Data Freshness and Expiration

Data Freshness

Data freshness refers to aspect of a copy of data (e.g. in a cache) being up-to-date with the source version of the data (e.g. in the syste-of-record (SoR)). A stale copy is considered to be out of sync (or likely to be out of sync) with the SoR.

Databases (and other SORs) weren’t built with caching outside of the database in mind, and therefore don’t normally come with any default mechanism for notifying external processes when data has been updated or modified. Thus external components that have loaded data from the SoR have no direct way of ensuring that data is not stale.

Cache Entry Expiration

Ehcache can assist you with reducing the likelihood that stale data is used by your application by expiring cache entries after some amount of configured time. Once expired, the entry is automatically removed from the cache.

For instance the cache could be configured to expire entries five seconds after they are put in - which is a time-to-live TTL setting. Or to expire entries 17 seconds after the last time the entry was retrieved from the cache - which is a time-to-idle TTI setting.

The expiration configuration that would be most appropriate for your cache (if any) would be a mixture of a business and technical decision based upon the requirements and assumptions of your application.

Storage Tiers

You can configure Ehcache to use various data storage areas. When a cache is configured to use more than one data store, they are referred to as tiers.

Data stores supported by Ehcache include:

  • On-Heap Store – Utilizes Java’s on-heap RAM memory to store cache entries. This tier utilizes the same heap memory as your Java application, all of which must be scanned by the JVM’s garbage collector. The more heap space your JVM utilizes the more your application’s performance will be impacted by garbage collection pauses. This store is extremely fast, but is typically your most limited storage resource.

  • Off-Heap Store – Limited in size only by available RAM (tested to as much as 6TB on a single machine!). Not subject to Java garbage collection (GC). Is quite fast, yet slower than the On-Heap Store because data must be moved off and on the JVM’s heap as it is stored and re-accessed.

  • Disk Store – Utilizes a disk (filesystem) to store cache entries. This type of storage resource is typically very abundant but much slower than the RAM-based stores.

When a cache is configured to use more than one storage area, those areas are arranged and managed as tiers - where the hottest (most recently accessed) data is kept in the faster (and typically less abundant) tiers, and data that is less hot is moved to the slower (and more abundant) tiers.

Topology Types


The data set is held in the application node. Any other application nodes are independent with no communication between them. If a standalone topology is used where there are multiple application nodes running the same application, then their caches are completely independent.

Distributed / Clustered

The data is held in a remote server (or array of servers) with a subset of hot data held in each application node. This topology offers offers a selection of consistency options. A distributed topology is the recommended approach in a clustered or scaled-out application environment. It provides the highest level of performance, availability, and scalability.

Support of this topology type will come soon to Ehcache 3

Many production applications are deployed in clusters of multiple instances for availability and scalability. However, without a distributed cache, application clusters exhibit a number of undesirable behaviors, such as:

  • Cache Drift - If each application instance maintains its own cache, updates made to one cache will not appear in the other instances. A distributed or replicated cache ensures that all of the cache instances are kept in sync with each other.

  • Database Bottlenecks - In a single-instance application, a cache effectively shields a database from the overhead of redundant queries. However, in a distributed application environment, each instance must load and keep its own cache fresh. The overhead of loading and refreshing multiple caches leads to database bottlenecks as more application instances are added. A distributed or replicated cache eliminates the per-instance overhead of loading and refreshing multiple caches from a database.