Operator Capability Levels

This section provides a summary of the capabilities implemented by CloudNativePG, classified using the "Operator SDK definition of Capability Levels" framework.

Operator Capability Levels


Based on the Operator Capability Levels model, You can expect a "Level V - Auto Pilot" set of capabilities from the CloudNativePG Operator.

Each capability level is associated with a certain set of management features the operator offers:

  1. Basic Install
  2. Seamless Upgrades
  3. Full Lifecycle
  4. Deep Insights
  5. Auto Pilot


We consider this framework as a guide for future work and implementations in the operator.

Level 1: Basic Install

Capability level 1 involves installation and configuration of the operator. This category includes usability and user experience enhancements, such as improvements in how you interact with the operator and a PostgreSQL cluster configuration.


We consider Information Security part of this level.

Operator deployment via declarative configuration

The operator is installed in a declarative way using a Kubernetes manifest which defines 4 major CustomResourceDefinition objects: Cluster, Pooler, Backup, and ScheduledBackup.

PostgreSQL cluster deployment via declarative configuration

A PostgreSQL cluster (operand) is defined using the Cluster custom resource in a fully declarative way. The PostgreSQL version is determined by the operand container image defined in the CR, which is automatically fetched from the requested registry. When deploying an operand, the operator also automatically creates the following resources: Pod, Service, Secret, ConfigMap,PersistentVolumeClaim, PodDisruptionBudget, ServiceAccount, RoleBinding, Role.

Override of operand images through the CRD

The operator is designed to support any operand container image with PostgreSQL inside. By default, the operator uses the latest available minor version of the latest stable major version supported by the PostgreSQL Community and published on ghcr.io. You can use any compatible image of PostgreSQL supporting the primary/standby architecture directly by setting the imageName attribute in the CR. The operator also supports imagePullSecrets to access private container registries, as well as digests in addition to tags for finer control of container image immutability.

Labels and annotations

The operator can be configured to support inheritance of labels and annotations that are defined in a cluster's metadata, with the goal to improve organizations of CloudNativePG deployment in your Kubernetes infrastructure.

Self-contained instance manager

Instead of relying on an external tool such as Patroni or Stolon to coordinate PostgreSQL instances in the Kubernetes cluster pods, the operator injects the operator executable inside each pod, in a file named /controller/manager. The application is used to control the underlying PostgreSQL instance and to reconcile the pod status with the instance itself based on the PostgreSQL cluster topology. The instance manager also starts a web server that is invoked by the kubelet for probes. Unix signals invoked by the kubelet are filtered by the instance manager and, where appropriate, forwarded to the postgres process for fast and controlled reactions to external events. The instance manager is written in Go and has no external dependencies.

Storage configuration

Storage is a critical component in a database workload. Taking advantage of Kubernetes native capabilities and resources in terms of storage, the operator gives you enough flexibility to choose the right storage for your workload requirements, based on what the underlying Kubernetes environment can offer. This implies choosing a particular storage class in a public cloud environment or fine-tuning the generated PVC through a PVC template in the CR's storage parameter. For better performance and finer control, you can also choose to host your cluster's Write-Ahead Log (WAL, also known as pg_wal) on a separate volume, preferably on different storage. The cnp-bench open source project can be used to benchmark both the storage and the database prior to production.

Replica configuration

The operator automatically detects replicas in a cluster through a single parameter called instances. If set to 1, the cluster comprises a single primary PostgreSQL instance with no replica. If higher than 1, the operator manages instances -1 replicas, including High Availability (HA) through automated failover and rolling updates through switchover operations. CloudNativePG automatically manages replication slots for all the replicas in the HA cluster, with an implementation that is inspired by the previously proposed patch for PostgreSQL called "Failover slots".

Database configuration

The operator is designed to manage a PostgreSQL cluster with a single database. The operator transparently manages access to the database through three Kubernetes services automatically provisioned and managed for read-write, read, and read-only workloads. Using the convention over configuration approach, the operator creates a database called app, by default owned by a regular Postgres user with the same name. Both the database name and the user name can be specified if required. Although no configuration is required to run the cluster, you can customize both PostgreSQL run-time configuration and PostgreSQL Host-Based Authentication rules in the postgresql section of the CR.

