Giacomo Debidda

First steps with PostgreSQL

March 13, 2017 | 5 min Read

In a Django project, PostgreSQL is probably the most popular choice when it comes to deploy a database for a production environment. In this article I’ll go through the necessary steps to set it up on Ubuntu, along with a list of some basic commands to create databases and tables, as well as manage roles (i.e. users).

Here I will create a new role called test_user and a new database called test_db. You can pick different names if you want, but try to avoid mixing lowercase/uppercase. This is because if you create a user with a mix of lowercase and uppercase characters (e.g. test_User) you will need to type the double quotation marks every time.


To satisfy the dependencies of the operative system, open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install postgresql postgresql-contrib libpq-dev python-dev

For the python dependencies, I’d suggest to create a virtual environment with virtualenv, or even better with virtualenvwrapper, and install the psycopg2 driver:

pip install psycopg2

The postgres shell

psql is the interactive terminal for working with PostgreSQL. You can launch it with sudo -i -u postgres and then psql.

Here are some useful commands when using the psql shell:

  • \du list all roles (namely the users) and their privileges;
  • \l list all databases, their owners and access privileges;
  • \c [DB NAME] connect to the [DB NAME] database with the user currently logged in;
  • \d list all the tables of the database you are currently connected to;
  • \d [TABLE NAME] show the schema of the table [TABLE NAME], of the database you are currently connected to;
  • \h help on SQL commands;
  • ? help on psql commands;
  • \conninfo show some information about the current database connection (db name and user name);
  • \q exit the psql shell.

Create a new user (aka role)

PostgreSQL comes with a default user called postgres, which is the root user. Let’s create a new user.

As user postgres, exit the psql shell and type:

createuser --interactive

Choose a username (e.g. test_user) and decide wheter this user should be a superuser, should be allowed to create new databases and/or new roles.

Enter name of role to add: test_user
Shall the new role be a superuser? (y/n) n
Shall the new role be allowed to create databases? (y/n) y
Shall the new role be allowed to create more new roles? (y/n) y

If you want to check that the user was created correctly, go back to the psql shell and type \du.

Assign a password to your new user

In the psql shell, type:

ALTER USER test_user WITH PASSWORD 'test_password';

Don’t forget the semi-colon and avoid double quotation marks.

Create a database

In the psql shell, as user postgres, type:


This command creates a new database called test_db. At this moment, only the user postgres can perform operations on this database.

Create a table

    item_id serial PRIMARY KEY,
    item_description text NOT NULL,
    item_added timestamp DEFAULT NULL

Assign privileges to test_user

You need to allow your new user to modify the content of the test_db database. In order to do so you will need to grant him privileges on the database itself, and on the tables available in the database.


The main reason to grant privileges on the database is to allow or revoke the connection to the database, but in order to allow for changes in the content of the database itself, the user test_user needs the privileges on all the tables he is allowed to modify. So, if you want to allow test_user to edit the contents of the table items, connect to the database with \c test_db and assign the privileges with:


Instead of typing the two aforementioned commands, you can achieve the same result with a single command:

GRANT ALL ON items TO test_user;

Ok, now test_user can connect to test_db and change its content. If he is the only user allowed to work on this database, it make sense to make him the owner:

ALTER DATABASE test_db OWNER TO test_user;

Connect to test_db with test_user

You are still connected as user postgres. Exit the psql shell with \q and log in with test_user (you will need to type the password).

psql -h localhost -U test_user -d test_db

Here is what you should see if you type \conninfo:

test_db=> \conninfo
You are connected to database "test_db" as user "test_user" on host "localhost" at port "5432".
SSL connection (protocol: TLSv1.2, cipher: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384, bits: 256, compression: off)


Probably you don’t want to keep the user, the database and the table we have just created, so let’s remove them. Keep in mind that you cannot drop an open database, nor you can drop it if you are not the database owner or a superuser. So, exit the psql shell and re-log into it as user postgres (you just have to type psql).

DROP USER test_user;


Here are some additional resources:

Giacomo DebiddaWritten by Giacomo Debidda, Pythonista & JS lover (D3, React). You can find me on Twitter & Github