(678) 345-3456
380 Albert St, Melbourne, Australia

Blog Details

  • Stormatics
  • Blog
  • Enhancing PostgreSQL Performance by Scaling Horizontally using PL/Proxy

Enhancing PostgreSQL Performance by Scaling Horizontally using PL/Proxy

As databases scale and user demands intensify, the challenge of maintaining performance increases. While PostgreSQL was originally designed (40 years ago!) to scale up, but increasing demands on the database have created the need to enable it to scale horizontally. PL/Proxy is a database partitioning system designed to simplify the process of distributing database loads across multiple servers. It acts as a transparent layer between the application and the database, enabling queries to be directed to the appropriate shard or partition based on predefined rules.

This article will dive into PL/Proxy, taking a look at its benefits, use cases, and best practices to enhance PostgreSQL’s performance through effective scaling.

What is PL/Proxy?

PL/Proxy is an innovative database partitioning system that functions as a PostgreSQL extension. Originating as a procedural language, PL/Proxy facilitates the forwarding of function calls to other PostgreSQL databases, laying the groundwork for horizontal scaling and load balancing. Originally developed by Skype’s engineering team to address their scaling needs, PL/Proxy simplifies database sharding and load distribution, making it an invaluable tool for applications requiring high scalability and availability. This mechanism allows PostgreSQL databases to scale horizontally by distributing data across multiple database instances, thereby improving performance and reliability.

Benefits of Using PL/Proxy

Adopting PL/Proxy offers a multitude of advantages for PostgreSQL databases, most notably:

Horizontal Scaling

One of the primary advantages of using PL/Proxy is its capacity for horizontal scaling. Traditional vertical scaling methods involve upgrading a single server’s resources (CPU, RAM, etc.), which can quickly become cost-prohibitive and has physical limitations. In contrast, horizontal scaling allows for the addition of more servers or nodes into the database cluster, distributing the workload across multiple machines. PL/Proxy excels in this area by enabling seamless data partitioning and routing function calls to the appropriate shard or node.

This means that as your application’s user base grows, you can maintain optimal performance levels by simply adding more nodes to your PostgreSQL database. This scalability is crucial for large-scale applications where the volume of data and the number of transactions can increase exponentially.

Load Balancing

PL/Proxy’s ability to distribute database queries evenly across all available shards is another significant benefit. This load balancing ensures that no single database node becomes overwhelmed with requests, which could lead to slowdowns or even outages. By intelligently routing queries based on predefined rules or the data’s location, PL/Proxy maximizes the utilization of all database resources. This results in a more efficient processing of queries and transactions, enhancing the overall performance of the database system.

For businesses, this means their applications can handle more concurrent users and complex queries without suffering performance penalties. This is particularly beneficial during peak usage times when the demand on the database system is highest.

Reduced Database Load

Following from load balancing, PL/Proxy’s approach to partitioning data and distributing queries across multiple shards directly contributes to reducing the load on individual database servers. This reduction in load per server leads to several positive outcomes, including improved response times for queries and greater reliability of the database system as a whole.

When each node handles a smaller, more manageable portion of the data, it can process requests faster and more efficiently. This not only speeds up the application for end-users but also reduces the risk of server crashes and downtime. Furthermore, with a lower load per server, maintenance operations such as backups, updates, and data migrations become simpler and less disruptive.

Efficiency and Cost-Effectiveness

By enabling horizontal scaling, load balancing, and reducing the load on individual servers, PL/Proxy makes the database architecture not only more robust and performant but also more cost-effective in the long run. Instead of investing heavily in high-specification servers that may still encounter scalability limits, businesses can opt for a more modular and scalable approach with PL/Proxy. This flexibility allows for incremental scaling, where additional nodes can be added as needed without upfront overinvestment.

Moreover, the increased efficiency and reduced downtime translate into better user experiences and potentially higher revenue for businesses reliant on database-backed applications. The ability to scale effectively also means companies can be more agile in responding to market demands and growth opportunities.

These benefits make PL/Proxy a compelling choice for businesses looking to scale their PostgreSQL databases efficiently.

When to Use PL/Proxy

PL/Proxy is particularly well-suited for scenarios that require dynamic scaling and high availability. It excels in environments where database workloads are heavy and the need for scalability is paramount. However, it might not be the best fit for smaller applications where the overhead of managing multiple database shards outweighs the benefits of horizontal scaling. As such, PL/Proxy is recommended for applications with a clear growth trajectory that anticipate scaling challenges.

How to Use PL/Proxy for Horizontal Scaling

Implementing PL/Proxy for horizontal scaling is a strategic approach to enhance the scalability and performance of PostgreSQL databases involving several key steps:


The journey to horizontal scaling with PL/Proxy begins with its installation on your PostgreSQL server. This step typically involves downloading the PL/Proxy extension from a reliable source and integrating it with your PostgreSQL setup. Depending on your operating system and PostgreSQL version, the installation process may vary. It is crucial to follow the documentation specific to your system’s configuration to ensure a smooth installation.


