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Manatee state machine

Manatee is a component of Joyent's SmartDataCenter and Manta projects.

This repo contains design docs and implementation pieces for the state machine guts of Manatee version 2.


This document attempts to describe the upcoming Manatee changes relatively formally to help us understand the various cases that need to be considered for the implementation.

Recall that Manatee is a cluster of three or more postgres instances such that:

  • One member of the cluster, the primary, serves all reads and writes
  • The primary uses synchronous replication to a postgres instance called the sync peer, meaning that transactions are not committed to the client until they've been committed to the sync's transaction log
  • Attached to the synchronous peer is a daisy chain of one or more async peers, which replicate changes from the previous link in the chain. They're asynchronous because it's not necessary for this replication to complete before transactions are committed.
  • If possible, the system automatically reconfigures itself after any combination of failures (of peers, the ZK cluster, or the underlying network) to maximize uptime and to never lose data.

Any configuration of three or more peers can use the algorithm described here. Manatee can be operated in single-peer mode; details on that are described under "One-node-write mode" below. Two-peer mode is analogous to two manatee nodes with no async (a degraded state). Operationally this mode does not make sense with this algorithm since it will never failover (the sync will never attempt a takeover without an async).

There are two state machines here. There's an overall cluster state, which is ultimately "unavailable", "read-only", or "read-write", and has an additional property of "requires operator attention" (which can be true even when read-write). This is ultimately what we care about. But being a distributed system, this state machine is actually determined by a different state machine executed independently by each peer. The point is to design the individual state machine such that the resulting cluster state machine does what we want (maximizes availability without ever losing data).

Cluster state

In this model, all state related to the configuration of the cluster is stored inside ZooKeeper. There are two kinds of state stored in ZooKeeper:

Ephemeral state: when each node establishes its ZK session, it creates an ephemeral node that identifies itself. These nodes are implicitly ordered by ZK. When the node's session is expired by ZK (e.g., as a result of prolonged disconnection), the ephemeral node is removed, and all peers with established ZK sessions are notified. In implementation, this means that for each manatee cluster, there will be a single directory containing the ephemeral nodes for each peer. These nodes are created when each peer's session is established, and node's will watch this directory to be notified of peers coming and going.

Cluster state: the cluster state is a single, non-ephemeral object whose contents are a JSON object that includes:

  • G, a generation number
  • P, the hostname (or other identifier) for the current primary peer
  • S, the hostname (or other identifier) for the current sync peer. Note that this is the peer assigned to be the sync, but in general it may not be caught up to the primary (P) when the generation begins.
  • A[], an ordered list of async peers, where the order defines the replication order
  • init_wal, the current position (a monotonically increasing integer) in P's WAL when the current generation began

Notes on cluster state:

  • The cluster moves atomically from one generation to the next, though obviously not all peers discover the change atomically.
  • When a new generation is declared, the primary for that generation writes out a complete cluster state that contains G, P, S, A, and init_wal. All of these fields except for "A" will be immutable for the duration of this generation.
  • The first generation is declared when there is no previous generation and there are at least two peers' ephemeral nodes present. This generation is declared by the peer whose ephemeral node is "first" according to ZK. The ordering here doesn't matter, since all peers are equivalent at this point.
  • Subsequent generations may be declared in exactly two situations:
    • The primary for generation G may declare a new generation G+1 if it determines that S has failed (because S's ephemeral node disappears) and at least one async from A is still present. P will select a new S from the head of A and declare a new generation. If the old S comes back, it will see that it is no longer S.
    • The secondary for generation G may declare a new generation G+1 if it determines that P has failed (because P's ephemeral node disappears) and at least one async from A is still present and its own WAL log position is at least as large as "init_wal". If S's WAL position is less than "init_wal", then S was never fully caught up to P and the system cannot proceed until P returns or an operator intervenes.
  • When a generation is initially declared, S is usually not yet caught up to P. The cluster may be made available read-only, but it's not until S establishes synchronous replication and fully catches up to P that the cluster can be made available read-write.

As a result of these rules, we can say that:

  • Exactly one peer will successfully write the initial cluster state.
  • In generation G, the only peer that can write a new cluster state G+1 is the primary assigned for G+1. The only two nodes that could attempt to do this are the P or S from generation G. It would be extremely unlikely for them to do this at the same time, since both of them will only do this when determining that the other's ZK session has expired, but we will use a test-and-set operation to make sure that only one of them can successfully do this.
  • Additionally, every new generation of cluster state includes a valid assignment of P, S, and A such that:
    • P can replicate to S
    • S can replicate to A0
    • Ai can replicate to A(i+1) which also means that P is at least as far ahead as any other peer, which means that we never lose data.

