Know Your Isolation Levels to Develop Optimal and Scalable PostgreSQL-based Applications

Isolation levels in PostgreSQL play a crucial role in ensuring the consistency, performance, and scalability of your applications. By understanding and selecting the appropriate isolation level, you can develop optimal and scalable PostgreSQL-based applications. Let’s explore the different isolation levels and their implications:

  1. Read Uncommitted (Level 0):
    • This isolation level offers the lowest level of isolation and allows dirty reads, meaning a transaction can read uncommitted changes made by other concurrent transactions.
    • While Read Uncommitted provides maximum concurrency, it sacrifices data integrity as it can lead to inconsistent and non-repeatable reads.
    • It is not recommended for most applications unless you have specific requirements and can handle potential data inconsistencies.
  2. Read Committed (Level 1):
    • Read Committed is the default isolation level in PostgreSQL.
    • It ensures that a transaction only sees committed data from other concurrent transactions.
    • However, it still allows non-repeatable reads, where a query may retrieve different results if re-executed within the same transaction due to concurrent updates by other transactions.
    • Read Committed provides a balance between concurrency and data integrity and is suitable for many applications.
  3. Repeatable Read (Level 2):
    • In Repeatable Read, a transaction sees a consistent snapshot of the database at the beginning of the transaction and maintains that snapshot throughout the transaction.
    • This level prevents non-repeatable reads, ensuring that within a transaction, the same query will always retrieve the same result.
    • However, it allows phantom reads, where a query may see new rows inserted by concurrent transactions.
    • Repeatable Read provides stronger data integrity guarantees at the expense of potential conflicts and reduced concurrency.
  4. Serializable (Level 3):
    • Serializable is the highest isolation level in PostgreSQL, ensuring full data consistency by providing strict transaction serialization.
    • It prevents dirty reads, non-repeatable reads, and phantom reads.
    • Serializable achieves this by executing transactions one after another, effectively serializing them, which can lead to increased contention and decreased concurrency.
    • This isolation level is suitable for applications that require the highest level of data integrity, but it can lead to performance impacts and increased locking.

Selecting the appropriate isolation level depends on the specific requirements and characteristics of your application. It’s important to consider factors such as data consistency needs, the likelihood of concurrent updates, and the impact on performance and scalability. In some cases, you may need to balance the isolation level with other techniques like optimistic concurrency control or explicit locking to achieve optimal performance and scalability.

To set the isolation level in PostgreSQL, you can use the SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL command or specify it when starting a transaction using BEGIN TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL. For example:

— Set isolation level for the current transaction
SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL SERIALIZABLE;
— Start a transaction with a specific isolation level
BEGIN TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL READ COMMITTED;

By understanding the isolation levels and their implications, you can make informed decisions when developing PostgreSQL-based applications, ensuring the right balance between data consistency, performance, and scalability.

About Shiv Iyer 456 Articles
Open Source Database Systems Engineer with a deep understanding of Optimizer Internals, Performance Engineering, Scalability and Data SRE. Shiv currently is the Founder, Investor, Board Member and CEO of multiple Database Systems Infrastructure Operations companies in the Transaction Processing Computing and ColumnStores ecosystem. He is also a frequent speaker in open source software conferences globally.