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tikv raft engine

Authors: Xinye Tao (TiDB Cloud Engineer), Chenhao Huang (Developer Relations Specialist)

TiDB is an open-source, distributed, NewSQL database that supports Hybrid Transactional and Analytical Processing (HTAP) workloads. It is MySQL compatible and features horizontal scalability, strong consistency, and high availability. 

TiDB includes TiKV, a row-oriented, key-value storage engine. TiKV plays a key role in high availability (HA). Data from TiDB is split into several Regions, the smallest data unit for replication and load balancing. Then, each Region is replicated three times and distributed among different TiKV nodes. The replicas for one Region form a Raft group. 

TiKV architecture

There are two parts of data that need to be stored: the data itself and the Raft logs. Two RocksDB instances are used to store the data in each TiKV node. In earlier versions of TiDB, RocksDB stores the Raft logs, where they are converted into key-value pairs. However, using RocksDB to store Raft logs caused write amplification (WA), which created huge amounts of I/O.  TiDB introduced Raft Engine—a log-structured embedded storage engine for multi-Raft logs in TiKV.

In this article, we will dive deep into the Raft Engine—why we need it, how we design and implement it, and how it benefits performance.

Pain points of using RocksDB to store Raft logs

The biggest pain point of using RocksDB to store Raft logs is the large amount of I/O that’s generated. In RocksDB, this I/O comes from two places.

First, in RocksDB, key-value pairs are first inserted into a Write Ahead Log (WAL), and then the data are written to the RocksDB MemTable. When the data in MemTable reaches a certain size, RocksDB flushes the content into a Sorted String Table (SST) file in the disk. This means that the same information is written to the disks twice.

RocksDB also has write amplification (WA). WA is the ratio between the amount of data written to storage devices and the amount of data written by users. Key-value (KV) stores which are based on log-structured merge trees (LSM-trees) have long been criticized for their high WA due to frequent compactions. As the dataset increases, so does the depth of the LSM-tree and the overall WA. Increased WA consumes more storage bandwidth, competes with flush operations, and eventually slows application throughput.

The huge amount of RocksDB I/O becomes an obvious issue when deploying TiDB in the cloud environment or using TiDB Cloud. The reasons are two-fold. First, cloud vendors usually charge each I/O. In addition the amount of RocksDB I/O fluctuates a lot, which may impact the quality of service (QoS). 

Raft Engine design

Inspired by BitCask, we designed and implemented Raft Engine, a persistent embedded storage engine with a log-structured design. It is built for TiKV to store Multi-Raft logs. The figure below shows a simplified Raft Engine architecture.

The simplified Raft Engine architecture

On the disk, write requests, both the key and the actual data, are sequentially written to the active append-only log file. When a configurable threshold is reached, a new file is created.

MemTable is an in-memory hash table. It contains log keys and the page location (offset) of that key. The MemTable is an index for the storage on disk. The MemTable is split into several parts. When a read or write request comes in, the MemTable Router directs the request to the corresponding MemTable.

Read a log file

When reading a log file, the reader first visits the MemTable Router to locate the corresponding MemTable. The reader gets the page location of the log from the MemTable based on the log key. Once that information is available, the engine performs one disk read from the file on the disk.

Insert a log file

To insert a new record, the engine:

  1. Appends the entry and key value to the active data file (stream)
  2. Creates an entry in the MemTable 

These two operations are performed atomically. Inserting a new record only involves one disk write and no disk seek. 

Raft Engine also supports lz4 compression. You have the option of compressing the data before it’s written to the disk. This compression can help reduce the write I/O. The records in the MemTable are not compressed. 

Update a log file

Updating a log file is similar to inserting a new KV pair. The difference is that, instead of creating a new entry in MemTable, the existing record is updated with the new page location. The old value in the disk is now dangling and will be removed during garbage collection in the purge phase.

Delete a log file

To delete a log file, the engine performs two atomic operations. It: 

  1. Appends a new entry in the active data stream with the value equalling a tombstone
  2. Deletes the MemTable entry 

Just like when the log file was updated, the old record is now dangling and will be removed during garbage collection in the purge phase. 

