It is a common situation in database applications that the primary key is a unique identifier and new rows are inserted in the ascending order of the primary key. Thus, insertions into the clustered index do not require random reads from a disk.
On the other hand, secondary indexes are usually nonunique, and
insertions into secondary indexes happen in a relatively random
order. This would cause a lot of random disk I/O operations
without a special mechanism used in
If an index record should be inserted into a nonunique secondary
InnoDB checks whether the secondary
index page is in the buffer pool. If that is the case,
InnoDB does the insertion directly to the
index page. If the index page is not found in the buffer pool,
InnoDB inserts the record to a special insert
buffer structure. The insert buffer is kept so small that it
fits entirely in the buffer pool, and insertions can be done
Periodically, the insert buffer is merged into the secondary index trees in the database. Often it is possible to merge several insertions into the same page of the index tree, saving disk I/O operations. It has been measured that the insert buffer can speed up insertions into a table up to 15 times.
The insert buffer merging may continue to happen after the transaction has been committed. In fact, it may continue to happen after a server shutdown and restart (see Section 126.96.36.199, “Forcing InnoDB Recovery”).
Insert buffer merging may take many hours when many secondary indexes must be updated and many rows have been inserted. During this time, disk I/O will be increased, which can cause significant slowdown on disk-bound queries. Another significant background I/O operation is the purge thread (see Section 14.2.9, “InnoDB Multi-Versioning”).