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In databases that don’t provide transactions, you sometimes find an atomic compare- and-set operation (previously mentioned in “Single-object writes” on page 230). The purpose of this operation is to avoid lost updates by allowing an update to happen only if the value has not changed since you last read it. If the current value does not match what you previously read, the update has no effect, and the read-modify-write cycle must be retried.

For example, to prevent two users concurrently updating the same wiki page, you might try something like this, expecting the update to occur only if the content of the page hasn’t changed since the user started editing it:

-- This may or may not be safe, depending on the database implementation UPDATE wiki_pages SET content = 'new content'

WHERE id = 1234 AND content = 'old content';

If the content has changed and no longer matches 'old content', this update will have no effect, so you need to check whether the update took effect and retry if necessary. However, if the database allows the WHERE clause to read from an old snapshot, this statement may not prevent lost updates, because the condition may be true even though another concurrent write is occurring. Check whether your database’s compare-and-set operation is safe before relying on it.

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