Skip to main content
Version: Next version 🚧

Indexing

Related -
How-to Related - Under the
Hood

When to create indexes?​

When you are running queries, you want to get results as soon as possible. In the worst-case scenario, when you execute a query, all nodes need to be checked to see if there is a match.

Here is what the query plan looks like if there is no index on the data:

memgraph> EXPLAIN MATCH (n:Person {prop: 1}) RETURN n;
+---------------------------------+
| QUERY PLAN |
+---------------------------------+
| " * Produce {n}" |
| " * Filter" |
| " * ScanAllByLabel (n :Person)" |
| " * Once" |
+---------------------------------+

By enabling indexes, this process can be much faster:

CREATE INDEX ON :Person(prop);

When a query is executed, the engine first checks if there is an index. An index stores additional information on certain types of data so that retrieving indexed data becomes more efficient. Indexes basically store data in a different kind of way, i.e., they partition it with a key. For example, if you set an index on a label, the query MATCH (:Label) won't have to explicitly check every node. You just need to check the nodes that were placed on a "shelf". Each "shelf" has nodes with a specific label. The data is not copied or duplicated to the "shelf". You actually create a memory map to those nodes and there is no need to look anywhere else for them.

Here is what the query plan looks like if indexing is enabled:

memgraph> EXPLAIN MATCH (n:Person {prop: 1}) RETURN n;
+-----------------------------------------------------+
| QUERY PLAN |
+-----------------------------------------------------+
| " * Produce {n}" |
| " * ScanAllByLabelPropertyValue (n :Person {prop})" |
| " * Once" |
+-----------------------------------------------------+

When not to create indexes?​

There are some downsides to indexing, so it is important to carefully choose the right data for creating an index. The downsides of indexing are:

  • requiring extra storage (memory) for each index and
  • slowing down write operations to the database.

Indexing all of the content will not improve the database speed. The structures in the index are dynamically updated on modifications or insertionsΒ of new nodes. Once a new node is created, it needs to be assigned to an index group. Such an indexed node will be retrieved much faster from the database.

Indexing will also not bring any improvement if a large number of properties have the same value. Take a look at the following example. Let's say you have some property that can have 10 distinct values. Those values are integers in the range 1 to 10. If you have 100 nodes stored in the database and 1 of them has a score of 1 while the others have a score of 10 (99 of them), then that is not a good distinguisher. If 10 of them have a score of 1, 10 of them have a score of 2, etc. then it is a good distinguisher because it partitions them to cut the order of searching by one magnitude.

Also, indexing certain data types will not bring any significant performance gain, e.g., for boolean in the best case scenario, the time will be cut in half.

Creating an index​

Indexing can be applied to data with a specific label or a combination of label and property. They are not automatically created, and the user needs to create them explicitly. Creation is done using a special CREATE INDEX ON :Label(property) language construct.

When you create an index, it is added to the registry of indexes.

Memgraph supports two types of indexes:

  • label index
  • label-property index

Label index​

Memgraph will not automatically index labeled data. If you want to optimize queries that fetch nodes by label, you need to create the indexes:

CREATE INDEX ON :Person;

Retrieving nodes using this query is now much more efficient:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN n;

Label-property index​

For example, to index nodes that are labeled as :Person and have a property named age:

CREATE INDEX ON :Person(age);

After the index is created, retrieving those nodes will become more efficient. For example, the following query will retrieve all nodes which have an age property, instead of fetching each :Person node and checking whether the property exists:

MATCH (n :Person {age: 42}) RETURN n;

Using index-based retrieval also works when filtering labels and properties with WHERE. For example, the same effect as in the previous example can be done with:

MATCH (n) WHERE n:Person AND n.age = 42 RETURN n;

Since the filter inside WHERE can contain any kind of an expression, the expression can be complicated enough so that the index does not get used. We are continuously improving the recognition of index usage opportunities from a WHERE expression. If there is any suspicion that an index may not be used, we recommend putting properties and labels inside the MATCH pattern.

When it comes to label-property indexes, MemgraphDB stores a list of specific properties that are used in label property-indexes. This list is ordered to make the search faster. All property types can be ordered. First, they are ordered based on the type and then within that type.

tip

For the best performance, create index on properties containing unique integer values.

Speed comparison​

After the query execution, you can see how much time the query took to finish. Below you can see a comparison of the same query run without an index and with an index.

memgraph> SHOW INDEX INFO;
Empty set (0.001 sec)

memgraph> MATCH (n:Person) WHERE n.name =~ ".*an$" RETURN n.name;
+-------------+
| n.name |
+-------------+
| "Lillian" |
| "Logan" |
| "Susan" |
| "Sebastian" |
+-------------+
4 rows in set (0.021 sec)

memgraph> CREATE INDEX ON :Person(name);
Empty set (0.015 sec)

memgraph> MATCH (n:Person) WHERE n.name =~ ".*an$" RETURN n.name;
+-------------+
| n.name |
+-------------+
| "Lillian" |
| "Logan" |
| "Susan" |
| "Sebastian" |
+-------------+
4 rows in set (0.006 sec)

Display available indexes​

Information about available indexes can be retrieved by using the following syntax:

SHOW INDEX INFO;

The results of this query will be all of the labels and label-property pairs that Memgraph currently indexes.

Deleting index​

Created indexes can also be deleted by using the following syntax:

DROP INDEX ON :Label(property);

Underlying implementation​

The central part of our index data structure is a highly-concurrent skip list. Skip lists are probabilistic data structures that allow fast search within an ordered sequence of elements. The structure itself is built in layers where the bottom layer is an ordinary linked list that preserves the order. Each higher level can be imagined as a highway for layers below.

The implementation details behind skip list operations are well documented in the literature and are out of scope for this document. Nevertheless, we believe that it is important for more advanced users to understand the following implications of this data structure (n denotes the current number of elements in a skip list):

  • The average insertion time is O(log(n))
  • The average deletion time is O(log(n))
  • The average search time is O(log(n))
  • The average memory consumption is O(n)