Cache Invalidation: 7 Essential Strategies

Victor Magalhães
4 min readOct 18, 2023
Cache Invalidation: 7 Essential Strategies

The utilization of cache in computational systems is crucial for enhancing performance and efficiency, leading to a quicker and more responsive user experience. This article highlights the importance of cache for these objectives. Among the processes related to caching, cache invalidation stands out as a vital operation to maintain data consistency in systems that utilize caching to optimize performance.

Here are some common cache invalidation strategies:

1 — Manual/Programmatic Invalidation

In this approach, the code responsible for data modification is also tasked with invalidating the corresponding cache. This can be accomplished by issuing an invalidation command whenever data is altered. While this strategy affords precise control, it demands careful coordination to ensure that all cache instances are appropriately updated.

Imagine an e-commerce application. When an administrator updates a product’s price, the price update code also issues a cache invalidation command for that specific product.

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2 — Time-to-Live (TTL) Invalidation

This strategy allocates a predetermined time interval to each item stored in the cache. Once this interval elapses, the cache is automatically invalidated, and the data is retrieved again from the original source. This method is particularly useful for data that doesn’t require constant accuracy and can endure minor outdatedness.

Consider a news website where articles have a 15-minute TTL in the cache. After this period, the cache is invalidated automatically, prompting the retrieval of the latest article versions.

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3 — Event-Based Invalidation

When a significant event occurs, such as a data update, a system can dispatch a message or signal to the cache, indicating that certain data has been modified. The cache can then proceed to invalidate the pertinent data. This approach requires a messaging/event infrastructure.

In a real-time chat application, when a user sends a message, the messaging server sends an event to all participants in the conversation, signaling an update. This triggers the cache to be invalidated for that specific conversation.

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4 — Version-Based Invalidation

In the versioning approach, the cache stores the version of the data it holds. Each time data is updated, its version is incremented. When an update occurs, the cache version and the data version are compared. If they differ, the cache is invalidated, prompting the retrieval of new data.

Imagine a collaborative to-do list application. Each to-do list has an associated version. When a user adds or completes a task, the to-do list’s version is incremented. The cache stores this version and is invalidated if the cache version differs from the current version.

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5 — Cache Keys Invalidation

Each cache entry is linked to one or more specific keys. When data associated with these keys changes, the cache is invalidated for those specific keys. This allows for granular invalidation, avoiding the need to invalidate the entire cache.

In a data analysis application, the cache stores query results. Each query is associated with a unique key. When a query is executed again, the cache is invalidated only for the specific key of that query.

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6 — Layered Invalidation

Layered invalidation organizes the cache into tiers, with each tier storing different types of data. When a specific data type is updated, only the relevant tier is invalidated, leaving the rest of the cache intact.

A video streaming system could use multiple cache layers, such as one for metadata and another for actual videos. When a video is updated, only the video cache layer is invalidated, keeping the metadata cache intact.

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7 — Lazy Invalidation

In this strategy, the cache isn’t immediately invalidated after an update. Instead, it’s marked as “invalid,” and new data is fetched only when someone attempts to access the invalid data. This avoids unnecessary invalidations but may introduce slight latency in the first query after the update.

Consider a weather forecasting application. Cache data for a specific city is marked as invalid whenever a new forecast is available. The cache is updated only when someone requests the forecast for that city.

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Every strategy has its own set of pros and cons, and the decision depends on the system’s context and the level of consistency needed. Often, a hybrid approach involving a mix of strategies is employed to effectively manage various data types and situations.