Tree Cache

How we implemented a type safe distributed cache in TS that supported partial invalidations

Published On: 18 Feb 2024

TL; DR ->

Cache is one of the important building blocks in any application. When we started to build projects in NodeJS, we had to come up with our own implementation of the cache that abstracted the underlying data store. We had the following goals in mind when starting to build a cache:

  • Ergonomic: The cache should be easy to use, with minimal changes to existing code base
  • Performant: The cache operations should not slow down the system
  • Easy to Invalidate: The cache should support easy partial/full invalidations that can be triggered by the application
  • Type Safe: The cache API along with the invalidation API should be type safe in TypeScript.

We had built an in-memory cache earlier as it was easy to implement (you know? software developers are lazy…) But we soon ran into inconsistency problems when we scaled our pods to more than one. It was the time to build a truly distributed cache.

The API design

To make the cache ergonomic, the API should be really simple, seamless and type-safe. While languages such as Java and Python provide @ decorators that can be used to wrap functions and classes, JS supports such decorators only for classes and class methods. We do not use classes mostly, resorting to functions instead. So, decorators were not an option for us.

The natural option that remains after that is the Higher Order Functions. We defined a cached function, that takes another function as the input and adds caching capabilities to it. So, if we have a function named getStudentInfo, adding a cache to is as simple as const cachedGetStudentInfo = cached(getStudentInfo).

We want the cached(f) to be type-safe — we only support passing functions as arguments. We further restricted ourselves to support pass in only the async functions that makes external network calls. So, we came up with the following type for f:

type Cacheable = (...args: any[]) => Promise<any>

Now, cached function does not modify the function signature in any way, the caller still continues to call it like the original function. So, its signature looks like:

const cached = <T extends Cacheable>(f: T) => T


We outsource the responsibility of storage, distribution and fault tolerance to Redis. We store the cached values in the plain key value space of Redis. We derive the key by concatenating unique ID of the function with the JSON representation of the arguments. We store the resulting value as a JSON as well.

This adds a serious limitation to the functions that we can cache, for their arguments to be serializable and deserializable. Since our function arguments are plain values and objects at the most, this is not a problem for us.

Whenever the situation demanded us to cache a non-serializable value, we ended up using in-memory cache without any distribution.

The key implementation detail comes in how we want to define the cache key. For example, we can do

const getCacheKey = (...args: any[]) => JSON.stringify(args)


const getCacheKey = (...args: any[]) => => JSON.stringify(arg)).join("/")

While both ways can derive a valid string key, the latter preserves the position of the arguments and naturally forms a tree structure. To illustrate it further, suppose we have a function getStudentInfo = (university: string, year: number, course: string) => Student[], and we derive cache keys using the second function. They might look like:


Note that quotes in the keys come from the JSON representation itself. We observe that different universities follow different patterns while naming courses as well. This key representation comes powerful when we want to invalidate the cache.


There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.

— Phil Karlton

Well, this is one of the places the things get to start interesting. When using an in-memory cache, we had an invalidate function that busted the entire cache by replacing the cache storage with {}, which was an O(1) operation. If we try to do the same thing for the tree cache, we have to delete n keys, making it O(n) — A tradeoff .

Often, we do not need to bust the WHOLE cache, but rather some keys of it. Since our cache implementation wraps the functions and we derive cache keys using function arguments, it makes sense to invalidate the cache using a prefix of the cache keys, which prunes a branch of the tree. In the above example, we can choose to invalidate all entries starting with "uni1", or "uni2"/2023, depending on the use case. While the invalidation is still O(n), we have got more utility.

Suppose we have to write invalidate function to achieve this thing, and return it as a property of the cached function. The big question remains as how to make this function type-safe? For our example function getStudentInfo, the invalidate call might look like any of the below:

  • invalidate() - Invalidates all entries in the cache
  • invalidate(university: string) - Invalidates all entries beginning with university
  • invalidate(university: string, year: number) - Invalidates all entries beginning with university and year
  • invalidate(university: string, year: number, course: string) - Invalidates a specific entry that has the values matching all of university, year and course: string

Fortunately, TS has a Parameters<T extends Function> type helper can get us half way there - Given a function type T, it returns its parameter types as an array. For example:

const getStudentInfo = (university: string, year: number, course: string) => {}

type Parms = Parameters<typeof getStudentInfo>
// type Params = [university: string, year: number, course: string]

Note that the return type preserves the names of the arguments as labels. But these names can not be used in any ways and just serve to help developers. In essence, the returned type is equivalent to [string, number, string].

Now we have to define a type helper Prefixes<T extends any[]> that generates all possible prefixes of T, starting with an empty array. As usual, we can invoke the magic of pattern matching and recursion to solve this.

type Prefixes<T extends any[]> = T extends [infer First, ...infer Rest] // First we take destructure the elements of the array
      | [] // An empty array is a prefix of all arrays
      | [First, ...Prefixes<Rest>] // Then we derive other prefixes by combining the First element with all the prefixes of Rest elements
  : [] // If input is not an arry, there are no prefixes

type Result = Prefixes<['a', 'b', 'c', 'd']>
// type Result = [] | ["a", "b", "c", "d"] | ["a"] | ["a", "b"] | ["a", "b", "c"]

With the Prefixes in our hand, we can now define our cached function completely, using in memory storage.

const cached = <T extends Cacheable>(f: T) => {
  const cache: Record<string, any> = {}
  const getKey = (args: any[]) => => JSON.stringify(arg)).join('/')

  const wrapped = (async (...args: Parameters<T>) => {
    const key = getKey(args)
    if (!(key in cache)) {
      cache[key] = await f(args)
    return cache[key]!
  }) as T

  const invalidate = async (...args: Prefixes<Parameters<T>>) => {
    const prefix = `${getKey(args)}/`
    const existingKeys = Object.keys(cache)
    existingKeys.forEach((key) => {
      if (key.startsWith(prefix)) delete cache[key]

  return Object.assign(wrapped, { invalidate })

Redis provides convenient commands to iterate over the keys with pattern matching, thus saving us from looping over all the key space.

The other hard thing

Our cached function referenced Redis client and Cache TTL values from global scope variables. When we wanted to use this utility across different projects, we have to remove these dependencies from cached. Our method of dependency injection was through a Higher Order Function that looked like (redisClient: RedisClient, ttl: number) => <T extends Cacheable>(f: T) => T. Now the hard problem was to name that HOF!

We iterated over the names getCached - absurd, getCacheFunction - more absurd! At the end, we ended up naming it cacheFactory - albeit it was a Factory!

Naming things has an impact on code readability and ease of debugging. Naming Higher Order Function is more hard. Few days back, I was finding a bug during data processing where a validation was failing for some data. After the validation, the data was supposed to be processed and ingested.

When I was going throgh the code (written by me, btw), I found the calls to validate and process were in sequence, and the way our systems worked, all calls to validate should have been failed; but mysteriously, some records were passing.

At the end, It turned out to be validate and process were Higher Order Functions which returned the functions for validation and processing respectively. If we knew this earlier, we could have saved around 1 day of speculation why the bug was there at all. And we learnt a less to name things properly (yeah, we know that is hard) to help our future selves.


  • We implemented a type safe cache to cache the function results in JS
  • The way we implemented cache keys turned the cache into a tree structure, which helped us invalidate few branches selectively
  • In the end, we learnt the Cache invalidation and Naming things are indeed the hard things in Computer Science