MySQL 5.5: InnoDB Change Buffering

Note: this article was originally published on on Sept 19, 2009 by Marko Mäkelä.

To speed up bulk loading of data, InnoDB implements an insert buffer, a special index in the InnoDB system tablespace that buffers modifications to secondary indexes when the leaf pages are not in the buffer pool. Batched merges from the insert buffer to the index pages result in less random access patterns than when updating the pages directly. This speeds up the operation on hard disks.

In MySQL 5.5, the insert buffer has been extended to a change buffer, which covers all modifications of secondary index leaf pages. This will improve the performance of bulk deletes and updates, transaction rollback and the purging of deleted records (reducing the “purge lag”).

To assess the benefits of the extended buffering, you may want to run benchmarks with the settings innodb_change_buffering=all, innodb_change_buffering=inserts, and innodb_change_buffering=none. Users of solid-state storage, where random reads are about as fast as sequential reads, might benefit from disabling the buffering altogether.

Read on to learn how the change buffering works.

Operations on Secondary Indexes

InnoDB can perform three kinds of modifications on secondary index records. If the affected index page is not in the buffer pool, the modifications can be buffered in the change buffer. When an index lookup or scan needs a page that is not in the buffer pool, the page will be read from the tablespace and any buffered changes will be merged to it.

The following operations can modify secondary index pages:

Inserting a record; supported in all versions of InnoDB
Marking a record for deletion
Removing a deleted record that is no longer accessible by active transactions

Before MySQL 5.5, UPDATE, DELETE and purge operations were performed directly on the index pages, resulting in random-access I/O. In MySQL 5.5, all of these operations can be buffered.

Implications of InnoDB Multiversioning

In InnoDB, there are two types of indexes: the clustered index B-tree, where the records are stored in the PRIMARY KEY order, and secondary index B-trees, which identify rows by primary key. InnoDB multiversion concurrency control (MVCC) treats these indexes differently.

Records in the clustered index can be updated in place, and their hidden system columns DB_TRX_ID, DB_ROLL_PTR point to undo log entries from which earlier versions can be reconstructed. InnoDB secondary index records do not contain any system columns, and their data is never updated in place. An UPDATE of an indexed column requires the operations Delete-mark(old), Insert(new) and eventually Purge(old) in the secondary index. An UPDATE of a PRIMARY KEY results in Delete-mark, Insert and eventually Purge in all indexes.

When a secondary index record has been marked for deletion or when the page has been updated by a newer transaction, InnoDB will look up the clustered index record. In the clustered index, it suffices to check the DB_TRX_ID and only retrieve the correct version from the undo log when the record was modified after the reading transaction started.

To Buffer or not to Buffer

When a page is in the buffer pool, it will always be updated directly. When a page is loaded to the buffer pool, any buffered changes will be merged to it, so that users never see unmerged changes.

Because change buffering works on individual leaf pages, we cannot buffer changes that would result into page splits or merges, but must perform such changes on the B-tree pages directly.

The insert buffer bitmap keeps track on the available space on pages and prevents overflows when buffering inserts. Delete-marking records can always be buffered, because the flag will be updated in place. Purging a delete-marked record could result in an empty page, something that we do not allow. We determine the non-emptiness of a page from previously buffered operations on the same page. If there are no previously buffered operations, the purge will have to load the index page to the buffer pool.

InnoDB refuses to buffer an operation when the on-disk change buffer tree would grow bigger than ⅓ of the in-memory buffer pool (innodb_buffer_pool_size). This might be a good rule-of-thumb, but some setups could benefit from the ability of setting the change buffer size independently of the buffer pool size.


The InnoDB change buffer is a persistent data structure and a complex mechanism that comes into play when the workload does not fit in the buffer pool. Because it trades random I/O with a larger amount of sequential I/O, it speeds up operation on hard disks, where random access is much slower than sequential access.

On solid-state storage, there is not much difference between sequential and random access times. Change buffering may still be useful if writes to solid-state storage are expensive, either in terms of speed or the consumption of limited program/erase cycles. Change buffering could reduce the write load on user tablespaces and cause more writes to the system tablespace (which contains the insert buffer) and the redo log. These should be placed on a hard disk.


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