Introduction to two-phase commit

Two-phase commit is an algorithm for achieving atomic transaction commit across multiple nodes—i.e., to ensure that either all nodes commit or all nodes abort. It is a classic algorithm in distributed databases [13, 35, 75]. 2PC is used internally in some databases and also made available to applications in the form of XA transactions [76, 77] (which are supported by the Java Transaction API, for example) or via WS- AtomicTransaction for SOAP web services [78, 79].

The basic flow of 2PC is illustrated in Figure 9-9. Instead of a single commit request, as with a single-node transaction, the commit/abort process in 2PC is split into two phases (hence the name).

A successful execution of two-phase commit (2PC)

Figure 9-9. A successful execution of two-phase commit (2PC).

Don't confuse 2PC and 2PL

Two-phase commit (2PC) and two-phase locking (see “Two-Phase Locking (2PL)” on page 257) are two very different things. 2PC provides atomic commit in a distributed database, whereas 2PL provides serializable isolation. To avoid confusion, it’s best to think of them as entirely separate concepts and to ignore the unfortunate similarity in the names.

2PC uses a new component that does not normally appear in single-node transactions: a coordinator (also known as transaction manager). The coordinator is often implemented as a library within the same application process that is requesting the transaction (e.g., embedded in a Java EE container), but it can also be a separate process or service. Examples of such coordinators include Narayana, JOTM, BTM, or MSDTC.

A 2PC transaction begins with the application reading and writing data on multiple database nodes, as normal. We call these database nodes participants in the transaction. When the application is ready to commit, the coordinator begins phase 1: it sends a prepare request to each of the nodes, asking them whether they are able to commit. The coordinator then tracks the responses from the participants:

  • • If all participants reply “yes,” indicating they are ready to commit, then the coordinator sends out a commit request in phase 2, and the commit actually takes place.
  • • If any of the participants replies “no,” the coordinator sends an abort request to all nodes in phase 2.

This process is somewhat like the traditional marriage ceremony in Western cultures: the minister asks the bride and groom individually whether each wants to marry the other, and typically receives the answer “I do” from both. After receiving both

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acknowledgments, the minister pronounces the couple husband and wife: the transaction is committed, and the happy fact is broadcast to all attendees. If either bride or groom does not say “yes,” the ceremony is aborted [73].

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