You've pretty much got the answer to your first question already: the intent of
ADD is to only work when a key doesn't already exist, while
SET is there to update the value, regardless of whether it already exists. If you're familiar with SQL, it's (roughly) like the difference between
INSERT queries (
In regards to your addendum question, you would use whichever one suits your purpose. I would say that
SET would be the more common operation, because it's more common that you just want to say "I want the key
foo to have the value
bar, and I don't care whether or not it was in there already". However, there would be (less frequent) occasions when it would be necessary to know that a key isn't already in the cache.
An example that comes to mind when
ADD would be appropriate is storing sessions in memcache (which, by the way, I don't recommend) -- if you're generating your session IDs randomly (or via hashing), you wouldn't want to create a new session with the same key as an existing one, as this would grant one user access to another user's data. In this case, when you created the session you would use
ADD, and if it returned a failure status you would need to generate a new session ID and try again. Updating the session, of course, would then use
SET as the user worked their way through your application.