Elasticsearch Caches - Fielddata


Tags: elastic

Exploring elasticsearch caches and memory usage - fielddata.

UPDATE this blogpost was written for elasticsearch 1.6 and it is no longer up-to-date.

One of my production clusters got recently hit by the CircuitBreakerException Data too large exception. In this post we’ll explore the Fielddata cache, Circuit Breakers and what we can do to avoid Fielddata eating all of our precious heap space. This a first article in a short series on elasticsearch memory usage.

Elasticsearch Memory

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We saw this exception

CircuitBreakingException[Data too large, data for field [canonicalFolderPath] would be larger than limit of [19285514649/17.9gb]

Let us tackle this step by step.

Parts of the puzzle

Fielddata #

Elasticsearch has a concept of Fielddata. It is a set of all possible values/tokens of a field. Since it is expensive to compute, especially for larger fields, it is cached in-memory. In case of our exception, Elasticsearch tried to load Fielddata for canonicalFolderPath field.

Fielddata are used for sorting and aggregations. Indeed, the query which triggered our exception facilitated aggregations to count number of documents with the same canonicalFolderPaths.

Elasticsearch uses Guava Cache internally and two settings can be configured:

Please note that there used to be a bit different settings for this cache in older Elasticsearch versions. Some good on-line material on tuning the Fieldcache is no longer accurate (for example this post from sematext blog, it is a very good reading, but you do not set resident versus soft or the number of entries anymore; just set the size and you’re done).

You can read more in the Fielddata documentation or, if you are curious how exactly the Guava cache is used consult the source.

Circuit Breakers #

Leaving a cache unbounded eventually leads to OutOfMemory exceptions. To avoid them Elasticsearch implemented Circuit Breakers. The idea is to throw an exception before an operation will lead to OOM condition.

There are couple of levels of circuit breakers, but in the context of our exception the import one is Field data circuit breaker. It kicks in when loading a field into Fieldcache would result in over 60% of heap memory usage for Fieldcache and it prevents such operations from completing by throwing the exception we saw above. Of course, this 60% is configurable.


Now we now the landscape, so let us think what are the possible solutions.

Add more memory or more nodes #

The larger the heap, the more space for field data cache. More nodes have similar effect as the shards are spread into more machines thus also the cache is spread into more nodes. If you don’t expect your indexes size to grow much more this is probably the best option — Fielddata will remain cached in memory and your queries will be blazing fast.

Bound the cache #

By setting an upper limit on the cache size, Elasticsearch evicts the least recently used entries if the cache is close to its limit, thus preventing the circuit breaker to kick in. It comes at a price though. In case of frequent evictions and Fielddata recalculations the query performance may be really poor (for sorting or aggregating queries).

Data too large exception is a clear sign that something is wrong — you need more memory or you need to redesign your queries. With a cache upper bound you’ll get away with your current queries and memory, but some of the queries will take a long time (few minutes compared to few seconds).

Luckily, not all is lost. You may bound the cache and monitor evictions. In case you see a lot of them this means you need to do something to save the performance. Try the other options presented here. You can monitor the Fielddata size and evictions using the nodes stats api or in the node diagnostics screen of HQ plugin

Elasticsearch Memory

What is the perfect limit? There is no good answer. Various on-line article suggests something between 50–70%. You need to consider your needs, pick a setting and monitor it.

Redesign your queries #

This solution really depends on your use case, but maybe you do not need to use aggregations on all the fields or maybe you can simply eliminate some of the queries?

Use Doc Values instead of Fielddata #

Since version 1.0, Elasticsearch lets you can use an on-disk Fieldata equivalent — Doc Values. In the 1.4+ version they are quite fast — only 10-25% penalty compared to Fieldata — and are recommended over them. What are the drawbacks? First of all, you need to set this up in the index mapping before you start indexing your data. Secondly, this will not work for full-text search fields, only for not_analyzed.

The rule of thumb should be to use Doc Values wherever possible for new deployments. Consult the documentation on how to set up your mapping.


To sum up, we’ve learned what are the Fieldata and how Circuit Breakers save Elasticsearch from running into OOM conditions. We discussed couple of options on what to do when your Fieldata eats too much of your heap. Sometimes, the only winning move is not to play at all. This is true for =Fielddata=, it’s best to use =Doc Values= instead. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. If you can’t redesign your queries or spare some more memory then you have no other options than to bound the cache size and monitor what happens.

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