The data is stored into splits, where the primary key of the top level table determines the split point. The key ranges of the resulting splits are [Singers(-∞), Singers(1)) – not shown, [Singers(1), Singers(2)), [Singers(2), Singers(3))  and [Singers(3), Singer(+∞)) respectively. 

Each split is placed independently and may or may not be co-located with another split on a server. A split has multiple replicas to maintain distributed consensus and ensure quorum for transactions. 

Spanner coprocessor framework

Spanner uses a coprocessor framework. This component allows Spanner to direct RPCs to a data location rather than a specific server, providing an abstraction between the data model and data placement.

For example, a call would specify Singers(2) as its destination and not an IP address of the server. The coprocessor framework would then resolve the split that owns this data and route the request to the nearest replica by network latency from the client. This way, if the data moves, the client application doesn’t need to be aware of it and can rely on the coprocessor framework to route the request. 


When the client calls executeQuery() in Java (or ReadOnlyTransaction.Query in Go), the first coprocessor call that is executed is PrepareQuery. Since the query optimizer logic is not hosted in the client, the call is routed to a random server which parses and analyzes the query, returning the Location Hint to the client. The location hint specifies the key of the top level table to send the query to. For example, if your query is “SELECT SingerId, AlbumId, AlbumTitle from Albums WHERE SingerId=2”, the Location Hint will be “Singers(2)”.

The location hint computation

The location hint is computed by analyzing the compiled query representation and finding predicates on the top level table’s key columns. The location hint can contain parameters, so that it can be cached for parameterized queries. 

For example, for a query “SELECT * FROM Albums WHERE (SingerId = 1 AND AlbumId >= 10) OR (SingerId IN (2,3) AND AlbumId != 0)”, the location hint extraction logic will determine that the query addresses a table under the top level table Singers, thus it will attempt to extract the first predicate for the SingerID column from the WHERE clause. Upon discovering SingerId = 1 it will generate the location hint Singers(1). If the query contained SingerId = @id, the location hint would be Singers(@id). This parameterized form is then resolved for the actual value of @id query parameter to yield the data location (so id=1 would give Singers(1)).

The location hint is cached using a hash of the SQL text as key. This means that if your application executes the same query for different end users, it’s better to create a parametrized query to increase the cache hit rate. If this cache is hit, the call to PrepareQuery is completely avoided, thus improving the overall performance and query latency.  This can be very significant for “simple” queries where the processing time is smaller than the round trip time; skipping a PrepareQuery call saves about half the latency. 


Once the location hint is available, the next coprocessor call is ExecuteQuery. This call is routed based on the location hint, and the receiving server becomes the root server for the query. The server then compiles the query, creates the execution plan, and starts executing the required operations. The compiled query plan and execution plan are cached (so, again, parameterizing the queries is important to save this step on repeated queries).

The execution plan will contain the Distributed Union operator to handle data access across one or more splits. In particular, there will be a Distributed Union on top of any execution tree. Additional Distributed Union operators might be inserted for other scans in the query (e.g. when joining two top level tables). 

The Distributed Union performs range extraction (described below), dispatches subqueries to the other splits, and streams results from the remote servers executing these subqueries to the caller. 

Distributed Union Range Extraction

Spanner compiles the predicates and builds a Filter Tree for efficient key predicate evaluation and range computation. For example, for the query from the above example  “SELECT * FROM Albums WHERE (SingerId = 1 AND AlbumId >= 10) OR (SingerId IN (2,3) AND AlbumId != 0)”, the FilterTree might look like this (the red text is described below) :

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