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

There are two situations where Citus particularly excels: real-time analytics and multi-tenant applications.

Real-Time Analytics

Citus supports real-time queries over large datasets. Commonly these queries occur in rapidly growing event systems or systems 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

Citus’ benefits here are its ability to parallelize query execution and scale linearly with the number of worker databases in a cluster.

For concrete examples check out our customer use cases.

Multi-Tenant Applications

Another Citus use case is managing the data for multi-tenant applications. These are applications where a single database cluster serves multiple tenants (typically companies), each of whose data is private from the other tenants.

All tenants share a common schema and Citus distributes their data across shards. Citus routes individual tenant queries to the appropriate shard, each of which acts like a standalone database with full-featured SQL support.

This allows you to scale out your tenants across several machines and CPU cores, adding more memory and processing power for parallelism. Sharing a schema and cluster infrastructure among multiple tenants also uses hardware efficiently and reduces maintenance costs compared with a one-tenant-per-database instance model.

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.

A good way to think about tools and SQL features 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.