Pod Security Policies

For InfoSec requirements, the operator does not require privileged mode for any container and enforces read only root filesystem to guarantee containers immutability for both the operator and the operand pods. It also explicitly sets the required security contexts.


The cluster's affinity section enables fine-tuning of how pods and related resources such as persistent volumes are scheduled across the nodes of a Kubernetes cluster. In particular, the operator supports:

  • pod affinity and anti-affinity
  • node selector
  • taints and tolerations

Topology spread constraints

The cluster's topologySpreadConstraints section enables additional control of the scheduling of pods across topologies, enhancing what affinity and anti-affinity can offer.

Command line interface

CloudNativePG does not have its own command line interface. It simply relies on the best command line interface for Kubernetes, kubectl, by providing a plugin called cnpg to enhance and simplify your PostgreSQL cluster management experience.

Current status of the cluster

The operator continuously updates the status section of the CR with the observed status of the cluster. The entire PostgreSQL cluster status is continuously monitored by the instance manager running in each pod: the instance manager is responsible for applying the required changes to the controlled PostgreSQL instance to converge to the required status of the cluster (for example: if the cluster status reports that pod -1 is the primary, pod -1 needs to promote itself while the other pods need to follow pod -1). The same status is used by the cnpg plugin for kubectl to provide details.

Operator's certification authority

The operator automatically creates a certification authority for itself. It creates and signs with the operator certification authority a leaf certificate to be used by the webhook server, to ensure safe communication between the Kubernetes API Server and the operator itself.

Cluster's certification authority

The operator automatically creates a certification authority for every PostgreSQL cluster, which is used to issue and renew TLS certificates for clients' authentication, including streaming replication standby servers (instead of passwords). Support for a custom certification authority for client certificates is available through secrets: this also includes integration with cert-manager. Certificates can be issued with the cnpg plugin for kubectl.

TLS connections

The operator transparently and natively supports TLS/SSL connections to encrypt client/server communications for increased security using the cluster's certification authority. Support for custom server certificates is available through secrets: this also includes integration with cert-manager.

Certificate authentication for streaming replication

The operator relies on TLS client certificate authentication to authorize streaming replication connections from the standby servers, instead of relying on a password (and therefore a secret).

Continuous configuration management

The operator enables you to apply changes to the Cluster resource YAML section of the PostgreSQL configuration and makes sure that all instances are properly reloaded or restarted, depending on the configuration option. Current limitation: changes with ALTER SYSTEM are not detected, meaning that the cluster state is not enforced.

Import of existing PostgreSQL databases

Since version 1.16, the operator provides a declarative way to import existing Postgres databases in a new CloudNativePG Cluster in Kubernetes, using offline migrations. The same feature covers also offline major upgrades of PostgreSQL databases. Offline means that applications must stop their write operations at the source until the database is imported. The feature extends the initdb bootstrap method to create a new PostgreSQL cluster using a logical snapshot of the data available in another PostgreSQL database - which can be accessed via the network through a superuser connection. Import is from any supported version of Postgres and relies on pg_dump and pg_restore to be executed from the new cluster primary for all databases part of the operation and, if requested, for roles.

PostGIS clusters

CloudNativePG supports the installation of clusters with the PostGIS open source extension for geographical databases, one of the most popular extensions for PostgreSQL.

Basic LDAP authentication for PostgreSQL

The operator allows you to configure LDAP authentication for your PostgreSQL clients, using either the simple bind or search+bind mode, as described in the "PostgreSQL documentation: LDAP authentication" section.

Multiple installation methods

The operator can be installed through a Kubernetes manifest via kubectl apply, to be used in a traditional Kubernetes installation in public and private cloud environments. Additionally, a Helm Chart for the operator is also available.

