Ayende @ Rahien

Oren Eini aka Ayende Rahien CEO of Hibernating Rhinos LTD, which develops RavenDB, a NoSQL Open Source Document Database.

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+972 52-548-6969

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time to read 3 min | 442 words

imageWe are running a lot of tests right now on RavenDB, in all sort of interesting configurations. Some of the more interesting results came from testing wildly heterogeneous systems. Put a node on a fast Windows machine, connect it to a couple of Raspberry PIs, a cheap Windows tablet over WiFi and a slow Linux machine and see how that kind of cluster is handling high load.

This has turned out a number of bugs, the issue with the TCP read buffer corruption is one such example, but another is the reason for this post. In one of our test runs, the RavenDB process crashed with invalid memory access. That was interesting to see. Tracking down the issue led us to the piece of code that is handling incoming replication. In particular, the issue was possible if the following happened:

  • Node A is significantly slower than node B, primarily with regards to disk I/O.
  • Node B is being hit with enough load that it send large requests to node A.
  • There is a Node C that is also trying to replicate the same information (because it noticed that node A isn’t catching fast enough and is trying to help).

The root cause was that we had a bit of code that looked like this:

Basically, we read the data from the network into a buffer, and now we hand it off to the transaction merger to run. However, if there is a lot of load on the server, it is possible that the transaction merger will not have a chance to return in time.  We try to abort the connection here, since something is obviously wrong, and we do just that. The problem is that we sent a buffer to the transaction merger, and while it might not have gotten to processing our request yet (or haven’t completed it, at least), there is no way for us to actually be able to pull the request out (it might have already started executing, after all).

The code didn’t consider that, and what happened when we did get a timeout is that the buffer was returned to the pool, and if it was freed in time, we would get an access violation exception if we were lucky, or just garbage in the buffer (that we previously validated, so we didn’t check again) that would likely also cause a crash.

The solution was to wait for the task to complete, but ping the other host to let it know that we are still alive, and that the connection shouldn’t be aborted.

time to read 3 min | 522 words

imageThis bug is actually one of the primary reasons we had a Beta 2 release for RavenDB 4.0 so quickly.

The problem is easy to state, we had a problem in any non trivial deployment setup where clients would be utterly unable to connect to us. Let us examine what I mean by non trivial setup, shall we?

A trivial setup is when you are running locally, binding to “http://localhost:8080”. In this case, everything is simple, and you can bind to the appropriate interface and when a client connects to you, you let it know that your URL is “http://localhost:8080”.

Hm… this doesn’t make sense. If a client just connected to us, why do we need to let it know what is the URL that it need to connect to us?

Well, if there is just a single node, we don’t. But RavenDB 4.0 allows you to connect to any node in the cluster and ask it where a particular database is located. So the first thing that happens when you connect to a RavenDB server is that you find out where you really need to go. In the case of a single node, the answer is “you are going to talk to me”, but in the case of a cluster, it might be some other node entirely. And this is where things begin to be a bit problematic. The problem is that we need to know what to call ourselves when a client connects to us.

That isn’t as easy as it might sound. Consider the case where the user configure the server url to be “”. We can’t give that to the client, so we default to sending back the host name in that case. And this is where things started to get tricky. In many cases, the host name is not something that make sense.

Oh, for internal deployments, you can usually rely on it, but if you are deploying to AWS, for example, the machine host name is of very little use in routing to that particular machine. Or, for that matter, a docker container host name isn’t particularly useful when you consider it from the outside.

The problem is that with RavenDB, we had a single configuration value that was used both for the binding to the network and for letting the user know how to connect to us. That didn’t work when you had routers in the middle. For example, if my public docker IP is, that doesn’t mean that this is the IP that I can bind to inside the container. And the same is true whenever you have any complex network topology (putting nginx in front of the server, for example).

The resolution for that was pretty simple, we added a new configuration value that will separate the host that we bind to from the host that we report to the outside world. In this manner, you can bind to one IP but let the world know that you should be reached via another. 

time to read 5 min | 986 words

imageThe bug started as pretty much all others. “We have a problem when replicating from a Linux machine to a Windows machine, I’m seeing some funny values there”. This didn’t raise any alarm bells, after all, that was the point of checking what was going on in a mixed mode cluster. We didn’t expect any issues, but it wasn’t surprising that they happened.

