Important notes about upgrading Database Server Software



This section is about reinstalling database software when an existing database is in use. It is not applicable for initial installations or if there is no existing database for the package being updated, but users should read through it to become aware of issues that can arise in the future.

Lets start this chapter with a dramatic screenshot of an issue that really happened. This issue will not occur if you are going to install the software the first time:

$ sudo systemctl status postgresql
-- postgresql.service - PostgreSQL database server
     Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/postgresql.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
     Active: failed (Result: exit-code) since Tue 2021-10-26 17:11:53 CDT; 2min 49s ago
    Process: 17336 ExecStart=/usr/bin/pg_ctl -s -D ${PGROOT}/data start -w -t 120 (code=exited, status=1/FAILURE)
        CPU: 7ms

Oct 26 17:11:53 SVRNAME systemd[1]: Starting PostgreSQL database server...
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME postgres[17338]: 2021-10-26 17:11:53.420 CDT [17338] FATAL:
                database files are incompatible with server
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME postgres[17338]: 2021-10-26 17:11:53.420 CDT [17338] DETAIL:
                The data directory was initialized by PostgreSQL version 13,
                which is not compatible with this version 14.0.
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME postgres[17336]: pg_ctl: could not start server
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME postgres[17336]: Examine the log output.
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME systemd[1]: postgresql.service: Control process exited, code=exited, status=1/FAILURE
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME systemd[1]: postgresql.service: Failed with result 'exit-code'.
Oct 26 17:11:53 SRVNAME systemd[1]: Failed to start PostgreSQL database server.

To avoid situations like the one above finding your database server software refusing to start, read the following thoughts about how to upgrade a DBMS (Database Management System) prior to actually doing the upgrade.

The root cause of the issue shown above was an upgrade of the server software to a newer major version but leaving the data files untouched. The administrator was able to recover without any loss of data.

Even if you are doing an install DBMS install, read through this section. Tt will provide you information about how to set up backup and restore procedures (at least the strategy for building them) which are sufficient for your needs and for the safety of your data.

Upgrade database server packages

Database systems work on files which hold the database metadata and the data itself. Those files are highly optimized in their internal structures for use by the server software. When upgrading such server software, newer server software may expect a different file format than was created by previous versions. In the best case, the new software can act on the old format as well—but not benefitting from newer formats which might result in better performance or of other improvements. It can also happen that the new server software will reformat the data files automatically when starting.

Unfortunately, the most likely case is that the new server software complains about out of date file formats and exits. When this happens and you have overwritten the installed server software, you may not be able to read the data files and the new software is unwilling to do so.

Changes in data file formats usually happen at major version changes but potentially can come at other times. Before upgrading the server software, check the documentation if there are changes which will require reformatting the database.

Of course, if you have databases with content which is not easy to rebuild, it is always a good idea to create backups of the database from time to time. When upgrading the server software, it is time to run another backup.

Upgrade by backup and restore



A backup is meaningless if there is no verified process to restore the data from this backup. When running a database server, you should not only create backups but you should also verify that the process you designed to fulfill the restore task is working properly. When you encounter a problem with the restore when you urgently have to rely on the backup data, it is too late—your database is in danger.

In general, most (all?) database server software provides some basic tools to create backups of your data. Usually the backups created with those tools can be read by newer versions of the software (via a restore tool). Using older restore tools with newer backup data is not defined and you should never blindly assume that it will work. It might, but usually it doesn't.

The easiest way to upgrade your database files is to

  • Create a full database backup using the old tools.

    This step creates an offline copy of the database files ready to be used for long term archiving, for disaster recovery, or just preparation for upgrade. This offline backup consists of the full one-to-one copy of the current database files or a backup of the files from a certain time in history plus all journal data (that is Oracle® terminology, it is called "Continuous Archiving" or "write ahead log (WAL)" in Postgresql) containing information about changes made to the data content. The later take less time to create if the DB software provides this type of journaling as you only have to save the changes after creating the last backup. The amount of data to backup is much less than doing a full backup every time.

    In terms of upgrading database server software, a full backup (which can be used for subsequent incremental backups) should be made, but if the amount of data is too big, an incremental backup will be sufficient. Which strategy is appropriate for you depends on the amount of data stored in your database (is it a few hundred table rows or is it hundreds of terabytes?). A full backup of the later one isn't done quickly (and we assume that the underlying system of such a database is probably not on an LFS system). To close the last gap to fully protect your data, create a backup of the corresponding old binaries (and/or their sources) and store it along with the data files to make sure that there is a fallback solution if the newer software is not able to read the older data.

  • Upgrade the server software

    In this step, instructions to build the database server software are executed just as they are shown in subsequent sections talking about the DBMs like MariaDB or Postgresql. That is, build the software as usual using BLFS instructions.

  • Restore the database by using the new tools.

    To restore the data, the tools of the newly installed server software should be used. During the restoration process, the new tools will create and/or upgrade the data files in the format the software requires. It is assumed that newer software is capable of reading old data.

Since you have already have a backup procedure in place (and you have tested your restore procedure, right?), this might be the easiest way to upgrade as you are going to use your well known processes to upgrade just as you always do—at least in terms of the backup and restore.

Upgrade the database files by using system tools

Some database systems (for instance Postgresql) provide a tool which can reformat (upgrade) the existing database files to the new format. Since the upgrading tool has to be used from the new server software (the old one cannot know anything about a new file format), the old software might be overwritten due to installation of the new software.

In case you have to restore a backup (for example, running the upgrade tool failed) you have to reinstall the old version to get back the access to your data.

Even though those tools might work with one of the actual database files, you should create a full backup before running them. A failure might result in a serious damage of the database files.

Notes for specific DBMS


Upstream documentation for Backup/Restore:


Upstream documentation for Backup/Restore:


Do not underestimate Sqlite. It is a feature rich DBMS. The main difference from the two big players above is that Sqlite does not provide access via a network API. Sqlite databases are files always stored on the same machine as the running program which uses the database. The manipulation of data content is done via API calls to library functions directly within the program.

In the upstream documentation you may find the following useful:

Documentation of the sqlite3 command line tool:

Documentation of backup API calls:

Unfortunately, there is no dedicated chapter in the upstream documentation talking about backup/restore but there are several articles about it on the Internet. One example is shown below.

Documentation for Backup/Restore:

Berkeley DB

Just like Sqlite this software acts on local database files meaning there is no network interface.

The relevant resources for Backup/Restore a Berkeley database are the man pages for db_dump and its counterpart db_load.