Chapter 5. Transactions and Concurrency

5.1. Concurrent Access

JBoss Cache uses a pessimistic locking scheme by default to prevent concurrent access to the same data. Optimistic locking may alternatively be used, and is discussed later.

5.1.1. Locks

Locking is done internally, on a node-level. For example when we want to access "/a/b/c", a lock will be acquired for nodes "a", "b" and "c". When the same transaction wants to access "/a/b/c/d", since we already hold locks for "a", "b" and "c", we only need to acquire a lock for "d".

Lock owners are either transactions (call is made within the scope of an existing transaction) or threads (no transaction associated with the call). Regardless, a transaction or a thread is internally transformed into an instance of GlobalTransaction, which is used as a globally unique ID for modifications across a cluster. E.g. when we run a two-phase commit protocol (see below) across the cluster, the GlobalTransaction uniquely identifies the unit of work across a cluster.

Locks can be read or write locks. Write locks serialize read and write access, whereas read-only locks only serialize read access. When a write lock is held, no other write or read locks can be acquired. When a read lock is held, others can acquire read locks. However, to acquire write locks, one has to wait until all read locks have been released. When scheduled concurrently, write locks always have precedence over read locks. Note that (if enabled) read locks can be upgraded to write locks.

Using read-write locks helps in the following scenario: consider a tree with entries "/a/b/n1" and "/a/b/n2". With write-locks, when Tx1 accesses "/a/b/n1", Tx2 cannot access "/a/b/n2" until Tx1 has completed and released its locks. However, with read-write locks this is possible, because Tx1 acquires read-locks for "/a/b" and a read-write lock for "/a/b/n1". Tx2 is then able to acquire read-locks for "/a/b" as well, plus a read-write lock for "/a/b/n2". This allows for more concurrency in accessing the cache.

5.1.2. Pessimistic locking

By default, JBoss Cache uses pessimistic locking. Locking is not exposed directly to user. Instead, a transaction isolation level which provides different locking behaviour is configurable. Isolation levels

JBoss Cache supports the following transaction isolation levels, analogous to database ACID isolation levels. A user can configure an instance-wide isolation level of NONE, READ_UNCOMMITTED, READ_COMMITTED, REPEATABLE_READ, or SERIALIZABLE. REPEATABLE_READ is the default isolation level used.

  1. NONE. No transaction support is needed. There is no locking at this level, e.g., users will have to manage the data integrity. Implementations use no locks.

  2. READ_UNCOMMITTED. Data can be read anytime while write operations are exclusive. Note that this level doesn't prevent the so-called "dirty read" where data modified in Tx1 can be read in Tx2 before Tx1 commits. In other words, if you have the following sequence,

    			Tx1   Tx2

    using this isolation level will not Tx2 read operation. Implementations typically use an exclusive lock for writes while reads don't need to acquire a lock.

  3. READ_COMMITTED. Data can be read any time as long as there is no write. This level prevents the dirty read. But it doesn’t prevent the so-called ‘non-repeatable read’ where one thread reads the data twice can produce different results. For example, if you have the following sequence,

    		Tx1   Tx2

    where the second read in Tx1 thread will produce different result.

    Implementations usually use a read-write lock; reads succeed acquiring the lock when there are only reads, writes have to wait until there are no more readers holding the lock, and readers are blocked acquiring the lock until there are no more writers holding the lock. Reads typically release the read-lock when done, so that a subsequent read to the same data has to re-acquire a read-lock; this leads to nonrepeatable reads, where 2 reads of the same data might return different values. Note that, the write only applies regardless of transaction state (whether it has been committed or not).

  4. REPEATABLE_READ. Data can be read while there is no write and vice versa. This level prevents "non-repeatable read" but it does not prevent the so-called "phantom read" where new data can be inserted into the tree from the other transaction. Implementations typically use a read-write lock. This is the default isolation level used.

  5. SERIALIZABLE. Data access is synchronized with exclusive locks. Only 1 writer or reader can have the lock at any given time. Locks are released at the end of the transaction. Regarded as very poor for performance and thread/transaction concurrency.

5.1.3. Optimistic locking

The motivation for optimistic locking is to improve concurrency. When a lot of threads have a lot of contention for access to the data tree, it can be inefficient to lock portions of the tree - for reading or writing - for the entire duration of a transaction as we do in pessimistic locking. Optimistic locking allows for greater concurrency of threads and transactions by using a technique called data versioning, explained here. Note that isolation levels (if configured) are ignored if optimistic locking is enabled. Architecture

Optimistic locking treats all method calls as transactional[4]. Even if you do not invoke a call within the scope of an ongoing transaction, JBoss Cache creates an implicit transaction and commits this transaction when the invocation completes. Each transaction maintains a transaction workspace, which contains a copy of the data used within the transaction.

For example, if a transaction calls get("/a/b/c"), nodes a, b and c are copied from the main data tree and into the workspace. The data is versioned and all calls in the transaction work on the copy of the data rather than the actual data. When the transaction commits, it's workspace is merged back into the underlying tree by matching versions. If there is a version mismatch - such as when the actual data tree has a higher version than the workspace, perhaps if another transaction were to access the same data, change it and commit before the first transaction can finish - the transaction throws a RollbackException when committing and the commit fails.

Optimistic locking uses the same locks we speak of above, but the locks are only held for a very short duration - at the start of a transaction to build a workspace, and when the transaction commits and has to merge data back into the tree.

