Configuring replication methods

Replication methods and rechecks are used to identify new or updated data in your database tables. Setting them correctly is crucial to ensuring both data accuracy and optimized update times. In this article, we'll be focusing just on replication methods.

When new tables are synced in the Data Warehouse Manager, a replication method will automatically be chosen for the table. Understanding the various replication methods, how tables are organized, and how the table data behaves will allow you to choose the best replication method for your tables.

What are the replication methods?

Replication methods fall into three groups - Incremental, Full Table, and Paused.

Incremental Replication means that Magento BI will replicate only new or updated data on every replication attempt. As these methods will greatly reduce latency, we highly recommend using it where possible.

Full Table Replication **means that Magento BI will replicate the entire contents of a table on every replication attempt. Because of the potentially large amount of data to be replicated, these methods can increase latency and update times. If a table contains any timestamped or datetime columns, we recommend using an Incremental method instead.

Paused indicates that replication for the table is stopped, or paused. Magento BI won't check for new or updated data during an update cycle; this means no data will be replicated from a table that has this as its Replication Method.

Incremental replication methods

Modified At (most ideal)

The Modified At replication method uses a datetime column - which is populated when a row is created and then updated when data changes - to find data to replicate. This method is designed to work with tables that meet the following criteria:

  • contains a datetime column that is initially populated when a row is created and is updated whenever the row is modified;
  • the datetime column is never null;
  • rows are not deleted from the table

In addition to those criteria, we also highly recommend indexing the datetime column used for Modified At replication, as this will help optimize replication speed.

When the update runs, new or changed data is identified by searching for rows that have a value in the datetime column that occurred after the most recent update. When new rows are discovered, they're replicated to your Data Warehouse. If any rows already exist in the Data Warehouse, they'll be overwritten with the current database values.

For example, a table may have a column called modified_at that indicates the last time data was changed. If the most recent update ran Tuesday at noon, the update will search for all rows having a modified_at value greater than Tuesday at noon. Any discovered rows that were either created or modified since Tuesday at noon will be replicated to the Data Warehouse.

Did you know? Even if your database can’t currently support an Incremental Replication method, you may be able to make some changes to your database that would enable use of Modified At or Single Auto Incrementing PK.

Modified At is not only the most ideal replication method, it's also the fastest. This method not only produces noticeable speed increases with large data sets, it also doesn't require configuring a recheck option. Other methods will need to iterate through an entire table to identify changes, even if a small subset of data has changed. Modified At iterates through only that small subset.

Single Auto Incrementing Primary Key

Auto Incrementing is a behavior that sequentially assigns primary keys to rows. If a table is Auto Incrementing and the highest primary key in the table is currently 1000, then the next primary value will be 1001 or higher. A table that does not use Auto Incrementing behavior may assign a primary key value that is less than 1000 or jump to a much bigger number, but this isn't commonly utilized.

This method is designed to replicate new data from tables that meet the following criteria:

  • single-column primary key; and
  • primary key datatype is integer; and
  • auto incrementing primary key values.

When a table is using Single Auto Incrementing Primary Key replication, new data is discovered by searching for primary key values that are higher than the current highest value in your Data Warehouse. For example, if the highest primary key value in your Data Warehouse is 500, when the next update runs it will search for rows with primary key values of 501 or higher.

Add Date

The Add Date method functions similarly to the Single Auto Incrementing Primary Key method. Instead of using an integer for the table's primary key, this method will use a timestamped column to check for new rows.

When a table uses Add Date replication, new data is discovered by searching for timestamped values that are greater than the latest date synced to your Data Warehouse. For example, if an update last ran on 20/12/2015 09:00:00, any rows with a timestamp greater than this will be marked as new data and replicated.

Note that unlike the Modified At method, Add Date will not check existing rows for updated information - it will only look forward to new rows.

Full table replication methods

Full Table

Full table replication refreshes the entire table any time new rows are detected. This is by far the least efficient replication method, due to the fact that all data must be reprocessed during every update, assuming there are new rows.

New rows are detected by querying your database at the start of the synchronization process and counting the number of rows. If your local database contains more rows than Magento BI, then the table is refreshed. If the row counts are identical, or if Magento BI contains more rows than your local database, then the table is skipped.

This raises the important point that Full Table replication is incompatible when:

  • more rows are deleted than created in your local database table between subsequent update cycles, or
  • column values are changed, but no additional rows are created

In either of the above scenarios, Full Table replication will not detect any changes and your data will become stale. Due to the inefficiency of this replication method, and the requirements mentioned above, Full Table replication is only recommended as a last resort.

Primary Key Batch

When a table uses Primary Key Batch (PK Batch), new data is discovered by counting rows inside ranges, or batches, of primary key values. While we typically think of this being used with integers, even text values can be ordered in a way that allows the system to define constant ranges.

For example, let's say an update runs and performs a row count for the range of keys from 1 to 100. In this update, the system finds and logs 37 rows. In the next update, a row count is performed again on the 1-100 range and finds 41 rows. Because there's a difference in the number of rows compared to the last update, the system will inspect that range (or batch) in more detail.

This method is intended to replicate data from tables that meet the following criteria:

  • single-column non-integer; or
  • composite keys (multiple columns comprising the primary key) - note that columns used in a composite primary key can never have null values; or
  • single-column, integer, non-auto-incrementing primary key values.

This method isn't ideal, as it's incredibly slow due to the amount of processing that must occur to examine batches and find changes. We don't recommend using this method unless it isn't possible to make the modifications necessary to support the other replication methods. Expect update times to increase if this method must be used.

Setting replication methods

Replication methods are set on a table-by-table basis. To set a replication method for a table, you need Admin permissions so you can access the Data Warehouse Manager.

  1. Once in the Data Warehouse Manager, select the table from the Synced Tables list to display the table's schema.
  2. The current replication method is listed below the table name. To change it, click the link.
  3. In the pop-up that displays, click the circle next to either Incremental or Full Table replication to select a replication type.
  4. Next, click the Replication Method dropdown to select a method - for example, Paused or Modified At.
  5. Note that some Incremental methods require you to set a Replication Key. Magento BI will use this key to determine where the next update cycle should begin.

    For example, if we want to use the modified_at method for our orders table, we need to set a date column as the replication key. Several options for replication keys may exist, but we'll select created_at, or the time the order was created. If the last update cycle stopped at 12/1/2015 00:10:00, the next cycle would begin replicating data with a created_at date greater than this.

  6. When finished, click the Save button.

Here's a look at the whole process:

Wrapping up

To finish up, we've put together this table that compares the various replication methods. We find it incredibly handy when selecting a method for the tables in our data warehouse.

Method Syncing New Data Processing Rechecks on Large Data Sets Handle Composite Keys? Handle Non-Integer PKs? Handle Non-Sequential PK Population? Handle Row Deletion?
Auto-Incrementing Primary Key Faster Slow No No No Yes
Primary Key Batch Monitoring Slow Slow Yes Yes Yes Yes
Modified At Faster Faster Yes Yes Yes No