memcached Cheat Sheet

Telnet Interface

This is a short summary of everything important that helps to inspect a running memcached instance. You need to know that memcached requires you to connect to it via telnet. The following post describes the usage of this interface.

How To Connect

Use "ps -ef" to find out which IP and port was passed when memcached was started and use the same with telnet to connect to memcache. Example:

telnet 11211

Supported Commands

The supported commands (the official ones and some unofficial) are documented in the doc/protocol.txt document.

Sadly the syntax description isn't really clear and a simple help command listing the existing commands would be much better. Here is an overview of the commands you can find in the source (as of 16.12.2008):

Command Description Example
get Reads a value get mykey
set Set a key unconditionally set mykey 0 60 5
add Add a new key add newkey 0 60 5
replace Overwrite existing key replace key 0 60 5
append Append data to existing key append key 0 60 15
prepend Prepend data to existing key prepend key 0 60 15
incr Increments numerical key value by given number incr mykey 2
decr Decrements numerical key value by given number decr mykey 5
delete Deletes an existing key delete mykey
flush_all Invalidate specific items immediately flush_all
Invalidate all items in n seconds flush_all 900
stats Prints general statistics stats
Prints memory statistics stats slabs
Prints memory statistics stats malloc
Print higher level allocation statistics stats items
stats detail
stats sizes
Resets statistics stats reset
version Prints server version. version
verbosity Increases log level verbosity
quit Terminate telnet session quit

Traffic Statistics

You can query the current traffic statistics using the command

You will get a listing which serves the number of connections, bytes in/out and much more.

Example Output:

STAT pid 14868
STAT uptime 175931
STAT time 1220540125
STAT version 1.2.2
STAT pointer_size 32
STAT rusage_user 620.299700
STAT rusage_system 1545.703017
STAT curr_items 228
STAT total_items 779
STAT bytes 15525
STAT curr_connections 92
STAT total_connections 1740
STAT connection_structures 165
STAT cmd_get 7411
STAT cmd_set 28445156
STAT get_hits 5183
STAT get_misses 2228
STAT evictions 0
STAT bytes_read 2112768087
STAT bytes_written 1000038245
STAT limit_maxbytes 52428800
STAT threads 1

Memory Statistics

You can query the current memory statistics using

stats slabs

Example Output:

STAT 1:chunk_size 80
STAT 1:chunks_per_page 13107
STAT 1:total_pages 1
STAT 1:total_chunks 13107
STAT 1:used_chunks 13106
STAT 1:free_chunks 1
STAT 1:free_chunks_end 12886
STAT 2:chunk_size 100
STAT 2:chunks_per_page 10485
STAT 2:total_pages 1
STAT 2:total_chunks 10485
STAT 2:used_chunks 10484
STAT 2:free_chunks 1
STAT 2:free_chunks_end 10477
STAT active_slabs 3
STAT total_malloced 3145436

If you are unsure if you have enough memory for your memcached instance always look out for the "evictions" counters given by the "stats" command. If you have enough memory for the instance the "evictions" counter should be 0 or at least not increasing.

Which Keys Are Used?

There is no builtin function to directly determine the current set of keys. However you can use the

stats items
command to determine how many keys do exist.
stats items
STAT items:1:number 220
STAT items:1:age 83095
STAT items:2:number 7
STAT items:2:age 1405
This at least helps to see if any keys are used. To dump the key names from a PHP script that already does the memcache access you can use the PHP code from


1MB Data Limit

Note that prio to memcached 1.4 you cannot store objects larger than 1MB due to the default maximum slab size.

Never Set a Timeout > 30 Days!

If you try to "set" or "add" a key with a timeout bigger than the allowed maximum you might not get what you expect because memcached then treats the value as a Unix timestamp. Also if the timestamp is in the past it will do nothing at all. Your command will silently fail.

So if you want to use the maximum lifetime specify 2592000. Example:

set my_key 0 2592000 1

Disappearing Keys on Overflow

Despite the documentation saying something about wrapping around 64bit overflowing a value using "incr" causes the value to disappear. It needs to be created using "add"/"set" again.


memcached itself does not support replication. If you really need it you need to use 3rd party solutions:


When using memcached or memcachedb everything is fine as long as it is running. But from an operating perspective memcached is a black box. There is no real logging you can only use the -v/-vv/-vvv switches when not running in daemon mode to see what your instance does. And it becomes even more complex if you run multiple or distributed memcache instances available on different hosts and ports.

So the question is: How to monitor your distributed memcache setup?

