Users Guide to Steampipe Caching

Caching is an essential part of the Steampipe experience and is enabled by default. While caching is important in any database, it is especially critical to Steampipe where data is retrieved from external APIs "on-demand". Caching not only significantly improves query performance, it also reduces API calls to external systems which helps avoid throttling and sometimes even reduces costs.

Steampipe introduced caching options in one of the earliest releases (v0.2.0). Back then, Steampipe was really just a CLI tool - we didn't really differentiate between server and client. The caching options and behavior were designed when the plugin execution model was different as well; at the time, each Steampipe connection had its own OS process and its own cache and the options reflected that design.

In Steampipe v0.20.0, the caching options and behavior have changed. This guide will describe how caching works in Steampipe, as well as the options and settings that you can set to modify caching behavior.

Types of Caches

There are 2 caches in Steampipe: The Query Cache is used to cache query results. Plugins automatically support query caching just by using the Steampipe Plugin SDK. In general this requires no plugin-specific code, though there are cases where the plugin author may need to dictate the caching behavior for a given table. The query cache resides in the plugin process.

  • The Plugin Cache (sometimes called the Connection Cache) can be used by plugin authors to cache arbitrary data. The plugin cache also resides in the plugin process.

The Query Cache is the focus of this guide. The Steampipe caching environment variables and configuration file options are used to modify the behavior of the query cache, and do not affect the plugin cache.

How it (basically) works

When you issue a query, Steampipe will add the results to the query cache. If you make a subsequent query, it will be served from the cache if:

  • It selects the same columns or a subset of the columns that were hydrated previously; AND
  • The qualifiers are the same or more restrictive

Some examples:

  • If you select * from aws_s3_bucket and then do select title,arn from aws_s3_bucket, the second query will be returned from the cache.
  • Similarly, if you select instance_id from aws_ec2_instance and then do select instance_id, vpc_id from aws_ec2_instance the second query will be returned from the cache. This is true in this case because the vpc_id column is returned by the same hydrate function as instance_id so even though the first query did not specifically request it, Steampipe fetched it from the API and stored it in the cache.
  • If you select * from aws_s3_bucket and then do select * from aws_s3_bucket where title like '%vandelay%', the second query will be returned from the cache.

In fact, the caching is actually done by the SDK on a per-table, per-connection basis so in many cases it's clever enough to use the cache even in subsequent queries that join the data. For example:

  1. Run select * from aws_lambda_function. Steampipe fetches the data from the API and it is added to the cache
  2. Run select * from aws_vpc_subnet. Steampipe fetches the data from the API and it is added to the cache
  3. Run the following query, and it will return the data entirely from the cache:
    count (availability_zone) as zone_count
    aws_lambda_function as fn
    cross join jsonb_array_elements_text(vpc_subnet_ids) as vpc_subnet
    join aws_vpc_subnet as sub on sub.subnet_id = vpc_subnet
    group by,
    order by

The implementation has a few important implications:

  • The cache resides in the plugin's process space which implies it is on the server where the database runs, not on the client. This means that the caching is used by any client, not just the steampipe CLI. Command-line tools like psql and pgcli benefit from the query cache, as do BI tools like Metabase and Tableau.
  • The caching is done per-connection. This means that if you query an aggregator, an equivalent query to the individual connection would be able to use the cached results, and vice-versa.
  • The cache is shared by ALL connected clients. If multiple users connect to the same Steampipe database, they all share the same cache.

Query Cache Options

Steampipe provides options for enabling/disabling the cache, changing the TTL, and controlling the cache size. These options can be set via config file options, environment variables, or commands in an interactive query shell session.

Broadly speaking, there are two groups of settings:

  1. Server-level settings that apply to ALL connections
  2. Client-level settings that apply to a single client session

Server-level Cache Settings

The server settings dictate the actual operation of the cache on the server:

  • If the server has the cache disabled, then caching is off and data is not even written to the cache. Any client connecting will NOT be able to use the cache, regardless of their settings.
  • The cache_max_ttl is the actual maximum cache lifetime - items are invalidated/ejected from the cache after this TTL. A client can request a specific TTL, however if it exceeds the max TTL on the server, then the effective TTL will be the max TTL.
  • The cache_max_size_mb is the maximum physical size of the cache. There is no equivalent client setting.

