This tutorial is a conversion of the Redis tutorial on data types, where instead of the Redis CLI, the LFE REPL is used in conjunction with the ledis library.

The ledis library has defined functions for the Redis commands most often used; if we haven't added one that you need, just open a ticket with your request, or even submit a pull request with your changes.

The original tutorial on Redis data types is a bit long for a blog post, so we'll be splitting it up across multiple installments; this post covers the following topics:

  • Installing ledis and running the LFE REPL
  • Redis Keys
  • Redis Strings
  • Altering and Querying the Key Space

Be sure to checkout the original tutorial for the full introduction; we're going to skip that in this tutorial and jump right into the data types.


You will need:

  • Redis installed on your machine
  • Erlang
  • The latest dev versions of lfetool
  • The ledis project

LFE and ledis' dependencies will all be downloaded for you automatically when you start up the project REPL for the first time (see below). This tutorial will not cover the installation of Redis or Erlang. To install the development version of lfetool, simply do the following:

$ curl -L -o ./lfetool
$ bash ./lfetool install

This will create an executable lfetool in your /usr/local/bin directory.

Next you'll need to get ledis itself:

$ git clone
$ cd ledis

We're going to edit the lfe.config file so that all results are automatically converted from binary to strings (just for the purpose of this tutorial). Open up the file, and change this line:

#(return-type binary)))

to this:

#(return-type string)))

Now go ahead and start the LFE REPL. The first time you run this, all the dependencies will be downloaded and compiled. Note that the project's make targets automatically start the ledis application, so there's no need to type (ledis:start):

$ make repl
Erlang/OTP 17 [erts-6.3] [source] [64-bit] [smp:4:4] ...

LFE Shell V6.3 (abort with ^G)

At this point, we're ready to start the tutorial!

Redis Keys

Redis keys are binary safe, this means that you can use any binary sequence as a key, from a string like "foo" to the content of a JPEG file. The empty string is also a valid key.

A few other rules about keys:

  • Very long keys are not a good idea, for instance a key of 1024 bytes is a bad idea not only memory-wise, but also because the lookup of the key in the dataset may require several costly key-comparisons. Even when the task at hand is to match the existence of a large value, to resort to hashing it (for example with SHA1) is a better idea, especially from the point of view of memory and bandwidth.
  • Very short keys are often not a good idea. There is little point in writing "u1000flw" as a key if you can instead write "user:1000:followers". The latter is more readable and the added space is minor compared to the space used by the key object itself and the value object. While short keys will obviously consume a bit less memory, your job is to find the right balance.
  • Try to stick with a schema. For instance "object-type:id" is a good idea, as in "user:1000". Dots or dashes are often used for multi-word fields, as in "" or "comment:1234:reply-to".
  • The maximum allowed key size is 512 MB.

Redis Strings

The Redis String type is the simplest type of value you can associate with a Redis key. It is the only data type in Memcached, so it is also very natural for newcomers to use it in Redis.

Since Redis keys are strings, when we use the string type as a value too, we are mapping a string to another string. The string data type is useful for a number of use cases, like caching HTML fragments or pages.

Let's play a bit with the string type, using the LFE REPL and the ledis library.

> (ledis:set 'mykey "somevalue")
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:get 'mykey)
#(ok "somevalue")

As you can see using the set and the get functions are the way we set and retrieve a string value. Note that set will replace any existing value already stored into the key, in the case that the key already exists, even if the key is associated with a non-string value. So set performs an assignment. Values can be strings (including binary data) of every kind, for instance you can store a jpeg image inside a key. A value can't be bigger than 512 MB.

The set function has interesting options, that are provided as additional arguments. For example, you may ask set to fail if the key already exists:

> (ledis:set 'mykey "anothervalue" '(#(nx)))
#(ok undefined)
> (ledis:get 'mykey)
#(ok "somevalue")

Note that when undefined is returned, this is a translation of Redis' nil response (for a command that had no results or made no changes). Also, it still has the old value (as expected).