The bug in question showed up as an invalid database id in some documents. In particular, it meant that we might have node A, node B and node C in the cluster, and running a particular scenario suddenly started also reporting node Ω, node Σ and other fun stuff like that.

And so the investigation began. We were able to reproduce this error once we put enough load on the cluster (typically around the 20th million document write or so), and it was never consistent.

We looked at how we save the data to disk, we looked at how we ready it, we scanned all the incoming and outgoing data. We sniffed raw TCP sockets and we looked at everything from the threading model to random corruption of data on the wire to our own code reading the data to manual review of the TCP code in the Linux kernel.

The later might require some explanation, it turned out that setting TCP_NODELAY on Linux would make the issue go away. That only made things a lot harder to figure out. What was worse, this corruption only ever happened in this particular location, never anywhere else. It was maddening, and about three people worked on this particular issue for over a week with the sole result being: “We know where it roughly happening, but no idea why or how”.

That in itself was a very valuable thing to have, and along the way we were able to fix a bunch of other stuff that was found under this level of scrutiny. But the original problem persisted, quite annoyingly.

Eventually, we tracked it down to this method:

We were there before, and we looked at the code, and it looked fine. Except that it wasn’t. In particular, there is a problem when the range we want to move is overlapped with the range we want to move it to.

For example, consider that we have a buffer of 32KB, and we read from the network 7 bytes. We then consumed 2 of those bytes. In the image below, you can see that as the Origin, with the consumed bytes shown as ghosts.


What we need to do now is to move the “Joyou” to the beginning of the buffer, but note that we need to move it from 2 – 7 to 0 – 5, which are overlapping ranges. The issue is that we want to be able to fully read “Joyous”, which require us to do some work to make sure that we can do that. This ReadExactly piece of code was written with the knowledge that at most it will be called with 16 bytes to read, and the buffer size is 32KB, so there was an implicit assumption that those ranges can’t overlap.

when they do… Well, you can see in the image how the data is changed with each iteration of the loop. The end result is that we have corrupted our buffer and mess everything up. The Linux TCP stack had no issue, it was all in our code. The problem is that while it is rare, it is perfectly fine to fragment the data you send into multiple packets, each with very small length. The reason why TCP_NODELAY “fixed” the issue was that it probably didn’t trigger the multiple small buffers one after another in that particular scenario. It is also worth noting that we tracked this down to specific load pattern that would cause the sender to split packets in this way to generate this error condition.

That didn’t actually fix anything, since it could still happen, but I traced the code, and I think that this happened with more regularity since we hit the buffer just right to send a value over the buffer size in just the wrong way. The fix for this, by the way, is to avoid the manual buffer copying and to use memove(), which is safe to use for overlapped ranges.

That leave us with the question, why did it take us so long to find this out? For that matter, how could this error surface only in this particular case? There is nothing really special with the database id, and this particular method is called a lot by the code.

Figuring this out took even more time, basically, this bug was hidden by the way our code validate the incoming stream. We don’t trust data from the network, and we run it through a set of validations to ensure that it is safe to consume. When this error happened in the normal course of things, higher level code would typically detect that as corruption and close the connection. The other side would retry and since this is timing dependent, it will very likely be able to proceed. The issue with database ids is that they are opaque binary values (they are guids, so no structure at all that is meaningful for the application). That means that only when we got this particular issue on that particular field (and other field at all) will we be able to pass validation and actually get the error.

The fix was annoyingly simply given the amount of time we spent finding it, but we have been able to root out a significant bug as a result of the real world tests we run.


No future posts left, oh my!


  1. re (24):
    12 Nov 2019 - Document-Level Optimistic Concurrency in MongoDB
  2. Voron’s Roaring Set (2):
    11 Nov 2019 - Part II–Implementation
  3. Searching through text (3):
    17 Oct 2019 - Part III, Managing posting lists
  4. Design exercise (6):
    01 Aug 2019 - Complex data aggregation with RavenDB
  5. Reviewing mimalloc (2):
    22 Jul 2019 - Part II
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