Debugging and Tuning Checkpoints and Large State

This page gives a guide how to configure and tune applications that use large state.


For Flink applications to run reliably at large scale, two conditions must be fulfilled:

  • The application needs to be able to take checkpoints reliably

  • The resources need to be sufficient catch up with the input data streams after a failure

The first sections discuss how to get well performing checkpoints at scale. The last section explains some best practices concerning planning how many resources to use.

Monitoring State and Checkpoints

The easiest way to monitor checkpoint behavior is via the UI’s checkpoint section. The documentation for checkpoint monitoring shows how to access the available checkpoint metrics.

The two numbers that are of particular interest when scaling up checkpoints are:

  • The time until operators start their checkpoint: This time is currently not exposed directly, but corresponds to:

    checkpoint_start_delay = end_to_end_duration - synchronous_duration - asynchronous_duration

    When the time to trigger the checkpoint is constantly very high, it means that the checkpoint barriers need a long time to travel from the source to the operators. That typically indicates that the system is operating under a constant backpressure.

  • The amount of data buffered during alignments. For exactly-once semantics, Flink aligns the streams at operators that receive multiple input streams, buffering some data for that alignment. The buffered data volume is ideally low - higher amounts means that checkpoint barriers are reveived at very different times from the different input streams.

Note that when the here indicated numbers can be occasionally high in the presence of transient backpressure, data skew, or network issues. However, if the numbers are constantly very high, it means that Flink puts many resources into checkpointing.

Tuning Checkpointing

Checkpoints are triggered at regular intervals that applications can configure. When a checkpoint takes longer to complete than the checkpoint interval, the next checkpoint is not triggered before the in-progress checkpoint completes. By default the next checkpoint will then be triggered immediately once the ongoing checkpoint completes.

When checkpoints end up frequently taking longer than the base interval (for example because state grew larger than planned, or the storage where checkpoints are stored is temporarily slow), the system is constantly taking checkpoints (new ones are started immediately once ongoing once finish). That can mean that too many resources are constantly tied up in checkpointing and that the operators make too little progress. This behavior has less impact on streaming applications that use asynchronously checkpointed state, but may still have an impact on overall application performance.

To prevent such a situation, applications can define a minimum duration between checkpoints:


This duration is the minimum time interval that must pass between the end of the latest checkpoint and the beginning of the next. The figure below illustrates how this impacts checkpointing.

Illustration how the minimum-time-between-checkpoints parameter affects checkpointing behavior.

Note: Applications can be configured (via the CheckpointConfig) to allow multiple checkpoints to be in progress at the same time. For applications with large state in Flink, this often ties up too many resources into the checkpointing. When a savepoint is manually triggered, it may be in process concurrently with an ongoing checkpoint.

Tuning Network Buffers

Before Flink 1.3, an increased number of network buffers also caused increased checkpointing times since keeping more in-flight data meant that checkpoint barriers got delayed. Since Flink 1.3, the number of network buffers used per outgoing/incoming channel is limited and thus network buffers may be configured without affecting checkpoint times (see network buffer configuration).

Make state checkpointing Asynchronous where possible

When state is asynchronously snapshotted, the checkpoints scale better than when the state is synchronously snapshotted. Especially in more complex streaming applications with multiple joins, Co-functions, or windows, this may have a profound impact.

To get state to be snapshotted asynchronously, applications have to do two things:

  1. Use state that is managed by Flink: Managed state means that Flink provides the data structure in which the state is stored. Currently, this is true for keyed state, which is abstracted behind the interfaces like ValueState, ListState, ReducingState, …

  2. Use a state backend that supports asynchronous snapshots. In Flink 1.2, only the RocksDB state backend uses fully asynchronous snapshots.

The above two points imply that (in Flink 1.2) large state should generally be kept as keyed state, not as operator state. This is subject to change with the planned introduction of managed operator state.

Tuning RocksDB

The state storage workhorse of many large scale Flink streaming applications is the RocksDB State Backend. The backend scales well beyond main memory and reliably stores large keyed state.

