Monitoring your bloat in Postgres

Written by Craig Kerstiens
October 20, 2017

Postgres under the covers in simplified terms is one giant append only log. When you insert a new record that gets appended, but the same happens for deletes and updates. For a delete a record is just flagged as invisible, it's not actually removed from disk immediately. For updates the old record is flagged as invisible and a new record is written. What then later happens is Postgres comes through and looks at all records that are invisible and actually frees up the disk storage. This process is known as vacuum.

There are a couple of key levels to VACUUM within Postgres:

  • VACUUM ANALYZE - This one is commonly run when you've recently loaded data into your database and want Postgres to update it's statistics about the data
  • VACUUM FULL - This will take a lock during the operation, but will scan the full table and reclaim all the space it can from dead tuples.

Postgres also has a mechanism for regularly freeing up unused space known as autovacuum. Autovacuum we've previously discussed in an earlier post. We do highly recommend you tune autovacuum appropriately to prevent your bloat ballooning. But a good question remains: Do I have bloat on my Postgres database?

This query is useful to periodically monitor your bloat. How often you should check is dependent on your application, but every month or two is a reasonable timeframe.

WITH constants AS (
    -- define some constants for sizes of things
    -- for reference down the query and easy maintenance
    SELECT current_setting('block_size')::numeric AS bs, 23 AS hdr, 8 AS ma
no_stats AS (
    -- screen out table who have attributes
    -- which dont have stats, such as JSON
    SELECT table_schema, table_name, 
        n_live_tup::numeric as est_rows,
        pg_table_size(relid)::numeric as table_size
    FROM information_schema.columns
        JOIN pg_stat_user_tables as psut
           ON table_schema = psut.schemaname
           AND table_name = psut.relname
        LEFT OUTER JOIN pg_stats
        ON table_schema = pg_stats.schemaname
            AND table_name = pg_stats.tablename
            AND column_name = attname 
    WHERE attname IS NULL
        AND table_schema NOT IN ('pg_catalog', 'information_schema')
    GROUP BY table_schema, table_name, relid, n_live_tup
null_headers AS (
    -- calculate null header sizes
    -- omitting tables which dont have complete stats
    -- and attributes which aren't visible
        hdr+1+(sum(case when null_frac <> 0 THEN 1 else 0 END)/8) as nullhdr,
        SUM((1-null_frac)*avg_width) as datawidth,
        MAX(null_frac) as maxfracsum,
        hdr, ma, bs
    FROM pg_stats CROSS JOIN constants
        LEFT OUTER JOIN no_stats
            ON schemaname = no_stats.table_schema
            AND tablename = no_stats.table_name
    WHERE schemaname NOT IN ('pg_catalog', 'information_schema')
        AND no_stats.table_name IS NULL
            FROM information_schema.columns
                WHERE schemaname = columns.table_schema
                    AND tablename = columns.table_name )
    GROUP BY schemaname, tablename, hdr, ma, bs
data_headers AS (
    -- estimate header and row size
        ma, bs, hdr, schemaname, tablename,
        (datawidth+(hdr+ma-(case when hdr%ma=0 THEN ma ELSE hdr%ma END)))::numeric AS datahdr,
        (maxfracsum*(nullhdr+ma-(case when nullhdr%ma=0 THEN ma ELSE nullhdr%ma END))) AS nullhdr2
    FROM null_headers
table_estimates AS (
    -- make estimates of how large the table should be
    -- based on row and page size
    SELECT schemaname, tablename, bs,
        reltuples::numeric as est_rows, relpages * bs as table_bytes,
            (datahdr + nullhdr2 + 4 + ma -
                (CASE WHEN datahdr%ma=0
                    THEN ma ELSE datahdr%ma END)
                )/(bs-20))) * bs AS expected_bytes,
    FROM data_headers
        JOIN pg_class ON tablename = relname
        JOIN pg_namespace ON relnamespace = pg_namespace.oid
            AND schemaname = nspname
    WHERE pg_class.relkind = 'r'
estimates_with_toast AS (
    -- add in estimated TOAST table sizes
    -- estimate based on 4 toast tuples per page because we dont have 
    -- anything better.  also append the no_data tables
    SELECT schemaname, tablename, 
        TRUE as can_estimate,
        table_bytes + ( coalesce(toast.relpages, 0) * bs ) as table_bytes,
        expected_bytes + ( ceil( coalesce(toast.reltuples, 0) / 4 ) * bs ) as expected_bytes
    FROM table_estimates LEFT OUTER JOIN pg_class as toast
        ON table_estimates.reltoastrelid = toast.oid
            AND toast.relkind = 't'
table_estimates_plus AS (
-- add some extra metadata to the table data
-- and calculations to be reused
-- including whether we cant estimate it
-- or whether we think it might be compressed
    SELECT current_database() as databasename,
            schemaname, tablename, can_estimate, 
            CASE WHEN table_bytes > 0
                THEN table_bytes::NUMERIC
                ELSE NULL::NUMERIC END
                AS table_bytes,
            CASE WHEN expected_bytes > 0 
                THEN expected_bytes::NUMERIC
                ELSE NULL::NUMERIC END
                    AS expected_bytes,
            CASE WHEN expected_bytes > 0 AND table_bytes > 0
                AND expected_bytes <= table_bytes
                THEN (table_bytes - expected_bytes)::NUMERIC
                ELSE 0::NUMERIC END AS bloat_bytes
    FROM estimates_with_toast
    SELECT current_database() as databasename, 
        table_schema, table_name, FALSE, 
        est_rows, table_size,
    FROM no_stats
bloat_data AS (
    -- do final math calculations and formatting
    select current_database() as databasename,
        schemaname, tablename, can_estimate, 
        table_bytes, round(table_bytes/(1024^2)::NUMERIC,3) as table_mb,
        expected_bytes, round(expected_bytes/(1024^2)::NUMERIC,3) as expected_mb,
        round(bloat_bytes*100/table_bytes) as pct_bloat,
        round(bloat_bytes/(1024::NUMERIC^2),2) as mb_bloat,
        table_bytes, expected_bytes, est_rows
    FROM table_estimates_plus
-- filter output for bloated tables
SELECT databasename, schemaname, tablename,
    pct_bloat, mb_bloat,
FROM bloat_data
-- this where clause defines which tables actually appear
-- in the bloat chart
-- example below filters for tables which are either 50%
-- bloated and more than 20mb in size, or more than 25%
-- bloated and more than 1GB in size
WHERE ( pct_bloat >= 50 AND mb_bloat >= 20 )
    OR ( pct_bloat >= 25 AND mb_bloat >= 1000 )
ORDER BY pct_bloat DESC;

