What Can Be Implemented Anonymously?

The vast majority of papers on distributed computing assume that processes are assigned unique identifiers before computation begins. But is this assumption necessary? What if processes do not have unique identifiers or do not wish to divulge them for reasons of privacy? Here, we consider asynchronous shared-memory systems that are anonymous, which means processes do not have identifiers, and are programmed identically. The shared memory contains only the most common type of shared objects, read/write registers. We investigate what can be computed deterministically in this model when any number of processes can experience crash failures. Thus, an adversary controls the speeds of processes and the failures in the system. Typically algorithms designed for such systems guarantee (partial) correctness in all possible executions, and there are various types of termination (or progress) properties that have been studied: wait-freedom, lock-freedom and obstruction-freedom. We give anonymous algorithms for some of the most important problems in the theory of distributed computing: timestamping, atomic snapshots and consensus. Our solutions to the first two are wait-free and the third is obstruction-free. We also show that a shared data structure has an obstruction-free implementation in our model if and only if it satisfies a simple property called idempotence. To prove the sufficiency of this condition, we give a universal construction that implements any idempotent data structure.


 Record created 2005-07-13, last modified 2018-03-17

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