Saturday, July 25, 2020

Snapshot Isolation Mode

Pgpool-II 4.2 is under development

Pgpool-II developers have been working hard for upcoming Pgpool-II 4.2 release, which is supposed to be released around this September or October.

Snapshot isolation mode is coming

For the new release I have just added new clustering mode called "Snapshot isolation mode", which would be not only interesting for Pgpool-II users but PostgreSQL users and I think I decided to write about it in this blog.

Existing clustering mode

Until Pgpool-II 4.1, we have following clustering mode:
  • Streaming replication mode. This is most widely used at this point. PostgreSQL's streaming replication is used for the replication task in this mode.
  • Native replication mode. Until streaming replication is available, this was the most common setting. In this mode Pgpool-II issues same data modifying statements (DML/DDL) to all the PostgreSQL servers. As a result same data is replicated in all PostgreSQL servers.
  • Slony mode. In this mode replication is done by Slony-I instead of streaming replication. This had been popular until streaming replication came up.
  • Raw mode. No replication is done in this mode. Rarely used.
The new "Snapshot isolation mode" is pretty close to the existing native replication mode. It does not use the streaming replication at all. Replication is done by sending DML/DDL statements to all the PostgreSQL servers.  If so, what's the difference?

Atomic visibility

Before explaining that I would like to talk about the background a little bit.

PostgreSQL developers has been discussing about technology which can scale to handle large data. One of such a technical directions is extending FDW (Foreign Data Wrapper). It sends query to another PostgreSQL server to replicate or shard data. The idea is similar to the native replication mode in Pgpool-II because it also sends DML/DDL to servers to replicate data.
As for replicating data, they look good so far. However, there is a problem when multiple sessions try to access data at the same time.

Suppose we have 2 sessions: session 1 continuously executes UPDATE t1 SET i = i +1; session 2 continuously executes INSERT INTO log SELECT * FROM t1. Table t1 has only 1 row and it's initial value is 0 (actually each UPDATE and INSERT are executed in an explicit transaction).

So after session 1 and session 2 end, table "log" should have exactly same sequential numbers like "0, 1, 2, 3...." on both PostgreSQL servers. But see the example session below:

Session 1 executed UPDATE at t1 on servers1, while on server 2 UPDATE was executed on t2. Session 2 executed INSERT at t3 with value 1. Unfortunately on server2 INSERT was executed at t3, and t1 was not updated yet thus the value used was 0.

So after the sessions end, we will see different sequences of numbers in log table on server1 and server2. If we do not have atomic visibility this kind of data inconsistency could happen. Atomic visibility guarantees that value can be seen on server1 and server2 are same as long as they are executed in a same session. In the example above, data logged into log table would be either 0 (t1 has not been updated/committed yet) or 1 (t1 has been already updated/committed).

Snapshot isolation mode guarantees atomic visibility

The upcoming snapshot isolation mode is different from existing native replication mode in that it guarantees atomic visibility. So we don't need to worry about such that data inconsistency in the example above. In fact we have new regression to test the new snapshot isolation mode by using essentially same SQL used in the example above. Please note that in order to use snapshot isolation mode, the transaction isolation mode must be "REPEATABLE READ". (Postgres FDW also runs foreign transactions in this mode).

How to achieve atomic visibility?

PostgreSQL developers already recognize the necessity of atomic visibility. Postgres-XC, a fork of PostgreSQL, invented Global Transaction Manager to achieve atomic visibility. Some PostgreSQL developers are proposing CSN (Commit Sequence Number) approach. However these approch needs major surgery in PostgreSQL code.

Pgpool-II uses completely different approach, which is called "Pangea" proposed in an academic paper. With Pangea, no modification is necessary with PostgreSQL. Even you can use older versions of PostgreSQL like 8.0. So you can enjoy snapshot isolation mode of Pgpool-II today with your favorite version of PostgreSQL.

In Pagea the idea is called Global Snapshot Isolation, which extends snapshot isolation of local server to across servers. That's the reason why we call the new clustering mode as "Snapshot Isolation mode".

How Pangea works?

 With Pangea each first command in a transaction needs to wait if other transactions are trying to commit. If there are no commit is ongoing, the command will get snapshot which defines the visibility of the transaction. Since local transactions on each server acquire snapshots while there are no committing transactions, they can be regarded as consistent. In the example above, the INSERT command in session 2 will be forced to wait until t4, and at that time session 1 commits. Thus each INSERT command in session 2 will see "1" in table t1. Same thing can be said to the commit. Commit must wait if there's ongoing snapshot acquisition.


Pgpool-II 4.1 will come with new clustering mode called "Snapshot Isolation Mode" which guarantees the atomic visibility and is not provided in current standard PostgreSQL. Unlike other techniques to implement the atomic visibility, Pgpool-II does not require any modification to PostgreSQL. Also it can be used even with older version of PostgreSQL. Stay tuned.

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