You are not reading the latest stable version of this documentation. If you want up-to-date information, please have a look at 4.5.

Paged queries

Queries can return any amount of data. The amount of data is only found out when the query is actually executed. This creates all sorts of resource management problems for the client as well as for the database. To avoid these problems query results are transmitted in chunks of limited size, one chunk at a time. After transmitting each chunk the database stops and waits for the client to request the next one. This is repeated until the entire result set is transitted. This is called paging.

The size of pages can be limited by the client by the number of rows they can contain. There is also a built-in (non-optional) size limit of 1MB. If a page reaches the size limit before it reaches the client-provided row limit it’s called a short page or short read.

To be able to continue the query on the next page the database has to remember where it stopped. This is done by recording the position where the query was interrupted when the page was filled in an opaque (to the client) cookie called the paging state. This cookie is transmitted with every page to the client and the client has to retransmit it to the database on every page request. Since the paging state is completely opaque (just a binary blob) to the client it can be used to store other query-related state besides just the page end position.

How did they work?

Single partition queries

The coordinator selects a list of replicas for each partition to send read requests to (IN queries are considered single partition queries also). The set of replicas is selected such that it satisfies required CL. An additional replica may be selected for a speculative read. All read requests are sent concurrently.

The replica executes the read request via database::query() and when the page is filled it sends the results back to the coordinator.

At the end of each page, if there is more data expected (either the row or the memory limits of the page were reached), the coordinator saves the last partition key and the last clustering key in the paging state. In case of an IN query, if the data returned from the replicas exceeds the page size, any excess is discarded. There cannot be excess results when a single partition is queried, the coordinator requests just one page worth of data from the replicas.

At the beginning of each page the partition list is adjusted:

  • Finished partitions are dropped.

  • The partition slice of the currently read partition is adjusted, a special clustering range is added so that the read continues after the last clustering key. When a single partition is queried the list contains a single entry.

Range scans

The coordinator splits the partition range into sub-ranges that are localized to a single vnode. It then dispatches read requests for these sub-ranges to enough replicas to satisfy CL requirements. The reads start with a concurrency of 1, that is a single vnode is read at a time, exponentially increasing it if the results didn’t fill the page.

On the replica the range is further split into sub-ranges that are localized to a single shard using dht::ring_position_exponential_vector_sharder. The sharder will start reading a single sub-range exponentially increasing concurrency (reading more and more shard-local sub ranges concurrently) until the page is filled. Each read is executed with database::query_mutations(). The results from these individual reads are then merged and sent back to the coordinator. Care is taken to only send to the coordinator the exact amount of data it requested. If the last round of read from the shards yielded so much data that the page is overflown any extra data is discarded.

The coordinator merges results from all read requests. If there are too many results excess rows and/or partitions are discarded.

At the beginning of each page, similarly to single partition queries, the partition range is adjusted:

  • The lower bound of the range is set to the last partition of the last page.

  • The partition slice of the currently read partition is adjusted, a special clustering range is added so that the read continues after the last clustering key.

Stateful queries

Before, for paged queries we threw away all readers and any associated state accumulated during filling the page, and on the next page we created them from scratch again. Thus on each page we threw away a considerable amount of work, only to redo it again on the next page. This significantly increased latency and reduced throughput as from the point of view of a replica each page is as much work as a fresh query.

The solution is to make queries stateful: instead of throwing away all state related to a query after filling the page on each replica, save this state in a cache and on the next page reuse it to continue the query where it was left off.

Single partition queries

The querier

The essence of making queries stateful is saving the readers and any associated state on the replicas. To make this easy the reader and all associated objects that are necessary to serve a read on a shard are wrapped in a querier object which was designed to be suspendable and resumable, while offering a simple interface to client code.

The querier cache

Queriers are saved in a special-purpose cache. Queriers are not reusable across queries even for those reading from the same table. Different queries can have different restrictions, order, query time, etc. Validating all this to test whether a querier can be used for an arbitrary read request would be high-impossible and error-prone. To avoid all this each query has a unique identifier (the query_uuid). This identifier is used as the key to the cache under which the querier is saved. There is a querier cache object for each shard and it is stored in the database object of the respective shard.

Choosing the same replicas

In order for caching to work each page of a query has to be consistently read from the same replicas for the entire duration of the query. Otherwise the read might miss the querier cache and won’t be able to reuse the queriers from the previous page. To facilitate this the list of replicas used for each page is saved in the paging state and on the next page the same replicas will be preferred over other replicas.

Putting it all together


On the first page of the query the coordinator will generate a unique identifier for the query. This identifier will be transmitted to the replicas as part of the read request. The replicas will use this key to lookup saved queriers from the previous page and save them after filling the page. On the first page of the query no replicas will have any cached queriers. To avoid a pointless lookup but even more importantly to avoid introducing noise into the diagnostic counters a flag (is_first_page) is added to the read request. When this flag is set replicas will not attempt to lookup queriers from the previous page.

