ArangoDB v3.10 reached End of Life (EOL) and is no longer supported.

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Reducing the Memory Footprint of ArangoDB servers

The changes suggested here can be useful to reduce the memory usage of ArangoDB servers, but they can cause side-effects on performance and other aspects. Do not apply any of the changes suggested here before you have tested them in in a development or staging environment.

Usually, a database server tries to use all the memory it can get to improve performance by caching or buffering. Therefore, it is important to tell an ArangoDB process how much memory it is allowed to use. ArangoDB detects the available RAM on the server and divides this up amongst its subsystems in some default way, which is suitable for a wide range of applications. This detected RAM size can be overridden with the environment variable ARANGODB_OVERRIDE_DETECTED_TOTAL_MEMORY.

However, there may be situations in which there are good reasons why these defaults are not suitable and the administrator wants to fine tune memory usage. The two major reasons for this are:

  • something else (potentially another arangod server) is running on the same machine so that your arangod is supposed to use less than the available RAM, and/or
  • the actual usage scenario makes it necessary to increase the memory allotted to some subsystem at the cost of another to achieve higher performance for specific tasks.

To a lesser extent, the same holds true for CPU usage, but operating systems are generally better in automatically distributing available CPU capacity amongst different processes and different subsystems.

There are settings to make ArangoDB run on systems with very limited resources, but they may also be interesting for your development machine if you want to make it less taxing for the hardware and do not work with much data. For production environments, it is recommended to use less restrictive settings, to benchmark  your setup and fine-tune the settings for maximal performance.

Limiting the overall RAM usage

A first simple approach could be to simply tell the arangod process as a whole to use only a certain amount of memory. This is done by overriding the detected memory size using the ARANGODB_OVERRIDE_DETECTED_TOTAL_MEMORY environment variable.

This essentially scales down arangod’s memory usage to the given value. This is for example a first measure if more than one arangod server are running on the same machine.

Note, however, that certain subsystems will then still be able to use an arbitrary amount of RAM, depending on the load from the user. If you want to protect your server against such misusages and for more detailed tuning of the various subsystems, consult the sections below.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty details, check the overview over the different subsystems of ArangoDB that are using significant amounts of RAM.

Overview over RAM usage in ArangoDB

This section explains the various areas which use RAM and what they are for.

Broadly, ArangoDB uses significant amounts of RAM for the following subsystems:

  • Storage engine including the block cache
  • HTTP server and queues
  • Edge caches and other caches
  • AQL queries
  • V8 (JavaScript features)
  • ArangoSearch
  • AgencyCache/ClusterInfo (cluster meta data)
  • Cluster-internal replication

Of these, the storage engine itself has some subsystems which contribute towards its memory usage:

  • RocksDB block cache
  • Data structures to read data (Bloom filters, index blocks, table readers)
  • Data structures to write data (write buffers, table builders, transaction data)
  • RocksDB background compaction

It is important to understand that all these have a high impact on performance. For example, the block cache is there such that already used blocks can be retained in RAM for later access. The larger the cache, the more blocks can be retained and so the higher the probability that a subsequent access does not need to reach out to disk and thus incurs no additional cost on performance and IO capacity.

RocksDB can cache bloom filters and index blocks of its SST files in RAM. It usually needs approx. 1% of the total size of all SST files in RAM just for caching these. As a result, most random accesses need only a single actual disk read to find the data stored under a single RocksDB key! If not all Bloom filters and block indexes can be held in RAM, then this can easily slow down random accesses by a factor of 10 to 100, since suddenly many disk reads are needed to find a single RocksDB key!

Other data structures for reading (table readers) and writing (write batches and write buffers) are also needed for smooth operation. If one cuts down on these too harshly, reads can be slowed down considerably and writes can be delayed. The latter can lead to overall slowdowns and could even end up in total write stalls and stops until enough write buffers have been written out to disk.

Since RocksDB is a log structured merge tree (LSM), there must be background threads to perform compactions. They merge different SST files and throw out old, no-longer used data. These compaction operations also need considerable amounts of RAM. If this is limited too much (by reducing the number of concurrent compaction operations), then a compaction debt can occur, which also results in write stalls or stops.

