HOWTO Fully Install PostgreSQL on Debian

This article was first written in March 2005 for the BeezNest technical
website (

This is a short tutorial on how to fully install PostgreSQL (with ready-to-use user accounts and test table) on a simple Debian installation.

When not specified otherwise by the command line prefix or by a full statement, you are supposed to have root permissions.

The packages

To install the PostgreSQL base system as well as a textual client, you need to issue the following command

apt-get install postgresql postgresql-client

This will install a lot of package dependencies as well, which should amount to around 11MB. The version of PostgreSQL installed should be 7.4 on a common Debian Sarge system. Keep the documentation nearby in case you need any info:

A few questions will be asked by the configuration script. Most of them can be simply agreed, but you might want to read them to know what configuration PostgreSQL will use.

Data directory All database data will be kept in /var/lib/postgres/data by default.
Data removal policy Also by default, a PostgreSQL system removal won’t remove the data (database contents).
Locale The locale should be configured to accept the character encoding you are going to use with your database system. Choose something that suits you. The list of available locales comes from the system. If you need more locales, you need to install them on the system first  [1]
Date Choose European or US as your preferred date format.

The install continues with several default parameters, and then creates /etc/postgresql/postgresql.conf, which will hold your configuration settings.


The only (default) way to log into your newly created database system is to log as root, then to log as user postgres, by issuing

su postgres
psql template1
template1=# q

However, you would probably like to be able to login as your unix user, or any other user you choose. There are several ways to set up these accesses, so let’s decomposeAlowing local users to login is done by editing the /etc/postgresql/pg_hba.conf file (a complete – but too cloudy – documentation is available here). There, you have to retrieve a series of lines like the following ones

local   all         postgres                                        ident sameuser
# All other connections by UNIX sockets
local   all         all                                             ident sameuser
# All IPv4 connections from localhost
host    all         all   md5
# All IPv6 localhost connections
host    all         all         ::1               ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff        ident sameuser
host    all         all         ::ffff:                ident sameuser
# reject all other connection attempts
host    all         all            reject

This file has limited accesses but we will come back here later.Now what we have told PostgreSQL is that all users on the local machine should be able to access all databases, using their UNIX login and passwords. These changes must be operated, so you must restart PostgreSQL

/etc/init.d/postgresql restart

Now the problem is that you have authorized users to log into the database, but they will only be able to log in if they also exist in the database. So you need to create accounts with their usernames. This is done by issuing the createuser command as user postgres

su postgres
createuser firstuser

The createuser command will ask you if the user should be able to create databases or create new users. Answer truly.

Now you have a new user in the database, and you should be able to connect as this user (let’s call him firstuser) like this:

su - firstuser
firstuser@localhost:~$ psql -W template1
template1=# q

The -W parameter is to ask for a password prompt. You should enter your system password when asked.

So that’s it, we got the first part of this installation running. Now let’s prepare this for the web…

If some of your web scripts are going to need a connection to the database, you will need to grant them some access via a new user, reserved for this web usage.

Let’s first create this new user (as user postgres). Let’s call him webuser


su postgres
createuser webuser

Now you want to give him access to one or several databases (let’s say you will let him access the databases which name is web). To do this, you need to edit once more the pg_hba.conf file. Retrieve the first line below and write the second one just beneath the first.

host    all         all   md5
host    web         webuser   md5

Would you like to give this user access from any computer on the sub-network, you would have to add the following line

host    web         webuser   md5

You have to grant him access to the host as it will probably use the TCP/IP protocol to get a connection to the database, and that’s what host is for. But as you have given him an md5 authentication type, you need to give him a password as well. In order to do this, you need to connect to the database and issue a special command, all as postgres


su postgres
postgres@localhost:~$ psql template1
template1=# alter user webuser password 'some_password';
template1=# q

Now the user should have a nice ‘some_password’ password that you can use after restarting PostgreSQL to make it remember your changes to pg_hba.conf.

