Skip to content


Switch branches/tags

Name already in use

A tag already exists with the provided branch name. Many Git commands accept both tag and branch names, so creating this branch may cause unexpected behavior. Are you sure you want to create this branch?


Failed to load latest commit information.
Latest commit message
Commit time

statebox - state "monad" for automated conflict resolution


statebox is a data structure you can use with an eventually consistent system such as riak to resolve conflicts between siblings in a deterministic manner.


Used in production at Mochi Media for multiple backend services.


A statebox wraps a current value and an event queue. The event queue is an ordered list of {timestamp(), op()}. When two or more statebox are merged with statebox:merge/1, the event queues are merged with lists:umerge/1 and the operations are performed again over the current value of the newest statebox, producing a new statebox with conflicts resolved in a deterministic manner.

An op() is a {fun(), [term()]}, with all but the last argument specified in the term list. For example {ordsets:add_element/2, [a]}. To evaluate this op, ordsets:add_element(a, value(Statebox)) will be called. It is also possible to specify an op() as a {module(), atom(), [term()]} tuple, or as a list of op() when performing several operations at the same timestamp.

There are several important limitations on the kinds of op() that are safe to use ({F, [Arg]} is the example op() used below):

  • An op() must be repeatable: F(Arg, F(Arg, Value)) =:= F(Arg, Value)
  • If the {fun(), [term()]} form is used, the fun() should be a reference to an exported function.
  • F(Arg, Value) should return the same type as Value.

Some examples of safe to use op() that ship with Erlang:

  • {fun ordsets:add_element/2, [SomeElem]} and {fun ordsets:del_element/2, [SomeElem]}
  • {fun ordsets:union/2, [SomeOrdset]} and {fun ordsets:subtract/2, [SomeOrdset]}
  • {fun orddict:store/3, [Key, Value]}

Some examples of functions you can not use as op():

  • {fun orddict:update_counter, [Key, Inc]} - it is not repeatable. F(a, 1, [{a, 0}]) =/= F(a, 1, F(a, 1, [{a, 0}]))


There are two functions that modify a statebox that can be used to reduce its size. One or both of these should be done every time before serializing the statebox.

  • truncate(N, Statebox) return Statebox with no more than N events in its queue.
  • expire(Age, Statebox) return Statebox with no events older than last_modified(Statebox) - Age. If using new/1 and modify/2, then this is in milliseconds.


Simple ordsets() example:

New = statebox:new(fun () -> [] end),
ChildA = statebox:modify({fun ordsets:add_element/2, [a]}, New),
ChildB = statebox:modify({fun ordsets:add_element/2, [b]}, New),
Resolved = statebox:merge([ChildA, ChildB]),
statebox:value(Resolved) =:= [a, b].

With manual control over timestamps:

New = statebox:new(0, fun () -> [] end),
ChildA = statebox:modify(1, {fun ordsets:add_element/2, [a]}, New),
ChildB = statebox:modify(2, {fun ordsets:add_element/2, [b]}, New),
Resolved = statebox:merge([ChildA, ChildB]),
statebox:value(Resolved) =:= [a, b].

Using the statebox_orddict convenience wrapper:

New = statebox_orddict:from_values([]),
ChildA = statebox:modify([statebox_orddict:f_store(a, 1),
                          statebox_orddict:f_union(c, [a, aa])],
ChildB = statebox:modify([statebox_orddict:f_store(b, 1),
                          statebox_orddict:f_union(c, [b, bb])],
Resovled = statebox_orddict:from_values([ChildA, ChildB]),
statebox:value(Resolved) =:= [{a, 1}, {b, 1}, {c, [a, aa, b, bb]}].


On Mochi Labs

statebox, an eventually consistent data model for Erlang (and Riak) on the Mochi Labs blog describes the rationale for statebox and shows how it works.

Convergent / Commutative Replicated Data Types

The technique used to implement this is similar to what is described in this paper: A comprehensive study of Convergent and Commutative Replicated Data Types. statebox was developed without knowledge of the paper, so the terminology and implementation details differ.

I think the technique used by statebox would be best described as a state-based object, although the merge algorithm and event queue is similar to how op-based objects are described.


Erlang state "monad" with merge/conflict-resolution capabilities. Useful for Riak.







No packages published