Keys, Values and Channels

In dealing with redis, there is quite an important distinction between keys and everything else. A key is the unique name of a piece of data (which could be a String, a List, Hash, or any of the other redis data types) within a database. Keys are never interpreted as… well, anything: they are simply inert names. Further - when dealing with clustered or sharded systems, it is the key that defines the node (or nodes if there are replicas) that contain this data - so keys are crucial for routing commands.

This contrasts with values; values are the things that you store against keys - either individually (for String data) or as groups. Values do not affect command routing (caveat: except for the SORT command when BY or GET is specified, but that is really complicated to explain). Likewise, values are often interpreted by redis for the purposes of an operation:

The key point is that the API needs to understand what is a key and what is a value. This is reflected in the StackExchange.Redis API, but the good news is that most of the time you don’t need to know about this at all.

When using pub/sub, we are dealing with channels; channels do not affect routing (so they are not keys), but are quite distinct from regular values, so are considered separately.


StackExchange.Redis represents keys by the RedisKey type. The good news, though, is that this has implicit conversions to and from both string and byte[], allowing both text and binary keys to be used without any complication. For example, the StringIncrement method takes a RedisKey as the first parameter, but you don’t need to know that; for example:

string key = ...


byte[] key = ...

Likewise, there are operations that return keys as RedisKey - and again, it simply works:

string someKey = db.KeyRandom();


StackExchange.Redis represents values by the RedisValue type. As with RedisKey, there are implicit conversions in place which mean that most of the time you never see this type, for example:

db.StringSet("mykey", "myvalue");

However, in addition to text and binary contents, values can also need to represent typed primitive data - most commonly (in .NET terms) Int32, Int64, Double or Boolean. Because of this, RedisValue provides a lot more conversion support than RedisKey:

db.StringSet("mykey", 123); // this is still a RedisKey and RedisValue
int i = (int)db.StringGet("mykey");

Note that while the conversions from primitives to RedisValue are implicit, many of the conversions from RedisValue to primitives are explicit: this is because it is very possible that these conversions will fail if the data does not have an appropriate value.

Note additionally that when treated numerically, redis treats a non-existent key as zero; for consistency with this, nil responses are treated as zero:

int i = (int)db.StringGet("abc"); // this is ZERO

If you need to detect the nil condition, then you can check for that:

var value = db.StringGet("abc");
bool isNil = value.IsNull; // this is true

or perhaps more simply, just use the provided Nullable<T> support:

var value = (int?)db.StringGet("abc"); // behaves as you would expect


Since the field names in hashes do not affect command routing, they are not keys, but can take both text and binary names; thus they are treated as values for the purposes of the API.


Channel names for pub/sub are represented by the RedisChannel type; this is largely identical to RedisKey, but is handled independently since while channel-names are rightly first-class elements, they do not affect command routing.


Lua scripting in redis has two notable features:

Because of this, the ScriptEvaluate method accepts two separate input arrays: one RedisKey[] for the keys, one RedisValue[] for the values (both are optional, and are assumed to be empty if omitted). This is probably one of the few times that you’ll actually need to type RedisKey or RedisValue in your code, and that is just because of array variance rules:

var result = db.ScriptEvaluate(TransferScript,
    new RedisKey[] { from, to }, new RedisValue[] { quantity });

(where TransferScript is some string containing Lua, not shown for this example)

The response uses the RedisResult type (this is unique to scripting; usually the API tries to represent the response as directly and clearly as possible). As before, RedisResult offers a range of conversion operations - more, in fact than RedisValue, because in addition to being interpreted as text, binary, primitives and nullable-primitives, the response can also be interpreted as arrays of such, for example:

string[] items = db.ScriptEvaluate(...);


The types used in the API are very deliberately chosen to distinguish redis keys from values. However, in virtually all cases you will not need to directly refer to the underlying types involved, as conversion operations are provided.