The other subsystems outside the storage engine also need RAM. If an ArangoDB server queues up too many requests (for example, if more requests arrive per time than can be executed), then the data of these requests (headers, bodies, etc.) are stored in RAM until they can be processed.

Furthermore, there are multiple different caches which are sitting in front of the storage engine, the most prominent one being the edge cache which helps to speed up graph traversals. The larger these caches, the more data can be cached and the higher the likelihood that data which is needed repeatedly is found to be available in cache.

Essentially, all AQL queries are executed in RAM. That means that every single AQL query needs some RAM - both on Coordinators and on DB-Servers. It is possible to limit the memory usage of a single AQL query as well as the global usage for all AQL queries running concurrently. Obviously, if either of these limits is reached, an AQL query can fail due to a lack of RAM, which is then reported back to the user.

Everything which executes JavaScript (only on Coordinators, user defined AQL functions and Foxx services), needs RAM, too. If JavaScript is not to be used, memory can be saved by reducing the number of V8 contexts.

ArangoSearch uses memory in different ways:

  • Writes which are committed in RocksDB but have not yet been committed to the search index are buffered in RAM,
  • The search indexes use memory for consolidation of multiple smaller search index segments into fewer larger ones,
  • The actual indexed search data resides in memory mapped files, which also need RAM to be cached.

Finally, the cluster internal management uses RAM in each arangod instance. The whole meta data of the cluster is kept in the AgencyCache and in the ClusterInfo cache. There is very little one can change about this memory usage.

Furthermore, the cluster-internal replication needs memory to perform its synchronization and replication work. Again, there is not a lot one can do about that.

The following sections show the various subsystems which the administrator can influence and explain how this can be done.

Write ahead log (WAL)

RocksDB writes all changes first to the write ahead log (WAL). This is for crash recovery, the data will then later be written in an orderly fashion to disk. The WAL itself does not need a lot of RAM, but limiting its total size can lead to the fact that write buffers are flushed earlier to make older WAL files obsolete. Therefore, adjusting the option


to some value smaller than its default of 80MB can potentially help to reduce RAM usage. However, the effect is rather indirect.

Write Buffers

RocksDB writes into memory buffers mapped to on-disk blocks  first. At some point, the memory buffers will be full and have to be flushed to disk. In order to support high write loads, RocksDB might open a lot of these memory buffers.

By default, the system may use up to 10 write buffers per column family and the default write buffer size is 64MB. Since normal write loads will only hit the documents, edge, primary index and vpack index column families, this effectively limits the RAM usage to something like 2.5GB. However, there is a global limit which works across column families, which can be used to limit the total amount of memory for write buffers (set to unlimited by default!):

Note that it does not make sense to set this limit smaller than 10 times the size of a write buffer, since there are currently 10 column families and each will need at least one write buffer.

Additionally, RocksDB might keep some write buffers in RAM, which are already flushed to disk. This is to speed up transaction conflict detection. This only happens if the option


is set to a non-zero value. By default, this is set to 0.

The other options to configure write buffer usage are:


However, adjusting these usually not helps with RAM usage.

RocksDB Block Cache

The RocksDB block cache has a number of options for configuration. First of all, its maximal size can be adjusted with the following option:


The default is 30% of (R - 2GB) where R is the total detected RAM. This is a sensible default for many cases, but in particular if other services are running on the same system, this can be too large. On the other hand, if lots of other things are accounted with the block cache (see options below), the value can also be too small.

Sometimes, the system can temporarily use a bit more than the configured upper limit. If you want to strictly enforce the block cache size limit, you can set the option


to true, but it is not recommended since it might lead to failed operations if the cache is full and we have observed that RocksDB instances can get stuck in this case. You have been warned.

There are a number of things for which RocksDB needs RAM. It is possible to make it so that all of these RAM usages count towards the block cache usage. This is usually sensible, since it effectively allows to keep RocksDB RAM usage under a certain configured limit (namely the block cache size limit). If these things are not accounted in the block cache usage, they are allocated anyway and this can lead to too much memory usage. On the other hand, if they are accounted in the block cache usage, then the block cache has less capacity for its core operations, the caching of data blocks.

The following options control accounting for RocksDB RAM usage:


They are for Bloom filter and block indexes, table building (RAM usage for building SST files, this happens when flushing memtables to level 0 SST files, during compaction and on recovery) and table reading (RAM usage for read operations) respectively.

