Heroku to Postgres

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from Heroku 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 Heroku?

Heroku is a cloud platform that lets companies build, deploy, monitor, and scale apps.

What is PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL, also known as Postgres, calls itself "the world's most advanced open source database." The popular object-relational database management system (ORDBMS) offers enterprise-grade features with a strong emphasis on extensibility and standards compliance.

PostgreSQL runs on all major operating systems, including Linux, Unix, and Windows. It's open source, fully ACID-compliant, and has full support for foreign keys, joins, views, triggers, and stored procedures in multiple languages. PostgreSQL is often the best back-end database for web systems and software tools. It's available in cloud-based deployments by most major cloud vendors. And since its syntax forms the basis for querying Amazon Redshift, which makes migration between the two systems relatively painless, Postgres a good stepping-stone for developers who may later use Redshift's data warehouse platform.

Getting data out of Heroku

You can extract the data you want from Heroku's servers using the Heroku API. A common use case for extracting Heroku data is retrieving server logs or other event logs. There are some API endpoints related to logs, as well as command-line tools like the logs command that let you retrieve this data.

Sample Heroku data

Here's an example set of commands and responses you might see when interacting with the logs command-line tool.

$ heroku logs --ps router
2012-02-07T09:43:06.123456+00:00 heroku[router]: at=info method=GET path="/stylesheets/dev-center/library.css" host=devcenter.heroku.com fwd="204.204.204.204" dyno=web.5 connect=1ms service=18ms status=200 bytes=13
2012-02-07T09:43:06.123456+00:00 heroku[router]: at=info method=GET path="/articles/bundler" host=devcenter.heroku.com fwd="204.204.204.204" dyno=web.6 connect=1ms service=18ms status=200 bytes=20375

$ heroku logs --source app
2012-02-07T09:45:47.123456+00:00 app[web.1]: Rendered shared/_search.html.erb (1.0ms)
2012-02-07T09:45:47.123456+00:00 app[web.1]: Completed 200 OK in 83ms (Views: 48.7ms | ActiveRecord: 32.2ms)
2012-02-07T09:45:47.123456+00:00 app[worker.1]: [Worker(host:465cf64e-61c8-46d3-b480-362bfd4ecff9 pid:1)] 1 jobs processed at 23.0330 j/s, 0 failed ...
2012-02-07T09:46:01.123456+00:00 app[web.6]: Started GET "/articles/buildpacks" for 4.1.81.209 at 2012-02-07 09:46:01 +0000

$ heroku logs --source app --ps worker
2012-02-07T09:47:59.123456+00:00 app[worker.1]: [Worker(host:260cf64e-61c8-46d3-b480-362bfd4ecff9 pid:1)] Article#record_view_without_delay completed after 0.0221
2012-02-07T09:47:59.123456+00:00 app[worker.1]: [Worker(host:260cf64e-61c8-46d3-b480-362bfd4ecff9 pid:1)] 5 jobs processed at 31.6842 j/s, 0 failed ...

Preparing Heroku data

This part could be the trickiest: you need to map the data that comes out of each Heroku API endpoint or log extraction into a schema that can be inserted into your destination database. This means that, for each value in the response, you need to identify a predefined datatype (i.e. INTEGER, DATETIME, etc.) and build a table that can receive them. Depending on your log files, you may also opt to break those up into raw logs and more meaningful metadata or log portions.

The Heroku API documentation can give you a good sense of what fields will be provided by each endpoint, along with their corresponding datatypes.

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 Heroku 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.

Instead, identify key fields that your script can use to bookmark its progression through the data and use to 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 Heroku.

And remember, as with any code, once you write it, you have to maintain it. If Heroku modifies its API, or the API sends a field with a datatype your code doesn't recognize, you may have to modify the script. If your users want slightly different information, you definitely will have to.

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, or Snowflake, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax, or Panoply, which works with Redshift instances. 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, and To Panoply.

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 solve this problem automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your Heroku data via the API, structuring it in a way that is optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your PostgreSQL data warehouse.