Intro to Redis

・8 min read

Redis is an in-memory, key-value store that is fast. Really fast. Redis can hold hundreds of millions of keys in memory and handle tens of thousands of requests per second without breaking a sweat. It’s useful for caching data, maintaining sessions, keeping counters, queues, publish/subscribe real time notifications, and so on. There are many use cases for Redis due to it’s simple dictionary model that maps keys to values, but what one should be aware of is that it’s focus is not long-term data persistance. The whole Redis database is loaded into memory so there is a chance of data loss due to the fact that Redis first stores new entries in memory and then writes it to disk in the background after a certain period of time or amount of new keys have been accumulated. For example, if there were to be a power failure you could potentially lose a minute or two worth of data, which can or may not be fatal depending on your application. Of course, you can configure the threshold to something more comfortable which I will go over later.

The majority of this post will be going over some of the data structures that Redis provides, such as keys, hashes, lists, and sets. Redis isn’t meant to be an all-in-one database replacement. It has it’s niche, it’s simple and it can do certain really well. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you read the 15 minute intro to Redis data types on the Redis site. I’ll also talk about sorting, multi-commands, and monitoring.

I would like to give credit to The Little Redis Book by Karl Seguin for helping me gain a lot of the information on Redis and some of the examples I show below. It’s definitely a good read and great resource.


The Redis quickstart guide is good place to start. Installing Redis is straight forward. Download the tarball, extract, and run make. If you’re on a Mac you can simply do brew install redis with Homebrew.

After installation, start a redis instance with

redis-server {path to redis.conf}

and then fire up the command line client

redis-cli -p {port}

For the rest of the post we’ll be working from the command-line interface.


Keys can hold a single value, wether it be a string or numeric value. We create a key with the set command.

> set foo bar

Retreive a key with the get command

> get foo

Delete a key with del

> del foo
(integer) 1
> get foo

Store a JSON string

> set users:foo "{name: foo, age: 21, hobbies: [baz, qux]}"
> get users:foo
"{name: foo, age: 21, hobbies: [baz, qux]}"

Notice the colon in the key. The colon is just part of the key name, it doesn’t have any special meaning to Redis. It’s purpose is to visually group a set of related keys together.

If the value is a number you can incremented with the incr</code > or incrby` command. If the key doesn’t exist it will simply create it.

> incr stats:views
(integer) 1
> incr stats:views
(integer) 2
> incrby stats:views 5
(integer) 7

With the keys command we can get a list of keys that match a wildcard.

> set foo:1 bar
> set foobar:2 baz
> set foooo:3 qux
> keys foo*
1) "foo:1"
2) "foobar:2"
3) "foooo:3"
> keys foo?ar*
1) "foobar:2"
> keys foo*:[13]
1) "foo:1"
2) "foooo:3"


You can think of hashes a being a key-value pair, except that the value can be multiple key-value pairs. For example we can have a users hash that has multiple fields about the user

> hmset users:foo name "Foo" email [email protected] age 21
> hmget users:foo email
1) "[email protected]"
> hmget users:foo email name
1) "[email protected]"
2) "Foo"
> hgetall users:foo
1) "email"
2) "[email protected]"
3) "age"
4) "21"
5) "name"
6) "Foo"
> hkeys users:foo
1) "email"
2) "age"
3) "name"
> hdel users:foo age
(integer) 1
> hset users:foo hobies [bar,qux]
(integer) 1
> hgetall users:foo
1) "email"
2) "[email protected]"
3) "name"
4) "Foo"
5) "hobies"
6) "[bar,qux]"

Quick overview of hash commands

hmset: set a hash
hmget: get a value from key
hmgetall: get all keys and values
hkeys: get all keys
hdel: delete a key
hset: set a key and value
hmset: set multiple key and value pairs

Here’s an example of way to do quick lookups for a user

> set users:1000 "{id: 1000, email: [email protected]}"
> hset users:lookup:email [email protected] 1000
(integer) 1
> hget users:lookup:email [email protected]
> get users:1000
"{id: 1000, email: [email protected]}"


