• OS: Windows 10
  • Docker OS: Alpine Linux 3.18.3
  • DB: PostgreSQL 15

I created a new PostgreSQL database named test1 with zh-x-icu as the default collation using the following command:

postgres=> create database test1 with encoding 'UTF8' owner db_owner lc_collate 'zh-x-icu' lc_ctype 'zh-x-icu' template template0;

When I list the databases, the datcollate and datctype columns show the expected values:

datname datdba encoding datcollate datctype
template1 10 6 en_US.utf8 en_US.utf8
template0 10 6 en_US.utf8 en_US.utf8
postgres 10 6 en_US.utf8 en_US.utf8
test1 43170 6 zh-x-icu zh-x-icu

However, when I run queries in this database, the sorting behavior doesn't align with the default collation zh-x-icu. Here are some examples:

query result
SELECT * FROM (VALUES ('张'), ('李'), ('王'), ('赵'), ('刘')) AS names(name) ORDER BY name; 刘张李王赵
SELECT * FROM (VALUES ('张'), ('李'), ('王'), ('赵'), ('刘')) AS names(name) ORDER BY name collate "en-x-icu"; 刘张李王赵
SELECT * FROM (VALUES ('张'), ('李'), ('王'), ('赵'), ('刘')) AS names(name) ORDER BY name collate "zh-x-icu"; 李刘王张赵

As you can see, the query without explicit collation returns the same result as the one with 'en-x-icu', which is not what I expected. I expected it to behave like the 'zh-x-icu' query since that's the default collation for the database.

Why is this happening, and how can I make the default collation apply to queries in this database?

Here is the docker-compose:

version: '3'
    image: timescale/timescaledb:latest-pg15
    hostname: d16f59bcb903
    mac_address: 02:42:ac:11:00:02
      - PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin
      - LANG=en_US.utf8
      - PG_MAJOR=15
      - PG_VERSION=15.4
      - PG_SHA256=baec5a4bdc4437336653b6cb5d9ed89be5bd5c0c58b94e0becee0a999e63c8f9
      - DOCKER_PG_LLVM_DEPS=llvm15-dev clang15
      - PGDATA=/var/lib/postgresql/data
      - H:\DB_PG15:/var/lib/postgresql/data
      - /var/lib/postgresql/data
      - "5432:5432"
    restart: "no"
      maintainer: "Timescale https://www.timescale.com"
    runtime: runc

  • Can you share the docker-compose? With a bare-bones one, I don't get that locale existing.
    – jjanes
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 13:41
  • I've updated the question to include the docker-compose. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:57

2 Answers 2


LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE (or shorter: LOCALE) are for C library locales only.

The reason that your statement does not cause an error is probably because Alpine Linux uses musl as its C library, whose locales have ICU-like names. But the last time I looked, musl's collations didn't work as they should, which probably explains what you see.

Use a Linux distribution with a working C library, or use PostgreSQL's support for the ICU library (if that is available on Alpine Linux, and your PostgreSQL is built with ICU support):

   OWNER db_owner
   TEMPLATE template0; 
  • If it were just a matter of musl being broken, wouldn't it be broken in the same way between a db's default collation and an explicitly specified collation?
    – jjanes
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 21:22
  • @jjanes I don't think so. The names of musl locales just are the same as the names of ICU collations. If you build PostgreSQL with ICU support, it will link with libicu.so, which is a different library that will provide working collations, even if the collation names are the same. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:33

Thanks to Laurenz Albe's answer and Jezk's answer, I managed to solve the issue with collation for Chinese characters in PostgreSQL running in a Docker container. Here's how:

Step 1: Create a docker-compose.yml File

version: '3'
    container_name: timescaledb-pg15-zh
    image: timescale/timescaledb:latest-pg15
      POSTGRES_PASSWORD: postgres
      POSTGRES_INITDB_ARGS: "--locale-provider=icu --icu-locale=zh_CN"
      - "5432:5432"
      - "<your_data_directory>:/var/lib/postgresql/data"

Step 2: Run the Docker Compose Command Execute the following command in the terminal:

docker-compose -f "<path_to_your_docker-compose_file>" up -d

After doing this, the collation settings for Chinese characters behaved as expected.

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