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Build an EL(T) from Postgres CDC (Change Data Capture)

Set up Postgres CDC (Change Data Capture) in minutes using Airbyte, leveraging Debezium to build a near real-time EL(T).

Step 1: Start a PostgreSQL Docker container
Step 2: Configure your PostgreSQL database
Step 3: Configure a PostgreSQL source in Airbyte
Step 4: Configure a local JSON destination in Airbyte
Step 5: Create an Airbyte connection
Step 6: Verify that the sync worked
Step 7: Test CDC in action by creating and deleting an object from the database
Wrapping up
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

The benefits of using Change Data Capture (CDC) to replicate data from PostgreSQL into any destination are many – mainly, it allows you to track all changes applied to your database in real-time, including delete operations. The ability to track and replicate delete operations is especially beneficial for ELT pipelines.

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to set up PostgreSQL Change Data Capture in minutes using Airbyte, leveraging a powerful tool like Debezium to build a near real-time EL(T).

But before we begin, let's clarify some key concepts so you better understand what's happening in every step.

Understanding Change Data Capture (CDC)

Change Data Capture (CDC) is a pivotal concept in database management, enabling real-time tracking and replication of data changes. Organizations leverage CDC to stay abreast of dynamic data modifications, including inserts, updates, and crucially, deletions. By comprehending the fundamentals of CDC, businesses gain insights into the evolving state of their databases, empowering them to make informed decisions and ensure data integrity.

Benefits of PostgreSQL CDC

Improved Data Accuracy and Consistency

PostgreSQL CDC ensures that changes to the source database are accurately reflected in the target systems. This consistency is crucial for maintaining data integrity across different applications and services.

Enhanced Data Agility

By capturing only the changes instead of processing entire datasets, CDC significantly reduces the amount of data that needs to be processed and transferred. This agility allows for rapidly developing and deploying new products and services.

Cost Effectiveness

By simply capturing changes, the CDC dramatically reduces the amount of data that must be processed and transferred. This reduction in data volume translates into lower storage and processing costs.

Scalability of Performance

PostgreSQL CDC supports scalable data architectures by efficiently capturing and propagating data changes. This scalability is important for growing businesses dealing with increasing amounts of data.

Compliance and Auditing

CDC helps maintain comprehensive audit trails for all data changes, which are important for regulatory compliance and internal auditing. This capability ensures transparency and accountability in data handling.

Real-Time Data Integration

Modern applications require real-time data processing to provide cutting-edge insights and a seamless user experience. PostgreSQL CDC captures changes as they occur, ensuring that your data warehouses, analytics tools, and other applications are always up-to-date.

Methods to implement CDC in PostgreSQL

1. Triggers

Triggers in PostgreSQL are an easy way to use CDC. By defining triggers on tables, you can capture changes and store them in a separate log table or transfer them to another system for further processing. This method is relatively easy to implement.

2. Logical Replication

PostgreSQL's logical replication captures data manipulation language (DML) operations such as insert, update, and delete, and replicates these changes from one database to another. This method is suitable for real-time data synchronization and can be used to synchronize specific tables or an entire database.

3. WAL (Write-Ahead Log) Streaming

PostgreSQL WAL logs can be used for CDC by extracting changes from the WAL files. Tools like Debezium or pg_recvlogical can read WAL files and interpret changes. This is a powerful approach to capturing change but requires a deep understanding of WAL features and appropriate tools.

4. Using Airbyte

Airbyte is a popular open-source data integration platform that supports CDC for PostgreSQL. It allows you to capture changes from a PostgreSQL source and replicate them to various destinations, such as data warehouses or other databases. Airbyte provides pre-built connectors for PostgreSQL and handles the CDC process, making it easier to set up and manage compared to building a custom CDC solution from scratch.

Introduction to Debezium

Debezium stands as a cornerstone in the realm of Change Data Capture (CDC), offering an open-source framework for real-time streaming of database changes. With Debezium, businesses can capture row-level committed operations, such as inserts, updates, and deletions, directly from their database systems. This robust framework empowers organizations to build dynamic data pipelines and drive actionable insights from their evolving data landscape.

Role of Logical Decoding in CDC

Logical decoding plays a pivotal role in enabling Change Data Capture (CDC) by providing a streaming representation of the write-ahead log (WAL) in PostgreSQL. Through logical decoding, database modifications performed via SQL commands are captured and streamed in real-time. This mechanism forms the foundation for CDC implementations, allowing organizations to track and replicate changes efficiently across their database environments.

Replication Slots in PostgreSQL

Replication slots serve as essential components in PostgreSQL's Change Data Capture (CDC) architecture, providing streams of changes for replication purposes. By creating replication slots, organizations establish continuous streams of data modifications, ensuring seamless replication and synchronization across their database systems. Replication slots play a crucial role in maintaining data consistency and enabling real-time data replication in PostgreSQL environments.

