Use PostgreSQL Relational Databases on Ubuntu 16.04

Updated by Phil Zona

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The PostgreSQL relational database system is a powerful, scalable, and standards-compliant open-source database platform. This guide will help you install and configure PostgreSQL on your Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Xenial Xerus) Linode.

Before You Begin

  1. Familiarize yourself with our Getting Started guide and complete the steps for setting your Linode’s hostname and timezone.

  2. Complete the sections of our Securing Your Server guide to create a standard user account, harden SSH access and remove unnecessary network services.

  3. Update your system:

    sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

This guide is written for a non-root user. Commands that require elevated privileges are prefixed with sudo. If you’re not familiar with the sudo command, visit the Users and Groups guide for more information.

Install PostgreSQL

Install PostgreSQL from the Ubuntu package repository:

sudo apt-get install postgresql postgresql-contrib

Configure PostgreSQL

Modify the Postgres Users

By default, PostgreSQL will create a Linux user named postgres to access the database software.

The postgres user should not be used for for other purposes (e.g. connecting to other networks). Doing so presents a serious risk to the security of your databases.

  1. Change the postgres user’s Linux password:

    sudo passwd postgres
  2. Issue the following commands to set a password for the postgres database user. Be sure to replace newpassword with a strong password and keep it in a secure place.

    su - postgres
    psql -d template1 -c "ALTER USER postgres WITH PASSWORD 'newpassword';"

    Note that this user is distinct from the postgres Linux user. The Linux user is used to access the database, and the PostgreSQL user is used to perform administrative tasks on the databases.

    The password set in this step will be used to connect to the database via the network. Peer authentication will be used by default for local connections. See the Secure Local PostgreSQL Access section for information about changing this setting.

Create a Database

Run the commands in this section as the postgres Linux user.

  1. Create a sample database called mytestdb:

    createdb mytestdb
  2. Connect to the test database:

    psql mytestdb
  3. You will see the following output:

    psql (9.5.2)
    Type "help" for help.

    This is the PostgreSQL client shell, in which you can issue SQL commands. To see a list of available commands, use the \h command. You may find more information on a specific command by adding it after \h.

Create Tables

This section contains examples which create a test database with an employee’s first and last name, assigning each a unique key. When creating your own tables, you may specify as many parameters (columns) as you need and name them appropriately. Run the commands in this section from the PostgreSQL shell, opened in Step 2 of the Create a Database section.

  1. Create a table called “employees” in your test database:

    CREATE TABLE employees (employee_id int, first_name varchar, last_name varchar);
  2. Insert a record into the table:

    INSERT INTO employees VALUES (1, 'John', 'Doe');
  3. View the contents of the “employees” table:

    SELECT * FROM employees;

    This produces the following output:

     employee_id | first_name | last_name
               1 | John       | Doe
    (1 row)
  4. Exit the PostgreSQL shell by entering the \q command.

Create PostgreSQL Roles

PostgreSQL grants database access via roles which are used to specify privileges. Roles can be understood as having a similar function to Linux “users.” In addition, roles may also be created as a set of other roles, similar to a Linux “group.” PostgreSQL roles apply globally, so you will not need to create the same role twice if you’d like to grant it access to more than one database on the same server.

The example commands in this section should be run as the postgres Linux user.

  1. Add a new user role, then a password at the prompt:

    createuser examplerole --pwprompt

    If you need to delete a role, you can use the dropuser command in place of createuser.

  2. Connect to the database:

    psql mytestdb

    You’ll be connected as the postgres database user by default.

  3. From the PostgreSQL shell, enter the following to grant all privileges on the table employees to the user examplerole:

    GRANT ALL ON employees TO examplerole;
  4. Exit the PostgreSQL shell by entering \q.

Secure Local PostgreSQL Access

PostgreSQL uses peer authentication by default. This means database connections will be granted to local system users that own or have privileges on the database being connected to. Such authentication is useful in cases where a particular system user will be running a local program (e.g. scripts, CGI/FastCGI processes owned by separate users, etc.), but for greater security, you may wish to require passwords to access your databases.

Commands in this section should be run as the postgres Linux user unless otherwise specified.

  1. Edit the /etc/postgresql/9.5/main/pg_hba.conf file, under the # "local" is for Unix domain socket connections only header:

    # "local" is for Unix domain socket connections only
    local    all        all             peer

    Replace peer with md5 on this line to activate password authentication using an MD5 hash.

  2. To enable these changes, we need to restart PostgreSQL. However, we did not grant the postgres user sudo privileges for security reasons. Return to the normal user shell:

  3. Restart PostgreSQL and switch back to the postgres user:

    sudo service postgresql restart
    su - postgres
  4. As postgres, connect to the test database as the examplerole PostgreSQL user:

    psql -U examplerole -W mytestdb 

    You will be prompted to enter the password for the examplerole user and given psql shell access to the database. When using a database, you may check access privileges for each of its tables with the \z command.

Secure Remote PostgreSQL Access

PostgreSQL listens for connections on localhost and it is not advised to reconfigure it to listen on public IP addresses. If you would like to access your databases remotely using a graphical tool, please follow one of these guides:

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.