Multi-region Postgres (Legacy)

This document applies to legacy Fly Postgres on Apps V1 (orchestrated by Nomad). Docs for newer Fly Postgres clusters live at Fly Postgres

Most read-heavy, PostgreSQL-backed applications work natively across regions on, no architectural changes required. Deploying an app and database in multiple regions takes advantage of two Fly features:

  1. Regional read replicas
  2. The fly-replay header

With regional read replicas configured, the fly-replay header lets you specify exactly which requests need to be serviced by the primary, writable database. When we detect this header, we will replay the entire request to the region you specify. It looks something like this:

Diagram of app + global postgres on

In most runtimes, it’s straightforward to catch a read-only database error in a replica region and serve a response with the appropriate replay header.

This guide is all about PostgreSQL, but the deployment topology will work with MySQL, MongoDB, and any other database with read replica support.

Existing application support

Be aware that there is already some framework support for going multi-region with Postgres on Fly. The Postgres portions outlined here are still relevant even if you use one of the available libraries.

The following libraries help applications when working with globally replicated Postgres databases.


fly_postgres - Library for working with local read-replica postgres databases and performing writes through RPC calls to other nodes in the primary region.

This does not use the fly-replay header approach outlined here, but instead uses Elixir clustering to RPC write database operations to a node running in the primary region. This is Postgres specific.


fly-ruby - Ruby gem for handling requests within a multi-region database setup.

This uses the fly-replay header and works equally well with Postgres, MySQL and other databases. Check out the Advanced Rails guide Multi-region Deployments for more information.

Create a PostgreSQL cluster

If you don’t already have a PostgreSQL cluster running, you can create one with the fly CLI:

fly pg create --name chaos-postgres --region scl

Choose a high-availability configuration to create a two-node PostgreSQL cluster in Santiago Chile, one leader for writes, one replica for redundancy.

Add read replicas

Adding read replicas is simple. Just create more disks to match the existing one(s):

fly volumes create pg_data -a chaos-postgres --size 10 --region ord
fly volumes create pg_data -a chaos-postgres --size 10 --region ams
fly volumes create pg_data -a chaos-postgres --size 10 --region syd

If you already have a Postgres cluster called chaos-postgres running, you can check the volume name and size using fly volumes list -a chaos-postgres.

Then, add one new VM for each new volume:

fly scale count 6 -a chaos-postgres

The chaos-postgres cluster will now have read replicas in Atlanta, Chicago, Amsterdam, and Sydney. When you run fly status -a chaos-postgres you should see output like this:

240eb1cd       app     2       ams    run     running (replica)       3 total, 3 passing
83b849fa       app     2       ord    run     running (replica)       3 total, 3 passing
d8e8a317       app     2       syd    run     running (replica)       3 total, 3 passing
4c27cd52       app     2       scl    run     running (replica)       3 total, 3 passing
987f4b41       app     2       scl    run     running (leader)        3 total, 3 passing

Configure connection strings

Attach database to application

To hook your app up to your cluster, run the attach command from your application directory:

fly pg attach chaos-postgres

This installs a DATABASE_URL secret in your application, which is available to your app processes as an environment variable. The command also prints the connection string to the console.

Connect to regional replicas

The generated connection string uses port 5432 to connect to PostgreSQL. This port always forwards you to a writable instance. Port 5433 is direct to the PostgreSQL member, and used to connect to read replicas directly.

You can use the proxy port (5432) to connect from every region, but it will be quite slow. Especially because we put our PostgreSQL cluster in Santiago. Connecting to “local” replicas is much quicker, but does take some app logic.

The basic logic to connect is:

  1. Set a PRIMARY_REGION environment variable on your app, scl for our chaos-postgres cluster.
  2. Check the FLY_REGION environment variable at connect time, use DATABASE_URL as is when FLY_REGION=scl
  3. Modify the DATABASE_URL when running in other regions:
    1. Change the port to 5433

This is what it looks like in Ruby:

class Fly
  def self.database_url
    primary = ENV["PRIMARY_REGION"]
    current = ENV["FLY_REGION"]
    db_url = ENV["DATABASE_URL"]

    if primary.blank? || current.blank? || primary == current
      return db_url

    u = URI.parse(db_url)
    u.port = 5433

    return u.to_s

Running this in scl will use the built-in DATABASE_URL and connect to port 5432:


In the other regions, the app will connect to port 5433:


Connecting external services

Sometimes we need to be able to allow external services to connect to our Postgres instance. While we don’t open up any external ports by default, we can achieve this through some simple configuration changes.

Allocating an IP address

If you haven’t already, you will need to allocate an IP address to your application. You can view your list of IP’s by running the following command from your application directory:

fly ips list

You can allocate an IPv4 address by running the following:

fly ips allocate-v4

If your network supports IPv6:

fly ips allocate-v6

If you’re not sure which one to use, just provision one of each and you should be good to go.

External port configuration

Now that we have an IP address, let’s configure our app to expose an external port and direct incoming requests to our Postgres instance.

