Optimizing BonsaiDb: Promising progress on new storage layer (Part 2 of ?)

Written by Jonathan Johnson. Published 2022-07-01.

What is BonsaiDb?

BonsaiDb is a new database aiming to be the most developer-friendly Rust database. BonsaiDb has a unique feature set geared at solving many common data problems. We have a page dedicated to answering the question: What is BonsaiDb?.

At the end of the last post in this ongoing series, I introduced an overview of Sediment, the new storage format I was beginning development on that I hoped would replace the append-only file format that Nebari uses.

It's been a month, and as promised, I wanted to share my progress. Sediment is still very early in development. All results in this post should be taken with healthy skepticism, as there could be bugs that I have not discovered yet that force me to change some fundamental aspect of the library. I hope I'm beyond those hurdles, but there are some fun and complex problems I have yet to tackle.

This post is going to be an exploration of Sediment's design. At the end, I will show some of the early benchmarking results -- including running the Nebari benchmark suite.

The Goals of Sediment

The primary speed issues I had identified with Nebari stemmed from two design decisions:

One of the other problems an append-only file format has is the requirement of compaction. As a former heavy user of CouchDB (the original design inspiration for BonsaiDb), I remember struggling to compact databases when I was running low on disk space. The problem with compacting a database is that it requires rewriting the database to a new file -- an operation that requires free disk space. For large databases, that could be a challenge.

I had goals for BonsaiDb to make compaction less painful, but with the prospect of replacing the append-only format, my third goal would be to allow reusing disk space.

The API of Sediment

During the development of Nebari, I had abstracted nearly every read and write operation into something I called a "chunk". A chunk was the data stored with 8 extra bytes: 4 bytes for a CRC32 to verify the data, and 4 bytes for the length of the data. A chunk's ID was simply it's location in the file.

My goal of Sediment's design would be to focus on this primary concern: store some arbitrary bytes and be given a unique identifier. That unique ID should be able to retrieve or delete the data.

The only other feature Nebari needed is a way to store the "root" of the B+Tree and retrieve it again when opening a database.

These considerations yielded this API:

// Store some data
let mut session = db.new_session();
let grain_id: GrainId = session.push(b"hello world")?;

// Retrieve the data
let data = db.get(grain_id)?.unwrap();
assert_eq!(data.as_bytes(), b"hello world");

// Archive the data (marks it for deletion)
let mut session = db.new_session();
let archiving_commit: BatchId = session.commit()?;

// Free the archived data. Until this is complete, `grain_id` can still 
// retrieve the stored data.

A GrainId is an opaque 64-bit identifier for stored data, and a BatchId is an identifier of a specific commit. Rather than offering an API to free data immediately, Sediment uses an internal log that can enable replication. Why did I design it this way?

There is one key distinction between Sediment and nearly every format I've compared it against: Sediment does not use write-ahead logging (WAL) or journal file. Sediment only requires a single file for its storage, just like Nebari did. My decision to do this was in an effort to minimize IO.

There are many numerous benefits for WAL, but one downside is that data written to the database is often written multiple times. First, the new data is written to the log. At some future point, the database engine will checkpoint the log, and those changes will be applied to the primary data store. This is an extra copy that can be avoided by Sediment, as there's no real benefit to keeping a separate log for this format.

The log that Sediment uses simply tracks GrainId allocations and archivals. When the log is checkpointed, each archived grain in the log entries that are being removed will be free. This simple approach provides enough information to implement Sediment's consistency guarantees and could be used to replicate the database.

The Format of Sediment

The basic design behind Sediment is to divide the file into blocks of data that are pre-allocated and can be relocated to defragment the file. Basins have a list of Strata, and Strata have a list of "Grain Maps".

A GrainId is a 64-bit identifier that uses 8 bits to identify which Basin the grain is located within. The next 8 bits identify the Stratum. The remaining 48 bits identify the index of the grain within the Stratum.

Each Stratum has configurable properties:

One challenge this format has is keeping track of which regions of the file are currently allocated for Basins, Strata, and Grains. These structures have been designed to minimize the amount of data required to load enough state for the database to be validated and the file's allocations to be fully tracked.

The commit log is stored separately from the Basins, Strata, and Grains. The file's header points to the most recent page of commit log entries. If a database is never checkpointed, there will be extra overhead on loading the database to scan the commit log to understand which pages of the file have been allocated and which are free. For most practical use cases, there will rarely be more than a handful of pages of commit log entries.

Each header structure is stored twice within the file, and the "inactive" copy is overwritten when saved. This copy-on-write behavior combined with the commit log allows Sediment to verify that all writes performed during the last commit are completely intact when reopening the database. If a CRC or data inconsistency is found, the failed commit will be reverted before the database is opened.

The Architecture of Sediment

The two main types in understanding how Sediment works are the Atlas and the Committer. The Atlas is responsible for keeping track of the in-memory state of the disk structures. The Committer is responsible for persisting changes to those structures to disk.

This current design does not allow multiple processes to share access to a Sediment database, as there are in-memory contracts between the Atlas and Committer. One example is how file allocations are tracked. The Atlas is responsible for allocating disk space for each grain written. Conversely, the Committer will update the Atlas when disk space can be reused.

The Atlas is the least optimized part of Sediment. The problem of determining how to allocate a grain is not simple, and my initial implementation is a brute force algorithm. It's been on my radar, and when benchmarking Nebari's insert performance, grain allocation took nearly 70% of CPU time. Additionally, the Atlas currently is behind a single mutex. This might be good enough, but more complex concurrency management may be something to investigate as well.

