Note: This is a continuation of the Getting to know InfluxDB post. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do before reading this post.

I found InfluxDB’s documentation around Retention Policies (RP) and Shard Groups quite unclear in parts and am therefore writing this post to assist others who find themselves feeling the same way.

What is a Retention Policy?

As the documentation says:

The part of InfluxDB’s data structure that describes for how long InfluxDB keeps data (duration), how many copies of those data are stored in the cluster (replication factor), and the time range covered by shard groups (shard group duration). RPs are unique per database and along with the measurement and tag set define a series.

When you create a database, InfluxDB automatically creates a retention policy called autogen_ with an infinite duration, a replication factor set to one, and a shard group duration set to seven days. See Database Management for retention policy management._


RPs define for how long data is kept. The default  autogen RP is set to infinite while the default shard group duration (which is part of the autogen  RP), is set to seven days.

It was at this point I found myself getting confused. What is the difference between a RP duration and a Shard Group duration? And how can you have an expiry date on data which is configured to be kept infinitely? More on this later.

Shards, Shard Duration & Shard Groups

Below is what the documentation has to say about Shards:


A shard contains the actual encoded and compressed data, and is represented by a TSM file on disk. Every shard belongs to one and only one shard group. Multiple shards may exist in a single shard group. Each shard contains a specific set of series. All points falling on a given series in a given shard group will be stored in the same shard (TSM file) on disk.

Shard Groups

Shard groups are logical containers for shards. Shard groups are organized by time and retention policy. Every retention policy that contains data has at least one associated shard group. A given shard group contains all shards with data for the interval covered by the shard group. The interval spanned by each shard group is the shard duration.

Shard Duration

The shard duration determines how much time each shard group spans. The specific interval is determined by the SHARD DURATION_ of the retention policy. See Retention Policy management for more information._

For example, given a retention policy with SHARD DURATION_ set to_ 1w_, each shard group will span a single week and contain all points with timestamps in that week._


If you find the above documentation a little unclear, I find Michael Desa’s (InfluxDB) StackOverflow post to be very succinct.

To summarise the documentation:

  • RPs specify how much data should be available to you at any one time. e.g if you set its duration to one year, you’ll store one year’s worth of data.
  • Shards contain the actual data.
  • Shard Groups are logical containers for shards.
  • Shard duration specifies interval at which a Shard Group will expire (drop) from the database.

Note that Shard Groups will only expire after there’s enough data in the database to meet the RP’s Duration needs, as we’ll see later on in this post.


The last sentence of the previous section is related to my confusion mentioned earlier in this post. autogen has a RP duration of infinity, therefore it should mean that the Shard duration of seven days never kicks in, but it does.

Let’s jump onto the database and see what we can find out:

> show retention policies
name    duration shardGroupDuration replicaN default
----    -------- ------------------ -------- -------
autogen 0s       168h0m0s           1        true

Here we can see that the RP’s duration is set to 0 (infinite). We also see that the Shard duration of seven days (168h). This doesn’t prove that the Shard Group duration is being used though, so let’s dig a little further:

> show shard groups
name: shard groups
id database  retention_policy start_time           end_time             expiry_time
-- --------  ---------------- ----------           --------             -----------
2  telegraf  autogen          2017-06-05T00:00:00Z 2017-06-12T00:00:00Z 2017-06-12T00:00:00Z

And there we have it! The data started recording on 2017-06-05 and is due to expire (drop from the database) on 2017-06-12, seven days later. Therefore it is my opinion that the RP’s name “infinite” is misleading because the data is not being stored infinitely at all - it’s simply matching the Shard Group’s duration.

Finite RPs

Earlier I mentioned that Shard Groups will only expire after there’s enough data in the database to meet the RP’s duration needs”. Let’s now explore what I was talking about.

Let’s start by creating a new database and do the following:

  1. Change the default autogen RP’s duration from INF  to 2w (two weeks).
  2. Specify the Shard Group duration as 1w (one week).
  3. Insert data into our new database.

Note that if a Shard Group duration is not specified, one will be configured automatically as per this section of the InfluxDB documentation.

USE test_db
INSERT INTO autogen measure1 value=0

Now that our database is up and running, let’s take a look at the RP:

> show retention policies
name    duration shardGroupDuration replicaN default
----    -------- ------------------ -------- -------
autogen 336h0m0s 168h0m0s           1        true

We can see that the RP has a duration of 336h now, as opposed to 0 (INF) which we saw earlier.

Next let’s take a look at the Shard Groups:

> show shard groups
name: shard groups
id database  retention_policy start_time           end_time             expiry_time
-- --------  ---------------- ----------           --------             -----------
16 test_db   autogen          2017-06-05T00:00:00Z 2017-06-12T00:00:00Z 2017-06-26T00:00:00Z

What we see here is that:

  • The current Shard Group is storing data from 2017-06-05.
  • The Shard Group is due to stop storing data one week later (in line with the Shard Duration) on 2017-06-12.
  • The Shard Group is due to expire (be removed from the database) on 2017-06-26, which is two weeks after the Shard Group stopped collecting data (in line with the RP’s Duration).

By keeping the Shard Group for two weeks after it has stopped collecting data, InfluxDB is able to meet the RP Duration’s needs of two weeks. If the Shard Group were dropped any earlier, we’d have less than two weeks worth of data in the database.

For Shard Group Duration recommendations, see this section of the InfluxDB documentation.

Other Bits & Pieces

If you’re looking to play around with your databases RPs (in a lab environment of course!), take a look at this page.

If you’re dissecting your InfluxDB database and believe you’re seeing strange results in regards to your Retention Policies, take a look at this section of the FAQ.

The Durations section of the InfluxDB documentation is quite handy.


Although the autogen RP has an infinite duration, it doesn’t actually retain data infinitely. Instead the RP component is effectively disabled and the data’s retention is determined by the Shard Group duration.

As per the InfluxDB documentation, anything with an RP duration of above 6 months has a Shard Group duration set to seven days by default. As autogen has an infinite RP duration, data is stored for seven days unless the user specifies a different Shard Group duration.

With this in mind, if you want to retain data for more than 7 days you have to either create a new RP or modify autogen.

As always, if you have any questions or have a topic that you would like me to discuss, please feel free to post a comment at the bottom of this blog entry, e-mail at, or drop me a message on Reddit (OzNetNerd).

Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and not those of my employer.

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