Implementation Details of Online DDL

Each ALTER TABLE operation for an InnoDB table is governed by several aspects:

This section explains how these factors affect the different kinds of ALTER TABLE operations on InnoDB tables.

Error Conditions for Online DDL

Here are the primary reasons why an online DDL operation could fail:

Although the configuration option innodb_file_per_table has a dramatic effect on the representation for an InnoDB table, all online DDL operations work equally well whether that option is enabled or disabled, and whether the table is physically located in its own .ibd file or inside the system tablespace.

InnoDB has two types of indexes: the clustered index representing all the data in the table, and optional secondary indexes to speed up queries. Since the clustered index contains the data values in its B-tree nodes, adding or dropping a clustered index does involve copying the data, and creating a new copy of the table. A secondary index, however, contains only the index key and the value of the primary key. This type of index can be created or dropped without copying the data in the clustered index. Because each secondary index contains copies of the primary key values (used to access the clustered index when needed), when you change the definition of the primary key, all secondary indexes are recreated as well.

Dropping a secondary index is simple. Only the internal InnoDB system tables and the MySQL data dictionary tables are updated to reflect the fact that the index no longer exists. InnoDB returns the storage used for the index to the tablespace that contained it, so that new indexes or additional table rows can use the space.

To add a secondary index to an existing table, InnoDB scans the table, and sorts the rows using memory buffers and temporary files in order by the values of the secondary index key columns. The B-tree is then built in key-value order, which is more efficient than inserting rows into an index in random order. Because the B-tree nodes are split when they fill, building the index in this way results in a higher fill-factor for the index, making it more efficient for subsequent access.

Primary Key and Secondary Key Indexes

Historically, the MySQL server and InnoDB have each kept their own metadata about table and index structures. The MySQL server stores this information in .frm files that are not protected by a transactional mechanism, while InnoDB has its own data dictionary as part of the system tablespace. If a DDL operation was interrupted by a crash or other unexpected event partway through, the metadata could be left inconsistent between these two locations, causing problems such as startup errors or inability to access the table that was being altered. Now that InnoDB is the default storage engine, addressing such issues is a high priority. These enhancements to DDL operations reduce the window of opportunity for such issues to occur.