Part 1: AppFabric Caching and SharePoint: Concepts and ExamplesPart 2: AppFabric Caching (and SharePoint): Configuration and Deployment
To assist with scaling and performance, SharePoint 2013 utilizes Windows Server AppFabric to maintain an in-memory cache of frequently-used data. While this in-memory cache achieves its goals and does improve scalability, it also adds another service to maintain to SharePoint’s long list of supporting elements. In this article I’ll summarize and distill information on AppFabric from across MSDN and TechNet and add a SharePoint tinge to it to help you prepare for and manage SharePoint’s Distributed Cache service.
If you’re an AppFabric admin, there’s a lot of detail here that will help you as well. Just view SharePoint’s AppFabric cluster and caches as an example of an AppFabric implementation.
We’ll begin with the fundamentals to ensure we all share the same basic understandings.
As I said, we'll start with the fundamentals :). A cache is a local, non-authoritative copy of data created and/or stored authoritatively elsewhere. Because retrieval of the data from its authoritative source is an expensive operation, instead of retrieving it freshly each time it’s needed, previous copies of the data are retained and used for subsequent needs.
Reasons to avoid the authoritative operation include:
It’s important to call out that in all cases of caching, the expense of generating or retrieving the authoritative data is traded for greater memory requirements where the data is cached. Either RAM (short term) or hard disk (long term) memory will need to be allocated for the data.
The defining characteristic of a cache is that it isn’t the authoritative source of the data. This leads to some important ramifications:
Having discussed shared characteristics of all caches, let’s discuss some of SharePoint’s caching mechanisms.
Caches abound in SharePoint – from disk-based caches of data from databases, to in-memory caches of processed queries and pages, to caches of properties retrieved from internal and external services. The Distributed Cache service in SharePoint and its AppFabric underpinnings are just one example of a SharePoint cache. To emphasize this point, let’s begin by discussing some caches that have been around in SharePoint for a little while already.
Some common SharePoint caches include the BLOB cache, the ASP.NET page output cache, and the User Profile Service properties cache. We’ll describe them one by one to help you understand caches and their implications better.
Or Binary Large Object Cache. My wife always perks up when I bring up the cash blobs in SharePoint, at least till I start explaining them. If you’re reading this, you’re more interested in knowing that when a user requests a byte-stream object in SharePoint, such as a document or an image, and the item is retrieved from a SQL database to be sent to the user, the BLOB cache stores this object on the local file system of web servers. This avoids the need to retrieve the data from SQL again for subsequent requests for the same object.
Using this familiar example, let’s call out some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Blob Cache.
Now let’s move on to the ASP.NET Page Output Cache.
Another well-known cache in SharePoint is the ASP.NET Page Output cache, which is actually a standard ASP.NET feature. It provides a good example of an in-memory cache designed to save processing power. Every incoming HTTP request causes activity and requires CPU cycles for ASP.NET’s HTTP handlers. The Page Output cache allows the results of this activity to be stored and re-used, avoiding the need for repeated processing of identical or similar requests. While for a request or two the performance gains may be small, for sites processing hundreds or thousands of requests, avoiding repeated processing saves a lot of resources and vastly improves scalability.
Let’s call out advantages and disadvantages of the Page Output cache.
Let’s go through one more example of a cache in SharePoint, one which probably is not so familiar.
User Profile Service Application (UPA) Proxies retrieve configuration details from their associated UPAs and databases and cache those details in several per-process in-memory caches. Settings stored in these caches include the URLs for MySite portals, Following limits, UPA sync configuration (e.g. whether to sync inactive users), and Newsfeed settings, among many others. Details such as the expiration time span (TTL) and max size for these caches can be viewed with the following PowerShell commands:
PS:> $UPAProxy = Get-SPServiceApplicationProxy | ? TypeName -Match 'User Profile Service Application Proxy'PS:> $UPAProxy.Parent
The UPA proxy configuration settings caches are examples of caches meant to save the latency of network trips. After retrieving these properties from the associated UPA once, the UPA Proxy continues to rely on them for a period of time instead of requesting them again.
With UPA configuration details, being aware of the potential for stale data is important. For example, by default the Application Properties cache, which stores key configuration details for the UPA, only refreshes every 5 minutes. So if, for example, you configure your User Profile Sync job to sync inactive as well as active users (via stsadm –o sync –ignoreisactive), the setting may not be reflected in the cached properties for up to 5 minutes. If you have encountered situations where “IgnoreIsActive” didn’t seem to be having an effect, perhaps you ran sync too soon after changing the property.
This concludes our presentation of three typical caches and how they’re used in SharePoint. In the following table, I’ve also highlighted where the cached data is stored. We’ll focus on this aspect of caches next.
