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A Logical Clock for Static and Dynamic Systems
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Interval Tree Clocks

Classic causality tracking mechanisms, such as version vectors and vector clocks, have been designed under the assumption of a fixed, well known, set of participants. These mechanisms are less than ideal when applied to dynamic scenarios, subject to variable numbers of participants and churn. E.g. in the Amazon Dynamo system old entries on version vectors are pruned to conserve space, and errors can be introduced.

Interval Tree Clocks (ITC) is a new clock mechanism that can be used in scenarios with a dynamic number of participants, allowing a completely decentralized creation of processes/replicas without need for global identifiers. The mechanism has a variable size representation that adapts automatically to the number of existing entities, growing or shrinking appropriately.

Here we provide reference implementations of ITCs in Java, C and Erlang, and appropriate import and export methods to a common serialized representation. In Sample Run we provide an example on how to use the API in both languages. Further information can be found here and full details in the Conference Paper, published in Opodis 2009.

Simple demo run

This is just a simple example of how one can use the Interval Tree Clocks library, both in C and JAVA.

Demo run

The image shows a run from ITC which is divided in sections. Each section represents the state of the system between operations (fork, event or join) and is labeled with a letter. This letter maps the state of the operations presented in both demo programs.

Sample code C

The initial Stamp must be initialized as a seed. After that, the Stamps are modified according to the operation that has been executed. All operations use pointers to Stamps and return an int value as a result for the success of the operations, meaning that the resulting Stamp, or Stamps, are returned by reference.

	#include "itc.h"
	int main(){
	    stamp* seed = itc_seed(seed);
	    stamp* a = newStamp(); // a
	    stamp* b = newStamp();
	    stamp* c = newStamp();
	    itc_fork(seed, a, b); // b
	    itc_event(a, a); // c
	    itc_event(b, b); // c
	    itc_fork(a, a, c); // d
	    itc_event(b, b); // d
	    itc_event(a, a); // e
	    itc_join(b, c, b); // e
	    itc_fork(b, b, c); // f
	    itc_join(a, b, a); // g
	    itc_event(a, a); // h

Sample code JAVA

When using objects, in JAVA, every new Stamp is defined as a seed, meaning that there is no need to apply any method in order to create the seed Stamp. There are alternatives (functional style) to these methods, which are defined in the API.

	import itc.*;
	public class teste2 {
	    public static void main(String[] args){
	        Stamp a = new Stamp(); // a
	        Stamp b;
	        Stamp c;
	        b = a.fork(); // b
	        a.event(); // c
	        b.event(); // c
	        c = a.fork(); // d
	        b.event(); // d
	        a.event(); // e
	        b.join(c); // e
	        c = b.fork(); // f
	        a.join(b); // g
	        a.event(); // h

Summary High level presentation of ITCs and its use.


Interval Tree Clocks can substitute both Version Vectors and Vector Clocks.

Version Vectors are used to track data dependency among replicas. They are used in replicated file systems (such as Coda) and in Cloud engines (such as Amazon Dynamo and Cassandra).

Vector Clocks track causality dependency between events in distributed processes. They are used in group communication protocols (such as in the Spread toolkit), in consistent snapshots algorithms, etc.

ITCs can be used in all these settings and will excel in dynamic settings, i.e. whenever the number and set of active entities varies during the system execution, since it allows localized introduction and removal of entities. Before ITCs, the typical strategy to address these dynamic settings was to implement the classical vectors as mappings from a globally unique id to an integer counter. The drawback is that unique ids are not space efficient and that if the active entities change over time (under churn) the state dedicated to the mapping will keep growing. This has lead to ad-hoc pruning solutions (e.g. in Dynamo) that can introduce errors and compromise causality tracking.

ITCs encode the state needed to track causality in a stamp, composed of an event and id component, and introduce 3 basic operations:

Fork is used to introduce new stamps. Allows the cloning of the causal past of a stamp, resulting in a pair of stamps that have identical copies of the event component and distinct ids. E.g. it can be used to introduce new replicas to a system.

Join is used to merge two stamps. Produces a new stamp that incorporates both causal pasts. E.g. it can be used to retire replicas or receive causal information from messages.

Event is used to add causal information to a stamp, "incrementing" the event component and keeping the id.

(Peek is a special case of fork that only copies the event component and creates a new stamp with a null id. It can be used to make messages that transport causal information.)

Simulating Version Vectors

First, replicas need to be created. A seed stamp (with a special id component) is first created and the desired number of replicas can be created by forking this initial seed. Bellow we create 4 replicas (Java objects a,b,c,d - both in imperative and functional style):

	Stamp a = new Stamp(); // Seed
	Stamp b = a.fork();
	Stamp c = a.fork();
	Stamp[] out = Stamp.fork(c);
	c = out[0];
	Stamp d = out[1];

(Notice that any stamp can be forked, here we forked stamp a twice and stamp c once.)

Since no events have been registered, these stamps all compare as equal. Since a stamp method leq (less or equal) is provided, stamps x and y are equivalent when both x.leq(y) and y.leq(x) are true.

Now, suppose that stamp b is associated to a ReplicaB and this replica was modified. We note this by doing:

	b = Stamp.event(b);

Now stamp b is greater than all the others. We can do the same in stamp d to denote an update on ReplicaD:

	d = d.event();
	d = Stamp.event(d);

These two stamps are now concurrent. Thus b.leq(d) is false and d.leq(b) is also false.

Now suppose that we want to merge the updates in ReplicaB and ReplicaD. One way is to create a replica that reflects both updates:

	e = Stamp.join(b,d);

This stamp e will now have an id that joins the ids in b and d, and has an event component that holds both issued events. An alternative way, that keeps the number of replicas/stamps and does not form new ids, is to exchange events between both replicas.


Now, stamps b and d are no longer concurrent and will compare as equivalent, since they depict the same events.


This work is licensed under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), version 3. See the License for details about distribution rights, and the specific rights regarding derivate works.

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