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Performance of two-phase locking

The big downside of two-phase locking, and the reason why it hasn’t been used by everybody since the 1970s, is performance: transaction throughput and response times of queries are significantly worse under two-phase locking than under weak isolation.

This is partly due to the overhead of acquiring and releasing all those locks, but more importantly due to reduced concurrency. By design, if two concurrent transactions try to do anything that may in any way result in a race condition, one has to wait for the other to complete.

Traditional relational databases don’t limit the duration of a transaction, because they are designed for interactive applications that wait for human input. Consequently, when one transaction has to wait on another, there is no limit on how long it may have to wait. Even if you make sure that you keep all your transactions short, a queue may form if several transactions want to access the same object, so a transaction may have to wait for several others to complete before it can do anything.

For this reason, databases running 2PL can have quite unstable latencies, and they can be very slow at high percentiles (see “Describing Performance” on page 13) if there is contention in the workload. It may take just one slow transaction, or one transaction that accesses a lot of data and acquires many locks, to cause the rest of the system to grind to a halt. This instability is problematic when robust operation is required.

Although deadlocks can happen with the lock-based read committed isolation level, they occur much more frequently under 2PL serializable isolation (depending on the access patterns of your transaction). This can be an additional performance problem: when a transaction is aborted due to deadlock and is retried, it needs to do its work all over again. If deadlocks are frequent, this can mean significant wasted effort.

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