There are not many tools out there, but some useful are. We'll have a look at the following tools. Note that some can monitor multiple memcached instances, while others can only monitor a single instance at a time.
Name Multi-Instances Complexity/Features
telnetnoSimple CLI via telnet
stats-proxyyesSimple Web GUI
memcache.phpyesSimple Web GUI
PhpMemcacheAdminyesComplex Web GUI
Memcache ManageryesComplex Web GUI


You can use memcache-top for live-monitoring a single memcached instance. It will give you the I/O throughput, the number of evictions, the current hit ratio and if run with "--commands" it will also provide the number of GET/SET operations per interval.
memcache-top v0.6       (default port: 11211, color: on, refresh: 3 seconds)

INSTANCE                USAGE   HIT %   CONN    TIME    EVICT/s GETS/s  SETS/s  READ/s  WRITE/s        88.9%   69.7%   1661    0.9ms   0.3     47      9       13.9K   9.8K        88.8%   69.9%   2121    0.7ms   1.3     168     10      17.6K   68.9K        88.9%   69.4%   1527    0.7ms   1.7     48      16      14.4K   13.6K   

AVERAGE:                84.7%   72.9%   1704    1.0ms   1.3     69      11      13.5K   30.3K   

TOTAL:          19.9GB/ 23.4GB          20.0K   11.7ms  15.3    826     132     162.6K  363.6K  
(ctrl-c to quit.)
(Example output)


Using the statsproxy tool you get a browser-based statistics tool for multiple memcached instances. The basic idea of statsproxy is to provide the unmodified memcached statistics via HTTP. It also provide a synthetic health check for service monitoring tools like Nagios. To compile statsproxy on Debian:
# Ensure you have bison
sudo apt-get install bison

# Download tarball
tar zxvf statsproxy-1.0.tgz
cd statsproxy-1.0
Now you can run the "statsproxy" binary, but it will inform you that it needs a configuration file. I suggest to redirect the output to a new file e.g. "statsproxy.conf" and remove the information text on top and bottom and then to modify the configuration section as needed.
./statsproxy > statsproxy.conf 2>&1
Ensure to add as many "proxy-mapping" sections as you have memcached instances. In each "proxy-mapping" section ensure that "backend" points to your memcached instance and "frontend" to a port on your webserver where you want to access the information for this backend. Once finished run:
./statsproxy -F statsproxy.conf
Below you find a screenshot of what stats-proxy looks like:


Using this PHP script you can quickly add memcached statistics to a webserver of your choice. Most useful is the global memory usage graph which helps to identify problematic instances in a distributed environment. Here is how it should look (screenshot from the project homepage): When using this script ensure access is protected and not to trigger the "flush_all" menu option by default. Also on large memcached instances refrain from dumping the keys as it might cause some load on your server.

