17.1. Setting Parameters

All parameter names are case-insensitive. Every parameter takes a value of one of four types: Boolean, integer, floating point, or string. Boolean values may be written as ON, OFF, TRUE, FALSE, YES, NO, 1, 0 (all case-insensitive) or any unambiguous prefix of these.

Some settings specify a memory or time value. Each of these has an implicit unit, which is either kilobytes, blocks (typically eight kilobytes), milliseconds, seconds, or minutes. Default units can be queried by referencing pg_settings.unit. For convenience, a different unit can also be specified explicitly. Valid memory units are kB (kilobytes), MB (megabytes), and GB (gigabytes); valid time units are ms (milliseconds), s (seconds), min (minutes), h (hours), and d (days). Note that the multiplier for memory units is 1024, not 1000.

One way to set these parameters is to edit the file postgresql.conf, which is normally kept in the data directory. (initdb installs a default copy there.) An example of what this file might look like is:

# This is a comment
log_connections = yes
log_destination = 'syslog'
search_path = '"$user", public'
shared_buffers = 128MB

One parameter is specified per line. The equal sign between name and value is optional. Whitespace is insignificant and blank lines are ignored. Hash marks (#) introduce comments anywhere. Parameter values that are not simple identifiers or numbers must be single-quoted. To embed a single quote in a parameter value, write either two quotes (preferred) or backslash-quote.

In addition to parameter settings, the postgresql.conf file can contain include directives, which specify another file to read and process as if it were inserted into the configuration file at this point. Include directives simply look like

include 'filename'

If the file name is not an absolute path, it is taken as relative to the directory containing the referencing configuration file. Inclusions can be nested.

The configuration file is reread whenever the main server process receives a SIGHUP signal (which is most easily sent by means of pg_ctl reload). The main server process also propagates this signal to all currently running server processes so that existing sessions also get the new value. Alternatively, you can send the signal to a single server process directly. Some parameters can only be set at server start; any changes to their entries in the configuration file will be ignored until the server is restarted.

A second way to set these configuration parameters is to give them as a command-line option to the postgres command, such as:

postgres -c log_connections=yes -c log_destination='syslog'

Command-line options override any conflicting settings in postgresql.conf. Note that this means you won't be able to change the value on-the-fly by editing postgresql.conf, so while the command-line method may be convenient, it can cost you flexibility later.

Occasionally it is useful to give a command line option to one particular session only. The environment variable PGOPTIONS can be used for this purpose on the client side:

env PGOPTIONS='-c geqo=off' psql

(This works for any libpq-based client application, not just psql.) Note that this won't work for parameters that are fixed when the server is started or that must be specified in postgresql.conf.

Furthermore, it is possible to assign a set of parameter settings to a user or a database. Whenever a session is started, the default settings for the user and database involved are loaded. The commands ALTER USER and ALTER DATABASE, respectively, are used to configure these settings. Per-database settings override anything received from the postgres command-line or the configuration file, and in turn are overridden by per-user settings; both are overridden by per-session settings.

Some parameters can be changed in individual SQL sessions with the SET command, for example:


If SET is allowed, it overrides all other sources of values for the parameter. Some parameters cannot be changed via SET: for example, if they control behavior that cannot be changed without restarting the entire PostgreSQL server. Also, some parameters can be modified via SET or ALTER by superusers, but not by ordinary users.

The SHOW command allows inspection of the current values of all parameters.

The virtual table pg_settings (described in Section 43.44) also allows displaying and updating session run-time parameters. It is equivalent to SHOW and SET, but can be more convenient to use because it can be joined with other tables, or selected from using any desired selection condition.