SQL Requests (over network)
WFE Disk Drive
ASP.NET Page Output Cache
Processed ASP.NET Requests
CPU Usage (on WFE)
Web Process memory
UPA Settings Caches
UPA Web Services
WCF Requests (over network)
By caching and reusing data, the consuming service subsequently saves the resources otherwise required to produce or retrieve that data again. But the scope of those savings depends on where the cached data is stored and what other elements of the service can access it. In each of the examples in the previous section, the scope of the cache is not service-wide. Not every element of the consuming service has access to the cached data; that is, not every process in the SharePoint farm has equal access to cached items. For the BLOB cache, only processes running on the same server that originally retrieved the BLOBs can access the cache; other servers still need to make a full SQL request and acquire the authoritative data. For the page output cache, each web process instance needs to generate the page once before being able to serve it, and cannot rely on the output page cache from other processes. And for the UPA settings cache, each web or service process which instantiates the UPA proxy needs to refill its own process-local caches.
The impact and resource savings of caching data can be scaled by expanding the scope of access to the cached data. If the processed ASP.NET page were accessible to all web worker processes in the farm, for example, many additional processing runs would be avoided, saving CPU cycles. In addition, if a single processed and cached copy of the page could be made easily accessible across the farm, memory needs would be reduced as well. Since in fact the output cache is per process, each process must process the request at least once (more CPU cycles required), and each process must allocate its own memory for the output page (more RAM required).
To address the need for wider scope and centralized storage of caches and cached items, centralized cache services are deployed. Instead of individual servers and processes retrieving and storing cached items locally and internally, they store them (and sometimes even retrieve them) via a centralized cache service. As a result, other servers and processes in the environment can access and benefit from the same cached data. To increase the scalability, availability, and redundancy of these cache services, they are usually deployed as distributed services, where multiple servers and processes present a single unified interface for storing and retrieving cached data. Sound familiar? We’ve just described the role and purpose of the AppFabric Caching Service, or in SharePoint-specific parlance, the Distributed Cache Service.
To state it again explicitly, the role of the AppFabric Caching Service (in SharePoint: the Distributed Cache Service) is to provide a centralized, widely-accessible service for storage of cached data items. This central service improves performance and scalability of many SharePoint processes by multiplying the benefits of caching across all of SharePoint’s servers and processes.
We’ll clarify the role of a centralized, distributed cache service by describing the data stored in some of SharePoint’s caches.
You can get a list of the distributed cache types used in SharePoint by running the following PowerShell command:
[Enum]::GetNames( [Microsoft.SharePoint.DistributedCaching. Utilities.SPDistributedCacheContainerType])
The caches available as of this writing (March 2013) are listed in the following table. We’ll focus here on just two of them for now: the LogonToken and ViewState caches.
The LogonToken cache is the one you’re likely to encounter first both practically, since it’s used as soon as you hit your first SharePoint site, and in preparing for SharePoint deployment, since it obviates the need for affinity (sticky sessions) for WFE requests.
The process of logging on to SharePoint always culminates in creation of a session token which contains key details about the user, such as his or her username. Whether initial authentication uses Windows auth, Forms auth, or a SAML token issued by an external identity provider, the final result is this session token. To avoid the multiple steps involved in getting to this token, after it’s created during initial logon, it’s cached. Prior to SharePoint 2013, this cache was a server-local cache.
Having read the previous sections, you’ll know that a cache which is stored locally to each server has the disadvantage of requiring the authentication process to be repeated again at other servers. Depending on the situation, this could result in a) a small performance hit, as in regeneration of a Windows-based token; b) more evident delays, as in the WS-Federation redirects for external identity providers; or c) additional user prompts and interference, such as requiring the user to choose an identity provider and provide credentials again. To get around these issues, a common practice was to limit sessions to interaction with a single web server, where the necessary session token was guaranteed to be cached on first logon.
In SharePoint 2013, session security tokens are stored centrally in the Distributed Cache Service’s Logon Token cache. This cache and its tokens are thereby accessible across the farm, to all WFEs. As a result, after a user initially logs on to a SharePoint farm, they can hit any web server without the problems and penalties described in the previous paragraph. The web server uses the user’s Windows identity or session cookie to find and use the session security token in the cache.
Since we’ve introduced the logon token cache here, let’s discuss an additional element relevant to it.
The distributed logon token cache is useful, but you likely have concerns. First, if the Distributed Cache Service isn’t running properly, the logon process and all access to the farm could be completely broken. Second, even if it’s running properly, retrieving cached data from a remote cache service takes a bit longer than retrieving it from a local cache, and first logon is a time when this is particularly conspicuous.
To address these concerns, in addition to the distributed logon token cache, there’s a complementary local logon token cache on each WFE. This is also known as the “Weak Reference Cache” because of the way it stores cached tokens. As long as the weak reference cache is enabled, as it is by default, logon tokens are cached in both the distributed cache and the local weak reference cache. When cached tokens are to be retrieved, first the weak reference cache is checked, and only if nothing is found there is the distributed cache checked.
