Read Committed isolation level Beta

Read Committed is one of the three isolation levels in PostgreSQL, and also its default. A unique property of this isolation level is that, for transactions running with this isolation, clients do not need to retry or handle serialization errors (40001) in application logic.

The other two isolation levels (Serializable and Repeatable Read) require applications to have retry logic for serialization errors. Read Committed in PostgreSQL works around conflicts by allowing single statements to work on an inconsistent snapshot (in other words, non-conflicting rows are read as of the statement's snapshot, but conflict resolution is done by reading and attempting re-execution or locking on the latest version of the row).

YSQL supports the Read Committed isolation level, and its behavior is the same as that of PostgreSQL's Read Committed level.

Semantics

The following two key semantics set apart Read Committed isolation from Repeatable Read in PostgreSQL:

  1. Each statement should be able to read everything that was committed before the statement was issued. In other words, each statement runs on the latest snapshot of the database as of when the statement was issued.
  2. Clients never face serialization errors (40001) in read committed isolation level. To achieve this, PostgreSQL re-evaluates statements for conflicting rows based on a set of rules.

Read restart errors

In addition to the two key requirements, there is an extra YSQL-specific requirement for its read committed isolation level: ensure that external clients don't face kReadRestart errors that stem from clock skew which is inherent in distributed databases due to the distribution of data across more than one physical node. PostgreSQL doesn't require defining semantics around read restart errors because it is a single-node database without clock skew. When there is clock skew, the following situation can arise in a distributed database like YugabyteDB:

  • A client starts a distributed transaction by connecting to YSQL on a node N1 in the YugabyteDB cluster and issuing a statement which reads data from multiple shards on different physical YB-TServers in the cluster. For this issued statement, the read point which defines the snapshot of the database at which the data will be read, is picked on a YB-TServer node M based on the current time of that YB-TServer. Depending on the scenario, node M could be the same as N1 or not, but that is not relevant to this discussion. Consider T1 to be the chosen read time.

  • The node N1 might collect data from many shards on different physical YB-TServers. In this pursuit, it will issue requests to many other nodes to read data.

  • Assuming that node N1 reads from node N2, it could be the case that there exists some data written on node N2 at time T2 (> T1) but had been written before the read was issued. This can happen because of clock skew where the physical clock on node N2 might be running slightly ahead of node M, and hence the write which was actually done in the past, still has a timestamp higher than T1.

    Note that the clock skew between all nodes in the cluster is always in a max_clock_skew bound due to clock synchronization algorithms.

  • For writes at some time later than T1 + max_clock_skew, the database can be sure that they were done after the read timestamp was chosen on any node. But for writes at a time between T1 and T1 + max_clock_skew, node N2 can find itself in an ambiguous situation such as the following:

    • It should still return the data if the client issued the read after the data was committed, because it could be the same client connecting to YSQL from a different node and the following guarantee needs to be maintained; the database always returns data that was committed in the past.

    • It should not return the data if the write was actually performed in the future, that is, after the read point (also known as snapshot) was chosen.

  • If node N2 finds writes in the range (T1, T1+max_clock_skew], to avoid breaking the strong guarantee that a reader should always be able to read what was committed earlier, node N2 avoids giving incorrect results and raises a Read restart error.

Some distributed databases handle this uncertainty due to clock skew by using algorithms to maintain a tight bound on the clock skew, and then taking the conservative approach of waiting out the clock skew before acknowledging the commit request from the client for each transaction that writes data. YugabyteDB instead uses various mechanisms internally to reduce the scope of this ambiguity, and if there is still ambiguity in rare scenarios, the error is surfaced to the client.

However, for Read Committed isolation, YugabyteDB has stronger mechanisms in place to ensure that the ambiguity is always resolved internally, and Read restart errors are not surfaced to the client. In Read Committed transactions, clients do not have to add any retry logic for Read restart errors (similarly to serialization errors).

