Clearing Memcache

A quick note today: If you upload new data to the datastore via the bulk uploader or change your application’s data model, you should flush your application’s memcache to prevent stale data from being served to browsers. To do this, go to the Memcache Viewer screen (under the Data heading in the navigation bar) and press the button marked Flush Cache:

Hanging Memcache Calls

Recently there was a discussion in the App Engine forums about memcache calls that were hanging; in one instance, a memcache async put call was taking 2 hours to complete!

This was a particularly interesting issue, and I’d like to share a number of thoughts I had while solving it:

App Engine has a number of internal rate limiting/throttling controls on services. Moving large quantities of data around can quickly cause an application to hit these limits. In fact, I suspect that this was the actual problem – the original poster’s application was storing multiple megabytes of data into memcache in multiple asynchronous calls that occurred simultaneously; this design could easily be hitting a number of different rate limits. My suggestion for solving this problem (which ultimately worked) was to add a short delay after each memcache put call and to split the data amongst an increased number of memcache put calls. The reasons for which I suggested this fix are numerous:

  1. Adding a short delay after each memcache put call buys time for App Engine’s rate limit to reset; it prevents App Engine from thinking that the application is malfunctioning or attempting to overwhelm the memcache pipeline.
  2. Delays are easy to implement – in Python it’s one call to time.sleep(number of seconds to delay)and in Java it’s a simple call to Thread.sleep(number of seconds to delay). Note that in Java, you have to catch the potential InterruptedException. The Go call is similar to Python: call time.Sleep(delay duration). In PHP a delay is even simpler than in all of the above languages: all you need to do is call sleep(delay seconds).
  3. Increasing the number of memcache put calls means that a smaller amount of data is being stored for each memcache put. This contributes to point 1: preventing the pipeline to memcache from being overwhelmed with data.
  4. The delay doesn’t need to be long: two to five seconds is more than enough. In some cases, even a one second delay is enough to work.

Fortunately, the above fix worked in this case. But if it had not, I was prepared with a number of other possible fixes. For instance, I would have suggested the use of the task queue: split the data among multiple tasks, and then have each task store their data into memcache. Since each task would constitute a separate request and may be split amongst multiple instances, there’s less of a chance for any rate limiting to kick in. If that option wasn’t palatable for any reason, then another option would be to switch to dedicated memcache; it seems to be much more forgiving in regards to usage.

If none of the above options had worked, I would have suggested dumping memcache entirely and writing to the datastore/Cloud SQL. While memcache is a terrific service, it is not reliable – persisting the data through alternative sources is a much better way to manage large quantities of information.

The short version of this post: hanging or slow memcache calls can be fixed by inserting delays after each call and decreasing the amount of data handled in each memcache call.

Storing To The Memcache In Golang

A short Golang example: how to store to memcache in Go. To use this, you’ll need to import appengine/memcache.

This code fragment generates a memcache.Item struct, to which you’ll need to supply a key and the value you want stored (a struct, array, map, etc).

memcache_item := &memcache.Item {
    Key: "key_to_this_object",
    Object: item_to_store,

//Store into Memcache
memcache.JSON.Set(c, memcache_item)