In the previous post, I talked about the usage of scratch files to enable MVCC and the challenges that this entails. In this post, I want to talk about the role the transaction journal files play in all of this. I talked a lot about how to ensure that transaction journals are fast, what goes into them, etc. But this post is how they are used inside Voron.
The way Voron stores data inside the transaction journal is actually quite simple. We have a transaction header, which contains quite a bit of interesting information, and then we have all the pages that were modified in this transaction, compressed.
The fact that we are compressing pages can save on a lot of the amount of I/O we write. But the key aspect here is that a transaction is considered committed by the Voron when we complete the write of the entire thing to stable storage. See the post above to a complete discussion on why it matters and how to do this quickly and with the least amount of pain.
Typically, the transaction journal is only used during recovery, so it is write only. We let the journal files to grow to about 64MB in size, then we create new ones. During database startup, we check what is the last journal file and journal file position that we have synced (more on that later), and we start reading from there. We read the transaction header and compare its hash to the hash of the compressed data. If they match (as well as a bunch of other checks we do), then we consider this to be a valid commit, and then we decompress the data into a temporary buffer and we have all the dirty pages that were written in that transaction.
We can then just copy them to the appropriate location in the data file. We continue doing so until we hit the end of the last file or we hit a transaction which is invalid or empty. At that point we stop, consider this the end of the valid committed transactions, and complete recovery.
Note that at this point, we have written a lot of stuff to the data file, but we have flushed it. The reason is that flushing is incredibly expensive, especially during data recovery where we might be re-playing a lot of data. So we skip it. Instead, we rely on the normal flushing process to do this for us. By default, this will happen within 1 minute of the database starting up, in the background, so it will reduce the interruption for regular operations. This gives us a very fast startup time. And our in memory state let us know where is the next place we need to flush from the log, so we don’t do the same work twice.
However, that does mean that if we fail midway through, there is absolutely no change in behavior. In recovery, we’ll write the same information to the same place, so replaying the journal file become idempotent operation that can fail and recover without a lot of complexity.
We do need to clear the journal files at some point, and this process happens after we synced the data file. At that point, we know that the data is safely stored in the data file, and we can update our persistent state on where we need to start applying recovery the next time. Once those two actions are done, we can delete the old (and now unused) journal files. Note that at each part of the operation, the failure mode is to simply retry the idempotent operation (copying the pages from the journal to the data file), and there is no need for complex recovery logic.
During normal operation, we’ll clear the journal files once it has been confirmed that all the data it has was successfully flushed to the disk and that this action has been successfully recorded in stable storage. So in practice, database restarts after recovery are typically very fast, only needing to reply the last few transactions before we are ready for business again.