Convention over configuration

The operator supports the convention over configuration paradigm, deciding standard default values while allowing you to override them and customize them. You can specify a deployment of a PostgreSQL cluster using the Cluster CRD in a couple of YAML code lines.

Level 2: Seamless Upgrades

Capability level 2 is about enabling updates of the operator and the actual workload, in our case PostgreSQL servers. This includes PostgreSQL minor release updates (security and bug fixes normally) as well as major online upgrades.

Upgrade of the operator

You can upgrade the operator seamlessly as a new deployment. A change in the operator does not require a change in the operand - thanks to the instance manager's injection. The operator can manage older versions of the operand.

CloudNativePG also supports in-place updates of the instance manager following an upgrade of the operator: in-place updates do not require a rolling update - and subsequent switchover - of the cluster.

Upgrade of the managed workload

The operand can be upgraded using a declarative configuration approach as part of changing the CR and, in particular, the imageName parameter. The operator prevents major upgrades of PostgreSQL while making it possible to go in both directions in terms of minor PostgreSQL releases within a major version (enabling updates and rollbacks).

In the presence of standby servers, the operator performs rolling updates starting from the replicas by dropping the existing pod and creating a new one with the new requested operand image that reuses the underlying storage. Depending on the value of the primaryUpdateStrategy, the operator proceeds with a switchover before updating the former primary (unsupervised) or waits for the user to manually issue the switchover procedure (supervised) via the cnpg plugin for kubectl. Which setting to use depends on the business requirements as the operation might generate some downtime for the applications, from a few seconds to minutes based on the actual database workload.

Display cluster availability status during upgrade

At any time, convey the cluster's high availability status, for example, Setting up primary, Creating a new replica, Cluster in healthy state, Switchover in progress, Failing over, Upgrading cluster, etc.

Level 3: Full Lifecycle

Capability level 3 requires the operator to manage aspects of business continuity and scalability. Disaster recovery is a business continuity component that requires that both backup and recovery of a database work correctly. While as a starting point, the goal is to achieve RPO < 5 minutes, the long term goal is to implement RPO=0 backup solutions. High Availability is the other important component of business continuity that, through PostgreSQL native physical replication and hot standby replicas, allows the operator to perform failover and switchover operations. This area includes enhancements in:

  • control of PostgreSQL physical replication, such as synchronous replication, (cascading) replication clusters, and so on;
  • connection pooling, to improve performance and control through a connection pooling layer with pgBouncer.

PostgreSQL Backups

The operator has been designed to provide application-level backups using PostgreSQL’s native continuous backup technology based on physical base backups and continuous WAL archiving. Specifically, the operator currently supports only backups on object stores (AWS S3 and S3-compatible, Azure Blob Storage, Google Cloud Storage, and gateways like MinIO).

WAL archiving and base backups are defined at the cluster level, declaratively, through the backup parameter in the cluster definition, by specifying an S3 protocol destination URL (for example, to point to a specific folder in an AWS S3 bucket) and, optionally, a generic endpoint URL. WAL archiving, a prerequisite for continuous backup, does not require any further action from the user: the operator will automatically and transparently set the archive_command to rely on barman-cloud-wal-archive to ship WAL files to the defined endpoint. Users can decide the compression algorithm, as well as the number of parallel jobs to concurrently upload WAL files in the archive. In addition to that Instance Manager automatically checks the correctness of the archive destination, by performing barman-cloud-check-wal-archive command before beginning to ship the very first set of WAL files.

You can define base backups in two ways: on-demand (through the Backup custom resource definition) or scheduled (through the ScheduledBackup customer resource definition, using a cron-like syntax). They both rely on barman-cloud-backup for the job (distributed as part of the application container image) to relay backups in the same endpoint, alongside WAL files.

Both barman-cloud-wal-restore and barman-cloud-backup are distributed in the application container image under GNU GPL 3 terms.

