Least Recently Used [...]

When search for efficiency of access, putting the least recently used thing into storage ends up being the best rule of thumb.

We could just try Random Eviction, adding new data to the cache and overwriting old data at random. One of the startling early results in caching theory is that, while far from perfect, this approach is not half bad. As it happens, just having a cache at all makes a system more efficient, regardless of how you maintain it. Items you use often will end up back in the cache soon anyway. Another simple strategy is First-In, First-Out (FIFO), where you evict or overwrite whatever has been sitting in the cache the longest (as in Martha Stewart’s question “How long have I had it?”). A third approach is Least Recently Used (LRU): evicting the item that’s gone the longest untouched (Stewart’s “When was the last time I wore it or used it?”).

It turns out that not only do these two mantras of Stewart’s suggest very different policies, one of her suggestions clearly outperforms the other. Bélády compared Random Eviction, FIFO, and variants of LRU in a number of scenarios and found that LRU consistently performed the closest to clairvoyance. The LRU principle is effective because of something computer scientists call “temporal locality”: if a program has called for a particular piece of information once, it’s likely to do so again in the near future. Temporal locality results in part from the way computers solve problems (for example, executing a loop that makes a rapid series of related reads and writes), but it emerges in the way people solve problems, too.

If you are working on your computer, you might be switching among your email, a web browser, and a word processor. The fact that you accessed one of these recently is a clue that you’re likely to do so again, and, all things being equal, the program that you haven’t been using for the longest time is also probably the one that won’t be used for some time to come. (Source)

LRU teaches us that the next thing we can expect to need is the last one we needed, while the thing we’ll need after that is probably the second-most-recent one. And the last thing we can expect to need is the one we’ve already gone longest without.

Unless we have good reason to think otherwise, it seems that our best guide to the future is a mirror image of the past. The nearest thing to clairvoyance is to assume that history repeats itself—backward.

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