Oren Eini

CEO of RavenDB

a NoSQL Open Source Document Database

Get in touch with me:

oren@ravendb.net +972 52-548-6969

Posts: 7,501
Comments: 51,070
Privacy Policy · Terms
filter by tags archive
time to read 3 min | 577 words

The second item to go over with the World’s smallest No SQL database is about persistence, and following that, I/O. Right now, there is no persistence. If you restart the process, all the data is gone. Now, there are actually quite a few real world dbs that behave in this fashion. But they are a rarity. For the most part, if I put data inside a db, I expect it to be there until I do something about it.

And at that point, you are in for quite a bit of complexity. How are you going to persist the data? The easiest way to do it, just create a file per every value in the db is going to be… problematic on most systems. So you need to put a lot of data in a small set of files. Which means that you have to decide how you are going to put the data together. In general, there is either the fixed size option, in which you divide the file(s) into pages and work around that. The good thing about this is that this gives you the ability to reuse space in the file after deletes / updates. The bad thing about that is that it is quite complex. Alternatively, you can just write the data out as needed, but then you can’t really update written data, and would need to run compactions.

And we haven’t talked about searching yet. Some DBs, like Bitcask / Munin, would actually store the keys in memory, and store the position on the disk for retrieving the value. But for the most part, both keys & values tend to be on disk in some form. In CouchDB, they are held inside an append only B+Tree. In LevelDB, they are held in Sorted String Tables. LMDB uses Copy-On-Write B+Tree. Esent use a B+Tree with a Log file.

In each of those cases, the actual semantics for persistent data involve at least two concerns. You need to actually be able to search the data (that usually mean more than just O(1) access, you want to be able to go back & forth on the keys) and you need to be able to do a transactional save. This is so you can recover  in case of a crash, most of the time.

But there are actually a lot more that goes into the selection of the proper persistence format. To start with, how you store the data on disk will have a big effect on your performance. If you store the data as a linked list, for example, you might as well kiss your performance goodbye. Beyond that, we also have issues with things like how is the format going to scale when we have concurrent readers. For example, if you have something that does a lot of seeks, and rely on the seeks always going forward to ensure performance, that is going to be very badly hit the moment that you have concurrent readers doing concurrent reads on different parts of the system. You would be forcing the system to do random seeks.

There are other considerations, as well. For example, if you are using something like B+Tree, it is likely that you’ll be overwriting the same section on the disk multiple times. That is fine with HDD, but SSD would just give up & die on you at some point. And we haven’t started talking about secondary indexes yet…

time to read 3 min | 547 words

As it stand the World’s Smallest No  SQL Database will last only as long as you actually have power. The moment that you have a restart, all the data is gone. The is actually how several databases are running, but for now, we are going to assume that this is not desirable. The question now becomes, how do you actually store the data on disk?

This really becomes a pretty complex question, because you need to store the data on disk in a way that is crash safe, allow updates, and doesn’t take all the disk space in the world. Before we will get to the actual on disk data structures, we need to discuss how we implement persistent logs. Persistent logs are the key way that databases gets Durability. And as it turned out, there are just two ways of doing that that I am aware of:

  • Append only
  • Transaction log

Append only models rely on the fact that you only append to create a safe way to ensure that the data is either all in or all out. When we write, we don’t overwrite values, we are creating new values, and then we write where the last log entry is located. In CouchDB, for example, this is done by modifying the header portion of the file to point to the new data. In LMDB this is done by updating the page listing with the new pages. In both cases, you actually commit a transaction when the on disk pointer is changed to point to the new data. If you crash midway, nothing bad happened, you didn’t update the on disk pointer, it is still pointing at the old location. Worst case scenario, you wasted some disk space, and you probably have a way to reclaim that anyway.

Transaction logs use a different way to handle this. They are also usually implemented as append only files, into which we write the new data. Afterward, we can apply those changes in memory / on disk safely. A crash would simply mean having to replay the log. This is how leveldb, for example, works. This is also the essential idea behind how SQL Server Oracle works. Although in their case I believe that the transaction log usually contain both prev/new state of the pages they changed for a specific transaction.

One thing that you have to be aware of, either way, is that you should be prepared to handle scenarios where your process crashed midway, or when your entire machine had the plug pulled out. That means using fsync, sure, but it also means that you might have to do log replay, or be ready to see if you can recover something from the append only model.

