14.5 The MEMORY Storage Engine

The MEMORY storage engine (formerly known as HEAP) creates special-purpose tables with contents that are stored in memory. Because the data is vulnerable to crashes, hardware issues, or power outages, only use these tables as temporary work areas or read-only caches for data pulled from other tables.

Table 14.9 MEMORY Storage Engine Features

Storage limitsRAMTransactionsNoLocking granularityTable
MVCCNoGeospatial data type supportNoGeospatial indexing supportNo
B-tree indexesYesT-tree indexesNoHash indexesYes
Full-text search indexesNoClustered indexesNoData cachesN/A
Index cachesN/ACompressed dataNoEncrypted data[a]Yes
Cluster database supportNoReplication support[b]YesForeign key supportNo
Backup / point-in-time recovery[c]YesQuery cache supportYesUpdate statistics for data dictionaryYes

[a] Implemented in the server (via encryption functions), rather than in the storage engine.

[b] Implemented in the server, rather than in the storage engine.

[c] Implemented in the server, rather than in the storage engine.

When to Use MEMORY or MySQL Cluster.  Developers looking to deploy applications that use the MEMORY storage engine for important, highly available, or frequently updated data should consider whether MySQL Cluster is a better choice. A typical use case for the MEMORY engine involves these characteristics:

MySQL Cluster offers the same features as the MEMORY engine with higher performance levels, and provides additional features not available with MEMORY:

For a white paper with more detailed comparison of the MEMORY storage engine and MySQL Cluster, see Scaling Web Services with MySQL Cluster: An Alternative to the MySQL Memory Storage Engine. This white paper includes a performance study of the two technologies and a step-by-step guide describing how existing MEMORY users can migrate to MySQL Cluster.

Performance Characteristics

MEMORY performance is constrained by contention resulting from single-thread execution and table lock overhead when processing updates. This limits scalability when load increases, particularly for statement mixes that include writes.

Despite the in-memory processing for MEMORY tables, they are not necessarily faster than InnoDB tables on a busy server, for general-purpose queries, or under a read/write workload. In particular, the table locking involved with performing updates can slow down concurrent usage of MEMORY tables from multiple sessions.

Depending on the kinds of queries performed on a MEMORY table, you might create indexes as either the default hash data structure (for looking up single values based on a unique key), or a general-purpose B-tree data structure (for all kinds of queries involving equality, inequality, or range operators such as less than or greater than). The following sections illustrate the syntax for creating both kinds of indexes. A common performance issue is using the default hash indexes in workloads where B-tree indexes are more efficient.

Physical Characteristics of MEMORY Tables

The MEMORY storage engine associates each table with one disk file, which stores the table definition (not the data). The file name begins with the table name and has an extension of .frm.

MEMORY tables have the following characteristics:

DDL Operations for MEMORY Tables

To create a MEMORY table, specify the clause ENGINE=MEMORY on the CREATE TABLE statement.


As indicated by the engine name, MEMORY tables are stored in memory. They use hash indexes by default, which makes them very fast for single-value lookups, and very useful for creating temporary tables. However, when the server shuts down, all rows stored in MEMORY tables are lost. The tables themselves continue to exist because their definitions are stored in .frm files on disk, but they are empty when the server restarts.

This example shows how you might create, use, and remove a MEMORY table:

    ->     SELECT ip,SUM(downloads) AS down
    ->     FROM log_table GROUP BY ip;
mysql> SELECT COUNT(ip),AVG(down) FROM test;
mysql> DROP TABLE test;

The maximum size of MEMORY tables is limited by the max_heap_table_size system variable, which has a default value of 16MB. To enforce different size limits for MEMORY tables, change the value of this variable. The value in effect for CREATE TABLE, or a subsequent ALTER TABLE or TRUNCATE TABLE, is the value used for the life of the table. A server restart also sets the maximum size of existing MEMORY tables to the global max_heap_table_size value. You can set the size for individual tables as described later in this section.


The MEMORY storage engine supports both HASH and BTREE indexes. You can specify one or the other for a given index by adding a USING clause as shown here:

    (id INT, INDEX USING HASH (id))
    (id INT, INDEX USING BTREE (id))

For general characteristics of B-tree and hash indexes, see Section 8.3.1, “How MySQL Uses Indexes”.

