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14.10.6 Implementation Details of Online DDL

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

  • Whether there is any change to the physical representation of the table, or whether it purely a change to metadata that can be done without touching the table itself.

  • Whether the volume of data in the table stays the same, increases, or decreases.

  • Whether a change in table data involves the clustered index, secondary indexes, or both.

  • Whether there are any foreign key relationships between the table being altered and some other table. The mechanics differ depending on whether the foreign_key_checks configuration option is enabled or disabled.

  • Whether the table is partitioned. Partitioning clauses of ALTER TABLE are turned into low-level operations involving one or more tables, and those operations follow the regular rules for online DDL.

  • Whether the table data must be copied, whether the table can be reorganized in-place, or a combination of both.

  • Whether the table contains any auto-increment columns.

  • What degree of locking is required, either by the nature of the underlying database operations, or a LOCK clause that you specify in the ALTER TABLE statement.

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:

  • If a LOCK clause specifies a low degree of locking (SHARED or NONE) that is not compatible with the particular type of DDL operation.

  • If a timeout occurs while waiting to get an exclusive lock on the table, which is needed briefly during the initial and final phases of the DDL operation.

  • If the tmpdir file system runs out of disk space, while MySQL writes temporary sort files on disk during index creation.

  • If the ALTER TABLE takes so long, and concurrent DML modifies the table so much, that the size of the temporary online log exceeds the value of the innodb_online_alter_log_max_size configuration option. This condition causes a DB_ONLINE_LOG_TOO_BIG error.

  • If concurrent DML makes changes to the table that are allowed with the original table definition, but not with the new one. The operation only fails at the very end, when MySQL tries to apply all the changes from concurrent DML statements. For example, you might insert duplicate values into a column while a unique index is being created, or you might insert NULL values into a column while creating a primary key index on that column. The changes made by the concurrent DML take precedence, and the ALTER TABLE operation is effectively rolled back.

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.

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