21 Parameter Group Values to Change in Amazon RDS for MySQL

Amazon RDS for MySQL uses many default values for system variables, but it also sets a few “sys vars” with different values. As with any database, neither product (MySQL) nor provider (AWS) defaults can best suite all use cases. It’s our responsibility to carefully review and set every important system variable. This is tedious and difficult, but I’ve done it for you.

Below are are 21 MySQL 5.7 system variables that I recommend changing by creating a new parameter group. This presumes new RDS instances; some of these sys vars cannot be changed easily after provisioning MySQL. This only applies to RDS for MySQL, not Amazon Aurora.

For each of the 21 MySQL system variables, the MySQL 5.7 default is listed, followed by the Amazon RDS default, followed by my recommended value. For brevity, † = AWS does not specify a value, it defaults to the MySQL 5.7 default value.

Binary Log

Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
binlog_cache_size 32768 32768 512000
binlog_format ROW MIXED ROW
binlog_row_image full minimal

binlog_cache_size: The MySQL 5.7 (and AWS) default 32K is probably too low with row-based replication (RBR). With statement-based replication (SBR), you can delete a millions rows with a single binary log event: a single DELETE statement. But with RBR, you get a million binlog events. Consequently, binlog_cache_size can seriously impact performance because binlog changes that don’t fit in memory are written to disk, which is very slow by comparison. Combine with binlog_row_image = full and 32K is almost guaranteed to be too small.

Monitor binlog_cache_disk_use to know if this happens too frequently. “Too frequently” means “when it correlates with degraded performance”. A value of 512K is a better start. This cache is allocated per connection, so don’t increase it beyond what’s measurably necessary.

binlog_format: Row-based replication (RBR) is the standard. Eight years ago (2012) when High Performance MySQL, 3rd Edition was published, the consensus was,

In theory, row-based replication is probably better all-around, and in practice it generally works fine for most people.

Today, RBR is proven and reliable; it is no longer theory. The session variable is dynamic, so it can be changed only when and where needed.

binlog_row_image: The MySQL 5.7 default full makes sense as a product default because it works for everything (e.g. binlog tailers), but minimal is a much better default for performance because it’s better to replicate only what’s needed. On write-intensive tables with BLOB columns, minimal can significantly increase replication throughput and avoid slow binlog_cache_disk_use.

Character Set

Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
character_set_server latin1 utf8mb4
init_connect   SET NAMES utf8mb4
skip-character-set-client-handshake 0 1

Welcome to the 21st century: we have emoji. In MySQL 8.0 the default is utf8mb4, so it’s good planning for the future to set your 5.7 default to utf8mb4, too.

The latter two might be controversial because they effectively disregard the client and force utf8mb4. This somewhat extreme approach is reaction to character sets often being a point of confusion, and sometimes a point of pain if not handled properly. The confusion and pain result from MySQL having several “levels” of charsets (e.g. server vs. table) combined with different clients doing different things. End result: I have never met a DBA or software developer who knew with certainty how all the character sets were configured. But with this configuration we can be quite certain: it’s all utf8mb4—just utf8mb4.


Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
enforce_gtid_consistency OFF ON

GTID-based replication is the standard. (Operationally, it’s still a little rough in 5.7, but no one misses classic binlog file:pos coordinates.) Ideally, we would set gtid_mode = ON, but the manual says,

Changes from one value to another can only be one step at a time.

Consequently, RDS fails to provision if gtid_mode = ON. Instead, set gtid_mode = ON_PERMISSIVE then immediately post-provision change to ON.


Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit 1 1
innodb_flush_neighbors 1 0
innodb_log_buffer_size 16777216 8388608 16777216
innodb_log_file_size 50331648 134217728 268435456

innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit: This variable is so important, it’s worth explicitly settings to 1 to show that it was not overlooked. innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit = 1 is the “D” in ACID. High Performance MySQL, 3rd Edition said,

Setting innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit to anything other than 1 can cause you to lose transactions. However, you might find the other settings useful if you don’t care about durability (the D in ACID).

innodb_flush_neighbors: Flushing dirty neighbor pages was a performance benefit with spinning disks. But with AWS gp2 and io1 (never use “magnetic” for RDS) we presume it’s no longer needed. However, gp2 is not direct-attached storage, so we don’t know for sure what affect this variable has.

innodb_log_buffer_size: The MySQL 5.7 default 16MB is the standard. Interestingly, the AWS default 8MB is the MySQL 5.6 default. Perhaps this was an oversight?

innodb_log_file_size: The MySQL 5.7 default 48MB is almost certainly way too small. The AWS default 128MB is much better. But 256MB is an even better default and still probably too low. A proper value is difficult to compute. Percona had this to say:

TL;DR: there’s no single, correct answer. I suggest starting at 256MB, measure and adjust as needed.

