Amazon RDS to Postgres

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from Amazon RDS and load it into PostgreSQL. (If this manual process sounds onerous, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is Amazon RDS?

Amazon RDS (relational database service) lets users spin up cloud-based database instances without worrying about infrastructure provisioning or software maintenance or many of the administrative tasks involved in running a database on premises.

Cloud platforms can scale up or down quickly to meet changing demands. RDS takes advantage of that capability to let users add database instances to as needed. It offers automatic backup and recovery for database instances, and can replicate data across multiple zones for high availability.

RDS supports six different database engines: Amazon Aurora, PostgreSQL, MySQL, MariaDB, Oracle Database, and Microsoft SQL Server.

What is PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL, known by most simply as Postgres, is a hugely popular object-relational database management system (ORDBMS). It labels itself as "the world's most advanced open source database," and for good reason. The platform, despite being available for free via an open source license, offers enterprise-grade features including a strong emphasis on extensibility and standards compliance.

It runs on all major operating systems, including Linux, Unix, and Windows. It is fully ACID-compliant, has full support for foreign keys, joins, views, triggers, and stored procedures (in multiple languages). Postgres is often the best tool for the job as a back-end database for web systems and software tools, and cloud-based deployments are offered by most major cloud vendors. Its syntax also forms the basis for querying Amazon Redshift, which makes migration between the two systems relatively painless and makes Postgres a good "first step" for developers who may later expand into Redshift's data warehouse platform.

Getting data out of Amazon RDS

The most common way to get data out of any database is to write SQL SELECT queries. As part of any query you can join tables, specify filters, and sort and limit results.

Loading data into Postgres

Once you have identified all of the columns you will want to insert, you can use the CREATE TABLE statement in Postgres to create a table that can receive all of this data. Then, Postgres offers a number of methods for loading in data, and the best method varies depending on the quantity of data you have and the regularity with which you plan to load it.

For simple, day-to-day data insertion, running INSERT queries against the database directly are the standard SQL method for getting data added. Documentation on INSERT queries and their bretheren can be found in the Postgres documentation here.

For bulk insertions of data, which you will likely want to conduct if you have a high volume of data to load, other tools exist as well. This is where the COPY command becomes quite useful, as it allows you to load large sets of data into Postgres without needing to run a series of INSERT statements. Documentation can be found here.

The Postgres documentation also provides a helpful overall guide for conducting fast data inserts, populating your database, and avoiding common pitfalls in the process. You can find it here.

Keeping Amazon RDS data up to date

At this point you've coded up a script or written a program to get the data you want and successfully moved it into your data warehouse. But how will you load new or updated data? It's not a good idea to replicate all of your data each time you have updated records. That process would be painfully slow and resource-intensive.

The key is to build your script in such a way that it can identify incremental updates to your data. You can identify key fields that your script can use to bookmark its progression through the data, and pick up where it left off as it looks for updated data. Auto-incrementing fields such as updated_at or created_at work best for this. When you've built in this functionality, you can set up your script as a cron job or continuous loop to get new data as it appears in your database.

Other data warehouse options

PostgreSQL is great, but sometimes you need to optimize for different things when you're choosing a data warehouse. Some folks choose to go with Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, Snowflake, or Microsoft Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax, or Panoply, which works with Redshift instances. Others choose a data lake, like Amazon S3. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To BigQuery, To Snowflake, To Panoply, To Azure SQL Data Warehouse, and To S3.

Easier and faster alternatives

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. If you have all the skills necessary to go through this process, chances are building and maintaining a script like this isn’t a very high-leverage use of your time.

Thankfully, products like Stitch were built to move data from Amazon RDS to PostgreSQL automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your Amazon RDS data via the API, structuring it in a way that's optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your PostgreSQL data warehouse.