Data Characteristics and Compression

A key determinant of the efficiency of compression in reducing the size of data files is the nature of the data itself. Recall that compression works by identifying repeated strings of bytes in a block of data. Completely randomized data is the worst case. Typical data often has repeated values, and so compresses effectively. Character strings often compress well, whether defined in CHAR, VARCHAR, TEXT or BLOB columns. On the other hand, tables containing mostly binary data (integers or floating point numbers) or data that is previously compressed (for example JPEG or PNG images) may not generally compress well, significantly or at all.

Compression is chosen on a table by table basis with the InnoDB Plugin, and a table and all of its indexes use the same (compressed) page size. It might be that the primary key (clustered) index, which contains the data for all columns of a table, compresses more effectively than the secondary indexes. For those cases where there are long rows, the use of compression may result in long column values being stored off-page, as discussed in Section 5.3, “DYNAMIC Row Format”. Those overflow pages may compress well. Given these considerations, for many applications, some tables compress more effectively than others, and you may find that your workload performs best only with a subset of tables compressed.

Experimenting is the only way to determine whether or not to compress a particular table. InnoDB compresses data in 16K chunks corresponding to the uncompressed page size, and in addition to user data, the page format includes some internal system data that is not compressed. Compression utilities compress an entire stream of data, and so may find more repeated strings across the entire input stream than InnoDB would find in a table compressed in 16K chunks. But you can get a sense of how compression efficiency by using a utility that implements LZ77 compression (such as gzip or WinZip) on your data file.

Another way to test compression on a specific table is to copy some data from your uncompressed table to a similar, compressed table (having all the same indexes) and look at the size of the resulting file. When you do so (if nothing else using compression is running), you can examine the ratio of successful compression operations to overall compression operations. (In the INNODB_CMP table, compare COMPRESS_OPS to COMPRESS_OPS_OK. See INNODB_CMP for more information.) If a high percentage of compression operations complete successfully, the table might be a good candidate for compression.

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