Postgres LISTEN / NOTIFY with Node.js

I’m sure most of you have been hearing about Node.js lately, it has been causing quite a buzz. If you’re wondering what Node.js is all about I recommend you watch one of Ryan Dahls presentations on the subject.


Interestingly Postgres has a feature that goes very well with the asynchronously nature of Node.js. The Postgres commands LISTEN and NOTIFY along with triggers you can have NOTIFY events fire when certain queries are performed on specific tables.

I wrote a short Node.js script that basically “watches” a table in a Postgres database. Say we have the following table:

CREATE TABLE foo (id serial primary key, name varchar);
We then create a function which will perform the notification to a channel we can later watch in our Node.js application.

CREATE FUNCTION notify_trigger() RETURNS trigger AS $$
  PERFORM pg_notify('watchers', TG_TABLE_NAME || ',id,' || );
  RETURN new;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;
The interesting line here is the call to pg_notify, the arguments here are the channel name to send the notification to and the second part is the message. In this case the message consists of a comma-separated string including the table name that the notification came from (in our case this will be bar) and then the id of the record. NEW is the record that fired the trigger so we could use here as well to get the value of the column name. The channel-name can also consist of variables. For example if we had pg_notify('watch_' || lower(, 'id,' || and inserted a new record with the column name set to bar it would notify the channel watch_bar with the message id,X where X is the new records id. This could be used to listen for insertions where some column has a specific value. It is worth noting that the message part in notifications was introduced in Postgres 9.x, 8.x will only support notifying a channel without passing any message.

Some of you might have noticed that we need to do one more thing in Postgres to get this to work. We need to set up a trigger to fire this newly created function when a insert-query is performed on our table.

CREATE TRIGGER watched_table_trigger AFTER INSERT ON foo


To interact with Postgres from Node.js I use the excellent module node-postgres by Brian Carlson.

var pg = require ('pg');

var pgConString = "postgres://localhost/bjorngylling"

pg.connect(pgConString, function(err, client) {
  if(err) {
  client.on('notification', function(msg) {
  var query = client.query("LISTEN watchers");
This will set up the postgres-client to listen on the watchers channel and when a notification comes in it will just print it to the console. If you are trying this on your own machine you will probably have to change your pgConString to reflect your Postgres-setup.