Raft Engine recovery

When Raft Engine is restarted, the engine reads the Log Key on the disk and builds the MemTable based on it. This is different from BitCask. In BitCask, there are hint files stored on the disk, which hold the necessary data for recovery. We deprecated the hint file in Raft Engine, because it causes extra write I/O in the background. Based on our internal benchmarked testing, Raft Engine still recovers very fast. When the data stored on Raft Engine is less than 10 GB, It usually takes less than 2 seconds to recover.


The purge phase permanently deletes old entries on the disks. Purge is similar to the compaction in the RocksDB. However, the purge in Raft Engine is much more efficient.

During the compaction phase in RocksDB, all data files must be read into memory, combined, and then flushed to the disk. Because Raft Engine has an index for all records in MemTable, it only needs to read the up-to-date data, combine them into a file, and then flush them to the disk. Obsolete pages are then abandoned.

The user determines when data is purged The Raft Engine consolidates and removes its log files only when the user calls the purge_expired_files() routine. By default, TiKV calls the purge function every 10 seconds.

The Raft Engine also sends useful feedback to the user. Each time the purge_expired_files()routine is called, Raft Engine returns a list of Raft Groups that hold particularly old log entries. Those log entries block garbage collection and should be compacted by the user.

Design considerations

Why does the Raft Engine meet our needs better than the RocksDB? 

As discussed earlier, in our scenario RocksDB generates huge amounts of I/O. The values in RocksDB are sorted by their keys. This provides very good performance when conducting range queries; however, in our case we don’t need range queries. Sorting the values based on keys inevitably leads to huge write amplification. 

Raft Engine does not have this feature, so it generates less I/O.

Why are there multiple MemTables?

When data is read from or written to a MemTable, the table must be locked. Subsequent requests must wait in the queue until the current operation finishes.  When multiple MemTables are used, if two requests access different MemTables, they do not block each other.

Performance evaluation

Now, let’s compare the performance of RockDB and the Raft Engine using the TPC-C benchmark. We set up a TiDB cluster as follows: 

  • The TiDB and Placement Driver (PD) servers are on Amazon Web Services (AWS) c5.4xlarge instances.
  • The TiKV servers are on r5.4xlarge instances with 1 TB gp3 EBS volumes.
  • For TPC-C benchmarking, we use 5,000 warehouses. 
  • We run the experiments with 50 and 800 threads. 

Each experiment runs for two hours.

50 threads

TpmCClient latency (ms)CPU (%)I/O (MB/s)IOPS
RocksDB28,954.750th percentile: 44.090th: 54.5 95th: 60.899th: 79.7 99.9th: 151.0420Write: 98.0Read: 24.0Write: 1,850 Read: 400
Raft Engine30,146.450th: 41.990th: 52.4 95th: 58.799th: 79.7 99.9th: 142.6430Write: 75.0Read: 25.0Write: 1,850Read: 450

Performance comparison between RocksDB and Raft Engine with 50 threads

800 threads

TpmCClient latency (ms)CPU (%)I/O (MB/s)IOPS
RocksDB54,846.950th percentile: 402.790th: 570.495th: 604.099th: 805.399.9th: 1,073.7850Write: 209.0 Read 54.0Write: 1,750Read: 1,200
Raft Engine56,020.550th: 402.790th: 570.495th: 604.099th: 671.199.9th: 838.9750Write: 129.0Read: 49.0Write: 1,700 Read: 1,200

Performance comparison between RocksDB and Raft Engine with 800 threads

Based on the data above, when we compare Raft Engine to TiKV with RocksDB, Raft Engine:

  • Improves QPS by up to 4%
  • Reduces tail latency by 20% 
  • Reduces write I/O is reduced by 25% ~ 40%
  • Reduces CPU usage by 12% under heavy workloads

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(Edited by Fendy Feng, Tom Dewan)

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