Handling serialization errors

To handle serialization errors in the database without surfacing them to the client, PostgreSQL takes a number of steps based on the statement type.

UPDATE, DELETE, SELECT FOR UPDATE, FOR SHARE, FOR NO KEY UPDATE, FOR KEY SHARE

  • If the subject row is being updated or deleted by other concurrent transactions in a conflicting way, wait for the conflicting transactions to commit or rollback, and then perform validation steps.

  • If the subject row has been updated or deleted by other concurrent transactions in a conflicting way, perform validation steps.

  • If the subject row has been locked by other concurrent transactions in a conflicting way, wait for them to commit or rollback, and then perform validation steps.

Note that two transactions are concurrent if their read time to commit time ranges overlap. If a transaction has not yet committed, the closing range is the current time. Also, for read committed isolation, there is a read time for each statement, and not one for the whole transaction.

Validation steps

The validation steps are as follows:

  1. Read the latest version of the conflicting row and lock it appropriately. The latest version could have a different primary key as well. PostgreSQL finds it by following the chain of updates for a row even across primary key changes. Note that locking is necessary so that another conflict isn't seen on this row while re-evaluating the row again and possibly updating/acquiring a lock on it in step 3. If the locking faces a conflict, it would wait and resume traversing the chain further once unblocked.
  2. If the updated version of a row is deleted, ignore it.
  3. Apply update, delete, or acquire lock on updated version of the row if the WHERE clause evaluates to true on the updated version of the row.

INSERT

  • ON CONFLICT DO UPDATE: if a conflict occurs, wait for the conflicting transactions to commit or rollback.
    • If all conflicting transactions rollback, proceed as usual.
    • On commit of any conflicting transaction, traverse the chain of updates, as described in validation step 1, and re-evaluate the latest version of the row for any conflict. If there is no conflict, insert the original row. Otherwise, perform the DO UPDATE part on the latest version of the row.
  • ON CONFLICT DO NOTHING: if a conflict occurs, do not do anything.

Note that the preceding methodology in PostgreSQL can lead to two different visible semantics. One is the common case, and the other is a degenerate situation that can never be seen in practice, but is nevertheless possible and still upholds the semantics of Read Committed isolation. The common case is as follows:

CREATE TABLE test (k int primary key, v int);
INSERT INTO test VALUES (2, 5);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
insert into test values (5, 5);
INSERT 0 1
update test set v=10 where k=2;
UPDATE 1
update test set v=100 where v>=5;
(waits)
COMMIT;
UPDATE 1
select * from test;
 k |  v
---+-----
 5 |   5
 2 | 100
(2 rows)

As seen above, the UPDATE from transaction 2 first picks the latest snapshot of the database which only has the row (2, 5). The row satisfies the UPDATE statement's WHERE clause and hence the transaction 2 tries to update the value of v from 5 to 100. However, due to an existing conflicting write from transaction 1, it waits for transaction 1 to end. Once transaction 1 commits, it re-reads the latest version of only the conflicting row, and re-evaluates the WHERE clause. The clause is still satisfied by the new row (2, 10) and so the value is updated to 100. Note that the newly inserted row (5, 5) isn't updated even though it satisfies the WHERE clause of transaction 2's UPDATE, because it was not part of the snapshot originally picked by transaction 2's UPDATE statement. Hence, it is clear that, to avoid serialization errors, PostgreSQL allows a single statement to run on an inconsistent snapshot, for example: one snapshot which is picked to read all data when the statement is started, and a latest version of the row is used only for each conflicting row as and when required.