/etc/init.d/postgresql restart

And you should be able to create his own database if you gave him the permission…

createdb -h localhost -U webuser -W web

And connect to this newly-created database using

psql -h localhost -U webuser -W web

As you might have noticed, we use -h localhost here. This is to force the PostgreSQL client to use TCP/IP instead of UNIX sockets. If you don’t want is, you need to add a new line into the “local” category of pg_hba.conf for the user webuser to connect via sockets.The line would be something like

local   web         webuser                               md5

SQL playground

The first important command you might want to know is

psql -h localhost -U webuser -W -l

This will give you a list of available databases.

Now connect to the PostgreSQL database using the psql client, and let’s create a small table, just after a few tests…

web=> SELECT version();
web=> SELECT current_date;
web=> SELECT 2+2;
web=> h
web=> d
web=> dt
web=> CREATE TABLE weather(
web=>     city            varchar(80),
web=>     temp_lo         int,           -- low temperature
web=>     temp_hi         int,           -- high temperature
web=>     prcp            real,          -- precipitation
web=>     date            date
web=> );
web=> INSERT INTO weather (city, temp_lo, temp_hi, prcp, date)
web=>    VALUES ('San Francisco', 43, 57, 0.0, '1994-11-29');
web=> INSERT INTO weather (date, city, temp_hi, temp_lo)
web=>    VALUES ('1994-11-29', 'Hayward', 54, 37);
web=> SELECT city, temp_lo as 'Lowest Temperature', temp_hi as 'Highest Temperature' FROM weather;
web=> SELECT city FROM weather WHERE temp_lo < 40;
web=> SELECT max(temp_lo) FROM weather;
web=> UPDATE weather SET temp_lo = 41 WHERE city = 'Hayward';
web=> SELECT * FROM weather;
web=> DELETE FROM weather WHERE prcp IS NULL;
web=> SELECT * FROM weather;
web=> q

Now you’ve had a nice overview of several SQL statements and how to use them in PostgreSQL.

Later, you might want to create a table with a numerical sequence as an index. This link will help you get through this step which I find counter-intuitive and user-unfriendly at will. You might as well know of a shortcut… If you want to create a default auto-incremental key that will be used by your table, you need to define (for every table) a SEQUENCE. This id done, for the weather table above, like this (with the help of user comments here


web=> CREATE SEQUENCE my_table_pk_sequence;
web=> CREATE TABLE weather(
web=>     id              int  not null default nextval('my_table_pk_sequence') PRIMARY KEY,
web=>     city            varchar(80),
web=>     temp_lo         int,           -- low temperature
web=>     temp_hi         int,           -- high temperature
web=>     prcp            real,          -- precipitation
web=>     date            date
web=> );

And then insert elements as before, ignoring the id field

web=> INSERT INTO weather (date, city, temp_hi, temp_lo)
web=>    VALUES ('1994-11-29', 'Hayward', 54, 37);
web=> SELECT * FROM weather;

This should have inserted an auto-incremented id.But you want more… You want ODBC support. Woaw! Cool!

ODBC Support

Let’s, once more enjoy the freedom and ease of use of Debian. After a little apt-cache search postgres odbc…

apt-get install odbc-postgresql

This should need about 1 MB on your system’s hard drive.

Well… actually… this should be enough to form a DSN name in order to connect to your table. More information on the topic is on (link edited on 2016-06-06 as does not exist anymore).

Using the parameters we used here above, you should be able to connect with something like:

Server=localhost{ or the IP address of your PostgreSQL server};Database=web;Uid=webuser;Pwd=some_password"

Note that we use MD5 encryption, so you might need to specify that somewhere (and encrypt your password before you put it in the connection string).
Yannick Warnier – ywarnier [at] beeznest [dot] net

[1] To install locales on your system, use the “dpkg-reconfigure locales” command and then reconfigure PostgreSQL using “dpkg-reconfigure postgres” to reselect the default encoding

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