The good thing about the transaction log approach is that after you have committed the changes to the standard persistent format, you can clear it (usually by just creating a new file and deleting the old one). With the append only model, you usually have to run some sort of compaction to clear things out. Note that the transaction log model vs append only model doesn’t really mean about how the rest of the persistent data is actually stored. We will touch on that on the next post.

time to read 3 min | 488 words

Even for a first attempt, World’s Smallest No  SQL Database is actually pretty good. We got 3 of the 4.

The DB is:

  • Atomic, since change will either go in or be rejected.
  • Consistent, you can’t see changes half way.
  • Isolated, one change can’t modify/view another.

It isn’t durable, because everything is in memory.

It even has transactions, in the sense that a change goes in or not in an atomic fashion.

But, I think you’ll agree, this is very much a poor man’s solution. And those only apply just as long as you need to work with just a single item. In practice, you would usually want to make a lot more than that.

The basic properties you want is the ability to do multi item transactions, so you can modify two items at the same time, and they either go in or not at all. And that is where it gets really  complex, because at that point we need to build our own way to handle atomic updates to multiple values, how to keep them isolated and how to handle this consistently.

There aren’t really simple way to handle that, especially if we want to handle concurrent transactions. You would have to make a lot of decisions all of a sudden. For example, what happens if you have two concurrent transactions trying to update the same value. Is one of them rejected? And if so, at what point? Initial write? Commit time?

And that is just the start.

  • Do you allow a transaction to live across multiple requests?
  • How do you handle transaction expiration?
  • Do you need to have a transaction span more than one node? How do you handle that?

And we haven’t even talked about making transactions durable. There is no point, since we don’t do any persistence. But we will touch on persistence in a future post, so let talk about durability right now.

In general, there are two major ways to handle transactions. Either an append only model or a transaction log. In both cases, concurrent transactions make it… interesting to figure out how to properly write to the log. And the moment that you have either option, you have to build in some form of a recovery tool for system or db crashes. You have better also love fsync, since it is a very important tool in making sure that you can actually get durable transactions.

Oh, and of course, I forgot, if we allow long running transactions…

  • Who can read the yet uncommitted value? Everyone? Just the current transaction? Can you explicitly ask to see uncommitted value?
  • How do you allow it to be read?
  • Is it available for queries?

This is usually the most touchy part in the system, since is so critical. It is also something that you have to take into account in pretty much the entire codebase.

time to read 14 min | 2667 words

I am pretty sure that it would surprise you, but the World’s Smallest No SQL Database has a well defined concurrency model. Basically, it is using Last Write Wins. And we are safe from any concurrency issues. That is pretty much it, right?

Well, not really.  In a real world system, you actually need to do a lot more with concurrency. Some obvious examples:

  • Create this value only if it doesn’t exists already.
  • Update this value only if it didn’t change since I last saw it.

Implementing those is actually going to be pretty simple. All you need to do is to have a metadata field, version, that is incremented on every change. Here is the change that we need to make:

   1: public class Data
   2: {
   3:     public byte[] Value;
   4:     public int Version;
   5: }
   7: static readonly ConcurrentDictionary<string, Data> data = 
   8:    new ConcurrentDictionary<string, Data>(StringComparer.InvariantCultureIgnoreCase); 
  10:  public HttpResponseMessage Get(string key)
  11:  {
  12:      Data value;
  13:      if(data.TryGetValue(key, out value) == false)
  14:          return new HttpResponseMessage(HttpStatusCode.NotFound);
  16:      return new HttpResponseMessage
  17:          {
  18:              Headers = { "Version", value.Version },
  19:             Content = new ByteArrayContent(value.Value)
  20:          };
  21:  }
  23: public void Put(string key, [FromBody]byte[] value, int version)
  24: {
  25:     data.AddOrUpdate(key, () => 
  26:     { // create
  27:        if(version != 0)
  28:            throw new ConcurrencyException();
  29:        return new Data{ Value = value, Version = 1 };
  30:     }, (_, prev) => 
  31:     { // update
  32:         if(prev.Version != version)
  33:           throw new ConcurrencyException();
  34:         return new Data{ Value = value, Version = prev.Version +1 };
  35:     });
  36: }

As you can see, it merely doubled the amount of code that we had to write, but it is pretty obvious how it works. RavenDB actually uses something very similar to that for concurrency control for writes, although the RavenDB ETag mechanism is alos doing a lot more.

But the version system that we have above is actually not enough, it only handle concurrency control for updates. What about concurrency controls for reads?

In particular, how are we going to handle non repeatable reads or phantom reads?