You can also do the opposite: ask that it only succeed if the key already exists:

> (ledis:set 'mykey "anothervalue" '(#(xx)))
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:get 'mykey)
#(ok "anothervalue")

Set has additional options, allowing one to expire a value from Redis:

> (ledis:set 'mykey "athirdvalue" '(#(xx) #(px 10000)))
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:get 'mykey)
#(ok "athirdvalue")
> (timer:sleep 10000)
> (ledis:get 'mykey)
#(ok undefined)

In that example, we did the following:

  1. Set a value for mykey – but only if it already existed – and set its expiration for 10,000 milliseconds.
  2. Checked the value, to show that our function all worked.
  3. Set the timer for a time when the value would be expired.
  4. Checked that the value did in fact expire.

Even if strings are the basic values of Redis, there are interesting operations you can perform with them. For instance, one is atomic increment:

> (ledis:set 'counter 100)
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:incr 'counter)
#(ok "101")
> (ledis:incr 'counter)
#(ok "102")
> (ledis:incrby 'counter 50)
#(ok "152")

The incr function parses the string value as an integer, increments it by one, and finally sets the obtained value as the new value. There are other similar functions like incrby, decr and decrby. Internally it's always the same Redis command, acting in a slightly different way.

What does it mean that incr is atomic? That even multiple clients issuing incr against the same key will never enter into a race condition. For instance, it will never happen that client 1 reads "10", client 2 reads "10" at the same time, both increment to 11, and set the new value to 11. The final value will always be 12 and the read-increment-set operation is performed while all the other clients are not executing a command against the Redis server at the same time.

There are a number of functions for operating on strings. For example the getset function sets a key to a new value, returning the old value as the result. You can use this function, for example, if you have a system that increments a Redis key using incr every time your web site receives a new visitor. You may want to collect this information once every hour, without losing a single increment. You can getset the key, assigning it the new value of "0" and reading the old value back.

The ability to set or retrieve the value of multiple keys in a single function is also useful for reduced latency. For this reason there are the multi-set and multi-get ledis functions (which map to the MSET and MGET Redis commands):

> (ledis:multi-set '(a 10 b 20 c 30))
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:multi-get '(a b c))
#(ok ("10" "20" "30"))

Note that, since LFE already has built-in functions named mset and mget, the Redis command names could not be used.

Altering and Querying the Key Space

There are functions that are not defined on particular types, but are useful in order to interact with the space of keys, and thus, can be used with keys of any type.

For example the exists function returns 1 or 0 to signal if a given key exists or not in the database, while the del function deletes a key and associated value, whatever the value is.

> (ledis:set 'mykey "Hello")
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:exists 'mykey)
#(ok "1")
> (ledis:del 'mykey)
#(ok "1")
> (ledis:exists 'mykey)
#(ok "0")

From the examples you can also see how del itself returns 1 or 0 depending on whether the key was removed (it existed) or not (there was no such key with that name). You may also delete multiple keys in one go:

> (ledis:multi-set '(key1 "val1" key2 "val2" key3 "val3"))
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:multi-get '(key1 key2 key3))
#(ok ("val1" "val2" "val3"))
> (ledis:del '(key1 key2 key3 key4))
#(ok "3")

In this case, the return value for del is the number of successful deletes: we asked it to delete four keys, but the fourth doesn't exist, so it only deleted three.

There are many key space related commands, but the above two are the essential ones together with the type function, which returns the kind of value stored at the specified key:

> (ledis:set 'mykey 1)
#(ok "OK")
> (ledis:type 'mykey)
#(ok "string")
> (ledis:del 'mykey)
#(ok "1")
> (ledis:type 'mykey)
#(ok "none")

More Redis

As progress is made on the LFE library, we'll be posting more installments of the Redis tutorial here. Expect to see the following in the coming weeks and months:

  • Redis Lists
  • Redis Hahes
  • Redis Sorted Sets (including ranges and lexicographical scores)
  • Bitmaps
  • Probabilistic Data Structure



05 April 2015