At the end of each page, in addition to what was already saved, the coordinator saves in the paging state:


At the start of each page, if query_uuid is set and is_first_page is false a lookup of the querier from the last page will be attempted. If this succeeds the querier will be removed from the cache and reused for continuing the read. If it fails a new one will be created and used for the remainder of the query.

At the end of each page, if there is still data left (at least one of the page limits were reached) the querier is saved again in the cache. Note that since there is no way to know whether there is more data to be read without actually reading it the only way to determine whether the query is done is to look at whether the page is full. If the page is not full it means there wasn’t enough data to fill it and thus the query is done. On the other hand if the page is full there might be more data to read. This might result in an empty last page if there was just enough data to fill the previous page but not more.

Read repair

If the coordinator gets different results from the replicas (e.g. because one of the replicas missed a write for some reason) it reconciles them. This will result in some replicas having queriers with the wrong position on the next page. For example replicas that sent rows that are now dead (missed some deletes) will get a new page start position that is ahead of their saved querier’s while replicas that excluded some rows (missed some writes) will get a new page start position that is behind their saved querier’s.

Since readers cannot be rewound to an earlier position the saved querier has to be discarded and a new one created on these replicas. To identify these cases on each cache lookup the position of the found querier is validated to match exactly the new page’s read start position. When a mismatch is detected the saved querier is dropped and a new one is created instead. Note that although readers can technically be fast-forwarded to a later position all position mismatches are treated the same (querier is dropped) even if the reader could theoretically be fast-forwarded to the page start position. The reason for this is that using readers that could do that would results in significantly more complicated code and also reduced performance.

Discarded results

As already mentioned, in the case of IN queries a page may be over-filled as all partitions are read concurrently. In this case the coordinator will discard any extra rows to fit the results into the page limits. This poses a problem for cached queriers as those queriers, whose results were partly or fully discarded will receive a read request on the next page, with a start position that they already passed. The position validation introduced in read repair will also catch these position mismatches and the saved querier will be dropped.

Schema upgrades

The schema of the read table can change between two pages. Dealing with this properly would be complicated and would not be worth the effort. So on lookup the schema versions are also checked and in case the cached querier’s schema version differs from that of the new page’s schema’s it is dropped and a new querier is created instead.

Concurrent reads against the same shard of the same replica

In the case of an IN query two listed partitions might be colocated on the same shard of the same replica. This will result in two concurrent read requests (reading different partitions) executing on said shard, both attempting to save and/or lookup queriers using the same query_uuid. This can result in the lookup finding a querier which is reading another partition. To avoid this, on lookup, the partition each found querier is reading is matched with that of the read request. In case when no matching querier is found a new querier is created as if the lookup missed.

Probabilistic read repair

On each page of a query there is a chance (user-changable property of the table) that a read-repair will be attempted. This hurts stateful queries as each page has a chance of using additional replicas in the query and on the next page not use some of them. This will result in cache misses when new replicas are involved and querier drops when these abandoned replicas will be attempted to be used again (the read position of the saved queriers that were neglected for some pages will not match the current one). To solve this problem we make the read repair decision apply to an entire query instead of a single page. Make it on the first page and stick to it for the entire duration of the query. The read repair decision is generated on the first page and saved in the paging state to be remembered for the duration of the query.

Cache eviction
Time based

Reads may be abandoned by the client or the coordinator may chose to use a different replica for the remainder of the query. To avoid abandoned queriers accumulating in the cache each cached querier has a TTL. After this expires it is evicted from the cache.

Resource based

The concurrency of reads executing on a given shard is limited to avoid unbounded resource usage. For this reason each reader needs to obtain a permit before it can start reading and holds on to this permit until it is destroyed. Suspended readers (those that are part of a cached querier object) also hold on to their permit and thus may prevent new readers from being admitted to read. Since new, active readers should be preferred over suspended ones, when there is a shortage of permits, queriers are evicted from the cache until enough permits are recovered to admit all new readers, or until the cache is empty. Queriers are evicted in LRU order.


To observe the effectiveness of the caching, as well as aid in finding any problems a number of counters are added:

  1. querier_cache_lookups counts the total number of querier cache lookups. Not all page-fetches will result in a querier lookup. For example the first page of a query will not do a lookup as there was no previous page to reuse the querier from. The second, and all subsequent pages however should attempt to reuse the querier from the previous page.

  2. querier_cache_misses counts the subset of (1) where the read have missed the querier cache (failed to find a saved querier with a read-range matching that of the page).

  3. querier_cache_drops counts the subset of (1) where a saved querier was found with a matching read range but it cannot be used to continue the read for other reasons so it was dropped. This can happen for example if the querier was at the wrong position.

  4. querier_cache_time_based_evictions counts the cached entries that were evicted due to their TTL expiring.

