Memcached vs Redis: A Comparative Analysis

Both Redis and Memcached are powerful, open-source technologies used for caching and memory storage. However, when it comes to spinning your next application or choosing a caching system, understanding key differences and similarities is essential to make an informed choice. This guide will go through a comparative analysis between Redis and Memcached.

Overview Comparison Table

Point of ComparisonMemcachedRedis
Maturity and SupportA stable system supported by the community and a loyal user base.Continuously being developed and supported by both community and Redis Ltd.
In-memory DatabaseUsed mainly for simple key-value caches.More versatile with a list, sets, and hashes support.
ScalabilityHorizontal scaling is possible but lacks clustering support.Supports clustering which makes scaling easy.
PersistenceIt is a volatile memory object caching system, no persistence is there.Strong persistence options with RDB and AOF files.
PerformanceGenerally performs better in storing smaller strings and simple data types.Excels at complex and large data set storage.
AtomicityNo support for atomic transaction.Support for atomic transactions.

These clear and concise tables make it easier to compare the two systems at a glance. Now, let's dive deeper into each feature.

The main difference between Memcached and Redis is that while both are powerful, open-source in-memory caching systems, Redis provides more advanced features such as support for various data types, data persistence, scripting, and atomic transactions, whereas Memcached is simpler, faster, and mainly used for straightforward key-value storage.

What is Memcached

Memcached is an open-source, high-performing, distributed memory object caching system, primarily developed to cut down on the load of database-driven websites. Its primary function? Speeding up web applications by lessening database load. Originally developed by Brad Fitzpatrick for the LiveJournal site, Memcached helps in speeding up your website by caching database queries, contents, and API calls into a RAM to boost the site's response time.

Memcached implements a straightforward design whereby it allows you to take memory from parts of your system where more is available and employ it where needed. The main advantage of using Memcached is its API, simplistic in nature, and available in most popular languages, including PHP, Java, and JavaScript. As a result, you can use Memcached in various types of applications, including web applications and caching your API responses for faster delivery. It also does a fantastically good job at allowing developers to meet heavy load demands by providing a scalable caching solution. However, Memcached has its limits as it only supports simple key-value pairs, and it doesn't offer persistence of data.

What is Redis

Redis, standing for Remote Dictionary Server, is an open-source, in-memory data structure store, used as a database, cache, and message broker. Redis takes it a step further than Memcached. It's incredibly powerful, offering more data structures, including strings, lists, and hashes that can contain strings, binary files, and many others.

Born out of the need for speed and flexibility, Redis doesn’t just store keys; it provides the option to write custom functions and scripts for managing your data. These features allow developers to work on more complex functions without worrying about the separate caching system.

What makes Redis stand out from the competition is its support for advanced data structures and the ability to persist data to a disk. This persistence is valuable in scenarios where you require data durability – circumstances where it is vital to recover your data after a restart. Moreover, Redis has built-in replication, Lua scripting, LRU eviction, transactions, and different levels of on-disk persistence, and provides high availability via Redis Sentinel and automatic partitioning with Redis Cluster.

With its advanced features, Redis can handle a wide range of tasks, including real-time analytics, caching, chat services, message brokering, and even tasks as simple as incrementing counters. That's why Redis has become a popular choice for high-performance database environments especially when it comes to data-intensive applications.

Memcached vs Redis: Unraveling the Differences

Understanding the Features of Memcached and Redis

There are various significant factors when comparing Memcached and Redis. Let's dig deeper into them, shed light on their features, and understand the key differences.

Redis: Many Data Types, Transactions, and More

Redis is more than just a caching system. It offers so much more in terms of versatility. Apart from simple key-value pairs, Redis supports several other data types, including strings, lists, sets, sorted sets with range queries, bitmaps, hyperloglogs, and geospatial indexes with radius queries.

Furthermore, Redis provides atomic operations. This functionality allows it to execute multiple operations without interruptions from other clients, which is critical for maintaining data consistency. Here's an example when incrementing a value with Redis:

$ redis-cli INCR foo

This command increments the value stored at foo atomically. If there were simultaneous requests, Redis would queue them and increment the value sequentially, avoiding data racing conditions.

Memcached: Simplicity, Speed, and More

Memcached, on the other hand, prides itself on offering supreme simplicity. It only supports simple key-value pairs of strings, limiting its ability to handle complex tasks without additional work.

However, Memcached excels when it comes to speed. It's ultra-fast, keeping its memory management straightforward and being multithreaded, which allows it to use multiple cores.