Logical Decoding Plugins in PostgreSQL

In PostgreSQL, logical decoding plugins play a crucial role in facilitating Change Data Capture (CDC) by converting the internal representation of the write-ahead log (WAL) into a format that can be interpreted without knowledge of the database's internal state. These plugins enable organizations to capture and stream database changes effectively, enhancing the interoperability and usability of CDC implementations. With a variety of logical decoding plugins available, such as pgoutput and wal2json, organizations can choose the most suitable plugin for their specific use case and requirements.

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Using Airbyte for Postgres Change Data Capture Implementation

When using an Airbyte source with Change Data Capture, you don't need to have specific knowledge of the technologies mentioned above. Airbyte takes care of everything, and in general, you only need to make sure to have a compatible logical decoding plugin and a replication slot in your PostgreSQL instance. 

⚠️ If you’re using a PostgreSQL instance in the cloud, such as Amazon RDS, refer to the Debezium connector documentation for the specific requirements your instance may have.

Now, you will learn how to configure Airbyte to replicate data from PostgreSQL to a local file using CDC and you will use Docker to start a PostgreSQL instance. Let's get started!


Versions used in this tutorial

  • Docker: 4.8.2
  • Compose: 1.29.2
  • debezium/postgres Docker image tag: 13
  • Airbyte: 0.38.1-alpha

Step 1: Start a PostgreSQL Docker container

Use docker to kick start a PostgreSQL container. To do that, run the following command in your terminal.

docker run --name airbyte-postgres -e POSTGRES_PASSWORD=password -p 5432:5432 -d debezium/postgres:13

In this case, we are naming the container airbyte-postgres. You can select a different password.

The debezium/postgres image is used the same manner as the Postgres official image. Additionally, it instructs Postgres to load Debezium's logical decoding plugin, enable the logical decoding feature and configure a single replication slot used by the Debezium connector.

Step 2: Configure your PostgreSQL database

Now, it's time to configure a PostgresSQL schema, user, and necessary privileges. You can use psql, which will allow you to execute queries from the terminal interactively.

To start psql, you need to SSH into the Docker container you just started in the previous step.

docker exec -it airbyte-postgres /bin/bash

Once in the container, start psql.

psql -U postgres

Now, create a schema and set the search path to tell PostgreSQL which schema to look at.

SET search_path TO postgres;

Although the database can be accessed with the root user, it is advisable to use a less privileged read-only user to read data. Create a user called airbyte and assign the password of your choice. 

CREATE USER airbyte PASSWORD 'password';

Then, grant the user access to the relevant schema.

GRANT USAGE ON SCHEMA postgres TO airbyte;

To replicate data from multiple Postgres schemas, you can re-run the command above, but you'll need to set up numerous Airbyte sources connecting to the same database on the different schemas.

Next, grant the user read-only access to the relevant tables.


# Allow airbyte user to see tables created in the future

The user you just created also needs to be granted REPLICATION and LOGIN permissions. 


Now, it's time to create a new table and populate it with some data. Create a cars table with an id and the car's name.

INSERT INTO cars VALUES(0, 'mazda');
INSERT INTO cars VALUES(1, 'honda');

Next, let's create a logical replication slot using the pgoutput plugin. In PostgreSQL, a replication slot is used to hold the state of a replication stream.

SELECT pg_create_logical_replication_slot('airbyte_slot', 'pgoutput');

Finally, create a publication to allow subscription to the events of the cars table. We advise users to add only the tables that they want to sync in the publication and not all tables.


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Step 3: Configure a PostgreSQL source in Airbyte

To set up a new PostgreSQL Airbyte source, go to Airbyte's UI, click on sources and add a new source. 

As the connector type, select Postgres. As demonstrated in the subsequent illustrations, fill in the following configuration fields if you used the instructions above to configure your Postgres database.

  • Name: Postgres CDC Tutorial (or any name you'd like)
  • Host: localhost
  • Port: 5432
  • DB Name: postgres
  • Schemas: postgres
  • User: airbyte
  • Password: password (or any password you assigned to the airbyte user)
  • Connect using SSL: disabled
  • Replication method: Logical replication (CDC)
  • Plugin: pgoutput
  • Replication_slot: airbyte_slot
  • Publication: pub1
  • SSH Tunnel Method: No Tunnel

Then click on Set up source and Airbyte will test the connection. If everything goes well, you should see a successful message.

Step 4: Configure a local JSON destination in Airbyte

Go to destinations and add a new one. As demonstrated in the following diagram, select Local JSON as the destination type and fill in with the following details.

  • Name: JSON CDC Tutorial (or any name you would like)
  • Destination_path: /cdc_tutorial (or any path where you'd like to store the Postgres data)

Then click on Set up source and let Airbyte test the destination.

Step 5: Create an Airbyte connection

Go to connections and create a new connection. Then, select the existing Postgres source you have just created and then do the same for the Local JSON destination. Once you're done, you can set up the connection as follows.

