Today again a nice finding after 12 years with Postgres - seems one can actually retrieve the time when a cluster / instance was once initialized! Given of course you haven’t dump-restored or in-place upgraded the instance in the mean time…

So far on those rare occasions when I’ve actually had to look up something like that I’ve worked around it (as not reported by pg_controldata also for example) by either:

  • digging into version control
  • just looking at the file system timestamps of a file (hopefully) not touched after the initial init - one such could be the $PGDATA/PG_VERSION file

But now seems there’s a better, or at least cooler, way

Finding out the cluster init date


When on v10+ or higher or on a manged instance with no $DATADIR access:

select to_timestamp ( system_identifier >> 32 ) as cluster_init from pg_control_system();
 2023-09-11 22:27:01+03
(1 row)

Non-SQL, e.g. in Bash

When still below v10 or just have local access:

SYSID=$(pg_controldata /var/lib/postgresql/16/main/ | grep 'system ident' | grep -oE '[0-9]+')
echo $SYSID 
# 7277652093081719641
date -d @$((SYSID >> 32))
#  11 sept  2023 22:27:01 EEST

How did I stumble on something like that ?

Now the weird part - we had a bunch of instances on RDS reporting the same system_identifier 🤔 So that I had to open up the source to see how on earth could that be possible. In short - it shouldn’t! In theory the sys IDs should be unique exactly due to this “init time” component (plus some bits from the init process ID). But seems RDS is copy-pasting some pre-bootstrapped folders around or just firing up some pre-bootstrapped containers - in any case a flawed concept in my opinion, inhibiting for example easy counting of unique instances and replica pairs by a “group by system_identifier” on generic (instance unaware) metrics we harvest.

By the way, the system ID also is checked when replaying WAL - so you should try to definitely avoid this re-use pattern in case you run self-managed and there’s even as much as a slight theoretical risk of mixing up WAL buckets or folders.

Cover image Stable Diffusion prompt - blue elephants in a royal dining hall, clocks on the wall, baroque style