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Buffering and Caching

MySQL uses several strategies that cache information in memory buffers to increase performance. Depending on your database architecture, you balance the size and layout of these areas, to provide the most performance benefit without wasting memory or exceeding available memory.


17.1  The MyISAM Key Cache

To minimize disk I/O, the MyISAM storage engine exploits a strategy that is used by many database management systems. It employs a cache mechanism to keep the most frequently accessed table blocks in memory:

– For index blocks, a special structure called the key cache (or key buffer) is maintained. The structure contains a number of block buffers where the most-used index blocks are placed.

– For data blocks, MySQL uses no special cache. Instead it relies on the native operating system file system cache.

– Multiple sessions can access the cache concurrently.

– You can set up multiple key caches and assign table indexes to specific caches.

To control the size of the key cache, use the key_buffer_size system variable. If this variable is set equal to zero, no key cache is used. The key cache also is not used if the key_buffer_size value is too small to allocate the minimal number of block buffers (8).

When the key cache is not operational, index files are accessed using only the native file system buffering provided by the operating system. (In other words, table index blocks are accessed using the same strategy as that employed for table data blocks.)

When data from any table index block must be accessed, the server first checks whether it is available in some block buffer of the key cache. If it is, the server accesses data in the key cache rather than on disk. Usually the server follows an LRU (Least Recently Used) strategy: When choosing a block for replacement, it selects the least recently used index block. To make this choice easier, the key cache module maintains all used blocks in a special list (LRU chain) ordered by time of use. When a block is accessed, it is the most recently used and is placed at the end of the list. When blocks need to be replaced, blocks at the beginning of the list are the least recently used and become the first candidates for eviction.


Shared Key Cache Access:

Threads can access key cache buffers simultaneously, subject to the following conditions:

– A buffer that is not being updated can be accessed by multiple sessions.

– A buffer that is being updated causes sessions that need to use it to wait until the update is complete.

– Multiple sessions can initiate requests that result in cache block replacements, as long as they do not interfere with each other (that is, as long as they need different index blocks, and thus cause different cache blocks to be replaced).

Shared access to the key cache enables the server to improve throughput significantly


Multiple Key Caches:

Shared access to the key cache improves performance but does not eliminate contention among sessions entirely. They still compete for control structures that manage access to the key cache buffers. To reduce key cache access contention further, MySQL also provides multiple key caches. This feature enables you to assign different table indexes to different key caches.

The separate key cache can be created by setting its size with a SET GLOBAL parameter setting statement or by using server startup options. For example:

mysql> SET GLOBAL keycache1.key_buffer_size=128*1024;

The following statement assigns indexes from the tables t1, t2, and t3 to the key cache named keycache1:

mysql> CACHE INDEX t1, t2, t3 IN keycache1;

The key cache referred to in a CACHE INDEX statement can be created by setting its size with a SET GLOBAL parameter setting statement or by using server startup options. For example:

mysql> SET GLOBAL keycache1.key_buffer_size=128*1024;

For a busy server, you can use a strategy that involves three key caches:

– A “hot” key cache that takes up 20% of the space allocated for all key caches. Use this for tables that are heavily used for searches but that are not updated.

– A “cold” key cache that takes up 20% of the space allocated for all key caches. Use this cache for medium-sized, intensively modified tables, such as temporary tables.

– A “warm” key cache that takes up 60% of the key cache space. Employ this as the default key cache, to be used by default for all other tables.


17.2  The InnoDB Buffer Pool

InnoDB maintains a buffer pool for caching data and indexes in memory. InnoDB manages the pool as a list, using a least recently used (LRU) algorithm incorporating a midpoint insertion strategy. When room is needed to add a new block to the pool, InnoDB evicts the least recently used block and adds the new block to the middle of the list. The midpoint insertion strategy in effect causes the list to be treated as two sublists:

  • At the head, a sublist of “new” (or “young”) blocks that have been recently used.
  • At the tail, a sublist of “old” blocks that are less recently used.

As a result of the algorithm, the new sublist contains blocks that are heavily used by queries. The old sublist contains less-used blocks, and candidates for eviction are taken from this sublist.



Specifies the size of the buffer pool. If your buffer pool is small and you have sufficient memory, making the pool larger can improve performance by reducing the amount of disk I/O needed as queries access InnoDB tables.



Specifies the approximate percentage of the buffer pool that InnoDB uses for the old block sublist. The range of values is 5 to 95. The default value is 37 (that is, 3/8 of the pool).



Specifies how long in milliseconds (ms) a block inserted into the old sublist must stay there after its first access before it can be moved to the new sublist. The default value is 0: A block inserted into the old sublist moves immediately to the new sublist the first time it is accessed, no matter how soon after insertion the access occurs. If the value is greater than 0, blocks remain in the old sublist until an access occurs at least that many ms after the first access. For example, a value of 1000 causes blocks to stay in the old sublist for 1 second after the first access before they become eligible to move to the new sublist.

innodb_old_blocks_pct and innodb_old_blocks_time are available as of MySQL 5.1.41, but only for InnoDB Plugin, not the built-in version of InnoDB.


Locking Issues

MySQL manages contention for table contents using locking:

  • Internal locking is performed within the MySQL server itself to manage contention for table contents by multiple threads. This type of locking is internal because it is performed entirely by the server and involves no other programs.
  • External locking occurs when the server and other programs lock MyISAM table files to coordinate among themselves which program can access the tables at which time.
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