How can you control how much history Prometheus keeps?

Prometheus stores time series and their samples on disk. Given that disk space is a finite resource, you want some limit on how much of it Prometheus will use. Historically this was done with the --storage.tsdb.retention flag, which specifies the time range which Prometheus will keep available. This is a minimum, so it'll keep an entire block if some of it is still within the retention window. If you know your ingestion rate in samples per second then you can multiply it by the typical bytes per sample (1.5ish, 2 to be safe) and the retention time to get an idea of how much disk space will be used.

As of Prometheus 2.7 and 2.8 there's new flags and options. 2.7 introduced an option for size-based retention with --storage.tsdb.retention.size, that is specifying a maximum amount of disk space used by blocks. This is still a bit best effort though as it does not (yet) include the space taken by the WAL or blocks being populated by compaction. To be safe allow for space for the WAL and one maximum size block (which is the smaller of 10% of the retention time and a month).

How do all these flags interact though? The behaviour was made more obvious in 2.8. There are three flags: --storage.tsdb.retention.size, --storage.tsdb.retention.time, and --storage.tsdb.retention. --storage.tsdb.retention is deprecated, superseded by --storage.tsdb.retention.time for clarity. This table summarises how they work together:

Not set Not set Not set Default 15d retention applies.
Not set 20d Not se 20d retention applies.
Not set Not set 10d 10d retention applies.
Not set 20d 10d 20d retention applies.
1TB Not set Not set 1TB size retention applies, no time limit.
1TB 20d Not set 1TB size and 20d time retention apply - which ever happens first.
1TB 20d 10d 1TB size and 20d time retention apply - which ever happens first.


As you can see the --storage.tsdb.retention.time overrides the deprecated --storage.tsdb.retention, and both time and size based retention can be in force at once.

One common confusion I'd also like to cover is that Prometheus storage retention is not limited to 15 days. That's merely a default that was chosen many years ago, two storage backends back. As the above shows you can have it higher than that, or even not apply at all.


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