The following concepts are defined as they are relevant to pgBackRest, PostgreSQL, and this user guide.


A backup is a consistent copy of a database cluster that can be restored to recover from a hardware failure, perform point-in-time recovery, or to bring up a new standby.

Full Backup: pgBackRest copies the entire content of the database cluster to the backup. The first backup of the database cluster is always a full backup. pgBackRest restores a full backup directly. The full backup does not depend on any files outside of the full backup for consistency.

Differential Backup: pgBackRest copies only the database cluster files that have changed since the last full backup. To restore a differential backup, pgBackRest copies all of the files in the chosen differential backup and the appropriate unchanged files from the previous full backup. The advantage of a differential backup is that it requires less disk space than a full backup, however, the differential backup and the full backup must be valid to restore the differential backup.

Incremental Backup: pgBackRest copies only the database cluster files that have changed since the last backup (which can be an incremental backup, a differential backup, or a full backup). Since an incremental backup only includes the files changed since the prior backup, they are generally much smaller than a full or differential backup. An incremental backup requires other backups to be valid before restoring the incremental backup. Since the incremental backup includes only those files that have been changed or added since the last backup, all prior incremental backups (back to the prior differential and the prior full backup) must be valid to restore the incremental backup. If no differential backup exists, then all prior incremental backups (back to the prior full backup and the full backup itself) must be valid to restore the incremental backup.


A restore is an act of copying a backup to a system where it will be started as a live database cluster. A restore requires the backup files and one or more WAL segments in order to work correctly.

Write Ahead Log (WAL)

WAL logging is the mechanism that PostgreSQL uses to ensure that no committed changes are lost. Transactions are written sequentially to the WAL and a transaction is considered to be committed when those writes are flushed to disk. Later, a background writer process writes the changes into the main database cluster files (also known as the heap). In the event of a crash, the WAL is replayed to make the database consistent.

WAL is conceptually infinite but in practice is broken up into individual 16MB files called segments. WAL segments follow the naming convention 0000000100000A1E000000FE where the first eight hexadecimal digits represent the timeline and the next 16 digits are the log sequence number (LSN).


Encryption is the process of converting data into a format that is unrecognizable unless you provide the appropriate password (also referred to as passphrase). To prevent unauthorized access to data stored within the repository, pgBackRest will encrypt the repository after authentication with a user-provided password.

Configuration Reference

You can find a complete list of commands and configuration keys in the project documentation:

You can use pgBackRest entirely with command-line parameters, but a configuration file is more practical for complex installations when configuring multiple options instantly. The default location for the configuration file is /etc/pgbackrest/pgbackrest.conf. If the configuration file does not exist in that location, then the old /etc/pgbackrest.conf file will be loaded instead (if it exists).

It is also recommended to use a configuration file in order to avoid specifying secrets in command-line options.


Use the global section of the configuration file to set the default values.

The global section also allows you to define values that will be used when invoking specific commands. For example, the following configuration setting would specify the compress level for the archive-push command:



A stanza is a database cluster configuration that defines where the database cluster is located, how to take a backup of the database cluster, available archiving options, etc. Most database servers will only have one database cluster and, therefore, one stanza; whereas backup servers will have a stanza for each database cluster that needs to be backed up.

Because the stanza name will be used for the primary and all replicas, it is recommended to choose a name that describes the cluster's databases and actual function, such as app or dw, rather than the local instance name, such as main or prod.

The stanza-level settings overrides any global configuration settings.

Command Line Arguments and Environment Variables

You can also configure options as command line argument or environment variables.

  • To use a non-boolean argument on the command line, simply prefix the option with a double dash.

  • To set a boolean option to false on the command line, use the --no- prefix.

  • To set an environment variable, capitalize the option name, prefix it with PGBACKREST_, and replace dashes with underscores.

The following table illustrates how to specify an option using the pgbackrest.conf file, command line argument, and environment variable.

Configuration FileCommand Line ArgumentEnvironment Variable

Options Precedence

For all options, the order of precedence (highest to lowest) is as follows:

  • Command line argument
  • Environment variable
  • [stanza:command]
  • [stanza]
  • [global:command]
  • [global]
  • Default (internal)

Configuring Multiple Database Hosts in a Stanza

Each stanza could configure multiple database hosts. As such, you can also configure every pg1-* configuration option for host 2 with pg2-*, for host 3 with pg3-*, etc. This assumes that those database clusters are linked together (e.g. using Streaming Replication).

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