Chapter 9. Consistency and Consensus

Is it better to be alive and wrong or right and dead?

Jay Kreps, A Few Notes on Kafka and Jepsen (2013)

Lots of things can go wrong in distributed systems, as discussed in Chapter 8. The simplest way of handling such faults is to simply let the entire service fail, and show the user an error message. If that solution is unacceptable, we need to find ways of tolerating faults—that is, of keeping the service functioning correctly, even if some internal component is faulty.

In this chapter, we will talk about some examples of algorithms and protocols for building fault-tolerant distributed systems. We will assume that all the problems from Chapter 8 can occur: packets can be lost, reordered, duplicated, or arbitrarily delayed in the network; clocks are approximate at best; and nodes can pause (e.g., due to garbage collection) or crash at any time.

The best way of building fault-tolerant systems is to find some general-purpose abstractions with useful guarantees, implement them once, and then let applications rely on those guarantees. This is the same approach as we used with transactions in Chapter 7: by using a transaction, the application can pretend that there are no crashes (atomicity), that nobody else is concurrently accessing the database (isolation), and that storage devices are perfectly reliable (durability). Even though crashes, ...

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