MEMORY tables can have up to 64 indexes per table, 16 columns per index and a maximum key length of 3072 bytes.

If a MEMORY table hash index has a high degree of key duplication (many index entries containing the same value), updates to the table that affect key values and all deletes are significantly slower. The degree of this slowdown is proportional to the degree of duplication (or, inversely proportional to the index cardinality). You can use a BTREE index to avoid this problem.

MEMORY tables can have nonunique keys. (This is an uncommon feature for implementations of hash indexes.)

Columns that are indexed can contain NULL values.

User-Created and Temporary Tables

MEMORY table contents are stored in memory, which is a property that MEMORY tables share with internal temporary tables that the server creates on the fly while processing queries. However, the two types of tables differ in that MEMORY tables are not subject to storage conversion, whereas internal temporary tables are:

Loading Data

To populate a MEMORY table when the MySQL server starts, you can use the --init-file option. For example, you can put statements such as INSERT INTO ... SELECT or LOAD DATA INFILE into this file to load the table from a persistent data source. See Section 5.1.3, “Server Command Options”, and Section 13.2.6, “LOAD DATA INFILE Syntax”.

For loading data into MEMORY tables accessed by other sessions concurrently, MEMORY supports INSERT DELAYED. See Section, “INSERT DELAYED Syntax”.

MEMORY Tables and Replication

A server's MEMORY tables become empty when it is shut down and restarted. If the server is a replication master, its slaves are not aware that these tables have become empty, so you see out-of-date content if you select data from the tables on the slaves. To synchronize master and slave MEMORY tables, when a MEMORY table is used on a master for the first time since it was started, a DELETE statement is written to the master's binary log, to empty the table on the slaves also. The slave still has outdated data in the table during the interval between the master's restart and its first use of the table. To avoid this interval when a direct query to the slave could return stale data, use the --init-file option to populate the MEMORY table on the master at startup.

Managing Memory Use

The server needs sufficient memory to maintain all MEMORY tables that are in use at the same time.

Memory is not reclaimed if you delete individual rows from a MEMORY table. Memory is reclaimed only when the entire table is deleted. Memory that was previously used for deleted rows is re-used for new rows within the same table. To free all the memory used by a MEMORY table when you no longer require its contents, execute DELETE or TRUNCATE TABLE to remove all rows, or remove the table altogether using DROP TABLE. To free up the memory used by deleted rows, use ALTER TABLE ENGINE=MEMORY to force a table rebuild.

The memory needed for one row in a MEMORY table is calculated using the following expression:

SUM_OVER_ALL_BTREE_KEYS(max_length_of_key + sizeof(char*) * 4)
+ SUM_OVER_ALL_HASH_KEYS(sizeof(char*) * 2)
+ ALIGN(length_of_row+1, sizeof(char*))

ALIGN() represents a round-up factor to cause the row length to be an exact multiple of the char pointer size. sizeof(char*) is 4 on 32-bit machines and 8 on 64-bit machines.

As mentioned earlier, the max_heap_table_size system variable sets the limit on the maximum size of MEMORY tables. To control the maximum size for individual tables, set the session value of this variable before creating each table. (Do not change the global max_heap_table_size value unless you intend the value to be used for MEMORY tables created by all clients.) The following example creates two MEMORY tables, with a maximum size of 1MB and 2MB, respectively:

mysql> SET max_heap_table_size = 1024*1024;
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.01 sec)

mysql> SET max_heap_table_size = 1024*1024*2;
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

Both tables revert to the server's global max_heap_table_size value if the server restarts.

You can also specify a MAX_ROWS table option in CREATE TABLE statements for MEMORY tables to provide a hint about the number of rows you plan to store in them. This does not enable the table to grow beyond the max_heap_table_size value, which still acts as a constraint on maximum table size. For maximum flexibility in being able to use MAX_ROWS, set max_heap_table_size at least as high as the value to which you want each MEMORY table to be able to grow.

Additional Resources

A forum dedicated to the MEMORY storage engine is available at http://forums.mysql.com/list.php?92.