  • Replication Frequency: I recommend setting it to "manual" if you're testing. You can change to any frequency that makes sense to your use case when you're ready.
  • Destination Namespace: Mirror source structure
  • Destination Stream Prefix: You can leave this option blank, as we don't want a prefix at the destination.

Then, it's time to configure the streams, which in this case are the tables in our database. For now, we only have the cars table. If you expand it, you can see the columns it has.

Now, you should select a sync mode. If you want to take full advantage of using Change Data Capture, you should use Incremental | Append mode to only look at the rows that have changed in the source and sync them to the destination. Selecting a Full Refresh mode would sync the whole source table, which is most likely not what you want when using CDC. Learn more about sync modes in our documentation.

When using an Incremental sync mode, we would generally need to provide a Cursor field, but when using CDC, that's not necessary since the changes in the source are detected via the Debezium connector stream.

Once you're ready, save the changes. Then, you can run your first sync by clicking on Sync now. You can check your run logs to verify everything is going well. Just wait for the sync to be completed, and that's it! You've replicated data using Postgres Change Data Capture.

Step 6: Verify that the sync worked

From the root directory of the Airbyte project, go to /tmp/airbyte_local/cdc_tutorial, and you will find a file named _airbyte_raw_cars.jsonl where the data from the PostgreSQL database was replicated.

You can check the file's contents in your preferred IDE or run the following command.

cat _airbyte_raw_cars.jsonl

Step 7: Test CDC in action by creating and deleting an object from the database

Now, let's test the CDC setup we have configured. To do that, run the following queries to insert and delete a row from the database.

INSERT INTO cars VALUES(3, 'tesla');
DELETE FROM cars WHERE NAME = 'tesla';

Launch a sync and, once it finishes, check the local JSON file to verify that CDC has captured the change. The JSON file should now have two new lines, showing the addition and deletion of the row from the database. 

We confirm that CDC allows you to see that a row was deleted, which would be impossible to detect when using the regular Incremental sync mode. The _ab_cdc_deleted_at meta field not being null means id=3 was deleted.

Wrapping up

In this tutorial you have learned how logical decoding works in PostgreSQL and how to leverage it to implement an EL(T) using Airbyte. Using CDC to capture database changes is one of the best ways to replicate data, especially when you have huge amounts of it and the need to track delete operations in the source database.

If you want to easily try out Airbyte, you might want to check our fully managed solution: Airbyte Cloud. We also invite you to ‍join the conversation on our community Slack Channel to share your ideas with thousands of data engineers and help make everyone’s project a success!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. What is Change Data Capture (CDC) in PostgreSQL?
    • Change Data Capture (CDC) in PostgreSQL is a mechanism that allows real-time tracking and capturing of data changes occurring in the database. It enables organizations to monitor inserts, updates, and deletions made to database records and replicate these changes to downstream systems or data warehouses.
  2. How does CDC work in PostgreSQL, and what mechanisms does it utilize?
    • CDC in PostgreSQL operates by leveraging a feature called logical decoding. This feature reads the write-ahead log (WAL), a log file that records all changes made to the database. Logical decoding converts these changes into a stream of events, which can then be consumed by applications or replication systems for further processing.
  3. What are the benefits of implementing CDC in PostgreSQL, and how can it improve data management?
    • Implementing CDC in PostgreSQL offers several benefits, including real-time data synchronization, improved data integrity, and reduced latency in data replication. CDC enables organizations to make informed decisions based on up-to-date data and ensures that data across multiple systems remains consistent and accurate.
  4. What are the prerequisites for setting up CDC in PostgreSQL, and what components are required?
    • To set up CDC in PostgreSQL, you'll need a PostgreSQL database instance configured with logical replication enabled. Additionally, you'll require a logical decoding plugin, such as pgoutput or wal2json, which converts the WAL records into a format that can be consumed by downstream applications or systems.
  5. Can CDC in PostgreSQL capture all types of data modifications, including inserts, updates, and deletions?
    • Yes, CDC in PostgreSQL can capture all types of data modifications, including inserts, updates, and deletions. By monitoring changes at the database level and utilizing logical decoding, PostgreSQL CDC ensures that all modifications to database records are captured and made available for replication or analysis.
  6. How does CDC ensure data consistency and integrity when replicating data from PostgreSQL using a data replication tool?
    • CDC guarantees data consistency and integrity when replicating PostgreSQL data with Airbyte by continuously monitoring database changes, capturing all modifications (inserts, updates, and deletions), and preserving the order of operations during replication. Airbyte's incremental replication minimizes latency, and its built-in data validation and error handling mechanisms ensure accuracy and reliability.

Should you build or buy your data pipelines?

Download our free guide and discover the best approach for your needs, whether it's building your ELT solution in-house or opting for Airbyte Open Source or Airbyte Cloud.

Download now

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