to determine the quorum.

Synchronous replication is disabled by default (minSyncReplicas and maxSyncReplicas are not defined). In case both minSyncReplicas and maxSyncReplicas are set, Cloud Native PostgreSQL automatically updates the synchronous_standby_names option in PostgreSQL to the following value:

ANY q (pod1, pod2, ...)


  • q is an integer automatically calculated by the operator to be:
    1 <= minSyncReplicas <= q <= maxSyncReplicas <= readyReplicas
  • pod1, pod2, ... is the list of all PostgreSQL pods in the cluster


To provide self-healing capabilities, the operator has the power to ignore minSyncReplicas in case such value is higher than the currently available number of replicas. Synchronous replication is automatically disabled when readyReplicas is 0.

As stated in the PostgreSQL documentation, the method ANY specifies a quorum-based synchronous replication and makes transaction commits wait until their WAL records are replicated to at least the requested number of synchronous standbys in the list.


Even though the operator privileges self-healing over enforcement of synchronous replication settings, our recommendation is to plan for synchronous replication only in clusters with 3+ instances or, more generally, when maxSyncReplicas < (instances - 1).

Replication from an external PostgreSQL cluster

Cloud Native PostgreSQL relies on the foundations of the PostgreSQL replication framework even when a PostgreSQL cluster is created from an existing one (source) and kept synchronized through the replica cluster feature. The source can be a primary cluster or another replica cluster (cascading replica cluster).

The available options in terms of replication, both at bootstrap and continuous recovery level, are:

  • use streaming replication between the replica cluster and the source (this will certainly require some administrative and security related work to be done to make sure that the network connection between the two clusters is correctly setup)
  • use a Barman Cloud object store for recovery of the base backups and the WAL files that are regularly shipped from the source to the object store and pulled by barman-cloud-wal-restore in the replica cluster
  • any of the two

All you have to do is actually define an external cluster. Please refer to the "Bootstrap" section for information on how to clone a PostgreSQL server using either pg_basebackup (streaming) or recovery (object store).

If the external cluster contains a barmanObjectStore section:

  • you'll be able to boostrap the replica cluster from an object store using the recovery section
  • Cloud Native PostgreSQL will automatically set the restore_command in the designated primary instance

If the external cluster contains a connectionParameters section:

  • you'll be able to boostrap the replica cluster via streaming replication using the pg_basebackup section
  • Cloud Native PostgreSQL will automatically set the primary_conninfo option in the designated primary instance, so that a WAL receiver process is started to connect to the source cluster and receive data

The created replica cluster can perform backups in a reserved object store from the designated primary, enabling symmetric architectures in a distributed fashion.

You have full flexibility and freedom to decide your favourite distributed architecture for a PostgreSQL database, by choosing:

  • a private cloud spanning over multiple Kubernetes clusters in different data centers
  • a public cloud spanning over multiple Kubernetes clusters in different regions
  • a mix of the previous two (hybrid)
  • a public cloud spanning over multiple Kubernetes clusters in different regions and on different Cloud Service Providers