There are additional options you can enable to avoid that the index and filter blocks get evicted from cache:

The first does level 0 Bloom filters and index blocks and its default is false. The second does top level of partitioned index blocks and Bloom filters into the cache, its default is true.

The block cache basically trades increased RAM usage for less disk I/O, so its size does not only affect memory usage, but can also affect read performance.

See also:


Before commit, RocksDB builds up transaction data in RAM. This happens in so-called “memtables” and “write batches”. Note that from v3.12 onwards, this memory usage is accounted for in writing AQL queries and other write operations, and can thus be limited there. When there are many or large open transactions, this can sum up to a large amount of RAM usage.

A further limit on RAM usage can be imposed by setting the option


which is by default unlimited. This setting limits the total size of a single RocksDB transaction. If the memtables exceed this size, the transaction is automatically aborted. Note that this cannot guard against many simultaneously uncommitted transactions.

Another way to limit actual transaction size is “intermediate commits”. This is a setting which leads to the behavior that ArangoDB automatically commits large write operations while they are executed. This of course goes against the whole concept of a transaction, since parts of a transaction which have already been committed cannot be rolled back any more. Therefore, this is a rather desperate measure to prevent RAM overusage. You can control this with the following options:


The first option configures automatic intermediate commits based on the number of documents touched in the transaction (default is 1000000). The second configures intermediate commits based on the total size of the documents touched in the transaction (default is 512MB).

RocksDB compactions

RocksDB compactions are necessary, but use RAM. You can control how many concurrent compactions can happen by configuring the number of background threads RocksDB can use. This can either be done with the


option whose default is the number of detected cores. Half of that number will be the default value for the option


and that many compactions can happen concurrently. You can also leave the total number of background jobs and just adjust the latter option. Fewer concurrent compaction jobs will use less RAM, but will also lead to slower compaction overall, which can lead to write stalls and even stops, if a compaction debt builds up under a high write load.

Scheduler queues

If too much memory is used to queue requests in the scheduler queues, one can simply limit the queue length with this option:


The default is 4096, which is quite a lot. For small requests, the memory usage for a full queue will not be significant, but since individual requests can be large, it may sometimes be necessary to limit the queue size a lot more to avoid RAM over usage on the queue.

Index Caches

There are in-RAM caches for edge indexes and other indexes. The total RAM limit for them can be configured with this option:


By default, this is set to 25% of (R - 2GB) where R is the total detected available RAM (or 256MB if that total is at most 4GB). You can disable the in-memory index caches, by setting the limit to 0.

If you do not have a graph use case and do not use edge collections, nor the optional hash cache for persistent indexes, it is possible to use no cache (or a minimal cache size) without a performance impact. In general, this should correspond to the size of the hot-set of edges and cached lookups from persistent indexes.

There are a number of options to pre-fill the caches under certain circumstances:

The first leads to the caches being automatically filled on startup, the second on any modifications. Both are set to false by default, so setting these to true will - in general - use more RAM rather than less. However, it will not lead to usage of more RAM than the configured limits for all caches.

The third option above is by default true, so that caches on followers will automatically be refilled if any of the first two options is set to true. Setting this to false can save RAM usage on followers. Of course, this means that in case of a failover the caches of the new leader will be cold!

Finally, the amount of write operations being queued for index refill can be limited with to avoid over-allocation if the indexing cannot keep up with the writes. The default for this value is 131072.

AQL Query Memory Usage

In addition to all the buffers and caches above, AQL queries will use additional memory during their execution to process your data and build up result sets. This memory is used during the query execution only and will be released afterwards, in contrast to the held memory for buffers and caches.

By default, queries will build up their full results in memory. While you can fetch the results batch by batch by using a cursor, every query needs to compute the entire result first before you can retrieve the first batch. The server also needs to hold the results in memory until the corresponding cursor is fully consumed or times out. Building up the full results reduces the time the server has to work with collections at the cost of main memory.

In ArangoDB version 3.4 we introduced streaming cursors with somewhat inverted properties: less peak memory usage, longer access to the collections. Streaming is possible on document level, which means that it cannot be applied to all query parts. For example, a MERGE() of all results of a subquery cannot be streamed (the result of the operation has to be built up fully). Nonetheless, the surrounding query may be eligible for streaming.

