14.7.5 How Compression Works for InnoDB Tables

This section describes some internal implementation details about compression for InnoDB tables. The information presented here may be helpful in tuning for performance, but is not necessary to know for basic use of compression.

Compression Algorithms

Some operating systems implement compression at the file system level. Files are typically divided into fixed-size blocks that are compressed into variable-size blocks, which easily leads into fragmentation. Every time something inside a block is modified, the whole block is recompressed before it is written to disk. These properties make this compression technique unsuitable for use in an update-intensive database system.

MySQL implements compression with the help of the well-known zlib library, which implements the LZ77 compression algorithm. This compression algorithm is mature, robust, and efficient in both CPU utilization and in reduction of data size. The algorithm is lossless, so that the original uncompressed data can always be reconstructed from the compressed form. LZ77 compression works by finding sequences of data that are repeated within the data to be compressed. The patterns of values in your data determine how well it compresses, but typical user data often compresses by 50% or more.

Unlike compression performed by an application, or compression features of some other database management systems, InnoDB compression applies both to user data and to indexes. In many cases, indexes can constitute 40-50% or more of the total database size, so this difference is significant. When compression is working well for a data set, the size of the InnoDB data files (the .idb files) is 25% to 50% of the uncompressed size or possibly smaller. Depending on the workload, this smaller database can in turn lead to a reduction in I/O, and an increase in throughput, at a modest cost in terms of increased CPU utilization. You can adjust the balance between compression level and CPU overhead by modifying the innodb_compression_level configuration option.

InnoDB Data Storage and Compression

All user data in InnoDB tables is stored in pages comprising a B-tree index (the clustered index). In some other database systems, this type of index is called an index-organized table. Each row in the index node contains the values of the (user-specified or system-generated) primary key and all the other columns of the table.

Secondary indexes in InnoDB tables are also B-trees, containing pairs of values: the index key and a pointer to a row in the clustered index. The pointer is in fact the value of the primary key of the table, which is used to access the clustered index if columns other than the index key and primary key are required. Secondary index records must always fit on a single B-tree page.

The compression of B-tree nodes (of both clustered and secondary indexes) is handled differently from compression of overflow pages used to store long VARCHAR, BLOB, or TEXT columns, as explained in the following sections.

Compression of B-Tree Pages

Because they are frequently updated, B-tree pages require special treatment. It is important to minimize the number of times B-tree nodes are split, as well as to minimize the need to uncompress and recompress their content.

One technique MySQL uses is to maintain some system information in the B-tree node in uncompressed form, thus facilitating certain in-place updates. For example, this allows rows to be delete-marked and deleted without any compression operation.

In addition, MySQL attempts to avoid unnecessary uncompression and recompression of index pages when they are changed. Within each B-tree page, the system keeps an uncompressed modification log to record changes made to the page. Updates and inserts of small records may be written to this modification log without requiring the entire page to be completely reconstructed.

When the space for the modification log runs out, InnoDB uncompresses the page, applies the changes and recompresses the page. If recompression fails (a situation known as a compression failure), the B-tree nodes are split and the process is repeated until the update or insert succeeds.

To avoid frequent compression failures in write-intensive workloads, such as for OLTP applications, MySQL sometimes reserves some empty space (padding) in the page, so that the modification log fills up sooner and the page is recompressed while there is still enough room to avoid splitting it. The amount of padding space left in each page varies as the system keeps track of the frequency of page splits. On a busy server doing frequent writes to compressed tables, you can adjust the innodb_compression_failure_threshold_pct, and innodb_compression_pad_pct_max configuration options to fine-tune this mechanism.

Generally, MySQL requires that each B-tree page in an InnoDB table can accommodate at least two records. For compressed tables, this requirement has been relaxed. Leaf pages of B-tree nodes (whether of the primary key or secondary indexes) only need to accommodate one record, but that record must fit, in uncompressed form, in the per-page modification log. If innodb_strict_mode is ON, MySQL checks the maximum row size during CREATE TABLE or CREATE INDEX. If the row does not fit, the following error message is issued: ERROR HY000: Too big row.

If you create a table when innodb_strict_mode is OFF, and a subsequent INSERT or UPDATE statement attempts to create an index entry that does not fit in the size of the compressed page, the operation fails with ERROR 42000: Row size too large. (This error message does not name the index for which the record is too large, or mention the length of the index record or the maximum record size on that particular index page.) To solve this problem, rebuild the table with ALTER TABLE and select a larger compressed page size (KEY_BLOCK_SIZE), shorten any column prefix indexes, or disable compression entirely with ROW_FORMAT=DYNAMIC or ROW_FORMAT=COMPACT.

Compressing BLOB, VARCHAR, and TEXT Columns

In an InnoDB table, BLOB, VARCHAR, and TEXT columns that are not part of the primary key may be stored on separately allocated overflow pages. We refer to these columns as off-page columns. Their values are stored on singly-linked lists of overflow pages.

