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[Design] Design Twitter

System design evaluation form

  1. work solution
  2. special cases
  3. analysis
  4. trade off
  5. knowledge base

Design guideline: 4S

  1. Scenario

    ask, features, qps, DAU, interfaces

  2. Service

    split, application, module

  3. Storage

    schema, data, sql, NoSql, file system

  4. Scale

    sharding, optimize, special case



Whta’s the DAU/MAU rate?

Chatting apps like wechat/whatapp has a rate of around 75%, but facebook/twitter is lower at 60%.

Enumerate the functions

  1. registration
  2. user profile display/edit
  3. upload image/video
  4. search
  5. post a tweet
  6. share a tweet
  7. timeline
  8. newsfeed
  9. follow/unfollow


  1. concurrent user

    150M user * 60 query/user / 606024s = average QPS = 100K

    peak QPS = 3 * average QPS = 300K

    fast growing product = 2 * peak QPS = 600K

  2. read qps: 300K QPS

  3. write qps: 5K QPS

On average, a web server support around 1000 QPS, thus in this case, we need 300 servers to support the system.


4 services for Twitter

  1. user service
    1. register
    2. login
  2. tweet service
    1. post tweet
    2. news feed
    3. timeline
  3. media service
    1. upload image
    2. upload video
  4. friendship service
    1. follow
    2. upfollow


  1. SQL

    Good for accurate, small amount of data, more read than write. user table

  2. NoSQL

    Good for large amount of read/write, high scalability. tweets social graph (follower)

  3. File System

    Good for media files photo, video

Select the right DB

Question: can we use file system for tweets?

No, it’s hard to query. Eg. query all tweets of my friends.

Design data schema

(optional) 3 tables needed:

  1. user table
  2. tweet table
  3. friendship table: this is not as straight forward, as it shall contain double directions info

Important: News Feed

pull model

Read top 50 feeds from top 100 friends, then merge sort by date. (note that user is getting sync-blocked here).

Post tweet is simple 1 DB write.

This design is bad, because file-system/DB read is slow. If you have N friends, you query O(N) DB queries. It’s too slow (and user is getting sync-blocked, too). We should have, ideally, <= 7 DB queries per web page.


  1. synchronously block user from getting news feed
  2. too many DB reads

push model

Each person have a list storing new feeds. When friend post tweet, fanout to my feed list.

When I read, I simply read top 100 from the feed list. So read is 1 DB read.

Post tweet is N DB writes, which is slow. However this is done async, so it does not matter.

One example of async implementation: RabbitMQ


optimize pull model

Although it looks like push is faster than pull, facebook and twitter both use pull model.

  1. add cache for DB, reduce # of DB read
  2. also cache each user’s news feed

    your yesterday’s feeds are all cached, thus don’t need to read everytime.

optimize push model

  1. disk waste a lot, although disk is cheap
  2. inactive user!

    rank follower by weight, and don’t write to inactive user (eg. last login time)

  3. if follower is toooo much, like Lady Gaga, user pull for Lady Gaga.

    Tradeoff: Push + Pull model.

optimize ‘Like’ info

In tweet table, if we need to count(user) who liked, it’s gonna take forever.

We must denormalize this data!

Denormalize: it’s duplicate info but we store in table, because of performance improvement.

Shortcoming: inconsistency!

  1. unless using SQL transaction, async failure can result in wrong counting number
  2. race condition

Solution: 1. use atomic operation 2. every day, schedule to update this number.

optimize thundering herd problem

When cache fails, all DB query will go to DB. This results in DB crash.

Hot spot (thundering herd)

Solution: hold all incoming queries (who fails cache), and only send 1 DB query. When result is returned, return to every query.