The distributed logon token cache can be cleared with the Clear-SPDistributedCacheItem –ContainerType DistributedLogonTokenCache command. The local logon token cache can only be cleared by recycling the process where it’s contained (e.g. the w3wp process).
There are two registry values which control use of the Distributed and Local (WeakRef) caches. They’re both under HKLM:\Software\Microsoft\Shared Tools\Web Server Extensions\15.0\WSS, and are both DWORDs which default to 0 (false) if not specified. They are as follows: DisableWeakRefCacheForToken DisableDistributedCacheForToken
Note: I’m not advocating changing these values under any circumstances in a production environment. Please contact Microsoft Global Business Support if you need assistance.
Key properties related to the logon token caches and their default values are listed here:
PS:> Get-SPSecurityTokenServiceConfig | Format-List *LogonToken*,*WindowsToken*MaxLogonTokenCacheItems : 250MaxLogonTokenOptimisticCacheItems : 100000LogonTokenCacheExpirationWindow : 00:10:00WindowsTokenLifetime : 10:00:00
MaxLogonTokenOptimisticCacheItems defines how many tokens are kept in the local Weak Reference cache, and MaxLogonTokenCacheItems specifies how many of these are stored as strong references instead of only weak references (details on weak references are available here). LogonTokenCacheExpirationWindow specifies how close to expiration tokens are considered to already be expired. So by default, tokens are considered expired 10 minutes prior to actual expiration time. Finally, WindowsTokenLifetime is used to set the Time-To-Live in the distributed logon token cache for cached security tokens of all types (not just Windows-bootstrapped tokens).
With these details in mind you should be better equipped to deploy, maintain, and troubleshoot the logon token caches. Let’s describe the usage and benefit of one other distributed cache, and then we’ll dive into details of the cache system itself.
ASP.NET Web Forms maintain state between requests in a session using View State. Towards the end of the page processing lifecycle, details about the page’s state are serialized and added to the HTML to be sent to the browser as a hidden form field. When the browser posts back to the server on subsequent requests, it includes the hidden View State form field (named __VIEWSTATE). The server uses the posted back view state to rehydrate state from previously processed requests, creating the illusion of a stateful session across multiple stateless HTTP requests. ViewState has been around for a while and there are many articles available on it; here’s a good one if you’d like a quick review. A drawback of the ASP.NET ViewState system has always been the extra data transferred to the browser and back to the server on each response and subsequent request, which can reach the tens of kilobytes.
SharePoint is built on ASP.NET Web Forms and as such is dependent on ViewState and its attendant drawbacks. To improve page performance, beginning in SharePoint 2013 SharePoint caches ViewState data server-side rather than transferring it back and forth to clients. In the previously linked article, pay particular attention to the section on specifying where to persist the view state. In that section, an example is presented of caching ViewState data server side by storing it in the web server’s local file system.
SharePoint’s system is similar to that presented in the article, but such a server-specific scope would lead to some of the problems discussed previously for the old logon token cache system: subsequent requests would have to be routed to the same server where ViewState was originally cached. So instead SharePoint uses the same mechanism, but persists ViewState data to the distributed ViewState cache, sending only a GUID to the browser. Compare the __VIEWSTATE hidden form field from a SharePoint 2010 page to that from a SharePoint 2013 page, and you’ll see that only a Base64-encoded GUID remains.
ViewState data in a SharePoint 2010 page (the large field).
ViewState data in SharePoint 2013 (the last input field).
Where did all that data go? The actual ViewState data is stored in and loaded from the distributed ViewState cache, with entries for specific sessions keyed by the GUID passed back and forth from the browser. Use of this cache is governed by the SPWebService.ViewStateOnServer property, which can be accessed via these commands:
PS:> $ContentService = [Microsoft.SharePoint.Administration.SPWebService]::ContentServicePS:> $ContentService.ViewStateOnServer
These descriptions of the distributed Logon Token Cache and distributed View State Cache will help you recognize why a distributed cache service is helpful along with some of the performance and scalability advantages it presents. Now let’s move on to discuss the distributed cache service itself.
Continue with AppFabric Caching (and SharePoint) (2).
Awesome.... Josh... Great work... :)
Great article Josh!
Thanks a lot awesome article, this is the only article out there that explains all Sharepoint Cache's. But what about Object Cache?
Excellent information! Thanks a lot.
Gold mine....Great Article...helped me to understand caching inside-out.
Can the Distribtued Cache be turned off and SP2013 still run? It seems the security tokens will still be cached by the WeakRef cache. What happens to View State is the Distributed Cache is turned off?
Nice. Very informative