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Unique items can be difficult to count. Usually this means storing every unique item then recalling this information somehow. With Redis, this can be accomplished by using a set and a single command, however both the storage and time complexity of this with very large sets is prohibitive. HyperLogLog provides a probabilistic alternative.
HyperLogLog is similar to a Bloom filter internally as it runs items through a non-cryptographic hash and sets bits in a form of a bitfield. Unlike a Bloom filter, HyperLogLog keeps a counter of items that is incremented when new items are added that have not been previously added. This provides a very low error rate when estimating the unique items (cardinality) of a set. HyperLogLog is built right into Redis.
There are three HyperLogLog commands in Redis: PFADD, PFCOUNT and PFMERGE. Let’s say you’re building a web crawler and you want to estimate the number of unique URLs the page has crawled during a given day. For every page you would run a command like this:
> PFADD crawled:20171124 "http://www.google.com/" (integer) 1 > PFADD crawled:20171124 "http://www.redislabs.com/" (integer) 1 > PFADD crawled:20171124 "http://www.redis.io/" (integer) 1 > PFADD crawled:20171125 "http://www.redisearch.io/" (integer) 1 > PFADD crawled:20171125 "http://www.redis.io/" (integer) 1
Each key above is indexed by day. To see how many pages were crawled on 2017-11-24, we would run the following command:
> PFCOUNT crawled:20171124 (integer) 3
To see how many pages were crawled on 2017-11-24 and 2017-11-25, we would use PFMERGE to produce a new key of the union of the two counts. Note that since http://redis.io/ was added to both keys it isn’t counted twice:
> PFMERGE crawled:20171124-25 crawled:20171124 crawled:20171125 OK > PFCOUNT crawled:20171124-25 (integer) 4
This is a multi-key operation, so take care in sharded environments as to make sure your keys end up on the same shard.