The other degenerate scenario that can occur differs in the output of the UPDATE in transaction 2:

Client 1 Client 2
update test set v=10 where k=2;
UPDATE 1
update test set v=100 where v>=5;
(some processing before snapshot is picked, but feels like postgreSQL is waiting due to a conflict)
COMMIT;
UPDATE 2
select * from test;
 k |  v
---+-----
 5 | 100
 2 | 100
(2 rows)

The preceding outcome can occur via the following step: until Client 1 commits, PostgreSQL on Client 2 is busy with other processing and only after Client 1 commits, transaction on Client 2 is able to pick a snapshot based off the current time for the statement. This leads to both rows being read as part of the snapshot and updated without any observable conflicts. Both outcomes are valid and satisfy the semantics of Read Committed isolation level. And theoretically, the user cannot figure out which one will be seen because the user cannot differentiate between a pause due to waiting for a conflicting transaction or a pause due to the database just being busy or slow. In the second case, the whole statement runs off a single snapshot and it is easier to reason the output.

These two possibilities show that the client cannot have application logic that relies on the expectation that the common case occurs always. Given this, YugabyteDB provides a stronger guarantee that each statement always works off just a single snapshot and no inconsistency is allowed even in case of a some conflicting rows. This leads to YugabyteDB always returning output similar to the second outcome in the above example which is also simpler to reason.

This can change after #11573 is resolved, as mentioned in the roadmap for Read Committed isolation available at #13557.

Interaction with concurrency control

Semantics of Read Committed isolation adheres only with the Wait-on-Conflict concurrency control policy. This is because a Read Committed transaction has to wait for other transactions to commit or rollback in case of a conflict, and then perform the re-check steps to make progress.

As the Fail-on-Conflict concurrency control policy doesn't make sense for Read Committed, even if this policy is set for use on the cluster (by having the TServer flag enable_wait_queues=false), transactions in Read Committed isolation will still provide Wait-on-Conflict semantics. For providing Wait-on-Conflict semantics without wait queues, YugabyteDB relies on an indefinite retry-backoff mechanism with exponential delays when conflicts are detected. The retries are at the statement level. Each retry will use a newer snapshot of the database in anticipation that the conflicts might not occur. This is done because if the read time of the new snapshot is higher than the commit time of the earlier conflicting transaction T2, the conflicts with T2 would essentially be voided since T1's statement and T2 would no longer be "concurrent".

However, when Read Committed isolation provides Wait-on-Conflict semantics without wait queues, the following limitations exist:

  • You may have to manually tune the exponential backoff parameters for performance, as explained in Performance tuning.
  • The app may have to rely on statement timeouts to avoid deadlocks.
  • There may be unfairness during contention due to the retry-backoff mechanism, resulting in high P99 latencies.

Usage

By setting the YB-TServer g-flag yb_enable_read_committed_isolation=true, the syntactic Read Committed isolation in YSQL maps to the Read Committed implementation in DocDB. If set to false, it has the earlier behavior of mapping syntactic Read Committed on YSQL to Snapshot isolation in DocDB, meaning it behaves as Repeatable Read.

The following ways can be used to start a Read Committed transaction after setting the g-flag:

  1. START TRANSACTION isolation level read committed [read write | read only];
  2. BEGIN [TRANSACTION] isolation level read committed [read write | read only];
  3. BEGIN [TRANSACTION]; SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL READ COMMITTED; (this will be supported after #12494 is resolved)
  4. BEGIN [TRANSACTION]; SET SESSION CHARACTERISTICS AS TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL READ COMMITTED; (this will be supported after #12494 is resolved)

Examples

Start by creating the table to be used in all of the examples, as follows:

CREATE TABLE test (k int primary key, v int);

SELECT behavior without explicit locking

TRUNCATE TABLE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (1, 5);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
select * from test where v=5;
 k | v
---+---
 1 | 5
(1 row)
insert into test values (2, 5);
INSERT 0 1
select * from test where v=5;
 k | v
---+---
 1 | 5
(1 row)
insert into test values (3, 5);
INSERT 0 1
select * from test where v=5;
 k | v
---+---
 1 | 5
 3 | 5
(2 rows)
commit;
select * from test where v=5;
 k | v
---+---
 1 | 5
 2 | 5
 3 | 5
(3 rows)
commit;

