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Recovering from coordinator failure

In theory, if the coordinator crashes and is restarted, it should cleanly recover its state from the log and resolve any in-doubt transactions. However, in practice, orphaned in-doubt transactions do occur [89, 90]—that is, transactions for which the coordinator cannot decide the outcome for whatever reason (e.g., because the transaction log has been lost or corrupted due to a software bug). These transactions cannot be resolved automatically, so they sit forever in the database, holding locks and blocking other transactions.

Even rebooting your database servers will not fix this problem, since a correct implementation of 2PC must preserve the locks of an in-doubt transaction even across restarts (otherwise it would risk violating the atomicity guarantee). It’s a sticky situation.

The only way out is for an administrator to manually decide whether to commit or roll back the transactions. The administrator must examine the participants of each in-doubt transaction, determine whether any participant has committed or aborted already, and then apply the same outcome to the other participants. Resolving the problem potentially requires a lot of manual effort, and most likely needs to be done under high stress and time pressure during a serious production outage (otherwise, why would the coordinator be in such a bad state?).

Many XA implementations have an emergency escape hatch called heuristic decisions: allowing a participant to unilaterally decide to abort or commit an in-doubt transaction without a definitive decision from the coordinator [76, 77, 91]. To be clear, heuristic here is a euphemism for probably breaking atomicity, since it violates the system of promises in two-phase commit. Thus, heuristic decisions are intended only for getting out of catastrophic situations, and not for regular use.

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