If you haven’t already pulled down your fly.toml configuration file, you can do so by running:

fly config save --app <app-name>

Now, let’s open up our fly.toml file and configure our port mappings by defining a new Service.

  internal_port = 5432 # Postgres instance
  protocol = "tcp"

# Open port 10000 for plaintext connections.
  handlers = []
  port = 10000

For additional information on services and service ports: The services sections

Deploying configuration changes

Once your Service has been specified, it’s time to deploy our new configuration.

Before running the command below, be sure to verify the version of Postgres you are running. As an example, if you are running Postgres 12.x you would specify flyio/postgres:12 as your target image.

fly deploy . --app <app-name> --image flyio/postgres:<major-version>

After the deploy completes, you can verify your Service configuration by running the info command:

fly info
TCP      10000 => 5432 []

Establishing external connection

Now that you have your Service and port mappings in place, you should now be able to establish new connections to your Postgres using the <app-name> hostname along with your external facing port.

psql postgres://postgres:<password>@<app-name>

Restoring a PostgreSQL cluster performs daily storage-based snapshots of each of your provisioned volumes. These snapshots can be used to restore your dataset into a new Postgres application.

Listing snapshots

Snapshots are volume specific, so you will need to first identify a volume to target. You can list your volumes by running the volumes list command with your Postgres app name.

fly volumes list -a chaos-postgres
vol_x915grn008vn70qy pg_data 10GB syd    b780ce3d    2 weeks ago
vol_ke628r677pvwmnpy pg_data 10GB syd    359d0e24    2 weeks ago

Once you have identified which volume to target, you can go ahead and list your snapshots by running the following command:

fly volumes snapshots list <volume-id>
ID                  SIZE   CREATED AT
vs_2AjJ4lGqQwDbRfxm 29 MiB 2 hours ago
vs_BAARBQxZKl6JKU04 27 MiB 1 day ago
vs_OPQXXna6kA2Qnhz8 26 MiB 2 days ago

Restoring from a snapshot

To restore a Postgres application from a snapshot, simply specify the --snapshot-id argument when running the create command as shown below:

fly postgres create --snapshot-id <snapshot-id>

Detect write requests

Catch read-only errors

PostgreSQL conveniently sends a “read only transaction” error when you attempt to write to a read replica. All you need to do to detect write requests is catch this error.

Replay the request

Once caught, just send a fly-replay header specifying the primary region. For chaos-postgres, send fly-replay: region=scl, and we’ll take care of the rest.

If you’re working in Rails, just add this to your ApplicationController:

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  rescue_from ActiveRecord::StatementInvalid do |e|
    if e.cause.is_a?(PG::ReadOnlySqlTransaction)
      response.headers["fly-replay"] = "region=#{r}" "Replaying request in #{r}"
      render plain: "retry in region #{r}", status: 409
      raise e

Library support

We would like to build libraries to make this seamless for most application frameworks and runtimes. If you have a particular app you’d like to distribute with PostgreSQL, post in our community forums and we’ll write some code for you.

Consistency model

This is a fairly typical read replica model. Read replicas are usually eventually consistent, and can fall behind the leader. Running read replicas across the world can exacerbate this effect and make read replicas stale more frequently.

Request with writes

Requests to the primary region are strongly consistent. When you use the replay header to target a particular region, the entire request runs against the leader database. Your application will behave like you expect.

Read only requests

Most apps accept a POST or PUT, do a bunch of writes, and then redirect the user to a GET request. In most cases, the database will replicate the changes before the user makes the second request. But not always!

Most read heavy applications aren’t especially sensitive to stale data on subsequent requests. A lagging read replica might result in an out of date view for users, but this might be reasonable for your use case.

If your app is sensitive to this (meaning, you never, under any circumstances want to show users stale data), you should be careful using read replicas.

Managing eventual consistency

For apps that are sensitive to consistency issues, you can add a counter or timestamp to user sessions that indicates what “version” of the database a particular user is expecting. When the user makes a request and the session’s data version differs from the replica, you can use the same fly-replay header to redirect their request to the primary region – and then you’ll know it’s not stale.

In theory, you could run PostgreSQL with synchronous replication and block until replicas receive writes. This probably won’t work well for far flung read replicas.

This is wrong for some apps

We built this set of features for read heavy apps that are primary HTTP request based. That is, most requests only perform reads and only some requests include writes.

Write-heavy workloads

If you write to the database on every request, this will not work for you. You will need to make some architectural changes to run a write-heavy app in multiple regions.

Some apps write background info like metrics or audit logs on every request, but are otherwise read heavy. If you’re running an application like this, you should consider using something like to send information to your primary region asynchronously.

Truly write-heavy apps require latency aware data partitioning, either at the app level or in a database engine. There are lots of interesting new databases that have features for this, try them out!

Long lived connections

If your app makes heavy use of long lived connections with interpolated writes, like websockets, this will not work for you. This technique is specific to HTTP request/response based apps that bundle writes up into specific requests.