Algorithm overview


  1. On startup, connect to the ZK cluster, establish a session, and create the ephemeral node that represents this peer. Set a watch on the cluster state object.
  2. If at any point the ZK session expires, go back to step 1.
  3. If at any point the cluster state changes, reread it. If G has changed, go back to step 1.
  4. Read the current cluster state.
    1. If there is no current state, then the cluster may have never been set up.
      1. If postgres has been set up in the past on this node, wait for a few seconds and go to step 1. This indicates migration.
      2. If there are other ephemeral nodes in the cluster, and our ephemeral node is the first one according to the ZK-defined order, then go to "Declaring a generation" below.
      3. Otherwise, wait a few seconds and go to step 1.
    2. If the current state indicates that we are the primary, then go to "Assume the role of primary" below.
    3. If the current state indicates that we are the sync, then go to "Assume the role of sync" below.
    4. If the current state indicates that we are an async, then go to "Assume the role of async" below.
    5. Otherwise, we must be a newly-provisioned node. We will become an async, but we will wait for the current primary to assign our upstream. Wait a few seconds and go to step 1.

Declaring a generation

A new generation is declared in one of three cases:

  • during initial cluster setup (when there's no cluster state), by the peer with the lowest-ordered ephemeral node, when there's at least one other peer present;
  • when a sync S in generation G declares that P has failed, and S has caught up to where P was at the start of generation G, and there's another async A0 available to become the new S;
  • when a primary P in generation G declares that S has failed and selects an async A0 to become the new S

In all of these cases, the generation is declared by the node that will be P in the new generation, and it only does so when there's a node present that can be assigned as S. As a result, the new cluster state is derived as:

  • G: one more than the previous generation
  • P: the peer declaring the new generation
  • S: at initial setup, this is any other available node. Afterwards, this is A0, the first async peer.
  • A: the ordered list from the previous generation with A0 (the head of the list) removed
  • init_wal: the current position in P's WAL

This state is written with a test-and-set operation over the original state. If that fails, go to step 1 of the algorithm above. If this operation succeeds, proceed to "Assume the role of primary" below.

Assume the role of primary

  1. Start postgres as primary, meaning that it's configured for synchronous replication. When postgres starts, it will become read-only.
  2. Wait for the synchronous peer to attach. When it attaches and catches up, postgres will become read-write.
  3. If it's detected that G has changed (which can only happen if S has declared a new generation), stop postgres and proceed to step 1 in the main algorithm above. This will likely require a rollback, which is currently a manual step.
  4. If S's ephemeral node goes away, declare a new generation (see above).

Assume the role of secondary

  1. Start postgres as the secondary, meaning that it's configured for async replication, and it's configured to replicate synchronously from the primary. When postgres starts, it will connect to the primary and begin replication.
  2. When replication catches up to the primary, postgres on the primary will become read-write (see above).
  3. If it's detected that G has changed (which can only happen if P has declared a new generation), stop postgres and proceed to step 1 in the main algorithm above.
  4. If P's ephemeral node goes away, declare a new generation (see above).

Assume the role of async

  1. Find our entry in the list A of async peers. The previous entry (or S, if we're the first entry in A) is our upstream source. Begin replicating from the upstream source.
  2. If A changes, then go to step 1.
  3. If G changes, then go to step 1 in the main algorithm above.

Async peer management

The primary has to maintain the list of async peers, and it should try to avoid shuffling the order so that the replication chain flows down the line of asyncs.

When a new async joins, it creates its ephemeral node. When the primary sees that, it appends the async to A in the cluster state. When the async sees that, it begins replicating from the previous A, or from S if it's at the head of A. If the async goes away, the primary removes it from A. The peer behind the peer that failed must notice this and begin replicating from the next upstream peer.

Deposed peers

When a primary is deposed, in some cases it may be possible for the primary to resume service as an async without further intervention, but it many cases this is not possible. (That's because when a takeover event occurs under load, the primary will typically have xlog entries not present on the other peers. These entries correspond to uncommitted transactions. Once the cluster starts taking writes after the takeover, the deposed peer's transaction log actually diverges from the actual cluster's log -- i.e., both have entries for xlog position X, but they're different. This is only recoverable by rolling back the primary.)

Since the common case in production is that this will not be possible, primary peers that are deposed move into an explicit "deposed" state, and the only way to remove them from this state is by manual action that rebuilds the primary from one of the other peers. This operation is documented in the user guide.