After successfully installing PL/Proxy, the next step is to configure it to suit your database’s needs. This involves setting up server pools, which are essentially groups of database servers that PL/Proxy can route queries to. You’ll need to define connection strings for each server in the pool, ensuring PL/Proxy knows where to send function calls based on your routing logic.

Configuring PL/Proxy functions is crucial at this stage. These functions act as the intermediary, deciding how and where to route queries. Configuring them involves SQL and PL/Proxy syntax, requiring a good understanding of both to define the routing logic effectively. This might include specifying the logic for load balancing, failover, or directing queries to specific shards based on the function arguments.


Choosing a sharding strategy is perhaps one of the most critical decisions in this process. Sharding involves splitting your database into smaller, more manageable parts, known as shards, which can be distributed across multiple servers. The strategy you choose (e.g., by time, geographic location, customer ID, etc.) will depend on your application’s specific needs and the nature of your data.

Once a strategy is selected, you’ll need to distribute your data across the shards accordingly. This often involves data migration and ensuring that new data entries follow the sharding logic. Proper sharding is essential for achieving the desired scalability and performance improvements, as it determines how effectively PL/Proxy can balance the load and route queries.


With PL/Proxy installed, configured, and your data sharded, the focus shifts to optimization. Monitoring the performance of your sharded architecture is vital to identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies. Tools and techniques for performance monitoring can help you understand how queries are being routed and executed across the shards.

Query optimization in a sharded environment may involve rewriting queries to better suit the distributed architecture, indexing strategies to speed up query processing on each shard, and adjusting the PL/Proxy configuration to improve routing efficiency. Regularly reviewing and tuning the system based on performance data will ensure that your database continues to run smoothly and efficiently.

Implementing PL/Proxy for horizontal scaling is not a set-it-and-forget-it task. It requires ongoing attention to detail, monitoring, and adjustment to adapt to changing data patterns and workloads. However, when executed correctly, it can significantly enhance the scalability, performance, and manageability of PostgreSQL databases, making it an invaluable strategy for large-scale, data-intensive applications.

Pros and Cons of PL/Proxy


Scalability: Facilitates easy horizontal scaling.
Performance: Improves query response times through load balancing.
Flexibility: Offers customizable sharding strategies.


Complexity: Setup and management can be complex and time-consuming.
Overhead: Additional overhead for maintaining multiple database instances.
Learning Curve: Requires understanding of advanced PostgreSQL features.

Best Practices

To maximize the benefits of PL/Proxy, follow these best practices:

Regular Monitoring

Performance Metrics

Establish a robust monitoring system to track various performance metrics, such as query response times, load distribution across shards, and overall system throughput. Tools like PostgreSQL’s built-in statistics collector or external monitoring solutions can provide insights into how your database is performing in real-time.

Configuration Adjustments

Use the insights gained from monitoring to fine-tune PL/Proxy and PostgreSQL configurations. This may involve adjusting connection pool sizes, tweaking load balancing rules, or modifying shard allocation to optimize performance.



Keep both PL/Proxy and PostgreSQL up to date with the latest versions. Updates can include critical security patches, performance improvements, and new features that can enhance the stability and efficiency of your database system.

Routine Checks

Implement routine checks for database integrity, backup completeness, and the health of each node in the system. Regular maintenance tasks such as vacuuming tables, analyzing table statistics, and checking logs for errors should be part of your standard operating procedure.

Avoid Over-sharding

Complexity vs. Performance

While sharding is essential for scaling, over-sharding (creating too many shards) can complicate the architecture unnecessarily and may degrade performance. Each additional shard adds overhead for query planning and execution across the network.

Finding Balance

Aim for a shard size and number that provide optimal performance without overcomplicating the system. This involves understanding your application’s data access patterns and growth trends to anticipate how the data distribution should evolve.

What to Watch Out For

Neglecting Shard Rebalancing

Dynamic Data

Over time, some shards may become “hot spots” due to uneven data distribution or changes in access patterns. This can lead to imbalances that affect performance.

Rebalancing Strategy

Plan for periodic shard rebalancing to redistribute data more evenly across the cluster. This may involve moving data between shards or adjusting the sharding key or strategy. Rebalancing requires careful planning to minimize impact on application availability and performance.

Underestimating Maintenance Overhead

Operational Complexity

Managing a distributed database system with PL/Proxy adds layers of complexity to database administration tasks. Each shard, essentially a separate PostgreSQL database, requires monitoring, maintenance, and backup.

Resource Allocation

Ensure you have the necessary resources in terms of skilled personnel and infrastructure to manage the increased maintenance overhead. Underestimating the time and effort required for ongoing management can lead to performance issues and potential downtime.

Security Considerations

Data Encryption

In a distributed system, data may need to be encrypted both at rest and in transit to protect against unauthorized access.

Access Control

Implement strict access control measures and authentication mechanisms to secure communication between nodes and prevent unauthorized access to the database.

PL/Proxy stands as a powerful tool for scaling PostgreSQL databases horizontally, offering significant benefits in terms of performance, scalability, and load balancing. By understanding its advantages and limitations, and following best practices for implementation, organizations can effectively leverage PL/Proxy to meet their scaling needs.


Leave A Comment