A list is a list of strings. Push items into a list with lpush

> lpush newusers foo
(integer) 1
> lpush newusers bar
(integer) 2

Use lrange to return a range

> lrange newusers 0 -1
1) "bar"
2) "foo"

A list can be sorted using the sort command

> rpush users:foo:guesses 5 9 10 2 4 10 19 2
(integer) 8
> sort users:foo:guesses
1) "2"
2) "2"
3) "4"
4) "5"
5) "9"
6) "10"
7) "10"
8) "19"

Keep the list trimmed with ltrim. For example, if we wanted to only keep a list of the latest 50 new users

> ltrim newusers 0 49


Sets are undorered collections of strings. A use case for sets would be keeping a collection of a user’s friends. To add to a set use sadd

> sadd friends:foo bar baz qux
(integer) 3
> sadd friends:dexter bar qux deedee
(integer) 3

We can check if a member belongs to a set with sismember

> sismember friends:foo bob
(integer) 0
> sismember friends:dexter deedee
(integer) 1

With the sinter command we can return a list of members that intersect between sets. For example, if we wanted a list containing shared friends

> sinter friends:foo friends:dexter
1) "bar"
2) "qux"

We can also store the result into a new set with sinterstore

> sinterstore friends:foo_dexter friends:foo friends:dexter
(integer) 2

We can get members of a set with smembers

> smembers friends:foo_dexter
1) "bar"
2) "qux"

To store sorted sets use zadd. Sorted sets consists of key/member pairs, where the key is used for sorting. For example, having a sorted set containing sets of quiz scores

> zadd students:foo 70 quiz1 95 quiz2 60 quiz3 99 quiz4 20 quiz5
(integer) 5

We then get a count of scores between a range with zcount

> zcount students:foo 90 100
(integer) 2

To determine the rank of a member within the set we can use zrank (low to high) or zrevrank (high to low)

> zrank students:foo quiz3
(integer) 4
> zrevrank students:foo quiz3
(integer) 0
> zrevrank students:foo quiz1
(integer) 2
> zrevrank students:foo quiz2
(integer) 1

Remove a set with zrem

> zrem students:foo quiz5
(integer) 1

Sort by name descending alphabetically

> sadd friends:foo bar baz qux dexter deedee
(integer) 5
> sort friends:foo limit 0 3 desc alpha
1) "qux"
2) "dexter"
3) "deedee"


Keys can be set to expire (delete) after a number of seconds. We do this with the expire or expireat commands. ttl returns the Time To Live and persist removes the expiration.

> incr views
(integer) 1
> expire views 30
(integer) 1
> ttl views
(integer) 30
> expireat views 1420005600 # expire on 12:00a.m. December 31st, 2014
(integer) 0
> ttl views
(integer) 28529193
> persist views
(integer) -1


Select database to use with select command

> select 1

Clear current database with flushdb

> flushdb

Clear all databases with flushall

> flushall

Subscribe / Publish

With redis you can have subscribers listen to a channel. Publishing a message will be received by all subscribers in the channel. You can subscribe to multiple channels as well.

> subscribe greeetings
> publish greetings "Hello, World"

Anyone subscried to the greetings channel will receive the “Hello, World” message.


The multi command let’s us queue commands (transaction block) and then execute with exec or discard the queue with discard

> multi
> incrby counter 10
> incrby counter -10
> exec
1) (integer) 10
2) (integer) 0

Queued commands will always execute in the order they were set, so a use case for using the multi command would be when a command is dependent on the result of the previous command.


Watch incomming redis commands with monitor

> monitor

Get recent logs

> config set slowlog-log-slower-than 0
> slowlog get 2

Get config related to logging

> config get *log*


Redis is an incredibly fast data store that does a few things very well. Definitely worth checking out and incorporating it in your next project for an easy caching solution.



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