Unfortunately, RocksDB’s performance can vary with configuration, and there is little documentation on how to tune RocksDB properly. For example, the default configuration is tailored towards SSDs and performs suboptimal on spinning disks.

Incremental Checkpoints

Incremental checkpoints can dramatically reduce the checkpointing time in comparison to full checkpoints, at the cost of a (potentially) longer recovery time. The core idea is that incremental checkpoints only record all changes to the previous completed checkpoint, instead of producing a full, self-contained backup of the state backend. Like this, incremental checkpoints build upon previous checkpoints. Flink leverages RocksDB’s internal backup mechanism in a way that is self-consolidating over time. As a result, the incremental checkpoint history in Flink does not grow indefinitely, and old checkpoints are eventually subsumed and pruned automatically. `

While we strongly encourage the use of incremental checkpoints for large state, please note that this is a new feature and currently not enabled by default. To enable this feature, users can instantiate a RocksDBStateBackend with the corresponding boolean flag in the constructor set to true, e.g.:

RocksDBStateBackend backend =
        new RocksDBStateBackend(filebackend, true);

Passing Options to RocksDB

RocksDBStateBackend.setOptions(new MyOptions());

public class MyOptions implements OptionsFactory {

    public DBOptions createDBOptions() {
        return new DBOptions()

    public ColumnFamilyOptions createColumnOptions() {

        return new ColumnFamilyOptions()
                new BlockBasedTableConfig()
                    .setBlockCacheSize(256 * 1024 * 1024)  // 256 MB
                    .setBlockSize(128 * 1024));            // 128 KB

Predefined Options

Flink provides some predefined collections of option for RocksDB for different settings, which can be set for example via RocksDBStateBacked.setPredefinedOptions(PredefinedOptions.SPINNING_DISK_OPTIMIZED_HIGH_MEM).

We expect to accumulate more such profiles over time. Feel free to contribute such predefined option profiles when you found a set of options that work well and seem representative for certain workloads.

Important: RocksDB is a native library, whose allocated memory not from the JVM, but directly from the process’ native memory. Any memory you assign to RocksDB will have to be accounted for, typically by decreasing the JVM heap size of the TaskManagers by the same amount. Not doing that may result in YARN/Mesos/etc terminating the JVM processes for allocating more memory than configures.

Capacity Planning

This section discusses how to decide how many resources should be used for a Flink job to run reliably. The basic rules of thumb for capacity planning are:

  • Normal operation should have enough capacity to not operate under constant back pressure. See back pressure monitoring for details on how to check whether the application runs under back pressure.

  • Provision some extra resources on top of the resources needed to run the program back-pressure-free during failure-free time. These resources are needed to “catch up” with the input data that accumulated during the time the application was recovering. How much that should be depends on how long recovery operations usually take (which depends on the size of the state that needs to be loaded into the new TaskManagers on a failover) and how fast the scenario requires failures to recover.

    Important: The base line should to be established with checkpointing activated, because checkpointing ties up some amount of resources (such as network bandwidth).

  • Temporary back pressure is usually okay, and an essential part of execution flow control during load spikes, during catch-up phases, or when external systems (that are written to in a sink) exhibit temporary slowdown.

  • Certain operations (like large windows) result in a spiky load for their downstream operators: In the case of windows, the downstream operators may have little to do while the window is being built, and have a load to do when the windows are emitted. The planning for the downstream parallelism needs to take into account how much the windows emit and how fast such a spike needs to be processed.

Important: In order to allow for adding resources later, make sure to set the maximum parallelism of the data stream program to a reasonable number. The maximum parallelism defines how high you can set the programs parallelism when re-scaling the program (via a savepoint).

Flink’s internal bookkeeping tracks parallel state in the granularity of max-parallelism-many key groups. Flink’s design strives to make it efficient to have a very high value for the maximum parallelism, even if executing the program with a low parallelism.