Aside from streaming cursors, ArangoDB offers the possibility to specify a memory limit which a query should not exceed. If it does, the query will be aborted. Memory statistics are checked between execution blocks, which correspond to lines in the explain output. That means queries which require functions may require more memory for intermediate processing, but this will not kill the query because the memory. The startup option to restrict the peak memory usage for each AQL query is --query.memory-limit. This is a per-query limit, i.e. at maximum each AQL query is allowed to use the configured amount of memory. To set a global memory limit for all queries together, use the setting.

You can also use LIMIT operations in AQL queries to reduce the number of documents that need to be inspected and processed. This is not always what happens under the hood, as some operations may lead to an intermediate result being computed before any limit is applied.


The server collects statistics regularly, which is displayed in the web interface. You will have a light query load every few seconds, even if your application is idle, because of the statistics. If required, you can turn it off via:

--server.statistics false

This setting will disable both the background statistics gathering and the statistics APIs. To only turn off the statistics gathering, you can use

--server.statistics-history false

That leaves all statistics APIs enabled but still disables all background work done by the statistics gathering.

JavaScript & Foxx

JavaScript is executed in the ArangoDB process using the embedded V8 engine:

  • Backend parts of the web interface
  • Foxx Apps
  • Foxx Queues
  • GraphQL
  • JavaScript-based transactions
  • User-defined AQL functions

There are several V8 contexts for parallel execution. You can think of them as a thread pool. They are also called isolates. Each isolate has a heap of a few gigabytes by default. You can restrict V8 if you use no or very little JavaScript:

--javascript.v8-contexts 2
--javascript.v8-max-heap 512

This will limit the number of V8 isolates to two. All JavaScript related requests will be queued up until one of the isolates becomes available for the new task. It also restricts the heap size to 512 MByte, so that both V8 contexts combined cannot use more than 1 GByte of memory in the worst case.

V8 for the Desperate

You should not use the following settings unless there are very good reasons, like a local development system on which performance is not critical or an embedded system with very limited hardware resources!

--javascript.v8-contexts 1
--javascript.v8-max-heap 256

Using the settings above, you can reduce the memory usage of V8 to 256 MB and just one thread. There is a chance that some operations will be aborted because they run out of memory in the web interface for instance. Also, JavaScript requests will be executed one by one.

If you are very tight on memory, and you are sure that you do not need V8, you can disable it completely:

--javascript.enabled false
--foxx.queues false

In consequence, the following features will not be available:

  • Backend parts of the web interface
  • Foxx Apps
  • Foxx Queues
  • GraphQL
  • JavaScript-based transactions
  • User-defined AQL functions

Note that JavaScript / V8 is automatically disabled for DB-Server and Agency nodes in a cluster without these limitations. They apply only to single server instances and Coordinator nodes. You should not disable V8 on Coordinators because certain cluster operations depend on it.

Concurrent operations

Starting with ArangoDB 3.8 one can limit the number of concurrent operations being executed on each Coordinator. Reducing the amount of concurrent operations can lower the RAM usage on Coordinators. The startup option for this is:


The default for this option is 4, which means that a Coordinator with t scheduler threads can execute up to 4 * t requests concurrently. The minimal value for this option is 1.

Also see the arangod startup options.

CPU usage

We cannot really reduce CPU usage, but the number of threads running in parallel. Again, you should not do this unless there are very good reasons, like an embedded system. Note that this will limit the performance for concurrent requests, which may be okay for a local development system with you as only user.

The number of background threads can be limited in the following way:

--arangosearch.threads-limit 1
--rocksdb.max-background-jobs 4
--server.maintenance-threads 3
--server.maximal-threads 5
--server.minimal-threads 1

This will usually not be good for performance, though.

In general, the number of threads is determined automatically to match the capabilities of the target machine. However, each thread requires at most 8 MB of stack memory when running ArangoDB on Linux (most of the time a lot less), so having a lot of concurrent threads around will need a lot of memory, too. Reducing the number of server threads as in the example above can help reduce the memory usage by thread, but will sacrifice throughput.

In addition, the following option will make logging synchronous, saving one dedicated background thread for the logging:

--log.force-direct true

This is not recommended unless you only log errors and warnings.


