14.2.9.3 Insert Buffering

It is a common situation in database applications that the primary key is a unique identifier and new rows are inserted in the ascending order of the primary key. Thus, insertions into the clustered index do not require random reads from a disk.

On the other hand, secondary indexes are usually nonunique, and insertions into secondary indexes happen in a relatively random order. This would cause a lot of random disk I/O operations without a special mechanism used in InnoDB.

If an index record should be inserted into a nonunique secondary index, InnoDB checks whether the secondary index page is in the buffer pool. If that is the case, InnoDB does the insertion directly to the index page. If the index page is not found in the buffer pool, InnoDB inserts the record to a special insert buffer structure. The insert buffer is kept so small that it fits entirely in the buffer pool, and insertions can be done very fast.

Periodically, the insert buffer is merged into the secondary index trees in the database. Often it is possible to merge several insertions into the same page of the index tree, saving disk I/O operations. It has been measured that the insert buffer can speed up insertions into a table up to 15 times.

The insert buffer merging may continue to happen after the transaction has been committed. In fact, it may continue to happen after a server shutdown and restart (see Section 14.2.5.2, “Forcing InnoDB Recovery”).

Insert buffer merging may take many hours when many secondary indexes must be updated and many rows have been inserted. During this time, disk I/O will be increased, which can cause significant slowdown on disk-bound queries. Another significant background I/O operation is the purge thread (see Section 14.2.8, “InnoDB Multi-Versioning”).