When a peer is deposed, it shuts down its postgres instance and waits for operator intervention.

ZK sessions

From each peer's perspective, the only events related to ZK are:

  • connected/disconnected: These are both nops. ZK is based around sessions to avoid transient TCP failures triggering cluster reconfigurations.
  • session established: Client should re-read cluster state and proceed as during initial startup.
  • session expired: Client should attempt to establish a new session (and then see "session established").
  • client timeout (client has failed to heartbeat in too long): This is a nop. It will eventually result in a session expiration or a normal reconnection.

One-node-write mode (ONWM)

Manatee supports limited use of one-node-write mode, which means that a single peer is allowed to become a writable primary with no replication attached. There are two main cases where this is used:

  • during bootstrap of SmartDataCenter, where a writable Manatee peer is required for deployment of a second Manatee peer, after which the cluster will be switched into normal mode
  • for tiny non-production deployments where the added durability of a full cluster is not important and the resources required to run it are not available but the surrounding architecture assumes the presence of Manatee. This is true for the SDC COAL deployment, which is a tiny SDC instance used for development and testing.

The expectation is that ONWM clusters only have one peer. The only time other peers are expected to show up is in preparation for transitioning the cluster to normal mode. In ONWM, ZooKeeper is still used to record cluster state, but an additional field called "oneNodeWriteMode" will be true, the cluster will be frozen, and the "sync" field will be null.

To enable this mode, a peer must be configured with ONWM enabled and the cluster must not have previously been set up. Once that happens:

  • When the peer starts up, it will immediately set up the cluster for one-node-write mode, with itself as the primary. (In normal mode, it would wait for another peer to show up before setting up the cluster.)
  • The primary peer in ONWM will not react to any other peers joining the cluster. It will never assign a sync, assign asyncs, or declare new generations.
  • Since other peers joining the cluster will never be assigned as syncs, let alone asyncs, they will never attempt to take over from the primary.

To transition a cluster into normal mode:

  1. Deploy a new peer not configured for ONWM. This peer will immediately become unassigned.
  2. Disable the primary peer.
  3. Reconfigure the primary peer to disable ONWM.
  4. Enable the primary peer.
  5. Unfreeze the cluster.

The primary will come up as primary, see that the cluster must be transitioning to normal mode, and declare a new generation with the newly-deployed peer as the sync. After that, the cluster behaves like a normal cluster.

Planned promotions

A topology change in Manatee takes place when the cluster determines that a peer has gone missing and another peer is available to takeover in that role. This is done by watching for changes to the active peers (i.e. the presence of their ephemeral nodes in ZooKeeper), but depending on ZooKeeper configuration this could be a lengthy period of time before the cluster notices. For situations where a known topology change is going to happen (e.g. when upgrading the cluster), Manatee will watch for a special object in ZooKeeper and proactively take actions on the request, instead of waiting for a timeout of the applicable ephemeral node.

This object is named promote in the cluster's state and is described below in the "Data structures" section. When an operator puts this object, each peer in the cluster will get a "clusterStateChange" event and, as part of its evaluation of this state, validate the promotion request against the current state of the cluster. If this request is invalid, the request is ignored and a message logged. If this request is valid, the primary (or in the event of a deposition of the primary, the sync) will put a new state object into ZooKeeper reflecting the intended state of the cluster (e.g. new primary required, async chain changes). Each peer will then receive a subsequent "clusterStateChange" notification and take the appropriate actions defined in this state.

The original promote object will not be re-written to the cluster's state when a promotion request is acted upon. When the promotion request is invalid, the primary is responsible for removing the promote object from the cluster state after finding it to be invalid.

The cluster will never act on a promotion request where the current time is greater than that in the promote.expireTime, or in the case where any other of the properties do not match the current state of the cluster (e.g. if promote.generation doesn't match clusterState.generation). This has the effect of protecting the cluster from acting on a promotion request where there might have been a natural takeover in the time between when the operator was building this object and putting it into ZooKeeper.

Implementation notes

Data structures

peer identifier

Several parts of the interface refer to individual manatee peers. Identifiers are non-null objects with several properties:

  • id (string): an immutable, unique identifier for this peer. For backward compatibility reasons the format is ip:postgresPort:backupPort.
  • pgUrl (string, postgres URL): URL for contacting the postgres peer. This is unique.
  • backupUrl (string, http URL): URL for requesting a backup from this peer.
  • zoneId (string): the hostname of the manatee peer, for operator reference only. This is not guaranteed to be unique, and should not be used programmatically.
  • ip (string, IPv4 address): an IP address for the manatee peer, for operator reference only. This is not guaranteed to be unique, and should not be used programmatically.

