Eventual Serializability (2)

8 minute read


[This blog post is built on top of the examples presented in the last post. Here I will present my ideas on a suitable notion of generic and automatically extractable program correctness]


In my previous blog post, I presented a few examples regarding how the notion of application correctness (which guides the program verification and synthesis approaches) is currently being pushed to the application level. Here, I will challenge this trend by presenting what I believe is the right notion of correctness for such applications.

High-level Invariants. Again.

Let’s consider a simple canonical example used in the literature. The bank account application, which maintains a number of bank account objects and offers the following three operations: deposit withdraw and getBalance. The first two operations update the integer value kept in the account where the last operation simply returns it. It is very common to use this toy example to show how applications should satisfy some high-level invariant in order to be executed correctly: “for all accounts, the balance should always be greater than zero”. This is extremely easy to verify under SERIAL isolation guarantee, following the implementation of the withdraw transaction:

withdraw(id accID, int amount){
  int current_val = get_value(accID)

It is now a very reasonable question to ask whether the above invariant is preserved when the application is executed on weakly consistent or isolated environments (which is what the two papers presented in the last blog post are trying to answer).

However, a question that I want to raise now is: Was it really necessary ask developers to also tell us how a correct bank account should behave before we could do our analysis? Or in other words:

  • Didn’t they already give the same correctness meaning to the program when they were adding the guard if(current_val>amount) inside the withdraw transaction?
  • Couldn’t we simply have defined the correctness of the program as some sort of equivalence to a serial execution of the same application with no extra effort?
  • Isn’t it the case that all serial executions of the application preserve the invariant and all executions that satisfy the invariant are equal to a serial execution?

Dangling Reads

The very first answer that one might give to the above questions is: NO! the following execution does not match any serial execution but is still acceptable according to our high-level invariant:

bank account

Understanding the existence of limited examples such as above, I am now going to define a new, slightly weaker notion of serializability, which cannot be violated by the values returned by dangling reads. I define dangling reads as the ones whose sole purpose is to show the state of the application to the user and do not affect the following (or concurrently running) operations in any mean, e.g. two getBalance operations above.

To make it more clear, let’s imagine our bank account application had a forth transaction named addInterest which updates user accounts according to the values returned by an invocation of the getBalance operations. In this case, the getBalance operation invoked, would not be dangling anymore and again the notion of the correct behavior of the application will be reduced to some sort of equivalence to a serial execution. Luckily, dangling invocations of read operations can be detected by a routine static program analysis which takes the burden off the user’s shoulder.

Eventual Serializability

Following the above observations, I define the notion of Eventual Serializability (ES) for an application under a certain choice of isolation and consistency guarantees, as the equivalence of each possible execution of it to some serial execution after removing all dangling reads.

Example: TPC-C
The notion of acceptable serializability anomalies appears very frequently in the literature. For example, the following case shows how researchers have already been implicitly only accepting the notion of eventual serializability as the appropriate notion of correctness for their frameworks.

Serializability for Eventual Consistency: Criterion, Analysis, and Applications is a POPL’17 paper which presents a novel formal definition of serializability for applications running on EC stores. Interestingly, toward the end of the paper, when they have already established how to find serializability anomalies and they are trying to get rid of them manually, they conclude that the following anomaly possible in TPC-C (under EC) is harmless and does not need to be fixed (for the purpose of this post, the blue edges can be interpreted as relating operations that are not visible to each other and the red edges relating visible ones).


Clearly, the execution shown above is not serializable. However, it is acceptable under SE, since the anomaly would be removed once the dangling read operations are removed!


In this blog post (and the previous one) I challenged the approach in which using high-level application invariants are used as notions of correctness to guide synthesis or verification procedures targeting modern distributed applications. It seems to me that a slightly weaker version of generic serializability is an unavoidable (but complete) notion of correctness for all aplications.

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