  • Non repeatable reads happen when you are reading a value, it is then deleted, and when you try to read it again, it is gone.
  • Phantom read is the other way around, first you tried, but didn’t find anything, then it was created, and you read it again and find it.

This is actually interesting, because you only care about those for the duration of a single operation / transaction / session. As it stand now, we actually have no way to handle either issue. This can lead to… interesting bugs that only happen under very specific scenarios.

With RavenDB, we actually handle both cases. In a session lifetime, you are guaranteed that if you saw a document, you’ll continue to see this document until the end of the session, which deals with the issue of non repeatable read. Conversely, if you didn’t see a document, you will continue to not see it until the session is closed. This is done for Load, queries are a little bit different.

Another aspect of concurrency that we need to deal with is Locking. Sometimes a user has a really good reason why they want to lock a record for a period of time. This is pretty much the only way to handle “checking out” of a record in a scenario where you have to multiple users wanting to make changes to a record concurrently. Locks can be Write Or ReadWrite locks. A Write lock allows users to read the data, but prevent them from changing that. When used in practice, this is usually going to immediately fail an operation, rather than make you wait for it.

The reasoning behind immediate fail for write is that if you encountered a record with a write lock, it means that it was either already written to or is about to be written to. At that case, your write is going to be operating on stale data, so we might was well fail you immediately. For ReadWrite locks, the situation is a bit different. In this case, we want to also prevent readers from moving on. This is usually done to ensure consistent state system wise, and basically, any operation on the record would have to wait until the lock is removed.

In practice,ReadWrite locks can cause a lot of issues. The moment that you have people start placing locks, you have to deal with lock expiration, manual unlocking, abandoned lock detection, lock maintenance, etc. About the only thing that they are good for is to allow the user to make a set of changes and present them as one unit, if we don’t have better transaction support. But I’ll discuss that in another post. In the meantime, just keep in mind that from my point of view, ReadWrite locks are pretty useless all around.

time to read 2 min | 320 words

The first item to go over with the World’s smallest No SQL database is how it uses memory. The codebase is really simple, which is pretty much the point, but can you think about the implications of the current codebase with regards to memory?

All the data is kept in a ConcurrentDictionary<string,byte[]>, and there is an unspoken assumption. Both keys and values are assumed to be small. What happens if that isn’t the case? Well, in .NET, you are going to get memory fragmentation pretty quickly. That means that on 32 bits, you are probably going to be able to store a lot less than the 2 GB of virtual memory that you get from the OS.

We will ignore that as well and move to other aspects of the code. What about how the system actually work in production? There is a lot of work that goes into ensuring that the CPU will be able to access memory efficiently. In particular, most dbs uses some form of an in memory data structure that take advantage of the L1, L2, L3 cache of the CPU. Usually something like a B+Tree. How does the dictionary compare here?

For that matter, what happens when we grow really big? What about when we are paging? How would that work? Can we just go over the keys in the dictionary without having to page through the values as well?


I think that you get my drift by now. And this is literally just me throwing stuff off the top of my head. There are a lot of other things that we need to worry about. For example, if we implement the sensible notion of a buffer pool, we might actually have a buffer that was released by a write but is currently being sent to the client, so we can’t just use buffers, we have to use ref counting as well.

time to read 1 min | 103 words

So, what is the point of the code that I have shown here: http://ayende.com/blog/162691/worlds-smallest-no-sql-database

The point was to show where you start, and how easy it is, but all the details that you need to handle along the way. I decided that it would probably make for an interesting blog series about the sort of things that this example exposes.

In particular, I want to talk about:

  • I/O
  • Memory
  • Concurrency
  • ACID
  • Transactions
  • Searching
  • Scale up
  • Scale out
  • Aggregation
  • High availability
  • Backups
  • Monitoring

I might have a few more items along the way, but those are probably the most important ones.


  1. Building a serverless secured dead drop - one day from now

There are posts all the way to May 30, 2024


  1. re (33):
    28 May 2024 - Secure Drop protocol
  2. Recording (13):
    05 Mar 2024 - Technology & Friends - Oren Eini on the Corax Search Engine
  3. Meta Blog (2):
    23 Jan 2024 - I'm a JS Developer now
  4. Production postmortem (51):
    12 Dec 2023 - The Spawn of Denial of Service
  5. Challenge (74):
    13 Oct 2023 - Fastest node selection metastable error state–answer
View all series


Main feed Feed Stats
Comments feed   Comments Feed Stats