Additional Features


To keep a standard Cloud installation for all customers and improve our ability to troubleshoot and provide support, we do not provide superuser access to Cloud clusters. Thus customers are not able to install PostgreSQL extensions themselves.

Generally there is no need to install extensions, however, because every Cloud cluster comes pre-loaded with many useful ones:

Name Version Schema Description
btree_gin 1.0 public support for indexing common datatypes in GIN
btree_gist 1.2 public support for indexing common datatypes in GiST
citext 1.3 public data type for case-insensitive character strings
citus 7.1-4 pg_catalog Citus distributed database
cube 1.2 public data type for multidimensional cubes
dblink 1.2 public connect to other PostgreSQL databases from within a database
earthdistance 1.1 public calculate great-circle distances on the surface of the Earth
fuzzystrmatch 1.1 public determine similarities and distance between strings
hll 1.0 public type for storing hyperloglog data
hstore 1.4 public data type for storing sets of (key, value) pairs
intarray 1.2 public functions, operators, and index support for 1-D arrays of integers
ltree 1.1 public data type for hierarchical tree-like structures
pg_buffercache 1.2 public examine the shared buffer cache
pg_freespacemap 1.1 public examine the free space map (FSM)
pg_prewarm 1.1 public prewarm relation data
pg_stat_statements 1.4 public track execution statistics of all SQL statements executed
pg_trgm 1.3 public text similarity measurement and index searching based on trigrams
pgcrypto 1.3 public cryptographic functions
pgrowlocks 1.2 public show row-level locking information
pgstattuple 1.4 public show tuple-level statistics
plpgsql 1.0 pg_catalog PL/pgSQL procedural language
session_analytics 1.0 public  
shard_rebalancer 7.1 public  
sslinfo 1.2 public information about SSL certificates
tablefunc 1.0 public functions that manipulate whole tables, including crosstab
unaccent 1.1 public text search dictionary that removes accents
uuid-ossp 1.1 public generate universally unique identifiers (UUIDs)
xml2 1.1 public XPath querying and XSLT


Forking a Citus Cloud formation makes a copy of the cluster’s data at the current point in time and produces a new formation in precisely that state. It allows you to change, query, or generally experiment with production data in a separate protected environment. Fork creation runs quickly, and you can do it as often as you want without causing any extra load on the original cluster. This is because forking doesn’t query the cluster, rather it taps into the write-ahead logs for each database in the formation.

How to Fork a Formation

Citus Cloud makes forking easy. The control panel for each formation has a “Fork” tab. Go there and enter the name, region, and node sizing information for the destination cluster.


Shortly after you click “Fork Formation,” the new formation will appear in the Cloud console. It runs on separate hardware and your database can connect to it in the usual way.

When is it Useful

A fork is a great place to do experiments. Do you think that denormalizing a table might speed things up? What about creating a roll-up table for a dashboard? How can you persuade your colleagues that you need more RAM in the coordinator node rather than in the workers? You could prove yourself if only you could try your idea on the production data.

In such cases, what you need is a temporary copy of the production database. But it would take forever to copy, say, 500GB of data to a new formation. Not to mention that making the copy would slow down the production database. Copying the database in the old fashioned way is not a good idea.

However a Citus fork is different. Forking fetches write-ahead log data from S3 and has zero effect on the production load. You can apply your experiments to the fork and destroy it when you’re done.

Another use of forking is to enable complex analytical queries. Sometimes data analysts want to have access to live production data for complex queries that would take hours. What’s more, they sometimes want to bend the data: denormalize tables, create aggregations, create an extra index or even pull all the data onto one machine.

Obviously, it is not a good idea to let anyone play with a production database. You can instead create a fork and give it to whomever wants to play with real data. You can re-create a fork every month to update your analytics results.

How it Works Internally

Citus is an extension of PostgreSQL and can thus leverage all the features of the underlying database. Forking is actually a special form of point-in-time recovery (PITR) into a new database where the recovery time is the time the fork is initiated. The two features relevant for PITR are:

  • Base Backups
  • Write-Ahead Log (WAL) Shipping

About every twenty-four hours Cloud calls pg_basebackup to make a new base backup, which is just an archive of the PostgreSQL data directory. Cloud also continuously ships the database write-ahead logs (WAL) to Amazon S3 with WAL-E.

Base backups and WAL archives are all that is needed to restore the database to some specific point in time. To do so, we start an instance of the database on the base backup taken most recently before the desired restoration point. The new PostgreSQL instances, upon entering recovery mode, will start playing WAL segments up to the target point. After the recovery instances reach the specified target, they will be available for use as a regular database.

A Citus formation is a group of PostgreSQL instances that work together. To restore the formation we simply need to restore all nodes in the cluster to the same point in time. We perform that operation on each node and, once done, we update metadata in the coordinator node to tell it that this new cluster has branched off from your original.


Citus Cloud allows you to create a read-only replica of a formation, called a “follower.” Any changes that happen to the original formation get promptly reflected in its follower, and queries against the follower cause no extra load on the original. The replica is a safe place for business analysts to run big report queries. In general followers are a useful tool to improve performance for read-only workloads.

Contrast followers with Forking. In a fork the copied formation does not receive post-copy changes from the original, and can diverge with its own updates. A follower, on the other hand, remains faithful to changes in the original.

To create a follower, head to the “Fork / PITR / Follower” tab in the Cloud console. Select the “Create follower formation” radio button, and fill in a name.


Click “Create Follower Formation” and wait. On completion the process will redirect you to a console for the new formation. The follower formation is distinct from the original and has its own database connection string.

Masterless Mode (beta)

Citus MX is a new version of Citus that adds the ability to use hash-distributed tables from any node in a Citus cluster, which allows you to scale out your query throughput by opening many connections across all the nodes. This is particularly useful for performing small reads and writes at a very high rate in a way that scales horizontally. Citus MX is currently available in private beta on Citus Cloud.


