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Initial snapshot

If you have the log of all changes that were ever made to a database, you can reconstruct the entire state of the database by replaying the log. However, in many cases, keeping all changes forever would require too much disk space, and replaying it would take too long, so the log needs to be truncated.

Building a new full-text index, for example, requires a full copy of the entire database —it is not sufficient to only apply a log of recent changes, since it would be missing items that were not recently updated. Thus, if you don’t have the entire log history, you need to start with a consistent snapshot, as previously discussed in “Setting Up New Followers” on page 155.

The snapshot of the database must correspond to a known position or offset in the change log, so that you know at which point to start applying changes after the snapshot has been processed. Some CDC tools integrate this snapshot facility, while others leave it as a manual operation.

Log compaction

If you can only keep a limited amount of log history, you need to go through the snapshot process every time you want to add a new derived data system. However, log compaction provides a good alternative.

We discussed log compaction previously in “Hash Indexes” on page 72, in the context of log-structured storage engines (see Figure 3-2 for an example). The principle is simple: the storage engine periodically looks for log records with the same key, throws away any duplicates, and keeps only the most recent update for each key. This compaction and merging process runs in the background.

In a log-structured storage engine, an update with a special null value (a tombstone) indicates that a key was deleted, and causes it to be removed during log compaction. But as long as a key is not overwritten or deleted, it stays in the log forever. The disk space required for such a compacted log depends only on the current contents of the database, not the number of writes that have ever occurred in the database. If the same key is frequently overwritten, previous values will eventually be garbage- collected, and only the latest value will be retained.

The same idea works in the context of log-based message brokers and change data capture. If the CDC system is set up such that every change has a primary key, and every update for a key replaces the previous value for that key, then it’s sufficient to keep just the most recent write for a particular key.

Now, whenever you want to rebuild a derived data system such as a search index, you can start a new consumer from offset 0 of the log-compacted topic, and sequentially scan over all messages in the log. The log is guaranteed to contain the most recent value for every key in the database (and maybe some older values)—in other words, you can use it to obtain a full copy of the database contents without having to take another snapshot of the CDC source database.

This log compaction feature is supported by Apache Kafka. As we shall see later in this chapter, it allows the message broker to be used for durable storage, not just for transient messaging.

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