Memcached Bindings

Dumping Memcache Keys

You spent already 50GB on the memcache cluster, but you still see many evictions and the cache hit ratio doesn't look good since a few days. The developers swear that they didn't change the caching recently, they checked the code twice and have found no problem. What now? How to get some insight into the black box of memcached? One way would be to add logging to the application to see and count what is being read and written and then to guess from this about the cache efficiency. For to debug what's happening we need to set how the cache keys are used by the application. An Easier Way Memcache itself provides a means to peek into its content. The memcache protocol provides commands to peek into the data that is organized by slabs (categories of data of a given size range). There are some significant limitations though:
  1. You can only dump keys per slab class (keys with roughly the same content size)
  2. You can only dump one page per slab class (1MB of data)
  3. This is an unofficial feature that might be removed anytime.
The second limitation is propably the hardest because 1MB of several gigabytes is almost nothing. Still it can be useful to watch how you use a subset of your keys. But this might depend on your use case. If you don't care about the technical details just skip to the tools section to learn about what tools allow you to easily dump everything. Alternatively follow the following guide and try the commands using telnet against your memcached setup. How it Works First you need to know how memcache organizes its memory. If you start memcache with option "-vv" you see the slab classes it creates. For example
$ memcached -vv
slab class   1: chunk size        96 perslab   10922
slab class   2: chunk size       120 perslab    8738
slab class   3: chunk size       152 perslab    6898
slab class   4: chunk size       192 perslab    5461
In the configuration printed above memcache will keep fit 6898 pieces of data between 121 and 152 byte in a single slab of 1MB size (6898*152). All slabs are sized as 1MB per default. Use the following command to print all currently existing slabs:
stats slabs
If you've added a single key to an empty memcached 1.4.13 with
set mykey 0 60 1
you'll now see the following result for the "stats slabs" command:
stats slabs
STAT 1:chunk_size 96
STAT 1:chunks_per_page 10922
STAT 1:total_pages 1
STAT 1:total_chunks 10922
STAT 1:used_chunks 1
STAT 1:free_chunks 0
STAT 1:free_chunks_end 10921
STAT 1:mem_requested 71
STAT 1:get_hits 0
STAT 1:cmd_set 2
STAT 1:delete_hits 0
STAT 1:incr_hits 0
STAT 1:decr_hits 0
STAT 1:cas_hits 0
STAT 1:cas_badval 0
STAT 1:touch_hits 0
STAT active_slabs 1
STAT total_malloced 1048512
The example shows that we have only one active slab type #1. Our key being just one byte large fits into this as the smallest possible chunk size. The slab statistics show that currently on one page of the slab class exists and that only one chunk is used. Most importantly it shows a counter for each write operation (set, incr, decr, cas, touch) and one for gets. Using those you can determine a hit ratio! You can also fetch another set of infos using "stats items" with interesting counters concerning evictions and out of memory counters.
stats items
STAT items:1:number 1
STAT items:1:age 4
STAT items:1:evicted 0
STAT items:1:evicted_nonzero 0
STAT items:1:evicted_time 0
STAT items:1:outofmemory 0
STAT items:1:tailrepairs 0
STAT items:1:reclaimed 0
STAT items:1:expired_unfetched 0
STAT items:1:evicted_unfetched 0
What We Can Guess Already... Given the statistics infos per slabs class we can already guess a lot of thing about the application behaviour:
  1. How is the cache ratio for different content sizes?
    • How good is the caching of large HTML chunks?
  2. How much memory do we spend on different content sizes?
    • How much do we spend on simple numeric counters?
    • How much do we spend on our session data?
    • How much do we spend on large HTML chunks?
  3. How many large objects can we cache at all?
Of course to answer the questions you need to know about the cache objects of your application. Now: How to Dump Keys? Keys can be dumped per slabs class using the "stats cachedump" command.
stats cachedump <slab class> <number of items to dump>
To dump our single key in class #1 run
stats cachedump 1 1000
ITEM mykey [1 b; 1350677968 s]
The "cachedump" returns one item per line. The first number in the braces gives the size in bytes, the second the timestamp of the creation. Given the key name you can now also dump its value using
get mykey
VALUE mykey 0 1
This is it: iterate over all slabs classes you want, extract the key names and if need dump there contents.
Dumping Tools
There are different dumping tools sometimes just scripts out there that help you with printing memcache keys:
PHPsimple scriptPrints key names.
Perlsimple scriptPrints keys and values
Rubysimple scriptPrints key names.
PerlmemdumpTool in CPAN module Memcached-libmemcached
PHPmemcache.phpMemcache Monitoring GUI that also allows dumping keys

Does freeze your memcached process!!!

Be careful when using this in production. Still using it you can workaround the 1MB limitation and really dump all keys.

Using Consistent Hashing

 upstream somestream {
      consistent_hash $request_uri;
Note: the order of setOption() and addServers() is important. When using OPT_LIBKETAMA_COMPATIBLE the hashing is compatible with all other runtimes using libmemcached.
$memcached = new Memcached();
$memcached->setOption(Memcached::OPT_DISTRIBUTION, Memcached::DISTRIBUTION_CONSISTENT);
$memcached->setOption(Memcached::OPT_LIBKETAMA_COMPATIBLE, true);
$m = new Memcached('mymemcache');
   Memcached::OPT_LIBKETAMA_COMPATIBLE => true,

Memcache Alternatives

Below is a list of tools competing with memcached in some manner and a probably subjective rating of each.
NameDifferenceWhy [Not] Use It?
memcached%Because it simple and fast
memcachedbPersistence with BDBBecause it is a simple and fast as memcached and allows easy persistence and backup. But not maintained anymore since 2008!
BDBSimple and oldUse when you want an embedded database. Rarely used for web platforms. Has replication.
CouchBaseHTTP(S) transport, authentication, buckets, memcached compatible default bucket. Includes moxi proxy that can run on client side or with CouchBase instances.Sharding, replication and online rebalancing. Often found in small Hadoop setup. Easy drop-in for memcached caching with no consistent hashing.
DynamoDBHTTP transport, Amazon cloudIf you are in AWS anyway and want sharding and persistency
RedisKey difference is the rich data types: Hashes, Lists, Scanning for Keys, ReplicationGreat bindings. Good documentation. Flexible yet simple data types. Slower than memcached (read more).
RiakSharded partitioning in a commerical cloud.Key-value store as a service. Transparent scaling. Automatic sharding. Map reduce support.
SphinxSearch Engine with SQL query cachingSupports sharding and full text search. Useful for static medium data sets (e.g. web site product search)
MySQL 5.6Full RDBMS with memcached APIBecause you can run queries against the DB via memcached protocol.
There are many more key-value stores. If you wonder what else is out there look at the rankings.

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