Automatic deletion of older records in Postgres

We have a Postgres cluster with a database for each user. Each database has a table that records events, and we want this table to only record the last 15 days.

If we were on MongoDB, we could use a capped collection, but we are in Postgres, which does not have equivalent functionality. In Postgres, you have to make do with something homemade. My first idea was to install a cron job in the system. It would execute daily, deleting older events in each user database.

Before jumping in, I looked at what others do. One surprising popular approach appears to be using triggers: older ones are pruned when a new row is inserted in the table. For my use case, this seems unnecessarily taxing to the system. I’m happy with running a single maintenance task late in the night when the system is underused. Two other solutions are pgAgent or pg_cron. pgAgent is an external UI tool, so hard No to pgAgent from me. pg_cron essentially offers cron jobs baked into the database, which is good, but, like pg_Agent, it requires you to install the tool itself, create a Postgres extension, change Postgres configuration, optionally grant usage to a schema, etc. There’s also partitioning, which seems way overboard for our use case. It seems that these approaches demand new dependencies and unnecessary work for something I can easily accomplish by leveraging what is already available, for free, in the system. So, it’s good old Linux cron jobs for me.

Because we run Postgres in Docker, a little more work is involved, but overall, the solution is pretty straightforward. Here is the script I came up with:

readonly CONTAINER=$(docker ps -q -f name=postgres)
readonly USER=dbuser
docker exec -i $CONTAINER \
    psql -U $USER -d postgres -t \
        -c "select datname from pg_database where datname like 'cus_%'" | \
    xargs -n 1 -I"{}" docker exec -i $CONTAINER psql -U $USER -d {} -t \
        -c "delete from mytable where datetime < now() - interval '15 days'"

First, we find the id of the docker container (it runs in a swarm, so we don’t have exact container names). We need it because we want to execute psql from within the container. The second row sets a Postgres user other than the default one. That’s because we don’t allow default user logins. Then comes the Linux pipeline. First, we execute a query that returns all user database names; then, we pipe those into the query that deletes obsolete rows. The query executes against each target database. The script is then installed as a cron job with something similar to:

0 4 * * * /home/user/dir/

Which ensures the script runs daily at 4 am. For a weekend task, I’m happy with the result.

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