Database Replication in MySQL

An introduction to replication

Recently, while having
the knots pounded out of my body during a particularly painful shiatsu lesson,
I reflected on what put them there in the first place. Yes, ‘the database’ was
once more to blame. A busy database I work with saw one of its tables jump from
3GB to 7GB overnight, as we imported archive data. As expected, this had some
performance impact. Unfortunately, I had not expected quite the knock, and it
turned out that this single database server could no longer handle the load. No
matter how much more I tried to optimize
the queries
, tweak
the variables
or bump
up the query cache
, it was not enough. The machine could not take any more
memory, and a hardware upgrade would do little good (at least with the kind of
budget I have to play with). However, MySQL does not claim to be
enterprise-ready for nothing, and Yahoo and other high-volume users of MySQL
certainly do not run on one database server. There are a number of techniques
to handle high volumes, one of which I will introduce this month – MySQL
replication (I will look at others in future articles).

Replication allows you to
take one database, make an exact copy of it on another server, and set one of
them (the slave) to take all its updates from the other (the master). The slave
reads the master’s binary
, which store all statements that change a database, and repeats these
on its database, keeping the two in exact sync. Since a replicating database
simply repeats statements, the databases are not necessarily exactly in sync,
and advanced users can take advantage of this. That is a topic for another
article however, and we will look at simple replication this month – getting
one database to be an exact copy of another one.

What replication is not

  • Replication is
    not a backup policy. A mistyped DELETE statement will be replicated on the
    slave too, and you could end up with two, perfectly synchronized, empty
    databases. Replication can help protect against hardware failure though.

  • Replication is
    not an answer to all performance problems. Although updates on the slave are
    more optimized than if you ran the updates normally, if you use MyISAM tables,
    table-locking will still occur, and databases under high-load could still

  • Replication is
    not a guarantee that the slave will be in sync with the master at any one point
    in time. Even assuming the connection is always up, a busy slave may not yet
    have caught up with the master, so you can’t simply interchange SELECT queries
    across master and slave servers.

How to start replicating – the master

  • Grant the
    slave permission to replicate with the REPLICATION SLAVE privilege, for example
    *.* TO slave_user IDENTIFIED BY ‘slave_password’

  • If the master
    is not using the binary update log, add the following lines to the my.cnf
    or my.ini configuration file, and restart the server:


    By convention, the master is usually server-id 1, and any
    slaves from 2 onwards, though you can change this if you wish. If the master is
    already using the binary update log, either take note of the offset at the
    moment of the backup (the next step), or use the RESET MASTER statement
    to clear all binary logs and immediately begin the backup. You may want to make
    a copy of the binary logs before doing this, in case you need to use the binary
    logs to restore from backup.

  • Make a backup
    of the database. You will use this to start the slave server. Note the comments
    about the binary log above. You can also skip this step if you use the LOAD
    statement, but see the comments about locking the master
    below first.
Ian Gilfillan
Ian Gilfillan
Ian Gilfillan lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He is the author of the book 'Mastering MySQL 4', published by Sybex, and has been working with MySQL since 1997. These days he develops mainly in PHP and MySQL, although confesses to starting out with BASIC and COBOL, way back when, and still has a soft spot for Perl. He developed South Africa's first online grocery store, and has developed and taught internet development and other technical courses for various institutions. He has majors in Programming and Information Systems, as well as English and Philosophy. For 5 years he was Lead Developer and IT Manager for Independent Online, South Africa's premier news portal. However, he has now 'retired' from fulltime work, and is hoping that his next book will be more in the style of William Blake and Allen Ginsberg.

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