The state machine implementation does not interpret any of these fields. For comparing the identities of two peers, only the id field is used.


clusterState is an object. If not initialized in ZK, its JavaScript value is null. Otherwise, it has these properties:

  • generation (integer): generation number
  • primary (peer identifier): the primary peer
  • sync (peer identifier, see above): the synchronous replication peer
  • async (array of peer identifiers, see above): the list of asynchronous peers, in replication order. That is, async[i] replicates from async[i-1], and async[0] replicates from sync.
  • deposed (array of peer identifiers, see above): the list of previous primaries which need to be rebuilt before being brought back into service
  • initWal (string, postgres WAL location): the WAL of the primary when this generation began.
  • freeze: if this field is present and non-null, then no peers should make any changes to the cluster state (including both takeovers and incorporating new async peers). If present, it may be a boolean or an object describing who froze the cluster and why. This is currently used during migration from older versions.
  • oneNodeWriteMode: if true, then the cluster is configured for one-node-write mode. See above for details.
  • promote: an optional object containing the intent of an operator-initiated promotion for an individual peer. See below for details.


promote is an optional object that is validated separately to the clusterState object. Its properties are expected to be as follows:

  • id (string): id of the peer to be promoted (see "peer identifier")
  • role (string): current role of the peer to be promoted
  • asyncIndex (integer): position in the async chain (if "role" is "async")
  • generation (integer): generation of the cluster that the promotion is taking place in
  • expireTime (string): time that a promotion must happen within in the format of an ISO 8601 timestamp

pg config

pg config is a non-null object representing postgres configuration. It always has this properties:

  • role (string): one of 'primary', 'sync', 'async', or 'none'.

If role is 'primary', then there's a 'downstream' property which is a manatee peer identifier (see peer identifier above). In this case, the upstream property is null.

If role is 'sync' or 'async', then there's an 'upstream' property which is a manatee peer identifier (see peer identifier above). In this case, the downstream property is null (even though there may be a downstream, because this information is not part of the postgres configuration for this peer).

If role is 'none', then replication is not configured at all, and 'upstream' and 'downstream' are both null.

For examples:

    "role": "primary",
    "upstream": null,
    "downstream": {
        "id": "",
        "pgUrl": "tcp://postgres@"
        "backupUrl": "",
        "zoneId": "3360a2f9-4da3-476f-9fb0-915b9f01fecd",
        "ip": ""

    "role": "sync",
    "upstream": { "id": "", ... }
    "downstream": null

    "role": "none",
    "upstream": null,
    "downstream": null


There are two interfaces used by the state machine implementation: the ZK interface and the postgres interface.

ZK interface


  • putClusterState(clusterState, callback): does a test-and-set write to the cluster state node in ZK using the given clusterState object for the new contents. On success, invokes callback with no arguments. On failure, invokes callback with an Error describing the problem.


  • init (arg status): emitted once for the lifetime of this event emitter. It has two properties: (1) clusterState is the cluster state found, an object of type clusterState (see above) and (2) active, the list of active peers in Zookeeper. This is always the first event emitted by this object.
  • clusterStateChange (arg clusterState): emitted any time the clusterState ZK node changes.
  • activeChange (arg allActive): emitted once, immediately after the first init event, and again any time the directory of ephemeral nodes (representing the set of peers in this cluster with active ZK sessions) changes. allActive is an array of peer identifiers.

PG interface


All three of these are asynchronous`. None of these methods may be called while any asynchronous operations on the interface are outstanding.

  • reconfigure(pgConfig, callback): reconfigures postgres replication according to the given configuration (see pg config above). Invokes callback on completion, with no arguments on success and an Error on failure. This does not start or stop postgres. The caller must do that separately.
  • start(callback): starts postgres with the last configuration specified to reconfigure. Invokes callback on completion, with no arguments on success and an Error on failure.
  • stop(callback); stops postgres. Invokes callback on completion, with no arguments on success and an Error on failure.

There are these additional methods:

  • getXLogLocation(callback): Fetches the last known Xlog position from Postgres and returns it asynchronously to callback. May return an error to callback instead. May fail (with an asynchronous, operational error) if postgres is not online.


  • init: emitted when the interface is ready with a struct indicating postgres status: online indicating if postgres is already running and setup, indicating if postgres has been previously set up on this node.
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