Credit to PGExperts for an updated version of the commonly used bloat query. They also have additional queries useful for monitoring bloat on indexes as well so make sure to give them a look.

The above query will give you something that looks like this:

 databasename  | schemaname |   tablename   | can_estimate | est_rows | pct_bloat | mb_bloat  | table_mb 
 djsdcv27d8mqq | public     | github_events | t            |  1820360 |        29 |   9830.65 | 33970.547
 djsdcv27d8mqq | public     | github_users  | t            |   952920 |        28 |   4750.80 | 17100.852
(2 rows)

The amount of bloat you have is relative to the size of your database. If you're running a smaller database with only 20 GB of data total this amount may be noticable and useful to clean up up, but you also may be able to skate by for a while. If you are at several hundred GB of data stored within have bloat that is 100 GB or more and a significant percentage of your database in that case it can be really worth cleaning up.

If you do find yourself with significant bloat you have a few options:

  • Consider a full vacuum (if your application can handle the lock while it runs)
  • Investigate your autovacuum settings for a more long term healthy setup
  • If it's a continual problem could consider sharding, which allows Postgres to operate more concurrently over smaller tables at a time.
Craig Kerstiens

Written by Craig Kerstiens

Former Head of Cloud at Citus Data. Ran product at Heroku Postgres. Countless conference talks on Postgres & Citus. Loves bbq and football.