Redis Basics

The name redis comes from RE mote DI ctionary S torage, which is a good description of what redis is: a fast, key-value data structure. Redis is an in-memory data structure storage used for its database, cache, and other features. It supports atomic operations on its data structures to ensure multiple clients recieve the same data.

For example, here’s a list of Redis data structures and operations:

data structure operations
string appending to string
hash increment a value in hash
list push a string or number to front or back
set compute set intersection, union, and difference
sorted-set get member with highest ranking

Persistence is achieved in Redis by dumping the dataset to disk, or appending each command to a log. Persistence can be disabled if you only need a networked, in-memory cache. If you use a Docker image, for example, your redis cache will be preserved.

Getting Started

Docker and Redis

Note for Windows Users: some of the docker commands require you to prepend winpty

Get the latest Docker image of Redis with: docker pull redis.

To get started, we’ll run it on its default port (port 6379):

docker run -d -p 6379:6379 --name awesome-redis redis

We can check that it’s running with: docker ps and view log output with: docker logs awesome-redis.

We’ll start start an interactive session inside the container with -it to play with the redis-cli from the container’s shell with sh.

docker exec -it awesome-redis sh

Inside the container, we’ll see a # prompt to show you’re in the shell and can start the redis-cli.

# redis-cli

From here, we’ll try some basic Redis commands:> ping
PONG> set redis_is "awesome"
OK> get redis_is
"awesome"> set redis_num 42
OK> incr redis_num
(integer) 43> del redis_num
(integer) 1> incr redis_num
(integer) 1

Using Key Value Storage

The simplest way to store data in redis is with single key-value pairs. We already these with set, get, and incr. The commands, as you probably can tell, follow the format:

<set> <key> <value>

<get> <key>

Using Lists

Lists can be used somewhat like a double-ended queue with lpush, rpush, lpop and rpop operations. These operations follow the format:

<lpush/rpush> <list-name> <value>

<lpop/rpop> <list-name>> lpush dogs "Corgis"
(integer) 1> lpush dogs "Chihuauas"
(integer) 2> lpush dogs "Bulldogs"
(integer) 3> lrange dogs 0 -1
1) "Bulldogs"
2) "Chihuauas"
3) "Corgis"

Here, we use the pop commands to remove from either ends of the list.> lpop dogs
"Bulldogs"> lrange dogs 0 -1
1) "Chihuauas"
2) "Corgis"> rpop dogs
"Corgis"> lrange dogs 0 -1
1) "Chiuauas">

Using Hash Sets

Hash sets allow the association of multiple fields to a hash key. For example, we’ll create a user in the redis-cli using the hset command:> hset user:1 name "Larry Ellison"
(integer) 1> hset user:1 email ""
(integer) 1> hset user:1 password "hidden"
(integer) 1> hgetall user:1
1) "name"
2) "Larry Ellison"
3) "email"
4) ""
5) "password"
6) "hidden"

To query a particular value, we can use the hget command:> hget user:1 email

Querying Data

We can retrieve specific commands with the KEYS '<pattern>' command. For example, get all keys with the KEYS '*'. This command returns a list of matches or an empty set if nothing matched the pattern.

Atomic Operations

All operations in redis are atomic. Here, we’ll use the set and incr commands here show how redis creates and modifies key-value pairs safely if they don’t exist. These commands are atomic, meaning only one user can change the value at a time. To consider the advantage of atomic operations, let’s consider another non-atomic method of accessing data:

set num 42
temp = GET num
temp = temp + 1
set num temp

Now if two clients try to increment num (which should result in num += 2) trying to increment num, things could go wrong without atomic operations. Consider:

  1. Client A gets the value of num = 42
  2. Client B gets the value of num = 42
  3. Client A saves num = 43
  4. Client B saves num = 43

If the clients access the value of num before setting the values, then we won’t get the correct result.

Using redis Clients

There are plenty of redis clients for a variety of programming languages. You can check out the full list here:

Here’s a simple example using the redis client for Node.js.

To install, we simply run npm i redis or yarn install redis.

The client’s redis API mirrors the redis-cli functions. For example, here’s how we’d create the Larry Ellison hash set:

const redis = require('redis')
const client = redis.createClient()

client.hset('user:1', 'name', 'Larry Ellison', redis.print)
client.hset('user:1', 'email', '', redis.print)
client.hset('user:1', 'password', 'hidden')

client.hgetall('user:1', (err, reply) => {
    console.log('Reply from HGETALL:', reply);


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