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Reads and writes

This guide covers the aspects of accessing documents in Vespa. Documents are stored in content clusters. Writes (PUT, UPDATE, DELETE) and reads (GET) pass through a container cluster. Find a more detailed flow at the end of this article.

Vespa Overview


  • Vespa's indexing structures are built for high-rate field updates. Refer to the feed sizing guide for write performance, in particular partial updates for partial updates.
  • Vespa supports parent/child for de-normalized data. This can be used to simplify the code to update application data, as one write will update all children documents.
  • Applications can add custom feed document processors and multiple container clusters - see indexing for details.
  • Writes in Vespa are consistent in a stable cluster, but Vespa will prioritize availability over consistency when there is a conflict. See the elasticity documentation and the Vespa consistency model. It is recommended to use the same client instance for updating a given document when possible - for data consistency, but also performance (see concurrent mutations). Read more on write operation ordering. For performance, group field updates to the same document into one update operation.
  • Applications can auto-expire documents. This feature also blocks PUTs to documents that are already expired - see indexing and document selection. This is a common problem when feeding test data with timestamps, and the writes a silently dropped.

Also see troubleshooting.



Get a document by ID.


Write a document by ID - a document is overwritten if a document with the same document ID exists.

Puts can have conditions for test-and-set use cases. Conditions can be combined with create if nonexistent, which causes the condition to be ignored if the document does not already exist.


Remove a document by ID. If the document to be removed is not found, it is not considered a failure. Read more about data-retention. Also see batch deletes.

Removes can have conditions for test-and-set use cases.

A removed document is written as a tombstone, and later garbage collected - see removed-db / prune /age. Vespa does not retain, nor return, the document data of removed documents.


Also referred to as partial updates, as it updates some/all fields of a document by ID. If the document to update is not found, it is not considered a failure.

Update supports create if nonexistent (upsert).

Updates can have conditions for test-and-set use cases.

All data structures (attribute, index and summary) are updatable. Note that only assign and remove are idempotent - message re-sending can apply updates more than once. Use conditional writes for stronger consistency.

All field types
  • assign (may also be used to clear fields)
Numeric field types
Composite types
Tensor types
  • modify Modify individual cells in a tensor - can replace, add or multiply cell values
  • add Add cells to mapped or mixed tensors
  • remove Remove cells from mapped or mixed tensors

API and utilities

Also see the JSON Document format:

API / utilDescription
Vespa CLI Command-line tool to get, put, remove, update, feed, visit.
/document/v1/ API for get, put, remove, update, visit.
Java Document API Provides direct read-and write access to Vespa documents using Vespa's internal communication layer. Use this when accessing documents from Java components in Vespa such as searchers and document processors. See the Document class.

Advanced / debugging tools:

Feed flow

Use the Vespa CLI, vespa-feed-client or /document/v1/ API to read and write documents:

Feed with feed client

Alternatively, use vespa-feeder to feed files or the Java Document API.

Feed with vespafeeder

Indexing and/or document processing is a chain of processors that manipulate documents before they are stored. Document processors can be user defined. When using indexed search, the final step in the chain prepares documents for indexing.

The Document API forwards requests to distributors on content nodes. For more information, read about content nodes and the search core.

Further reading