UPDATE behavior

TRUNCATE TABLE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (0, 5), (1, 5), (2, 5), (3, 5), (4, 1);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
insert into test values (5, 5);
INSERT 0 1
update test set v=10 where k=4;
UPDATE 1
delete from test where k=3;
DELETE 1
update test set v=10 where k=2;
UPDATE 1
update test set v=1 where k=1;
UPDATE 1
update test set k=10 where k=0;
UPDATE 1
update test set v=100 where v>=5;
(waits)
commit;
UPDATE 4
select * from test;
 k  |  v
----+-----
  5 | 100
  1 |   1
 10 | 100
  4 | 100
  2 | 100
(5 rows)
commit;

SELECT FOR UPDATE behavior

TRUNCATE TABLE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (0, 5), (1, 5), (2, 5), (3, 5), (4, 1);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
insert into test values (5, 5);
INSERT 0 1
update test set v=10 where k=4;
UPDATE 1
delete from test where k=3;
DELETE 1
update test set v=10 where k=2;
UPDATE 1
update test set v=1 where k=1;
UPDATE 1
update test set k=10 where k=0;
UPDATE 1
select * from test where v>=5 for update;
(waits)
commit;
 k  | v
----+----
  5 |  5
 10 |  5
  4 | 10
  2 | 10
(4 rows)
commit;

INSERT behavior

Insert a new key that has just been changed by another transaction, as follows:

TRUNCATE TABLE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (1, 1);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
update test set k=2 where k=1;
UPDATE 1
insert into test values (2, 1);
(waits)
commit;
ERROR:  duplicate key value violates unique constraint "test_pkey"
rollback;

Insert a new key that has just been changed by another transaction, with ON CONFLICT:

TRUNCATE TABLE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (1, 1);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
update test set k=2 where k=1;
UPDATE 1
insert into test values (2, 1) on conflict (k) do update set v=100;
(waits)
commit;
INSERT 0 1
select * from test;
 k |  v
---+-----
 2 | 100
(1 row)
commit;

Insert an old key that has been removed by another transaction, as follows:

TRUNCATE TALE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (1, 1);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
update test set k=2 where k=1;
UPDATE 1
insert into test values (1, 1);
(waits)
commit;
INSERT 0 1
select * from test;
 k | v
---+---
 1 | 1
 2 | 1
(2 rows)
commit;

Insert an old key that has been removed by another transaction, with ON CONFLICT:

TRUNCATE TABLE test;
INSERT INTO test VALUES (1, 1);
Client 1 Client 2
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
begin transaction isolation level read committed;
update test set k=2 where k=1;
UPDATE 1
insert into test values (1, 1) on conflict (k) do update set v=100;
(waits)
commit;
INSERT 0 1
select * from test;
 k |  v
---+-----
 1 |  1
 2 |  1
(2 rows)
commit;

Cross-feature interaction

Read Committed interacts with the following feature:

  • Follower reads (integration in progress): When follower reads is enabled, the read point for each statement in a Read Committed transaction is selected as Now() - yb_follower_read_staleness_ms (if the transaction or statement is known to be explicitly or implicitly read-only).

Limitations

Refer to #13557 for limitations.

Considerations

This isolation level allows both phantom and non-repeatable reads (as demonstrated in SELECT behavior without explicit locking).

Adding this new isolation level does not affect the performance of existing isolation levels.

Performance tuning

If a statement in the Read Committed isolation level faces a conflict, it is retried with exponential backoff until the statement times out. The following parameters control the backoff:

  • retry_max_backoff is the maximum backoff in milliseconds between retries.
  • retry_min_backoff is the minimum backoff in milliseconds between retries.
  • retry_backoff_multiplier is the multiplier used to calculate the next retry backoff.

You can set these parameters on a per-session basis, or in the ysql_pg_conf_csv YB-TServer g-flag on cluster startup.

If the Wait-on-Conflict concurrency control policy is enabled, there won't be a need to manually tune these parameters for performance. Statements will restart only when all conflicting transactions have committed or rolled back, instead of retrying with an exponential backoff.