  5. querier_cache_resource_based_evictions counts the cached entries that were evicted due to reader-resource (those limited by reader-concurrency limits) shortage.

  6. querier_cache_querier_population is the current number of querier entries in the cache.


  • The count of cache hits can be derived from these counters as (1) - (2).

  • A cache drop (3) also implies a cache hit (see above). This means that the number of actually reused queriers is: (1) - (2) - (3)

Counters (2) to (6) are soft badness counters. They might be non-zero in a healthy cluster but high values or sudden spikes can indicate problems.

Range scans

Stateful range scans are built on top of the infrastructure introduced for stateful single partition queries. That is, reads on replicas are done using a querier objects that are wrapping a reader which executes the actual read. This querier is then saved in a cache (querier_cache) at the end of the page and is reused on the next page. The major difference is that as opposed to single partition reads range scans read from all shards on a replica.


Using the querier mandates using a flat_mutation_reader. Range scans used an open-coded algorithm on the replica for the read. As already explained in the introduction this algorithm uses several calls to database::query_muations() to the remote shards then merging the produced reconcilable_result. This algorithm did not lend itself for being wrapped in a flat_mutation_reader so a new, suitable one was written from scratch. This is multishard_combining_reader. In addition to implementing a multishard-reading algorithm that is suspendable, an effort was made to solve some of the weak points of the previous open-coded implementation, mainly cold start and result merging.


Implementing a stateful range scan using multishard_combining_reader, querier and querier_cache still has a lot of involved details to it. To make this as accessible and resuable as possible a function was added that takes care of all this, offering a simple interface to clients. This is query_mutations_on_all_shards(), which takes care of all details related to replica local range scans. It supports both stateful and stateless queries transparently.

Suspending and resuming the multishard_combining_reader

Saving the multishard_combining_reader in a querier would be the natural choice for saving the query state. This however would create some serious problems:

  • It is not enough to just save the multishard_combining_reader reader in a querier. All the shard readers have to be saved on their home shard and made individually evictable as well but this has to be transparent to the multishard reader which, being a plain flat_mutation_reader, has no way to be told that the query is “suspended” and later “resumed” and thus could not do the save/lookup/recreate itself.

  • It mandates the consistent usage of the same shard throughout all the pages of the query. This is problematic for load balancing.

  • The querier wrapping the multishard_combining_reader would be a single point of failure for the entire query. If evicted the entire saved state (all shard readers) would have to be dropped as well.

While some of these issues could be worked around and others could be lived with, overall they make this option unfeasable.

An alternative but less natural option is to “dismantle” the multishard reader, that is remove and take ownership of all its shard readers and move any fragments that were popped from a shard reader but not consumed (included in the results) back to their originating shard reader, so that only the shard readers need to be saved and resumed. In other words move all state required to suspend/resume the query into the shard readers.

This option addresses all the problems the “natural” option has:

  • All shard readers are independently evictable.

  • No coordinator shard is needed, each page request can be executed on any shard.

  • Evicting a shard reader has no effect on the remaining ones.

Of course it also has it own problems:

  • On each page a certain amount of work is undone by moving some fragments back to their original readers.

  • The concurrency state of the multishard reader is lost and it has to start from 1 on the next page.

But these problems are much more manageable and some (for example the last) can be worked around if found to be a real problem.

Putting it all together


In principle the same as that for single partition queries.


The storage proxy can now simply call query_mutations_on_all_shards() with the appropriate parameters which takes care of executing the read, including saving and reusing the shard readers.


Additional counters are added to detect possible problems with stateful range scans:

  1. multishard_query_unpopped_fragments

  2. multishard_query_unpopped_bytes

  3. multishard_query_failed_reader_stops

  4. multishard_query_failed_reader_saves

(1) and (2) track the amount of data pushed back to shard readers while dismantling the multishard reader. These are soft badness counters, they will not be zero in a normally operating cluster, however sudden spikes in their values can indicate problems. (3) tracks the number of times stopping any of the shard readers failed. Shard readers are said to be stopped when the page is filled, that is any pending read-ahead is waited upon. Since saving a reader will not fail the read itself these failures will normally go undetected. To avoid hiding any bug or problem due to this, track these background failures using this counters. This counter is a hard badness counter, that is it should always be zero. Any other value indicates problems in the respective shard/node. (4) tracks the number of times saving the reader failed. This only includes preparing the querier object and inserting it into the querier cache. Like (3) this is a hard badness counter.

Future work

Since the protocol specifications allows for over or underfilling a page in the future we might get rid of discarding results on the coordinator to free ourselves from all the problems it causes.

The present state optimizes for range scans on huge tables, where the page is filled from a single shard of a single vnode. Further optimizations are possible for scans on smaller tables, that have to cross shards or even vnodes to fill the page. One obvious candidate is saving and restoring the current concurrency on the coordinator (how many vnodes have to be read concurrently) and on the replica (how many shards we should read-ahead on).

Further reading