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Key Vitess Concepts

This document defines common Vitess terminology and explains some core concepts.


A keyspace is a logical database. If you're using sharding, a keyspace maps to multiple MySQL databases; if you're not using sharding, a keyspace maps directly to a MySQL database name. In either case, a keyspace appears as a single database from the standpoint of the application.

Reading data from a keyspace is just like reading from a MySQL database. However, depending on the consistency requirements of the read operation, Vitess might fetch the data from a master database or from a replica. By routing each query to the appropriate database, Vitess allows your code to be structured as if it were reading from a single MySQL database.

Keyspace ID

The keyspace ID is the value that is used to decide on which shard a given row lives. Range-based Sharding refers to creating shards that each cover a particular range of keyspace IDs.

Using this technique means you can split a given shard by replacing it with two or more new shards that combine to cover the original range of keyspace IDs, without having to move any records in other shards.

The keyspace ID itself is computed using a function of some column in your data, such as the user ID. Vitess allows you to choose from a variety of functions (vindexes) to perform this mapping. This allows you to choose the right one to achieve optimal distribution of the data across shards.


A VSchema allows you to describe how data is organized within keyspaces and shards. This information is used for routing queries, and also during resharding operations.

For a Keyspace, you can specify if it's sharded or not. For sharded keyspaces, you can specify the list of vindexes for each table.

Vitess also supports sequence generators that can be used to generate new ids that work like MySQL auto increment columns. The VSchema allows you to associate table columns to sequence tables. If no value is specified for such a column, then VTGate will know to use the sequence table to generate a new value for it.


A shard is a division within a keyspace. A shard typically contains one MySQL master and many MySQL slaves.

Each MySQL instance within a shard has the same data (excepting some replication lag). The slaves can serve read-only traffic (with eventual consistency guarantees), execute long-running data analysis tools, or perform administrative tasks (backup, restore, diff, etc.).

An unsharded keyspace has effectively one shard. Vitess names the shard 0 by convention. When sharded, a keyspace has N shards with non-overlapping data.


Vitess supports dynamic resharding, in which the number of shards is changed on a live cluster. This can be either splitting one or more shards into smaller pieces, or merging neighboring shards into bigger pieces.

During dynamic resharding, the data in the source shards is copied into the destination shards, allowed to catch up on replication, and then compared against the original to ensure data integrity. Then the live serving infrastructure is shifted to the destination shards, and the source shards are deleted.


A tablet is a combination of a mysqld process and a corresponding vttablet process, usually running on the same machine.

Each tablet is assigned a tablet type, which specifies what role it currently performs.

Tablet Types

  • master - A replica tablet that happens to currently be the MySQL master for its shard.
  • replica - A MySQL slave that is eligible to be promoted to master. Conventionally, these are reserved for serving live, user-facing requests (like from the website's frontend).
  • rdonly - A MySQL slave that cannot be promoted to master. Conventionally, these are used for background processing jobs, such as taking backups, dumping data to other systems, heavy analytical queries, MapReduce, and resharding.
  • backup - A tablet that has stopped replication at a consistent snapshot, so it can upload a new backup for its shard. After it finishes, it will resume replication and return to its previous type.
  • restore - A tablet that has started up with no data, and is in the process of restoring itself from the latest backup. After it finishes, it will begin replicating at the GTID position of the backup, and become either replica or rdonly.
  • drained - A tablet that has been reserved by a Vitess background process (such as rdonly tablets for resharding).

Keyspace Graph

The keyspace graph allows Vitess to decide which set of shards to use for a given keyspace, cell, and tablet type.


During horizontal resharding (splitting or merging shards), there can be shards with overlapping key ranges. For example, the source shard of a split may serve c0-d0 while its destination shards serve c0-c8 and c8-d0 respectively.

Since these shards need to exist simultaneously during the migration, the keyspace graph maintains a list (called a partitioning or just a partition) of shards whose ranges cover all possible keyspace ID values, while being non-overlapping and contiguous. Shards can be moved in and out of this list to determine whether they are active.

The keyspace graph stores a separate partitioning for each (cell, tablet type) pair. This allows migrations to proceed in phases: first migrate rdonly and replica requests, one cell at a time, and finally migrate master requests.

Served From

During vertical resharding (moving tables out from one keyspace to form a new keyspace), there can be multiple keyspaces that contain the same table.

Since these multiple copies of the table need to exist simultaneously during the migration, the keyspace graph supports keyspace redirects, called ServedFrom records. That enables a migration flow like this:

  1. Create new_keyspace and set its ServedFrom to point to old_keyspace.
  2. Update the app to look for the tables to be moved in new_keyspace. Vitess will automatically redirect these requests to old_keyspace.
  3. Perform a vertical split clone to copy data to the new keyspace and start filtered replication.
  4. Remove the ServedFrom redirect to begin actually serving from new_keyspace.
  5. Drop the now unused copies of the tables from old_keyspace.

There can be a different ServedFrom record for each (cell, tablet type) pair. This allows migrations to proceed in phases: first migrate rdonly and replica requests, one cell at a time, and finally migrate master requests.

Replication Graph

The replication graph identifies the relationships between master databases and their respective replicas. During a master failover, the replication graph enables Vitess to point all existing replicas to a newly designated master database so that replication can continue.

Topology Service (TOPO)

The Topology Service (also referred to as the lock service) is a set of backend processes running on different servers. Those servers store topology data and provide a distributed locking service.

Vitess uses a plug-in system to support various backends for storing topology data, which are assumed to provide a distributed, consistent key-value store. By default, the tutorials use the etcd2 plugin.

The topology service exists for several reasons:

  • It enables tablets to coordinate among themselves as a cluster.
  • It enables Vitess to discover tablets, so it knows where to route queries.
  • It stores Vitess configuration provided by the database administrator that is needed by many different servers in the cluster, and that must persist between server restarts.

A Vitess cluster has one global topology service, and a local topology service in each cell. Since cluster is an overloaded term, and one Vitess cluster is distinguished from another by the fact that each has its own global topology service, we refer to each Vitess cluster as a toposphere.

Global Topology

The global topology stores Vitess-wide data that does not change frequently. Specifically, it contains data about keyspaces and shards as well as the master tablet alias for each shard.

The global topology is used for some operations, including reparenting and resharding. By design, the global topology server is not used a lot.

In order to survive any single cell going down, the global topology service should have nodes in multiple cells, with enough to maintain quorum in the event of a cell failure.

Local Topology

Each local topology contains information related to its own cell. Specifically, it contains data about tablets in the cell, the keyspace graph for that cell, and the replication graph for that cell.

The local topology service must be available for Vitess to discover tablets and adjust routing as tablets come and go. However, no calls to the topology service are made in the critical path of serving a query at steady state. That means queries are still served during temporary unavailability of topology.

Cell (Data Center)

A cell is a group of servers and network infrastructure collocated in an area, and isolated from failures in other cells. It is typically either a full data center or a subset of a data center, sometimes called a zone or availability zone. Vitess gracefully handles cell-level failures, such as when a cell is cut off the network.

Each cell in a Vitess implementation has a local topology service, which is hosted in that cell. The topology service contains most of the information about the Vitess tablets in its cell. This enables a cell to be taken down and rebuilt as a unit.

Vitess limits cross-cell traffic for both data and metadata. While it may be useful to also have the ability to route read traffic to individual cells, Vitess currently serves reads only from the local cell. Writes will go cross-cell when necessary, to wherever the master for that shard resides.

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