So while optimistic locking may occasionally fail if version validations fail or may run slightly slower than pessimistic locking due to the inevitable overhead and extra processing of maintaining workspaces, versioned data and validating on commit, it does buy you a near-SERIALIZABLE degree of data integrity while maintaining a very high level of concurrency. Configuration

Optimistic locking is enabled by using the NodeLockingScheme XML attribute, and setting it to "OPTIMISTIC":
				Node locking scheme:
			    PESSIMISTIC (default)
			<attribute name="NodeLockingScheme">OPTIMISTIC</attribute>

5.2. Transactional Support

JBoss Cache can be configured to use transactions to bundle units of work, which can then be replicated as one unit. Alternatively, if transaction support is disabled, it is equivalent to setting AutoCommit to on where modifications are potentially[5] replicated after every change (if replication is enabled).

What JBoss Cache does on every incoming call (e.g. put()) is:

  1. get the transaction associated with the thread

  2. register (if not already done) with the transaction manager to be notified when a transaction commits or is rolled back.

In order to do this, the cache has to be configured with an instance of a TransactionManagerLookup which returns a javax.transaction.TransactionManager.

JBoss Cache ships with JBossTransactionManagerLookup and GenericTransactionManagerLookup. The JBossTransactionManagerLookup is able to bind to a running JBoss Application Server and retrieve a TransactionManager while the GenericTransactionManagerLookup is able to bind to most popular Java EE application servers and provide the same functionality. A dummy implementation - DummyTransactionManagerLookup - is also provided, which may be used for standalone JBoss Cache applications and unit tests running outside a Java EE Application Server. Being a dummy, however, this is just for demo and testing purposes and is not recommended for production use.

The implementation of the JBossTransactionManagerLookup is as follows:

public class JBossTransactionManagerLookup implements TransactionManagerLookup {

    public JBossTransactionManagerLookup() {}

    public TransactionManager getTransactionManager() throws Exception {
       Object tmp=new InitialContext().lookup("java:/TransactionManager");
       return (TransactionManager)tmp;

The implementation looks up the JBoss Transaction Manager from JNDI and returns it.

When a call comes in, the TreeCache gets the current transaction and records the modification under the transaction as key. (If there is no transaction, the modification is applied immediately and possibly replicated). So over the lifetime of the transaction all modifications will be recorded and associated with the transaction. Also, the TreeCache registers with the transaction to be notified of transaction committed or aborted when it first encounters the transaction.

When a transaction rolls back, we undo the changes in the cache and release all locks.

When the transaction commits, we initiate a two-phase commit protocol[6] : in the first phase, a PREPARE containing all modifications for the current transaction is sent to all nodes in the cluster. Each node acquires all necessary locks and applies the changes, and then sends back a success message. If a node in a cluster cannot acquire all locks, or fails otherwise, it sends back a failure message.

The coordinator of the two-phase commit protocol waits for all responses (or a timeout, whichever occurs first). If one of the nodes in the cluster responds with FAIL (or we hit the timeout), then a rollback phase is initiated: a ROLLBACK message is sent to all nodes in the cluster. On reception of the ROLLBACK message, every node undoes the changes for the given transaction, and releases all locks held for the transaction.

If all responses are OK, a COMMIT message is sent to all nodes in the cluster. On reception of a COMMIT message, each node applies the changes for the given transaction and releases all locks associated with the transaction.

When we referred to 'transaction', we actually mean a global representation of a local transaction, which uniquely identifies a transaction across a cluster.

5.2.1. Example

Let's look at an example of how to use JBoss Cache in a standalone (i.e. outside an application server) fashion with dummy transactions:

Properties prop = new Properties();
prop.put(Context.INITIAL_CONTEXT_FACTORY, "org.jboss.cache.transaction.DummyContextFactory");
User Transaction tx=(UserTransaction)new InitialContext(prop).lookup("UserTransaction");
TreeCache tree = new TreeCache();
PropertyConfigurator config = new PropertyConfigurator();
config.configure(tree, "META-INF/replSync-service.xml");
tree.createService(); // not necessary
tree.startService(); // kick start tree cache

try {
   tree.put("/classes/cs-101", "description", "the basics");
   tree.put("/classes/cs-101", "teacher", "Ben");
catch(Throwable ex) {
   try { tx.rollback(); } catch(Throwable t) {}

The first lines obtain a user transaction using the 'JEE way' via JNDI. Note that we could also say

UserTransaction tx = new DummyUserTransaction(DummyTransactionManager.getInstance());

Then we create a new TreeCache and configure it using a PropertyConfigurator class and a configuration XML file (see below for a list of all configuration options).

Next we start the cache. Then, we start a transaction (and associate it with the current thread internally). Any methods invoked on the cache will now be collected and only applied when the transaction is committed. In the above case, we create a node "/classes/cs-101" and add 2 elements to its map. Assuming that the cache is configured to use synchronous replication, on transaction commit the modifications are replicated. If there is an exception in the methods (e.g. lock acquisition failed), or in the two-phase commit protocol applying the modifications to all nodes in the cluster, the transaction is rolled back.

[4] Because of this requirement, you must always have a transaction manager configured when using optimistic locking.

[5] Depending on whether interval-based asynchronous replication is used

[6] Only with synchronous replication or invalidation.