Performance Schema

Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
performance_schema ON OFF ON

The Performance Schema is an incredibly important source of performance insights. It should always be enabled.


Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
master-info-repository FILE TABLE TABLE
relay_log_info_repository FILE TABLE TABLE
sync_master_info 10000 0
sync_relay_log 10000 0
sync_relay_log_info 10000 0

Set these variables for Crash-safe MySQL Replication and performance. relay_log_recovery = ON is also required, which is the non-modifiable AWS default.

Time Zone

Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
time_zone SYSTEM UTC

Like character sets, time zones can be a point of confusion and sometimes pain. Point in case: how do TIMESTAMP and DATETIME columns differ with respect to time zone? The best practice is to use UTC—and only UTC—with MySQL (or any database). Time zones are a presentation issue: do everything in UTC, and convert to a time zone immediately before and after user input/output.

InnoDB IO Capacity

Parameter MySQL 5.7 AWS Recommended
innodb_io_capacity 200 (See table below)
innodb_io_capacity_max 2000‡ (See table below)

‡ “If you specify an innodb_io_capacity setting at startup but do not specify a value for innodb_io_capacity_max, innodb_io_capacity_max defaults to twice the value of innodb_io_capacity, with a minimum value of 2000.” https://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.7/en/innodb-configuring-io-capacity.html

I saved the most complicated for last: innodb_io_capacity and innodb_io_capacity_max. These system variables are important, but it might surprise you to know that there’s little to no consensus on proper values. For example, High Performance MySQL, 3rd Edition wrote,

You can also increase the innodb_io_capacity option to between 2000 and 20000, depending on the IOPS your device can actually perform.

It said nothing about innodb_io_capacity_max. A little later, in 2015 MySQL expert Aurimas Mikalauskas wrote:

Best solution – measure random write throughput of your storage and set innodb_io_capacity_max to the maximum you could achieve, and innodb_io_capacity to 50-75% of it, especially if your system is write-intensive.

In January 2019, Saikat Banerjee, Database Specialist Solutions Architect at AWS, wrote:

For I/O-intensive systems, a value of 1,000 usually works. We don’t recommend an extreme value like 20,000 unless you have already proved that a lower value is not sufficient.

And more recently, in December 2109 Yves Trudeau and Francisco Bordenave, MySQL experts at Percona, wrote:

Simply overshooting the values of innodb_io_capacity and innodb_io_capacity_max is not optimal for performance.

Add to those MySQL manual section 14.8.8 Configuring InnoDB I/O Capacity which contains this gem:

Ideally, keep [innodb_io_capacity] as low as practical, but not so low that background activities fall behind. If the value is too high, data is removed from the buffer pool and change buffer too quickly for caching to provide a significant benefit.

But wait, there’s more!

All information about InnoDB IO performance presumes direct-attached storage, unless explicitly stated otherwise; but Amazon RDS storage uses Amazon EBS which is not direct-attached storage and has two options: gp2 and io1. (There’s a third option: magnetic. Never use magnetic for RDS.) Moreover, RDS storage IOPS scale with storage size, so if storage auto scaling is enabled, IOPS change.

Side note: “io1 is backed by solid-state drives (SSDs)". I presume that “backed by” does not mean direct-attached.

Does information about InnoDB IO performance apply to RDS storage IOPS? To my knowledge, there’s no authoritative answer. But to start, we can presume “yes” and treat RDS IOPS equal to direct-attached storage IOPS. Then we have to consider gp2 vs. io1.

I very highly recommend 1,000G (1TB) max storage per RDS instance. 500G max is better, but I’m being generous. The reasons why are another topic, but for now let’s limit the discussion to 1TB max.

Storage innodb_io_capacity innodb_io_capacity_max
gp2 Base Performance <= 1500 3000
io1 0.5 * innodb_io_capacity_max Provision IOPS <= 5000

For gp2 storage up to 1000G (1TB), set innodb_io_capacity to base performance IOPS, up to 1500. Even though 1000G of storage provides 3000 IOPS base performance, there’s no need to set innodb_io_capacity greater than 1500 unless measuring proves it’s needed. And set innodb_io_capacity_max = 3000 as a reasonable start; measure to prove that a higher value is needed. Overall, we’re trying to ensure we utilize the RDS IOPS paid for without flushing so quickly that we negate the value of in-memory InnoDB buffer pool caching.

For io1, I suggest setting innodb_io_capacity to 50% of innodb_io_capacity_max, and set innodb_io_capacity_max to the provisioned IOPS, up to 5000. Again, we’re trying to balance utilization of IOPS with InnoDB buffer pool caching.

The MySQL industry needs more research into InnoDB IO capacity tuning with Amazon RDS for MySQL.