Sunday, December 6, 2015Install and Run Postgres on OSX

This article covers installation the postgres server on OSX. It discusses how to launch the server in the foreground from the terminal or in the background as a daemon / agent. In addition, it discusses how to connect to the server with the psql command.


Install Postgres via Homebrew. If you don’t have Homebrew installed or know what it does I suggest you, check it out.

brew update
brew install postgres

This command will install Postgres into your /usr/local directory and adds the following directories:


In order to access a PostgreSQL database, the postgres server needs to be running.

We can run the server in the foreground by using the postgres command:

postgres -D /usr/local/var/postgres

The -D argument tells postgres where the database is.

In another terminal window we can now access the database with the psql command.


(Remember if you want to exit psql you can quit by typing \q and then enter or just press ctrl + d)

The problem with running the postgres server in the foreground is it needs to be ran in a terminal - and the terminal needs to stay open. If for some reason the terminal closes or the connection to the terminal stops then the postgres server shuts down.

This is why it is recommended to launch the postgres as a daemon. A daemon is a program that runs in the background, sometimes for long periods of time, that doesn’t interact with the user. The postgres server works great as a daemon, because it will keep running until told to stop or the computer is shut down. The best part is, we don’t need to have an extra terminal window open.

There are two ways to run the postgres server as a daemon on OSX, automatically and manually.

Automatically running the Postgres server as a daemon

If desired, the postgres server can be configured to launch as a deamon in the background every time the user signs in:

ln -sfv /usr/local/opt/postgresql/*.plist ~/Library/LaunchAgents
launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist

Let’s talk about what each of these commands does so we understand why it runs automatically.

ln -sfv /usr/local/opt/postgresql/*.plist ~/Library/LaunchAgents

Here is an explainshell breaking down the ln -svf command.

This takes the .plist file in /usr/local/opt/postgressql and creates a symbolic link in the ~/Library/LaunchAgents directory.

A symbolic link creates a reference to a file, this allows the file seem like it is in many different locations but is only in one. Here we /usr/local/opt/postgressql, but the computer also thinks it is also at another URI, ~/Library/LaunchAgents. If the file is modified in either spot, it will modify the original file.

launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist

launchctl is what OSX uses to load daemons and agents in the background. It is used to manage the computers networking, voice over, USB and other long running processes.

We can see a list of everything launchctl is running by issuing the command:

launchctl list

When a user signs in, launchctl reads all the .plist files in the directory ~/Library/LaunchAgents. It will see the symbolic link from the ln command and read postgres’ .plist file. It will use this data to start the postgres server as a daemon in the background.

The command, launchctl load loads the .plist file and starts the daemon immediately, this way the user doesn’t have to logout and back in.

Since the server is running as a daemon we can now connect to it via our application or the psql shell:


(Remember if you want to exit psql you can quit by typing \q and then enter or just press ctrl + d)

Stopping Postgres from Automatically Launching

If you configured the postgres server to auto launch and you don’t want it to, it only takes a couple of steps.

First, unload the daemon, this will stop the process in the background as well:

launchctl unload ~/Library/LaunchAgents/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist

Then remove the symbolic link that was made with the ln command. This way, launchctl doesn’t start the postgres server the next time the user logs in.

unlink ~/Library/LaunchAgents/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist

Manually Run The Postgres Server as a Daemon

You can manually start Postgres server as a daemon with the launchctl command. However, it is recommended to use pg_ctl instead,

pg_ctl -D /usr/local/var/postgres -l /usr/local/var/postgres/server.log start

or stop it:

pg_ctl -D /usr/local/var/postgres stop -s -m fast

These commands are hard to remember, looks like a great opportunity to turn into a script:

echo "#!/bin/bash" >
echo "g_ctl -D /usr/local/var/postgres -l /usr/local/var/postgres/server.log start" >>

echo "#!/bin/bash" >
echo "pg_ctl -D /usr/local/var/postgres stop -s -m fast" >>

#set them as executable
chmod 744 ./
chmod 744 ./

Finally, run the scripts and open up a shell to the server:


(Remember if you want to exit psql you can quit by typing \q and then enter or just press ctrl + d)