Full restore from a backup

The operator enables you to bootstrap a new cluster (with its settings) starting from an existing and accessible backup taken using barman-cloud-backup. Once the bootstrap process is completed, the operator initiates the instance in recovery mode and replays all available WAL files from the specified archive, exiting recovery and starting as a primary. Subsequently, the operator will clone the requested number of standby instances from the primary. CloudNativePG supports parallel WAL fetching from the archive.

Point-In-Time Recovery (PITR) from a backup

The operator enables you to create a new PostgreSQL cluster by recovering an existing backup to a specific point-in-time, defined with a timestamp, a label or a transaction ID. This capability is built on top of the full restore one and supports all the options available in PostgreSQL for PITR.

Zero Data Loss clusters through synchronous replication

Achieve Zero Data Loss (RPO=0) in your local High Availability CloudNativePG cluster through quorum based synchronous replication support. The operator provides two configuration options that control the minimum and maximum number of expected synchronous standby replicas available at any time. The operator will react accordingly, based on the number of available and ready PostgreSQL instances in the cluster, through the following formula for the quorum (q):

1 <= minSyncReplicas <= q <= maxSyncReplicas <= readyReplicas

Replica clusters

Define a cross Kubernetes cluster topology of PostgreSQL clusters, by taking advantage of PostgreSQL native streaming and cascading replication. Through the replica option, you can setup an independent cluster to be continuously replicating data from another PostgreSQL source of the same major version: such a source can be anywhere, as long as a direct streaming connection via TLS is allowed from the two endpoints. Moreover, the source can be even outside Kubernetes, running in a physical or virtual environment. Replica clusters can be created from a recovery object store (backup in Barman Cloud format) or via streaming through pg_basebackup. Both WAL file shipping and WAL streaming are allowed. Replica clusters dramatically improve the business continuity posture of your PostgreSQL databases in Kubernetes, spanning over multiple datacenters and opening up for hybrid and multi-cloud setups (currently, manual switchover across data centers is required, while waiting for Kubernetes federation native capabilities).

Liveness and readiness probes

The operator defines liveness and readiness probes for the Postgres Containers that are then invoked by the kubelet. They are mapped respectively to the /healthz and /readyz endpoints of the web server managed directly by the instance manager. The liveness probe is based on the pg_isready executable, and the pod is considered healthy with exit codes 0 (server accepting connections normally) and 1 (server is rejecting connections, for example during startup). The readiness probe issues a simple query (;) to verify that the server is ready to accept connections.

Rolling deployments

The operator supports rolling deployments to minimize the downtime and, if a PostgreSQL cluster is exposed publicly, the Service will load-balance the read-only traffic only to available pods during the initialization or the update.

Scale up and down of replicas

The operator allows you to scale up and down the number of instances in a PostgreSQL cluster. New replicas are automatically started up from the primary server and will participate in the cluster's HA infrastructure. The CRD declares a "scale" subresource that allows the user to use the kubectl scale command.

Maintenance window and PodDisruptionBudget for Kubernetes nodes

The operator creates a PodDisruptionBudget resource to limit the number of concurrent disruptions to one primary instance. This configuration prevents the maintenance operation from deleting all the pods in a cluster, allowing the specified number of instances to be created. The PodDisruptionBudget will be applied during the node draining operation, preventing any disruption of the cluster service.

While this strategy is correct for Kubernetes Clusters where storage is shared among all the worker nodes, it may not be the best solution for clusters using Local Storage or for clusters installed in a private cloud. The operator allows you to specify a Maintenance Window and configure the reaction to any underlying node eviction. The ReusePVC option in the maintenance window section enables to specify the strategy to be used: allocate new storage in a different PVC for the evicted instance or wait for the underlying node to be available again.


Fencing is the process of protecting the data in one, more, or even all instances of a PostgreSQL cluster when they appear to be malfunctioning. When an instance is fenced, the PostgreSQL server process is guaranteed to be shut down, while the pod is kept running. This makes sure that, until the fence is lifted, data on the pod is not modified by PostgreSQL and that the file system can be investigated for debugging and troubleshooting purposes.