Why is grain allocation tricky? The storage format of grains allows allocating multiple sequential grains as a single GrainId. For example, if 64-byte value is being written, it could be stored in four 16-byte grains or it could be stored in 64 1-byte grains. The only limit is that only 255 consecutive grains can be allocated for a single value. This gives an incredible amount of flexibility, but it also has led to many hours of theorycrafting the best allocation algorithms.

To write data, a "session" is created. The session can be used to write data, archive data, checkpoint the database, or update the embedded header. If the session is dropped, all reserved grains are available to be reused immediately.

When the session is committed, the changes are batched with any other pending changes from other sessions waiting to be committed. The session's thread checks if another commit is already happening. If no other commit is happening, the session's thread becomes the commit thread and commits the currently batched changes. Otherwise, the thread will wait for a signal that its batch has been committed or for another opportunity to become the commit thread.

This design was intended to allow significant read and write concurrency, and I'm happy to report that the benchmarks show promising concurrency results.

Benchmarking Sediment

Sediment isn't a general purpose database, nor is it a key-value store. I am not aware of any other storage API to benchmark against that can offer a true apples-to-apples comparison. Still, I wanted to have some meaningful comparisons, so I initially benchmarked single-threaded insert performance against SQLite. However, SQLite doesn't offer any multi-threaded concurrency options that allow it to batch transactions. I identified RocksDB as a good candidate, as it has a great crate and supports batching multithreaded transactions. Here are the results of the single-threaded benchmark:


The batch insert benchmark measures a variable number of threads performing a series of batch commits. Here are the average times to commit each batch insert operation with ACID guarantees on my AMD Ryzen 3700X with 8 cores and a Samsung SSD 970 EVO Plus:

Backend16 threads32 threads64 threads

I was very happy to see that the performance of Sediment scales very nicely even with 64 threads concurrently writing to the database -- in spite of my naive grain allocation algorithm. The next step was to see how much overhead Nebari would add.

Benchmarking Nebari on Sediment

The Nebari benchmarks are single-threaded and limited to single trees, which made it much easier to quickly incorporate Sediment. There are three main operations that are benchmarked: insert, get, and scan. Here are the insert benchmark's results, which tests the speed of ACID-compliant insertion of a blob of a specified size:

Backend1 KB1 MB64 MB
nebari (sediment)2.823 ms4.124 ms183 ms
nebari (v0.5.3)2.678 ms6.959 ms284.9 ms
sqlite4.182 ms7.2 ms159 ms

For 1 KB inserts, the average performance is pretty similar. As mentioned earlier, when profiling this benchmark, nearly 70% of the CPU time is spent in grain allocation, which has been on my refactor list since being written. For larger inserts, however, Sediment is much more efficient. How about the performance of retrieving a single row out of various data set sizes (random ids):

Backend1k rows10k rows1m rows
nebari (sediment)749.6 ns908.7 ns9.067 us
nebari (v0.5.3)766.1 ns913.2 ns9.413 us
sqlite6.944 us7.471 us8.671 us

As I expected, there isn't really much variation in performance. What about scanning a range of keys (random IDs):

Backend32 of 1k rows100 of 10k rows1k of 1m rows
nebari (sediment)2.747 us72.35 us982.4 us
nebari (v0.5.3)2.684 us90.02 us1.156 ms
sqlite16.67 us44.75 us414.4 us

This was one of the most surprising results to me. There is a ~15% speed improvement on this fairly unoptimized operation on the larger data sets. My best guess as to why this operation is faster is that data stored in Sediment is packed closer together, which makes it more likely that the kernel page cache already has needed data in the cache.

Overall, these benchmarks have shown that replacing the append-only format with Sediment has been a success so far.

Next Steps

Nebari's multi-tree type, Roots, is not currently compatible with Sediment. To finish realizing my goal of a single fsync() ACID transaction, I need to update the Roots type to support multi-tree transactions within Sediment. Until earlier this week, my vision was to refactor Roots to use a single file for all trees by using a B+Tree of B+Trees internally.

However, with the results of the scan benchmark, I'm believe I'm seeing some benefits of keeping "related data" together. I'm currently debating whether I want to proceed with the single-file approach or whether I'm going to update the current multi-file approach with a new transaction log that can be synchronized in parallel with the affected trees.

I've started maintaining a project on GitHub tracking the issues I want to complete before I release the next BonsaiDb update. There are also a lot of areas left to explore:

While this new format is much more complex than the current append-only format, I've had enough promising results that I'm proceeding with this new format. My next goal is to get the BonsaiDb Commerce Benchmark running atop Sediment -- that is the benchmark where the current format results in BonsaiDb to be roughly 2.5x slower than PostgreSQL. I'm optimistic that BonsaiDb can compete based on these early results!

Assuming that the remaining development goes smoothly, I am currently hoping to have BonsaiDb v0.5 out sometime in August with support for the new format. I am committed to having a painless way to migrate data from the old format to the new format, so all current users or people considering trying BonsaiDb need not worry!

Getting Started with BonsaiDb

Our homepage has basic setup instructions and a list of examples. We have started writing a user's guide, and we have tried to write good documentation.

We would love to hear from you if you have questions or feedback. We have community Discourse forums and a Discord server, but also welcome anyone to open an issue with any questions or feedback.

We dream big with BonsaiDb, and we believe that it can simplify writing and deploying complex, data-driven applications in Rust. We would love additional contributors who have similar passions and ambitions.

Lastly, if you build something with one of our libraries, we would love to hear about it. Nothing makes us happier than hearing people are building things with our crates!