If you don’t want to go with the default settings, you should first adjust the size of the block cache and the edge cache. If you have a graph use case, you should go for a larger edge cache. For example, split the memory 50:50 between the block cache and the edge cache. If you have no edges, then go for a minimal edge cache and use most of the memory for the block cache.

For example, if you have a machine with 40 GByte of memory and you want to restrict ArangoDB to 20 GB of that, use 10 GB for the edge cache and 10 GB for the block cache if you use graph features.

Please keep in mind that during query execution additional memory will be used for query results temporarily. If you are tight on memory, you may want to go for 7 GB each instead.

If you have an embedded system or your development laptop, you can use all of the above settings to lower the memory footprint further. For normal operation, especially production, these settings are not recommended.

Linux System Configuration

The main deployment target for ArangoDB is Linux. As you have learned above ArangoDB and its innards work a lot with memory. Thus its vital to know how ArangoDB and the Linux kernel interact on that matter. The linux kernel offers several modes of how it will manage memory. You can influence this via the proc filesystem, the file /etc/sysctl.conf or a file in /etc/sysctl.conf.d/ which your system will apply to the kernel settings at boot time. The settings as named below are intended for the sysctl infrastructure, meaning that they map to the proc filesystem as /proc/sys/vm/overcommit_memory.

A vm.overcommit_memory setting of 2 can cause issues in some environments in combination with the bundled memory allocator ArangoDB ships with (jemalloc).

The allocator demands consecutive blocks of memory from the kernel, which are also mapped to on-disk blocks. This is done on behalf of the server process (arangod). The process may use some chunks of a block for a long time span, but others only for a short while and therefore release the memory. It is then up to the allocator to return the freed parts back to the kernel. Because it can only give back consecutive blocks of memory, it has to split the large block into multiple small blocks and can then return the unused ones.

With an vm.overcommit_memory kernel settings value of 2, the allocator may have trouble with splitting existing memory mappings, which makes the number of memory mappings of an arangod server process grow over time. This can lead to the kernel refusing to hand out more memory to the arangod process, even if more physical memory is available. The kernel will only grant up to vm.max_map_count memory mappings to each process, which defaults to 65530 on many Linux environments.

Another issue when running jemalloc with vm.overcommit_memory set to 2 is that for some workloads the amount of memory that the Linux kernel tracks as committed memory also grows over time and never decreases. Eventually, arangod may not get any more memory simply because it reaches the configured overcommit limit (physical RAM * overcommit_ratio + swap space).

The solution is to modify the value of vm.overcommit_memory from 2 to either 0 or 1. This will fix both of these problems. We still observe ever-increasing virtual memory consumption when using jemalloc regardless of the overcommit setting, but in practice this should not cause any issues. 0 is the Linux kernel default and also the setting we recommend.

For the sake of completeness, let us also mention another way to address the problem: use a different memory allocator. This requires to compile ArangoDB from the source code without jemalloc (-DUSE_JEMALLOC=Off in the call to cmake). With the system’s libc allocator you should see quite stable memory usage. We also tried another allocator, precisely the one from libmusl, and this also shows quite stable memory usage over time. What holds us back to change the bundled allocator are that it is a non-trivial change and because jemalloc has very nice performance characteristics for massively multi-threaded processes otherwise.

Testing the Effects of Reduced I/O Buffers

Performance Graph

  • 15:50 – Start bigger import
  • 16:00 – Start writing documents of ~60 KB size one at a time
  • 16:45 – Add similar second writer
  • 16:55 – Restart ArangoDB with the RocksDB write buffer configuration suggested above
  • 17:20 – Buffers are full, write performance drops
  • 17:38 – WAL rotation

What you see in above performance graph are the consequences of restricting the write buffers. Until we reach a 90% fill rate of the write buffers the server can almost follow the load pattern for a while at the cost of constantly increasing buffers. Once RocksDB reaches 90% buffer fill rate, it will significantly throttle the load to ~50%. This is expected according to the upstream documentation :

[…] a flush will be triggered […] if total mutable memtable size exceeds 90% of the limit. If the actual memory is over the limit, more aggressive flush may also be triggered even if total mutable memtable size is below 90%.

Since we only measured the disk I/O bytes, we do not see that the document save operations also doubled in request time.