CloudNativePG supports hibernation of a running PostgreSQL cluster via the cnpg plugin. Hibernation shuts down all Postgres instances in the High Availability cluster, and keep a static copy of the PVCs of the primary that contain PGDATA and WALs. The plugin enables to exit the hibernation phase, by resuming the primary and then recreating all the replicas - where they exist.

Reuse of Persistent Volumes storage in Pods

When the operator needs to create a pod that has been deleted by the user or has been evicted by a Kubernetes maintenance operation, it reuses the PersistentVolumeClaim if available, avoiding the need to re-clone the data from the primary.

CPU and memory requests and limits

The operator allows administrators to control and manage resource usage by the cluster's pods, through the resources section of the manifest. In particular requests and limits values can be set for both CPU and RAM.

Connection pooling with PgBouncer

CloudNativePG provides native support for connection pooling with PgBouncer, one of the most popular open source connection poolers for PostgreSQL. From an architectural point of view, the native implementation of a PgBouncer connection pooler introduces a new layer to access the database which optimizes the query flow towards the instances and makes the usage of the underlying PostgreSQL resources more efficient. Instead of connecting directly to a PostgreSQL service, applications can now connect to the PgBouncer service and start reusing any existing connection.

Level 4: Deep Insights

Capability level 4 is about observability: in particular, monitoring, alerting, trending, log processing. This might involve the use of external tools such as Prometheus, Grafana, Fluent Bit, as well as extensions in the PostgreSQL engine for the output of error logs directly in JSON format.

CloudNativePG has been designed to provide everything that is needed to easily integrate with industry-standard and community accepted tools for flexible monitoring and logging.

Prometheus exporter with configurable queries

The instance manager provides a pluggable framework and, via its own web server listening on the metrics port (9187), exposes an endpoint to export metrics for the Prometheus monitoring and alerting tool. The operator supports custom monitoring queries defined as ConfigMap and/or Secret objects using a syntax that is compatible with the postgres_exporter for Prometheus. CloudNativePG provides a set of basic monitoring queries for PostgreSQL that can be integrated and adapted to your context.

Standard output logging of PostgreSQL error messages in JSON format

Every log message is delivered to standard output in JSON format, with the first level definition of the timestamp, the log level and the type of log entry, such as postgres for the canonical PostgreSQL error message channel. As a result, every Pod managed by CloudNativePG can be easily and directly integrated with any downstream log processing stack that supports JSON as source data type.

Real-time query monitoring

CloudNativePG transparently and natively supports:

  • the essential pg_stat_statements extension, which enables tracking of planning and execution statistics of all SQL statements executed by a PostgreSQL server;
  • the auto_explain extension, which provides a means for logging execution plans of slow statements automatically, without having to manually run EXPLAIN (helpful for tracking down un-optimized queries);
  • the pg_failover_slots extension, which makes logical replication slots usable across a physical failover, ensuring resilience in change data capture (CDC) contexts based on PostgreSQL's native logical replication;


CloudNativePG allows database and security administrators, auditors, and operators to track and analyze database activities using PGAudit (for PostgreSQL). Such activities flow directly in the JSON log and can be properly routed to the correct downstream target using common log brokers like Fluentd.

Kubernetes events

Record major events as expected by the Kubernetes API, such as creating resources, removing nodes, upgrading, and so on. Events can be displayed through the kubectl describe and kubectl get events command.

Level 5: Auto Pilot

Capability level 5 is focused on automated scaling, healing and tuning - through the discovery of anomalies and insights that emerged from the observability layer.

Automated Failover for self-healing

In case of detected failure on the primary, the operator will change the status of the cluster by setting the most aligned replica as the new target primary. As a consequence, the instance manager in each alive pod will initiate the required procedures to align itself with the requested status of the cluster, by either becoming the new primary or by following it. In case the former primary comes back up, the same mechanism will avoid a split-brain by preventing applications from reaching it, running pg_rewind on the server and restarting it as a standby.

Automated recreation of a standby

In case the pod hosting a standby has been removed, the operator initiates the procedure to recreate a standby server.