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Advantages of immutable events

Immutability in databases is an old idea. For example, accountants have been using immutability for centuries in financial bookkeeping. When a transaction occurs, it is recorded in an append-only ledger, which is essentially a log of events describing money, goods, or services that have changed hands. The accounts, such as profit and loss or the balance sheet, are derived from the transactions in the ledger by adding them up [53].

If a mistake is made, accountants don’t erase or change the incorrect transaction in the ledger—instead, they add another transaction that compensates for the mistake, for example refunding an incorrect charge. The incorrect transaction still remains in the ledger forever, because it might be important for auditing reasons. If incorrect figures, derived from the incorrect ledger, have already been published, then the figures for the next accounting period include a correction. This process is entirely normal in accounting [54].

Although such auditability is particularly important in financial systems, it is also beneficial for many other systems that are not subject to such strict regulation. As discussed in “Philosophy of batch process outputs” on page 413, if you accidentally deploy buggy code that writes bad data to a database, recovery is much harder if the code is able to destructively overwrite data. With an append-only log of immutable events, it is much easier to diagnose what happened and recover from the problem.

Immutable events also capture more information than just the current state. For example, on a shopping website, a customer may add an item to their cart and then remove it again. Although the second event cancels out the first event from the point of view of order fulfillment, it may be useful to know for analytics purposes that the customer was considering a particular item but then decided against it. Perhaps they will choose to buy it in the future, or perhaps they found a substitute. This information is recorded in an event log, but would be lost in a database that deletes items when they are removed from the cart [42].

 
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