Eventual Consistency

  • In highly available systems it is very hard to keep replicas consistent, because they have to contact each other every time a write occurs (e.g. with Two-Phase Commit) to preserve consistency.
  • During the time the replicas synchronize everybody should be prevented from writing
  • But that impacts availability, and to have high availability we have to sacrifice that (See the CAP Theorem)

Reasons for Eventual Consistency:

  • need to insure high availability
  • need to always support updates (no matter what happens)

So, Eventual consistency is a Consistency Model in which

  • Updates are propagated to replicas eventually,
  • not synchronously with the write

That is, suppose we have two methods: put and get

  • put call returns to the caller before the update is applied to all replicas
  • but get may return no the most up-to-date object

And there are applications that can tolerate that.

Conflict Resolution

Each modification is a new immutable version of data, which allows multiple versions to be present. But branching of versions may happen (because of network failures, concurrent updates, etc), so there should be a way to resolve these conflicts.

Also it is important to keep the order in which updates appear

  • to capture causality between different objects:
  • we don't want to overwrite later updates by information in earlier updates when they arrive late.
  • For this mechanisms such as Vector Clock are used.
  • when a client wants to update, it must specify the version it updates

There are two design choices when dealing with conflicts:

  • who will handle the conflict?
  • when it will be handled?


Data storage

  • usually not a good option because it knows little about the data it stores
  • although might attempt to merge, for example, text data (like in version control systems)
  • usually it means applying policies like "last write wins" to resolve conflicts


  • it knows what data is stored
  • so it decide how to resolve the conflict in the way best for it


During writes

  • a write may be rejected if the storage is in conflict (while it waits for reconciliation)
  • always read non-conflicting data
  • (better availability for reads)

During reads

  • always writable (better availability for writes)
  • rejecting an update may lead to poor customer experience
  • so may read conflicting data, and ourselves have to read it back

In many systems (Dynamo, MongoDB, CouchDB) conflicts are allowed and it is usually up to the application to resolve them, and then put the reconciled version back to the database.

Configurable Consistency

Suppose we have

  • $R$ - minimum number of nodes that participate in a successful read
  • $W$ - minimum number of nodes that participate is a successful write
  • $N$ - replication factor

  • if $R + W > N$ we can claim consistency
  • but $R + W < N$ means lower latency