Fixing Foreign Key Deadlocks in PostgreSQL

PGX had a client come to us recently with a rather nasty deadlock issue. It took far longer than we would have liked to figure out the issue, and once we did, they were able to clear it up by dropping an unnecessary index. Still, it shouldn’t have been happening to begin with. Joel Jacobson admirably explained the issue on pgsql-hackers (and don’t miss the screencast).

Some might consider it a bug in PostgreSQL, but the truth is that PostgreSQL can obtain stronger than necessary locks. Such locks cause some operations to block unnecessarily and some other operations to deadlock, especially when foreign keys are used in a busy database. And really, who doesn’t use FKs in their busy database?

Fortunately, Simon Riggs proposed a solution. And it’s a good one. So good that PGX is partnering with Glue Finance and Command Prompt as founding sponsors on a new FOSSExperts project to actually get it done. Álvaro Herrera is doing the actual hacking on the project, and has already blogged about it here and here.

If you use foreign key constraints (and you should!) and you have a high transaction load on your database (or expect to soon!), this matters to you. In fact, if you use ActiveRecord with Rails, there might even be a special place in your heart for this issue, says Mina Naguib. We’d really like to get this done in time for the PostgreSQL 9.1 release. But it will only happen if the project can be funded.

Yes, that’s right, as with PGXN, this is community project for which we’re raising funds from the community to get it done. I think that more and more work could be done this way, as various interested parties contribute small amounts to collectively fund improvements to the benefit of us all. So can you help out? Hit the FOSSExperts project page for all the project details, and to make your contribution.

Help us help the community to make PostgreSQL better than ever!


vivek khera wrote:

Wonder why you are not partnering with Simon if he proposed the original solution? Obviously he must have spent a lot of time thinking about it.

Marti Raudsepp wrote:

The FOSSExperts page suggests that the new lock type will conflict with UPDATEs that touch any indexed columns.

But reading Simon Riggs's post, I got the impression that it should only conflict with changes to the primary key (which I guess means any FK-referenced unique keys too), but not columns in regular indexes.

Which is true?

Joshua D. Drake wrote:

Following the development

Alvaro has been good about getting various blogs and posts out about the work. You can see them here: