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Visibility rules for observing a consistent snapshot

When a transaction reads from the database, transaction IDs are used to decide which objects it can see and which are invisible. By carefully defining visibility rules, the database can present a consistent snapshot of the database to the application. This works as follows:

  • 1. At the start of each transaction, the database makes a list of all the other transactions that are in progress (not yet committed or aborted) at that time. Any writes that those transactions have made are ignored, even if the transactions subsequently commit.
  • 2. Any writes made by aborted transactions are ignored.
  • 3. Any writes made by transactions with a later transaction ID (i.e., which started after the current transaction started) are ignored, regardless of whether those transactions have committed.
  • 4. All other writes are visible to the application’s queries.

These rules apply to both creation and deletion of objects. In Figure 7-7, when transaction 12 reads from account 2, it sees a balance of $500 because the deletion of the $500 balance was made by transaction 13 (according to rule 3, transaction 12 cannot see a deletion made by transaction 13), and the creation of the $400 balance is not yet visible (by the same rule).

Put another way, an object is visible if both of the following conditions are true:

  • • At the time when the reader’s transaction started, the transaction that created the object had already committed.
  • • The object is not marked for deletion, or if it is, the transaction that requested deletion had not yet committed at the time when the reader’s transaction started.

A long-running transaction may continue using a snapshot for a long time, continuing to read values that (from other transactions’ point of view) have long been overwritten or deleted. By never updating values in place but instead creating a new version every time a value is changed, the database can provide a consistent snapshot while incurring only a small overhead.

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