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Caching Queries and Rebuilding PDTs with Datagroups

Overview

Looker reduces the load on your database and improves performance by using cached results of prior queries when available and permitted by your caching policy. In addition, you can create complex queries as PDTs, which store their results to simplify later queries.

Using datagroups is the most powerful technique for defining a caching policy, and for specifying when to rebuild persistent derived tables (PDTs)

You can use one or more datagroup parameters to name caching policies and specify the desired behavior. Then you can use persist_with parameters at the model level or the Explore level to specify which Explores use each policy. You also can use the datagroup_trigger parameter in a PDT definition to specify which policy to use in rebuilding the PDTs.

Typical use cases for datagroups include:

How Looker Uses Cached Queries

For queries, the caching mechanism in Looker works as follows:

  1. Once a user runs a specific query, the result of that query is cached. Cache results are stored in an encrypted file on your Looker instance.
  2. When a new query is written, the cache is checked to see if the exact same query was previously run. All fields, filters, and parameters must be the same, including things such as the row limits. If the query is not found, then Looker runs the query against the database to get fresh database results (and those results are then cached).

    Note that Context Comments do not affect caching. If your Looker admin has enabled the Context Comments feature, Looker adds a unique comment to the beginning of each SQL query. But as long as the SQL query itself is the same as a previous query (not including the context comments), Looker will use cached results.

  3. If the query is found in the cache, then Looker checks whether the query results are still valid. By default, Looker invalidates cached results after an hour (unless you enabled the legacy feature to default to 5 minutes.) You can use a persist_for parameter (defined here and here) or the more powerful datagroup parameter to specify the caching policy for when or in what circumstances the cached results become invalid and should be ignored. An administrator can also cause the cache results for a datagroup to become invalid.
    • If the query results are still valid, then those results are used.
    • If the query results are no longer valid, then Looker runs the query against the database to get fresh query results. (Those new results are also cached.)

How Looker Uses PDTs and Rebuilds Them

PDTs are queries, typically very complex queries, that you can create as the basis of a view. For example, your query might identify the customer’s first and most recent orders plus the lifetime value of all of their orders.

These PDTs are rebuilt periodically based on one of three settings:

Using a datagroup gives you the most control over when the PDT is rebuilt. This page discusses setting up a datagroup for query caching and PDT rebuilding.

Specifying Caching Policies With datagroup Parameters

You use one or more datagroup parameters at the model level to assign a caching policy to Explores and/or PDTs. If you want different caching policies for different Explores and/or PDTs, then specify each caching policy in a separate datagroup.

For connections using user attributes to specify the connection parameters, you must create a separate connection using the PDT override fields if you want to do either of the following:
Use PDTs in your model.
Define a datagroup caching policy using a SQL query trigger.
Without the PDT overrides, you can still use a datagroup for the model and its Explores, as long as you define the datagroup’s caching policy using only max_cache_age, not sql_trigger.

Each datagroup specifies a policy using one or both of these subparameters:

Often the best solution is to use the two parameters in combination. You specify a sql_trigger SQL query that will be triggered by your data load (ETL) into your database. In addition, you specify a max_cache_age that will invalidate old data if your ETL fails. The max_cache_age parameter ensures that if the cache for a datagroup isn’t cleared by the sql_trigger, then the cache entries will expire by a certain time. So the failure mode for a datagroup will be to query the database rather than serve stale data from the Looker cache.

Specifying Using a Datagroup’s Caching Policy

You can use a datagroup’s caching policy for

Using a Datagroup for Query Results

You can specify a datagroup’s caching policy based on how you’d like it applied:

In the following example, we’ve included in the model file a datagroup named orders_datagroup. The datagroup has a sql_trigger parameter specifying that the query select max(id) from my_tablename will be used to detect when an ETL has happened. Even if that ETL doesn’t happen for a while, the datagroup’s max_cache_age specifies that the cached data will be used only for a maximum of 24 hours.

The model’s persist_with parameter points to the orders_datagroup caching policy, which means this will be the default caching policy for all Explores in the model. But we don’t want to use the model’s default caching policy for the customer_facts and customer_background Explores, so we can add the persist_with parameter to specify a different caching policy for these two Explores. The orders and orders_facts Explores don’t have a persist_with parameter, so they will use the model’s default caching policy: orders_datagroup.

datagroup: orders_datagroup { sql_trigger: SELECT max(id) FROM my_tablename ;; max_cache_age: "24 hours" }   datagroup: customers_datagroup { sql_trigger: SELECT max(id) FROM my_other_tablename ;; }   persist_with: orders_datagroup   explore: orders { … }   explore: order_facts { … }   explore: customer_facts { persist_with: customers_datagroup … }   explore: customer_background { persist_with: customers_datagroup … }

If both persist_with and persist_for are specified, then you will receive a validation warning and the persist_with will be used.

