What is Citus?

Citus horizontally scales PostgreSQL across multiple machines using sharding and replication. Its query engine parallelizes incoming SQL queries across these servers to enable human real-time (less than a second) responses on large datasets.

Citus extends the underlying database rather than forking it, which gives developers and enterprises the power and familiarity of a traditional relational database. As an extension, Citus supports new PostgreSQL releases, allowing users to benefit from new features while maintaining compatibility with existing PostgreSQL tools.

When to Use Citus

Citus provides users real-time responsiveness over large datasets, most commonly seen in rapidly growing event systems or with time series data. Example use cases include:

  • Analytic dashboards with subsecond response times
  • Exploratory queries on unfolding events
  • Large dataset archival and reporting
  • Analyzing sessions with funnel, segmentation, and cohort queries

For concrete examples check out our customer use cases. Typical Citus workloads involve ingesting large volumes of data and running analytic queries on that data in real-time.

Considerations for Use

Citus extends PostgreSQL with distributed functionality, but it is not a drop-in replacement that scales out all workloads. A performant Citus cluster involves thinking about the data model, tooling, and choice of SQL features used.

Data models that have fewer tables (<10) work much better than those that have hundreds of tables. This is a property of distributed systems: the more tables, the more distributed dependencies.

For tools and SQL features, a good way to think about them is the following: if your workload aligns with use-cases noted in the When to Use Citus section and you happen to run into an unsupported tool or query, then there’s usually a good workaround.

When Citus is Inappropriate

Workloads which require a large flow of information between worker nodes generally do not work as well. For instance:

  • Traditional data warehousing with long, free-form SQL
  • Many distributed transactions across multiple shards
  • Queries that return data-heavy ETL results rather than summaries

These constraints come from the fact that Citus operates across many nodes (as compared to a single node database), giving you easy horizontal scaling as well as high availability.