The server level settings can set in the database options or by setting environment variables on the host where the database is running.

options "database" {
cache = true # true, false
cache_max_ttl = 900 # max expiration (TTL) in seconds
cache_max_size_mb = 1024 # max total size of cache across all plugins
cachetruetrue, falseEnable or disable query caching. This can also be set via the STEAMPIPE_CACHE environment variable.
cache_max_size_mbunlimitedan integerThe maximum total size of the query cache across all plugins. This can also be set via the STEAMPIPE_CACHE_MAX_SIZE_MB environment variable.
cache_max_ttl300an integerThe maximum length of time to cache query results, in seconds. This can also be set via the STEAMPIPE_CACHE_MAX_TTL environment variable.

Client-level Cache Settings

The client settings enable you to choose how your specific client session will use the cache. Because these are client settings, they only apply when connecting with steampipe.

Remember that the cache actually lives on the server; the client level settings allow you to specify how your client session interacts with the cache but it is subject to the server level settings:

  • If caching is enabled on the server, you can specify that it be disabled for your connection. This is commonly used for testing or troubleshooting.
  • If caching is disabled on the server, then the client option to enable is ignored and caching is disabled for all clients.
  • You can specify the cache_ttl for your client session. Note, however, that the client is always subject to the max_cache_ttl set on the server. If the cache_ttl is greater than the server's max_cache_ttl, then the max_cache_ttl is the effective TTL.

The client-level settings can be set for each workspace or by setting environment variables on the host from which you are connecting.

workspace "my_workspace" {
cache = true # true, false
cache_ttl = 300 # max expiration (TTL) in seconds
cachetruetrue, falseEnable/disable caching. Note that is a client setting - if the database (options "database") has the cache disabled, then the cache is disabled regardless of the workspace setting. This can also be set via the STEAMPIPE_CACHE environment variable.
cache_ttl300an integerSet the client query cache expiration (TTL) in seconds. Note that is a client setting - if the database cache_max_ttl is lower than the cache_ttl in the workspace, then the effective TTL for this workspace is the cache_max_ttl. This can also be set via the STEAMPIPE_CACHE_TTL environment variable.

Client Cache Commands

When running an interactive steampipe query session, you can use the .cache meta-command command to enable, disable, or clear the cache for the session. This command affects the caching behavior for this session only - it does not change the server caching options, and changes will not persist after the session ends.

If caching is enabled on the server, you can disable it for your query session:

.cache off

Subsequent queries for this session will neither be added to nor fetched from the cache. You can re-enable it for the session:

.cache on

Note, however, that if the server has caching disabled, you cannot enable it.

You can also clear the cache for this session:

.cache clear

Clearing the cache does not actually remove anything from the cache, it just removes items from your view of the cache. This is implemented using timestamps on the cache entries. Data added to the cache is timestamped. When you do .cache clear, Steampipe changes the minimum timestamp for your session to the current time. When looking for items in the cache, it ignores any item with a timestamp greater (older) than the minimum for this session.

You can also change the cache TTL for your session with the .cache_ttl meta-command:

.cache_ttl 60

The meta-commands provide a simple interface for modifying the client query cache settings, but they only work in the Steampipe client (steampipe query). To allow you to perform equivalent operations from other clients (psql, pgcli, etc), we have added the meta_cache and meta_cache_ttl functions to the steampipe_internal schema:

Clear the cache:

select from steampipe_internal.meta_cache('clear')

Enable the cache:

select from steampipe_internal.meta_cache('on')

Disable the cache:

select from steampipe_internal.meta_cache('off')

Set the cache_ttl:

select from steampipe_internal.meta_cache_ttl(60)