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How Fast can a Distributed Transaction Commit?

The atomic commit problem lies at the heart of distributed database systems. The problem consists for a set of processes (database nodes) to agree on whether to commit or abort a transaction (agreement property). The commit decision can only be taken if all processes are initially willing to commit the transaction, and this decision must be taken if all processes are willing to commit and there is no failure (validity property). An atomic commit protocol is said to be non-blocking if every correct process (a database node that does not fail) eventually reaches a decision (commit or abort) even if there are failures elsewhere in the distributed database system (termination property). Surprisingly, despite the importance of the atomic commit problem, little is known about its complexity. In this paper, we present, for the first time, a systematic study on the time and message complexity of the problem. We measure complexity in the executions that are considered the most frequent in practice, i.e., failure-free, with all processes willing to commit. In other words, we measure how fast a transaction can commit. Through our systematic study, we close many open questions like the complexity of synchronous non-blocking atomic commit. We also present optimal protocols which may be of independent interest. In particular, we present an effective protocol which solves what we call indulgent atomic commit that tolerates practical distributed database systems which are synchronous ``most of the time''.

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