Sometimes you can get the best of both worlds (low latency and
good throughput) by computing expensive results as needed and caching
them for later use. Earlier we mentioned that
named reduces latency by batching; it
also reduces latency by caching the results of previous network
transactions with other DNS servers.
Caching has its own problems and tradeoffs, which are well
illustrated by one application: the use of binary caches to eliminate
parsing overhead associated with text database files. Some variants
of Unix have used this technique to speed up access to their password
information (the usual motivation was to cut latency on logins at very
To make this work, all code that looks at the binary cache has
to know that it should check the timestamps on both files and
regenerate the cache if the text master is newer. Alternatively, all
changes to the textual master must be made through a wrapper that will
update the binary format.
When the update pattern of the master is more complex, however,
the synchronization code tends to spring leaks. The Unix variants that
used this technique to speed up access to critical system databases
were infamous for spawning system-administrator horror stories that
In general, binary cache files are a brittle technique and
probably best avoided. The work that went into implementing a
special-purpose hack to reduce latency in this one case would have
been better spent improving the application design so it doesn't have
a bottleneck there — or even on tuning to improve the speed of
the file system or the virtual-memory implementation.
When you think you are in a situation that demands caching, it
is wise to look one level deeper and ask why the caching is necessary.
It may well be no more difficult to solve that problem than it would
be to get all the edge cases in the caching software right.
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