Overview of replication

Replication for Cloud Bigtable enables you to increase the availability and durability of your data by copying it across multiple regions or multiple zones within the same region. You can also isolate workloads by routing different types of requests to different clusters.

This page explains how replication works in Cloud Bigtable and describes some common use cases for replication. It also explains the consistency model that Cloud Bigtable uses when replication is enabled and describes what happens when one cluster fails over to another.

Before you read this page, you should be familiar with the overview of Cloud Bigtable.

How replication works

To use replication in a Cloud Bigtable instance, create a new instance with more than 1 cluster or add clusters to an existing instance.

Cloud Bigtable supports up to 4 replicated clusters located in Google Cloud zones where Cloud Bigtable is available. An instance's clusters must each be in unique zones. You can create an additional cluster in any zone where Cloud Bigtable is available. Placing clusters in different zones or regions enables you to access your data even if one Google Cloud zone or region becomes unavailable.

When you create an instance with more than one cluster, Cloud Bigtable immediately starts to synchronize your data between the clusters, creating a separate, independent copy of your data in each zone where your instance has a cluster. Similarly, when you add a new cluster to an existing instance, Cloud Bigtable copies your existing data from the original cluster's zone to the new cluster's zone, then synchronizes changes to your data between the zones.

Cloud Bigtable replicates any changes to your data automatically, including all of the following types of changes:

  • Updates to the data in existing tables
  • New and deleted tables
  • Added and removed column families
  • Changes to a column family's garbage-collection policy

Cloud Bigtable treats each cluster in your instance as a primary cluster, so you can perform reads and writes in each cluster. You can also set up your instance so that requests from different types of applications are routed to different clusters.

Before you add clusters to an instance, you should be aware of the restrictions that apply when you change garbage-collection policies for replicated tables.

Use cases

This section describes some common use cases for Cloud Bigtable replication. To find the best configuration settings for each use case, as well as implementation tips for other use cases, see Examples of Replication Settings.

Isolate serving applications from batch reads

When you use a single cluster to run a batch analytics job that performs numerous large reads alongside an application that performs a mix of reads and writes, the large batch job can slow things down for the application's users. With replication, you can use app profiles with single-cluster routing to route batch analytics jobs and application traffic to different clusters, so that batch jobs don't affect your applications' users. Learn more about implementing this use case.

Improve availability

If an instance has only 1 cluster, your data's durability and availability are limited to the zone where that cluster is located. Replication can improve both durability and availability by storing separate copies of your data in multiple zones or regions and automatically failing over between clusters if needed. Learn more about implementing this use case.

Provide near-real-time backup

In some cases—for example, if you can't afford to read stale data—you'll always need to route requests to a single cluster. However, you can still use replication by handling requests with one cluster and keeping another cluster as a near-real-time backup. If the serving cluster becomes unavailable, you can minimize downtime by manually failing over to the backup cluster. Learn more about implementing this use case.

Ensure your data has a global presence

You can set up replication in locations across the world to put your data closer to your customers. For example, you can create an instance with replicated clusters in the US, Europe, and Asia and set up app profiles to route application traffic to the nearest cluster. Learn more about implementing this use case.

Consistency model

By default, replication for Cloud Bigtable is eventually consistent. This term means that when you write a change to one cluster, you will eventually be able to read that change from the other clusters in the instance, but only after the change is replicated between the clusters.

If your instance is responsive, the delay for replication is typically a few seconds or minutes, not hours. However, if you're writing a large amount of data to a cluster, or if a cluster is overloaded or temporarily unavailable, it can take time for replication to catch up. Also, replication can take more time if your clusters are far apart. As a result, it's not normally safe to assume that you're always reading the latest value that was written, or that waiting a few seconds after a write gives Cloud Bigtable enough time to replicate the change.

If you need a different consistency guarantee, Cloud Bigtable can also provide read-your-writes consistency when replication is enabled, which ensures that an application will never read data that is older than its most recent writes. To gain read-your-writes consistency for a group of applications, each application in the group must use an app profile that is configured for single-cluster routing, and all of the app profiles must route requests to the same cluster. You can use the instance's additional clusters at the same time for other purposes.

For some replication use cases, Cloud Bigtable can also provide strong consistency, which ensures that all of your applications see your data in the same state. To gain strong consistency, you use the single-cluster routing app-profile configuration for read-your-writes consistency that is described above, but you must not use the instance's additional clusters unless you need to fail over to a different cluster. Review the examples of replication settings to see if this is possible for your use case.

Application profiles

If an instance uses replication, you use application profiles, or app profiles, to control which clusters handle incoming requests from your applications. App profiles also determine whether you can perform single-row transactions, which include read-modify-write operations (including increments and appends) and check-and-mutate operations (also known as conditional mutations or conditional writes).

For details, see Application Profiles. For examples of settings you can use to implement common use cases, see Examples of Replication Settings.


If a Cloud Bigtable cluster becomes unresponsive, replication makes it possible for incoming traffic to fail over to another cluster in the same instance. Failovers can be either manual or automatic, depending on the app profile an application is using and how the app profile is configured.

For details, see Failovers.

Dropping row ranges when replication is enabled

The Cloud Bigtable Admin API enables you to drop a contiguous range of rows from a table based on their row keys. In instances that do not use replication, Cloud Bigtable can drop a row range quickly and efficiently. However, when replication is enabled, dropping a row range is significantly slower and much less efficient.

What's next