Performance and Scalability: A Comparative View

When considering performance and scalability, Redis is single-threaded, which means it uses only one CPU core. However, it supports high availability and auto-failover, making it capable of handling larger workloads. Memcached can utilize multiple cores, which provides better performance when dealing with small and uncomplicated workloads.

Data Storage: Redis vs Memcached

Memcached stores datasets in RAM, offering high-speed storage and retrieval. However, it does not offer any mechanism to persist data to disk. Redis, however, includes this crucial feature. It offers disk persistence by default using the snapshot and append-only methods.

Feasibility and Extensibility

In terms of extensibility, Redis takes the lead again. It's upgradable with scripts and supports custom commands. This extensibility makes it much more adaptable and widely used for a broader range of applications than Memcached.

It's clear that choosing between Memcached and Redis depends on your specific needs. In a case where you need a robust and extensible tool, Redis comes out on top due to its superior functionality. However, for simple use-cases, where you want basic caching functionality and superior speed, Memcached could be the fitting choice.

How Redis and Memcached Operate

Let's delve into more technical aspects of both Redis and Memcached in terms of their data operations.

How Memcached Stores Data

Memcached stores data as key-value pairs in memory. To create a new key-value pair, or to update an existing one, you can utilize the set command.

Here's how a basic Memcached set operation works:

memcached> set key1 0 0 5 memcached> value1 STORED

The command set key1 0 0 5 tells Memcached to set an object named key1, with value value1 that's 5 bytes long, 0 flags, and to never expire (last 0).

After the data is set, you can retrieve it using the get command:

memcached> get key1 VALUE key1 0 5 value1 END

How Memcached Expires Items

Memcached uses a time-to-live (TTL) field to specify when each key-value pair expires. You define the number of seconds to store the object when you create it, after which the object is automatically deleted.

Here's a basic example:

memcached> set key1 0 60 5 memcached> value1 STORED

In this example, key1 will expire after 60 seconds.

Memcached uses a LRU (Least Recently Used) paradigm for determining which items to remove when memory is full. However, this only applies to the slabs within which the items are stored, rather than to the entire cache.

For example, you may use the lru_maintainer to determine how long an item stays in cache:

memcached -o lru_maintainer

How Redis Expires Items: LRU and LFU

Redis uses two different algorithms to make room for new data—Least Recently Used(LRU) and Least Frequently Used (LFU).

Here's an example setting the LRU algorithm:

redis> CONFIG SET maxmemory-policy allkeys-lru OK

You can set keys to disappear after a certain time period using the expire command:

redis> SET mykey "Hello" OK redis> EXPIRE mykey 10 (integer) 1

This means that mykey will be automatically deleted after 10 seconds.

Redis Persistence and Durability

Redis provides two ways of persisting data; snapshotting from time to time (RDB) and by appending each command to a log (AOF).

A basic Redis AOF usage would look like this:

redis> CONFIG SET appendonly yes OK

This command enables the AOF persistence mode.

In comparison, here's a basic RDB creation:

redis> SAVE OK

With this command, you can create an RDB snapshot right away. Understanding these mechanisms gives you the power to utilize both Redis and Memcached effectively.

The Technicalities of Memcached and Redis

Understanding the advanced technicalities of these systems, such as memory organization, key distribution, and clustering, is just as important as their basic operations. Let's discuss these areas.

How Memcached Organizes Memory

Memcached organizes data in memory in chunks, known as slabs, each of a certain size. Each slab is further divided into multiple chunks of equal sizes (in bytes). For instance, one slab might handle 96-byte chunks, while another one handles 120-byte chunks. Memcached automatically assigns each item to a slab, depending on its size.

How Memcached Distributes Keys

Memcached employs a method called “consistent hashing” to distribute keys across multiple servers. This means when you add or remove a server, only a few keys are remapped, preserving the scalability of the system.

How Memcached Clusters

Even though Memcached does not support clustering natively, it can be achieved using client-side sharding. The client library divides the data into shards, and each shard is stored on a different Memcached server.

How Redis Organizes Memory

Unlike Memcached, Redis does not segment memory into slabs or chunks. Instead, it directly uses the system's memory management. When it needs to free up some memory, it either removes some of the items (following an LRU policy by default), or it triggers the on-disk storage to persist the data before removing it.

How Redis Distributes Keys

Like Memcached, Redis also employs consistent hashing. However, to support a wide variety of uses beyond caching, Redis has implemented a consistent hashing solution called the Redis Cluster.

Clustering in Redis

Redis Cluster provides a way to run a Redis installation where data is automatically sharded across multiple Redis nodes. It's a distributed implementation of Redis with two key features: automatic sharding and fault tolerance. This enables Redis to scale linearly with the number of CPUs and achieve a higher max number of clients and operations per second.

