8.8.3 How MySQL Opens and Closes Tables

When you execute a mysqladmin status command, you should see something like this:

Uptime: 426 Running threads: 1 Questions: 11082
Reloads: 1 Open tables: 12

The Open tables value of 12 can be somewhat puzzling if you have only six tables.

MySQL is multi-threaded, so there may be many clients issuing queries for a given table simultaneously. To minimize the problem with multiple client sessions having different states on the same table, the table is opened independently by each concurrent session. This uses additional memory but normally increases performance. With MyISAM tables, one extra file descriptor is required for the data file for each client that has the table open. (By contrast, the index file descriptor is shared between all sessions.)

The table_cache and max_connections system variables affect the maximum number of files the server keeps open. If you increase one or both of these values, you may run up against a limit imposed by your operating system on the per-process number of open file descriptors. Many operating systems permit you to increase the open-files limit, although the method varies widely from system to system. Consult your operating system documentation to determine whether it is possible to increase the limit and how to do so.

table_cache is related to max_connections. For example, for 200 concurrent running connections, you should have a table cache size of at least 200 * N, where N is the maximum number of tables per join in any of the queries which you execute. You must also reserve some extra file descriptors for temporary tables and files.

Make sure that your operating system can handle the number of open file descriptors implied by the table_cache setting. If table_cache is set too high, MySQL may run out of file descriptors and refuse connections, fail to perform queries, and be very unreliable. You also have to take into account that the MyISAM storage engine needs two file descriptors for each unique open table. You can increase the number of file descriptors available to MySQL using the --open-files-limit startup option to mysqld. See Section B.5.2.18, “'File' Not Found and Similar Errors”.

The cache of open tables is kept at a level of table_cache entries. The default value is 64; this can be changed with the --table_cache option to mysqld. Note that MySQL may temporarily open more tables than this to execute queries.

MySQL closes an unused table and removes it from the table cache under the following circumstances:

When the table cache fills up, the server uses the following procedure to locate a cache entry to use:

A MyISAM table is opened for each concurrent access. This means the table needs to be opened twice if two threads access the same table or if a thread accesses the table twice in the same query (for example, by joining the table to itself). Each concurrent open requires an entry in the table cache. The first open of any MyISAM table takes two file descriptors: one for the data file and one for the index file. Each additional use of the table takes only one file descriptor for the data file. The index file descriptor is shared among all threads.

If you are opening a table with the HANDLER tbl_name OPEN statement, a dedicated table object is allocated for the thread. This table object is not shared by other threads and is not closed until the thread calls HANDLER tbl_name CLOSE or the thread terminates. When this happens, the table is put back in the table cache (if the cache is not full). See Section 13.2.4, “HANDLER Syntax”.

You can determine whether your table cache is too small by checking the mysqld status variable Opened_tables, which indicates the number of table-opening operations since the server started:

mysql> SHOW GLOBAL STATUS LIKE 'Opened_tables';
+---------------+-------+
| Variable_name | Value |
+---------------+-------+
| Opened_tables | 2741  |
+---------------+-------+

If the value is very large or increases rapidly, even when you have not issued many FLUSH TABLES statements, you should increase the table cache size. See Section 5.1.4, “Server System Variables”, and Section 5.1.6, “Server Status Variables”.