Advantage and disadvantage of InnoDB Clustered Indexes

By:    Updated: February 28,2017

InnoDB's clustered indexes store a B-Tree index and the rows together in the same structure. When a table has a clustered index, its rows are actually stored in the index's leaf pages. The leaf pages contain full rows but the node pages contain only the indexed columns. InnoDB clusters the data by the primary key. If you don't define a primary key, InnoDB will try to use a unique nonnullable index instead. If there's no such index, InnoDB will define a hidden primary key for you automatically and then cluster on that. InnoDB clusters records together only within a page. Pages with adjacent key values might be distant from each other.


Clustering data has some very important advantages:

  • It can keep related data close together.
  • Data access is fast. A clustered index holds both the index and the data together in one B-Tree, so retrieving rows from a clustered index is normally faster than a comparable lookup in a nonclustered index.
  • Queries that use covering indexes can use the primary key values contained at the leaf node.


These benefits can boost performance tremendously if you design your tables and queries to take advantage of them. However, clustered indexes also have some disadvantages:

  • Clustering gives the largest improvement for I/O-bound workloads. If the data fits in memory the order in which it's accessed doesn't really matter, so clustering doesn't give much benefit.
  • Insert speeds depend heavily on insertion order. Inserting rows in primary key order is the fastest way to load data into an InnoDB table. It might be a good idea to reorganize the table with OPTIMIZE TABLE after loading a lot of data if you didn't load the rows in primary key order.
  • Updating the clustered index columns is expensive, because it forces InnoDB to move each updated row to a new location.
  • Tables built upon clustered indexes are subject to page splits when new rows are inserted, or when a row's primary key is updated such that the row must be moved. A page split happens when a row's key value dictates that the row must be placed into a page that is full of data. The storage engine must split the page into two to accommodate the row. Page splits can cause a table to use more space on disk.
  • Clustered tables can be slower for full table scans, especially if rows are less densely packed or stored nonsequentially because of page splits.
  • Secondary (nonclustered) indexes can be larger than you might expect, because their leaf nodes contain the primary key columns of the referenced rows.
  • Secondary index accesses require two index lookups instead of one.


InnoDB finds a row from a secondary index, the storage engine first finds the leaf node in the secondary index and then uses the primary key values stored there to navigate the primary key and find the row. That's double work: two B-Tree navigations instead of one. In InnoDB, the adaptive hash index can help reduce this penalty.

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