Using a Datagroup for a PDT

To use a datagroup’s caching policy to trigger rebuilding a PDT, you use the datagroup_trigger in the PDT’s definition and specify the name of the datagroup.

Do not also specify a sql_trigger_value or persist_for parameter for the PDT—if you do, then:

Example:

If we wanted to set the PDT to rebuild as specified by the customers_datagroup datagroup, we could use the following definition. This definition also adds several indexes, on both customer_id and first_order_date. For more information about defining PDTs, see this page.

view: customer_order_facts { derived_table: { sql: … ;; datagroup_trigger: customers_datagroup indexes: ["customer_id", "first_order_date"] } }

If you have PDTs that are dependent on other PDTs, be careful not to specify incompatible datagroup caching policies.

Using the Admin Panel for Datagroups

If you have the Admin role, you can use the Admin tab’s Datagroups page to view the existing datagroups. You can see the connection and model of each datagroup, as well as the datagroups’ current status. You can also reset the cache for a datagroup, trigger the datagroup, or navigate to the datagroup’s LookML.

Using Datagroups to Trigger Scheduled Deliveries

Datagroups can also be used to trigger scheduled data delivery, as described on the Scheduling Data Deliveries page. With this option, Looker will send your data when the datagroup completes, so that the scheduled content is up to date.

Seeing Whether a Query Was Returned From Cache

You can determine whether or not a query has been returned from the cache by looking in the upper right corner after running a query.

If results are from a fresh query,
you will see …
If the results are from the cache,
you will see …

Forcing New Results To Be Generated From the Database

Users can also force new results to be retrieved from the database. Select the Clear Cache & Refresh option from the Gear dropdown menu, which you’ll find in the upper right of the screen after running a query:

A persistent derived table normally is regenerated based on the specified datagroup, persist_for, or sql_trigger_value. You can force the derived table to regenerate early if your admin has given you the develop permission, and you are viewing an Explore that includes fields from the PDT. Select the Rebuild Derived Tables & Run option from the Gear dropdown menu, which you’ll find in the upper right of the screen after running a query:

How Long Is Data Stored in the Cache?

Starting in 5.14, data is deleted from the cache once the persist_for time (for a model or explore) or the max_cache_age time (for a datagroup) has expired.

To specify the amount of time before the cached results become invalid, use the persist_for parameter (for a model or for an explore) or the max_cache_age parameter (for a datagroup). Here are the different behaviors along the timeline, depending on whether the persist_for or max_cache_age time has expired:

One key point here is that the data is deleted from the cache when the persist_for or max_cache_age time expires, as long as the Instant Dashboards Looker Lab is disabled. (The Instant Dashboards feature requires the cache in order to immediately load cached results into a dashboard.) If you enable Instant Dashboards, data stays in the cache for 30 days, or until the cache storage limits are reached. If the cache reaches the storage limit, data is ejected based on a Least Recently Used (LRU) algorithm, with no guarantee that data with expired persist_for or max_cache_age timers will be deleted all at once.

How can you minimize the time your data spends in the cache? Click here to find out

Looker requires the disk cache for internal processes, so data will always be written to the cache, even if you set the persist_for and max_cache_age parameters to 0. Once written to the cache, the data will be flagged for deletion but may live up to 10 minutes on disk.

However, all customer data that appears in the disk cache is Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encrypted, and you can minimize the amount of time that data is stored in the cache by making all of these changes:

  • Disable the Instant Dashboards Looker Labs feature, which requires Looker to store data in cache.
  • For any persist_for parameter (for a model or explore) or max_cache_age parameter (for a datagroup), set the value to 0. In Looker 5.14+ with Instant Dashboards off, Looker deletes the cache when the persist_for time expires, or when the data reaches the max_cache_age specified in its datagroup. (This is not necessary for the persist_for parameter of persistent derived tables, because persistent derived tables are written to the database itself, and not to the cache.)
  • Set the suggest_persist_for parameter to a small amount of time. The suggest_persist_for value specifies how long Looker should keep filter suggestions in the cache. The filter suggestions are based on a query of the values for the field being filtered. These query results are kept in the cache so Looker can quickly provide suggestions as the user types in the filter text field. The default is to cache the filter suggestions for 6 hours. To minimize the amount of time your data is in the cache, set the suggest_persist_for value to something lower, such as 5 minutes.

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