For tables created in ROW_FORMAT=DYNAMIC or ROW_FORMAT=COMPRESSED, the values of BLOB, TEXT, or VARCHAR columns may be stored fully off-page, depending on their length and the length of the entire row. For columns that are stored off-page, the clustered index record only contains 20-byte pointers to the overflow pages, one per column. Whether any columns are stored off-page depends on the page size and the total size of the row. When the row is too long to fit entirely within the page of the clustered index, MySQL chooses the longest columns for off-page storage until the row fits on the clustered index page. As noted above, if a row does not fit by itself on a compressed page, an error occurs.

Note

For tables created in ROW_FORMAT=DYNAMIC or ROW_FORMAT=COMPRESSED, TEXT and BLOB columns that are less than or equal to 40 bytes are always stored in-line.

Tables created in older versions of MySQL use the Antelope file format, which supports only ROW_FORMAT=REDUNDANT and ROW_FORMAT=COMPACT. In these formats, MySQL stores the first 768 bytes of BLOB, VARCHAR, and TEXT columns in the clustered index record along with the primary key. The 768-byte prefix is followed by a 20-byte pointer to the overflow pages that contain the rest of the column value.

When a table is in COMPRESSED format, all data written to overflow pages is compressed as is; that is, MySQL applies the zlib compression algorithm to the entire data item. Other than the data, compressed overflow pages contain an uncompressed header and trailer comprising a page checksum and a link to the next overflow page, among other things. Therefore, very significant storage savings can be obtained for longer BLOB, TEXT, or VARCHAR columns if the data is highly compressible, as is often the case with text data. Image data, such as JPEG, is typically already compressed and so does not benefit much from being stored in a compressed table; the double compression can waste CPU cycles for little or no space savings.

The overflow pages are of the same size as other pages. A row containing ten columns stored off-page occupies ten overflow pages, even if the total length of the columns is only 8K bytes. In an uncompressed table, ten uncompressed overflow pages occupy 160K bytes. In a compressed table with an 8K page size, they occupy only 80K bytes. Thus, it is often more efficient to use compressed table format for tables with long column values.

Using a 16K compressed page size can reduce storage and I/O costs for BLOB, VARCHAR, or TEXT columns, because such data often compress well, and might therefore require fewer overflow pages, even though the B-tree nodes themselves take as many pages as in the uncompressed form.

Compression and the InnoDB Buffer Pool

In a compressed InnoDB table, every compressed page (whether 1K, 2K, 4K or 8K) corresponds to an uncompressed page of 16K bytes (or a smaller size if innodb_page_size is set). To access the data in a page, MySQL reads the compressed page from disk if it is not already in the buffer pool, then uncompresses the page to its original form. This section describes how InnoDB manages the buffer pool with respect to pages of compressed tables.

To minimize I/O and to reduce the need to uncompress a page, at times the buffer pool contains both the compressed and uncompressed form of a database page. To make room for other required database pages, MySQL can evict from the buffer pool an uncompressed page, while leaving the compressed page in memory. Or, if a page has not been accessed in a while, the compressed form of the page might be written to disk, to free space for other data. Thus, at any given time, the buffer pool might contain both the compressed and uncompressed forms of the page, or only the compressed form of the page, or neither.

MySQL keeps track of which pages to keep in memory and which to evict using a least-recently-used (LRU) list, so that hot (frequently accessed) data tends to stay in memory. When compressed tables are accessed, MySQL uses an adaptive LRU algorithm to achieve an appropriate balance of compressed and uncompressed pages in memory. This adaptive algorithm is sensitive to whether the system is running in an I/O-bound or CPU-bound manner. The goal is to avoid spending too much processing time uncompressing pages when the CPU is busy, and to avoid doing excess I/O when the CPU has spare cycles that can be used for uncompressing compressed pages (that may already be in memory). When the system is I/O-bound, the algorithm prefers to evict the uncompressed copy of a page rather than both copies, to make more room for other disk pages to become memory resident. When the system is CPU-bound, MySQL prefers to evict both the compressed and uncompressed page, so that more memory can be used for hot pages and reducing the need to uncompress data in memory only in compressed form.

Compression and the InnoDB Redo Log Files

Before a compressed page is written to a data file, MySQL writes a copy of the page to the redo log (if it has been recompressed since the last time it was written to the database). This is done to ensure that redo logs are usable for crash recovery, even in the unlikely case that the zlib library is upgraded and that change introduces a compatibility problem with the compressed data. Therefore, some increase in the size of log files, or a need for more frequent checkpoints, can be expected when using compression. The amount of increase in the log file size or checkpoint frequency depends on the number of times compressed pages are modified in a way that requires reorganization and recompression.

Note that compressed tables use a different file format for the redo log and the per-table tablespaces than in MySQL 5.1 and earlier. The MySQL Enterprise Backup product supports this latest Barracuda file format for compressed InnoDB tables. The older InnoDB Hot Backup product can only back up tables using the file format Antelope, and thus does not support compressed InnoDB tables.