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Caching is easy; Expiration is hard

Still on a high from our success with memcached in AMO version 2, we decided to go a fairly common route and cache query results in version 3. This performs admirably particularly with our ridiculously long and slow queries. Over time, though, the popularity of the site and the load on the servers climb, and soon we’re looking at slowness issues again. On a rough day we decided to increase the expiration timeout for our queries in memcached from a minute to around an hour. This gives the database servers some breathing room but causes excessive delay on the AMO site when add-ons are updated and things like bug 425315 and it’s friends are born. Weird things happen when parts of a site expire at different times and consequently user experience (particularly add-on developers) suffers.

The problem we’re running into in the bug linked above is knowing when to expire a cache. Consider when an add-on author updates the summary of their add-on. We know we’ll have to flush the queries on that page out of memcached, and that’s easy enough, but what about all the other places the summary is used? Search results pages, add-on detail pages, recommended lists, the API, etc. Now we’ve got to figure out the queries used on those pages and expire them too. Suddenly I’m wishing we were caching objects in memcached instead of queries.

I looked in to other ways to use memcached and they all have their pros and cons. Caching entire pages means we’d have to store different versions for a person that is logged in vs. logged out and also what permissions they had (pages have different options for localizers, admins, developers, etc.). Caching objects is attractive, but the way CakePHP does queries makes this a non-option (namely, it’s not asking objects for values, it does joins directly on the db). Directly caching queries seems like the best fit because we can affect just the parts of the pages we want and it will work with CakePHP’s current system…just as soon as we figure out how to relate updating a row to all of it’s associated queries.

I attached an idea to the bug but regardless of the process we use, figuring out how to implement a full time cache that we can expire on the fly is going to be an important step in keeping the AMO site usable as our traffic increases.

This is a static site. If you have any comments please start a thread in the fediverse and tag me or send an email.