In the Citus MX architecture, all nodes are PostgreSQL servers running the Citus extension. One node is acting as coordinator and the others as data nodes, each node also has a hot standby that automatically takes over in case of failure. The coordinator is the authoritative source of metadata for the cluster and data nodes store the actual data in shards. Distributed tables can only be created, altered, or dropped via the coordinator, but can be queried from any node. When making changes to a table (e.g. adding a column), the metadata for the distributed tables is propagated to the workers using PostgreSQL’s built-in 2PC mechanism and distributed locks. This ensures that the metadata is always consistent such that every node can run distributed queries in a reliable way.


Citus MX uses PostgreSQL’s own streaming replication, which allows a higher rate of writes on the shards as well as removing the need to perform all writes through a single leader node to ensure linearizability and consistency. From the Citus perspective, there is now only a single replica of each shard and it does not have to keep multiple replicas in sync, since streaming replication handles that. In the background, we monitor every node and automatically fail over to a hot standby in case of a failure.

Data Access

In Citus MX you can access your database in one of two ways: Either through the coordinator which allows you to create or change distributed tables, or via the data URL, which routes you to one of the data nodes on which you can perform regular queries on the distributed tables. These are also the nodes that hold the shards, the regular PostgreSQL tables in which the data is stored.


Supported operations on the coordinator are: Create/drop distributed table, shard rebalancer, DDL, DML, SELECT, COPY.

Supported operations on the data URL are: DML, SELECT, COPY.

If you connect to the data URL using psql and run \d, then you will see all the distributed tables and some of the shards. Importantly, distributed tables are the same from all nodes, so it does not matter to which node you are routed when using the data URL when querying distributed tables. When performing a query on a distributed table, the right shard is determined based on the filter conditions and the query is forwarded to the node that stores the shard. If a query spans all the shards, it is parallelised across all the nodes.

For some advanced usages, you may want to perform operations on shards directly (e.g. add triggers). In that case, you can connect to each individual worker node rather than using the data URL. You can find the worker nodes hostnames by running SELECT * FROM master_get_active_worker_nodes() from any node and use the same credentials as the data URL.

A typical way of using MX is to manually set up tables via the coordinator and then making all queries via the data URL. An alternative way is to use the coordinator as your main application back-end, and use the data URL for data ingestion. The latter is useful if you also need to use some local PostgreSQL tables. We find both approaches to be viable in a production setting.

Scaling Out a Raw Events Table

A common source of high volume writes are various types of sensors reporting back measurements. This can include software-based sensors such as network telemetry, mobile devices, or hardware sensors in Internet-of-things applications. Below we give an example of how to set-up a write-scalable events table in Citus MX.

Since Citus is an PostgreSQL extension, you can use all the latest PostgreSQL 10 features, including JSONB and BRIN indexes. When sensors can generate different types of events, JSONB can be useful to represent different data structures. Brin indexes allow you to index data that is ordered by time in a compact way.

To create a distributed events table with a JSONB column and a BRIN index, we can run the following commands:

$ psql postgres://citus:[email protected]:5432/citus?sslmode=require
  device_id bigint not null,
  event_id uuid not null default uuid_generate_v4(),
  event_time timestamp not null default now(),
  event_type int not null default 0,
  payload jsonb,
  primary key (device_id, event_id)
CREATE INDEX event_time_idx ON events USING BRIN (event_time);
SELECT create_distributed_table('events', 'device_id');

Once the distributed table is created, we can immediately start using it via the data URL and writes done on one node will immediately be visible from all the other nodes in a consistent way.

$ psql postgres://citus:[email protected]:5432/citus?sslmode=require
citus=> INSERT INTO events (device_id, payload)
VALUES (12, '{"temp":"12.8","unit":"C"}');

Time: 3.674 ms

SELECT queries that filter by a specific device_id are particularly fast, because Citus can route them directly to a single worker and execute them on a single shard.

$ psql postgres://citus:[email protected]:5432/citus?sslmode=require
citus=> SELECT event_id, event_time, payload FROM events WHERE device_id = 12 ORDER BY event_time DESC LIMIT 10;

Time: 4.212 ms

As with regular Citus, you can also run analytical queries which are parallelized across the cluster:

SELECT minute,
       min(temperature)::decimal(10,1) AS min_temperature,
       avg(temperature)::decimal(10,1) AS avg_temperature,
       max(temperature)::decimal(10,1) AS max_temperature
       SELECT date_trunc('minute', event_time) AS minute, (payload->>'temp')::float AS temperature
       FROM events WHERE event_time >= now() - interval '10 minutes'
) ev
GROUP BY minute ORDER BY minute ASC;

Time: 554.565

The ability to perform analytical SQL queries combined with high volume data ingestion uniquely positions Citus for real-time analytics applications.

An important aspect to consider is that horizontally scaling out your processing power ensures that indexes don’t necessarily become an ingestion bottleneck as your application grows. PostgreSQL has very powerful indexing capabilities and with the ability to scale out you can almost always get the desired read- and write-performance.

Limitations Compared to Citus

All Citus 7.1 features are supported in Citus MX with the following exceptions:

Append-distributed tables currently cannot be made available from workers. They can still be used in the traditional way, with queries going through the coordinator. However, append-distributed tables already allowed you to Bulk Copy (250K - 2M/s).

When performing writes on a hash-distributed table with a bigserial column via the data URL, sequence numbers are no longer monotonic, but instead have the form <16-bit unique node ID><48-bit local sequence number> to ensure uniqueness. The coordinator node always has node ID 0, meaning it will generate sequence numbers as normal. Serial types smaller than bigserial cannot be used in distributed tables.