8.6.1 The MyISAM Key Cache

8.6.1.1 Shared Key Cache Access
8.6.1.2 Multiple Key Caches
8.6.1.3 Midpoint Insertion Strategy
8.6.1.4 Index Preloading
8.6.1.5 Key Cache Block Size
8.6.1.6 Restructuring a 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:

This section first describes the basic operation of the MyISAM key cache. Then it discusses features that improve key cache performance and that enable you to better control cache operation:

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.)

An index block is a contiguous unit of access to the MyISAM index files. Usually the size of an index block is equal to the size of nodes of the index B-tree. (Indexes are represented on disk using a B-tree data structure. Nodes at the bottom of the tree are leaf nodes. Nodes above the leaf nodes are nonleaf nodes.)

All block buffers in a key cache structure are the same size. This size can be equal to, greater than, or less than the size of a table index block. Usually one these two values is a multiple of the other.

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. That is, it reads from the cache or writes into it rather than reading from or writing to disk. Otherwise, the server chooses a cache block buffer containing a different table index block (or blocks) and replaces the data there by a copy of required table index block. As soon as the new index block is in the cache, the index data can be accessed.

If it happens that a block selected for replacement has been modified, the block is considered dirty. In this case, prior to being replaced, its contents are flushed to the table index from which it came.

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.

The InnoDB storage engine also uses an LRU algorithm, to manage its buffer pool. See Section 8.6.2, “The InnoDB Buffer Pool”.