How To Distinguish Between a Crashed Server and Non-Existent Memcached Key Value?

Ian Kallen spidaman at
Sun Jun 4 14:59:45 UTC 2006

On 6/4/06, Andreas Vierengel <avierengel at> wrote:
> that's right, but it could lead to a nice DoS-Attack especially if (for
> example) a web-request leads to a specific key which cannot be filled
> from the original source, because the original source produces 'undef'
> as well.

If there is a high frequency of null result lookup cases on the data
origin and you're concerned with the costs of those lookups, then
implement a negative cache.  The negative cache interval should be
sized by how tolerant your applications are of having no result when
in fact there may be one.

Here's some babytalk code to illustrate how to typically handle it:

rv = getMemcacheVal(key);
if (rv == null) { // memcache said "nope"
    rv = getExpensiveVal(key); // poor performing mysql indices, etc
    if (rv == null) { // rdbms said "nope"
        putNegativeCache(key); // has appropriate TTL
    } else { // rdbms said "yep"
return rv; // may be undef

> One solution could be that you never let this happen and always generate
> a "reasonable" value for this key, or you could hack Cache::Memcached to
>   add a undef-state using the flags-field.

Hacking the mecached client to handle the negative case, given the
various tolerances that applications will have for "false negatives",
sounds like a bad idea. When I fetch null from memcache, I really
expect that to mean there's no cache entry for it and have that be
distinct from a negative cache. But I'd be curious to see a general
solution if you have one.


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