MySQL InnoDB Sorted Index Builds


It’s not essential to understand how MySQL® and Percona Server for MySQL build indexes. However, if you have an understanding of the processing, it could help when you want to reserve an appropriate amount of space for data inserts. From MySQL 5.7, developers changed the way they built secondary indexes for InnoDB, applying a bottom-up rather than the top-down approach used in earlier releases. In this post, I’ll walk through an example to show how an InnoDB index is built. At the end, I’ll explain how you can use this understanding to set an appropriate value for innodb_fill_factor.

Index building process

To build an index on a table with existing data, there are the following phases in InnoDB

  1. Read phase (read from clustered index and build secondary index entries)
  2. Merge sort phase
  3. Insert phase (insert sorted records into the secondary index)

Until version 5.6, MySQL built the secondary index by inserting one record at a time. This is a “top-down” approach. The search for the insert position starts from root (top) and reaches the appropriate leaf page (down). The record is inserted on leaf page pointed to by the cursor. It is expensive in terms of finding insert position and doing page splits and merges (at both root and non-root levels). How do you know that there are too many page splits and merges happening? You can read about that in an earlier blog by my colleague Marco Tusa, here.

From MySQL 5.7, the insert phase during add index uses “Sort Index Build”, also known as “Bulk Load for Index”. In this approach,  the index is built “bottom-up”. i.e.  Leaf pages (bottom) are built first and then the non-leaf levels up to root (up).

Use cases

A sorted index build is used in these cases:


For the last two use cases, ALTER creates a intermediate table. The intermediate table indexes (both primary and secondary) are built using “sorted index build”.


  1. Create a page at level 0. Also create a cursor to this page.
  2. Insert into the page using the cursor at Level 0 until is full.
  3. Once the page is full, create a sibling page (do not insert into sibling page yet).
  4. Create a node pointer (minimum key in child page, child page number) for the current full page and insert a node pointer into one level above (parent page).
  5. At upper level, check if cursor is already positioned. If not, create a parent page and a cursor for the level.
  6. Insert a node pointer at the parent page
  7. If parent page is full, repeat steps 3, 4, 5, 6
  8. Now insert into the sibling page and make the cursor point to the sibling page.
  9. At the end of all inserts,  there is cursor at each level pointing to the rightmost page. Commit all the cursors (meaning commit the mini-transaction that modified the  pages, release all the latches).

For the sake of simplicity, the above algorithm skipped the details about compressed pages and the handling of BLOBs (externally stored BLOBs).

Walk through of building an index, bottom-up

Using an example, let’s see how a secondary index is built, bottom-up. Again for simplicity’s sake, assume the maximum number of records allowed in leaf and non leaf pages is three.

InnoDB appends the primary key fields to the secondary index. The records of secondary index k1 are of format (b, a).  After the sort phase, the records are

(11,1), (22,2), (33,3), (44,4), (55,5), (66,6), (77,7), (88,8), (99,9), (1010, 10)

Initial insert phase

Let’s start with record (11,1).

  1. Create a page at Level 0 (leaf level).
  2. Create a cursor to the page.
  3. All inserts go to this page until it is full.

The arrow shows where the cursor is currently pointing. It is currently at page number 5, and the next inserts go to this page.

There are two more free slots, so insertion of the records (22,2) and (33,3) is straightforward.

For the next record (44, 4), page number 5 is full. Here are the steps

Index building as pages become filled

  1. Create a sibling page – page number 6
  2. Do not insert into the sibling page yet.
  3. Commit the page at the cursor i.e. mini transaction commit, release latch etc
  4. As part of the commit, create a node pointer and insert it into the parent page at [current Level + 1]. i.e at Level 1
  5. The node pointer is of the format (minimum key in child page, child page number). Minimum key in page number 5 is (11,1). Insert record ((11,1),5) at the parent level.
  6. The parent page at Level 1 doesn’t exist yet. MySQL creates page number 7 and a cursor pointing to page number 7.
  7. Insert ((11,1),5) into page number 7
  8. Now, return back to Level 0 and create links from page number 5 to 6 and vice versa
  9. The cursor at Level 0 now points to sibling page number 6.
  10. Insert (44,4) into page number 6


The next inserts – of (55,5) and (66,6) – are straightforward and they go to page 6.

Insertion of record (77,7) is similar to (44,4) except that the parent page (page number 7) already exists and it has space for two more records. Insert node pointer ((44,4),8) into page 7 first, and then record (77,7) into sibling page 8.

Insertion of records (88,8) and (99,9) is straightforward because page 8 has two free slots.

Next insert (1010, 10). Insert node pointer ((77,7),8) to the parent page (page number 7) at Level 1.

MySQL creates sibling page number 9 at Level 0. Insert record (1010,10) into page 9 and change the cursor to this page.

Commit the cursors at all levels. In the above example, the database commits page 9 at Level 0 and page 7 at Level 1. We now have a complete B+-tree index that is built from bottom-up!

Index fill factor

The global variable “innodb_fill_factor” sets the amount of space in a Btree page to be used for inserts. The default value is 100, which means the entire page is used (exclude page headers, trailers). A clustered index has an exemption with innodb_fill_factor = 100. In this case, 1/16th of clustered index page space is kept free. ie. 6.25% space is reserved for future DMLs.

A value of 80 means that MySQL uses 80% of the page for inserts, and leaves 20% for future updates.

If innodb_fill_factor is 100, there is no free space left for future inserts into the secondary index.  If you expect more DMLs on the table after add index, this can lead to page splits and merges again. In such cases, it is advisable to use values between 80-90. This variable value also affects the indexes recreated with OPTIMIZE TABLE or ALTER TABLE DROP COLUMN, ALGORITHM=INPLACE.

You should not use values that are too low – for example below 50 – because the index then occupies significantly more disk space. With low values there are more pages in an index, and index statistics sampling might not be optimal. The optimizer could choose wrong query plans with sub-optimal statistics.

Advantages of Sorted Index Build

  1. No page splits (excluding compressed tables) and merges.
  2. No repeated searches for insert position.
  3. Inserts are not redo logged (except for page allocations), so there is less pressure on the redo log subsystem.


None… Well, OK, there is one and it deserves a separate blog post 🙂  Stay tuned!


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Comment (1)

  • Fernando Mattera Reply

    Hi, in your opinion, what’s the average innodb_fill_factor percent value suggested for all purpose tables?
    I understood 100 isn’t good enough.
    Thanks in advance

    May 13, 2019 at 9:50 am

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