Understanding Transactions and Atomicity in Redis

Redis supports transactions through the MULTI, EXEC, WATCH and DISCARD commands. This means that you can execute a group of commands in a single step, with two important guarantees: either all of the commands will be processed, or none of them will.

A Look at Lua Scripting and Server-Side Scripts in Redis

Redis has built-in support for Lua scripting. You can pack a series of Redis commands into a Lua script and then execute them atomically with the EVAL command. Here's a simple example:

redis> EVAL "return'SET',KEYS[1],'bar')" 1 foo OK

This sets the key foo to the value bar.

A Glance at Redis and Memcached Use Cases

Each use case of Redis and Memcached adds a unique utilization element to these platforms. Understanding the particular scenarios where each fits best will assist your decision-making process.

When to Use Memcached

Use Memcached when your use case mostly involves caching and retrieving small and static data, such as HTML code fragments, strings, and objects. Use it when having to manage simpler data loads, as it can handle high traffic while providing high-speed access to your data.

  • Session Cache: Memcached is often used to handle session data. It can store anything, from logged-in user data to unique visitor information.
  • Database & Object Caching: Memcached excels at caching the results of expensive DB queries and reducing the number of read operations to the disk.
  • Full Page Cache: You can store an entire HTML page response by your application in Memcached for a faster response.

When to Use Redis

Opt to use Redis when you need a subtle blend of a database, a caching layer, and a message broker. If you are dealing with vast data that changes regularly and requires persistence, Redis will fare better. And finally, if you need to handle complex data types and require an advanced feature, pick Redis.

  • Real-Time Analysis: You can use Redis to store and process data for real-time analytics, such as leaderboards, counting unique visitors on your website, and real-time streaming of data.
  • Message broker: With features like pub/sub, lists, and blocking pop operations, Redis can be used as a message broker very effectively.
  • Caching: Although Redis offers more features, it remains a very popular choice for caching with its ability to store complex data types directly.

Key Takeaways

This article seeks to provide an in-depth comparison between two powerful systems: Memcached and Redis. Analyzing crucial elements, we can draw some key takeaways.

Redis and Memcached: Choosing the Right Database

Redis and Memcached both shine in their unique areas. If you need simplicity, terrific speed, and have a simpler data type like strings, Memcached could be your best bet. However, if durability, versatile data structures, and advanced features such as transactions, pub-sub, and scripting are your requirements, choosing Redis is a no-brainer.


In terms of scalability, Memcached provides multi-threading, using multiple cores and offering superior performance for small, simple workloads. Redis, with its single-threaded architecture, excels in handling large, complex workloads effectively, even if it uses only a single core.


While both Memcached and Redis are open-source and free to use, costs can be tied to the infrastructure used to run these databases, like servers, and to manage their clusters. Managed solutions like Amazon ElastiCache also offer both Memcached and Redis as a service, which comes with its pricing plan. As a user, weigh in on the functionalities you want versus the costs you are willing to bear. Both platforms, with their unique power and efficiency, justify their worth in their areas. Ultimately, your application's needs and goals will determine the best fitting choice.


Here are some frequently asked questions to further your understanding of Redis and Memcached.

Which Is Better for Web Development: Redis or Memcached?

The choice between Redis and Memcached for web development depends on your specific needs. If you only require a caching system, Memcached can potentially be the better choice due to its simplicity and speed, especially with smaller data sets.

However, Redis provides more advanced features, such as support for multiple data types, scripting, and persistence – useful features for web development. Redis also supports more complex data structures, which gives it an advantage over Memcached in many scenarios.

How Do Redis and Memcached Compare in Terms of Memory Organization?

Memcached organizes data in memory in a segmented way known as "slabs," each of a certain size. Each of these slabs are further divided into multiple chunks of equal sizes.

Redis, on the other hand, does not segment memory into slabs or chunks. Instead, it directly uses the system's memory management. When it needs to free up some memory, it either removes some of the items (using an LRU policy by default), or it triggers the on-disk storage to persist the data before removing it.

How Do Memcached and Redis Handle Data Expiration?

Both Memcached and Redis allow you to set a time-to-live (TTL) for an item when it's stored. After this defined time, the item will be automatically removed from the cache.

However, Redis also employs a more advanced strategy for data expiration. Beyond TTL, Redis implements eviction policies like LRU (Least Recently Used) and LFU (Least Frequently Used). These policies allow more effective memory management for long-running instances.