Concurrency and Coordination

Concurrency and Coordination

In this tutorial, we are going to discuss about Concurrency and Coordination in distributed systems. Concurrency and Coordination is the one of the key characteristics of distributed systems. Scalability, Availability and Latency are another key characteristics of distributed systems. Now lets explore about Concurrency and Coordination.

Concurrency and coordination play crucial roles in distributed systems, where multiple computing nodes collaborate to achieve a common goal. In distributed systems, multiple processes or components often need to work together concurrently, which can introduce challenges related to coordination, synchronization, and data consistency.

Concurrency and Coordination

In distributed systems, tasks are executed across multiple machines that communicate and coordinate with each other over a network. Concurrency enables parallel execution of tasks on different nodes, while coordination mechanisms ensure consistency and synchronization of distributed operations.

Here’s an overview of concurrency and coordination in distributed systems and the key aspects to consider.

1. Concurrency Control

Concurrency control is the process of managing simultaneous access to shared resources or data in a distributed system. It ensures that multiple processes can work together efficiently while avoiding conflicts or inconsistencies. Techniques for implementing concurrency control include:


Lock-based concurrency control mechanisms use locks to coordinate access to shared data. Transactions acquire locks on data items before reading or writing them and release the locks when they are done. Locks prevent concurrent transactions from accessing the same data simultaneously, thereby ensuring serializability and preventing concurrency anomalies. However, lock-based approaches can lead to issues such as deadlock and contention.

Optimistic concurrency control

Optimistic concurrency control assumes that conflicts between transactions are rare and defers conflict detection until the end of transactions. Transactions proceed without acquiring locks and are validated for conflicts before committing. If conflicts are detected, the transactions are aborted and restarted. Optimistic concurrency control is suitable for environments with low contention and high read-to-write ratios.

Transactional memory

This technique uses transactions to group together multiple operations that should be executed atomically, ensuring data consistency and isolation.

Isolation Levels

Isolation levels define the degree to which transactions are isolated from each other’s effects. Common isolation levels include Read Uncommitted, Read Committed, Repeatable Read, and Serializable. Each isolation level provides a trade-off between concurrency and consistency, with higher isolation levels typically offering stronger consistency guarantees at the cost of reduced concurrency.

Two-Phase Locking (2PL)

Two-Phase Locking is a widely used locking protocol in database systems. In 2PL, transactions acquire all the necessary locks in a first phase (growing phase) before performing any modifications, and then release all locks in a second phase (shrinking phase) after completing their operations. This protocol ensures that transactions acquire locks in a consistent order to prevent deadlock and guarantees serializability.

Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC)

MVCC maintains multiple versions of data items to allow concurrent transactions to read consistent snapshots of the database without blocking each other. Each transaction sees a consistent snapshot of the database at the time it started, even if other transactions are concurrently modifying the data. MVCC is commonly used in database systems like PostgreSQL and Oracle.

Timestamp-Based Concurrency Control

Timestamp-based concurrency control assigns a unique timestamp to each transaction and data item and uses these timestamps to determine the order of transaction execution and detect conflicts. Transactions are allowed to read or write data items only if their timestamps are compatible with the current state of the database, ensuring serializability and preventing anomalies.

Distributed Concurrency Control

In distributed systems, concurrency control becomes more complex due to the distributed nature of data and transactions. Distributed concurrency control mechanisms coordinate access to distributed data across multiple nodes while ensuring consistency and isolation. Techniques such as distributed locking, distributed timestamp ordering, and distributed versioning are used to achieve concurrency control in distributed environments.

Overall, concurrency control is essential for ensuring the correctness and consistency of data in concurrent and distributed systems. Different concurrency control mechanisms and isolation levels are employed based on the specific requirements and characteristics of the application and the underlying system.

2. Synchronization

Synchronization refers to the coordination of activities or processes to ensure their orderly and correct execution in a concurrent or distributed computing environment. In such environments, multiple threads, processes, or nodes may execute simultaneously and interact with shared resources or data.

Synchronization mechanisms are used to control the order of access to shared resources, prevent race conditions, and ensure consistency and correctness of the system. Here are some key aspects of synchronization:

Mutual Exclusion

Mutual exclusion ensures that only one thread or process can access a shared resource at any given time. It prevents concurrent access that may lead to data corruption or inconsistency. Locks, such as mutexes (mutual exclusion locks) and semaphores, are commonly used synchronization primitives to enforce mutual exclusion.

Critical Sections

Critical sections are segments of code that access shared resources and need to be executed atomically to maintain consistency. Synchronization mechanisms, such as locks, are used to protect critical sections by allowing only one thread or process to enter at a time.


Semaphores are signaling mechanisms that control access to shared resources and maintain synchronization among multiple processes or threads. Semaphores can be used to allow multiple threads to access a resource concurrently up to a specified limit or to implement signaling mechanisms for inter-thread communication.


A mutex (mutual exclusion lock) is a synchronization primitive that allows only one thread to acquire it at a time. It provides exclusive access to a shared resource and is typically used to protect critical sections of code.

Atomic Operations

Atomic operations are operations that are executed without interruption, ensuring that they are indivisible and thread-safe. Atomic operations are often used to implement synchronization mechanisms and ensure correct behavior in concurrent environments.

Barrier Synchronization

Barrier synchronization is a synchronization technique that ensures that a group of threads or processes reach a synchronization point before any of them can proceed further. Barriers are commonly used in parallel computing to synchronize the execution of parallel tasks.

Thread Synchronization

In multi-threaded programming, synchronization is essential to coordinate the execution of multiple threads and to prevent race conditions and other concurrency issues. Synchronization mechanisms such as locks, semaphores, and condition variables are used to coordinate access to shared resources and ensure thread safety.

Concurrency Control vs. Synchronization

Concurrency Control

  • Primary Goal: The main objective of concurrency control is to manage access to shared resources (like data or hardware resources) in an environment where multiple processes or threads are executing simultaneously.
  • Scope: It typically applies to higher-level constructs, such as transactions in databases or distributed computations, where multiple processes or threads may interact with shared data.
  • Focus: It is concerned with how to handle situations where multiple processes need to access or modify shared data at the same time.
  • Examples: Techniques like locking, multi-version concurrency control (MVCC), timestamp ordering, and distributed locking fall under the umbrella of concurrency control.


  • Primary Goal: The purpose of synchronization is to coordinate the timing of multiple concurrent processes or threads. It’s about managing the execution order and timing of processes to ensure correct operation.
  • Scope: It operates at a lower level than concurrency control, focusing on managing access to individual shared resources or enforcing specific ordering constraints between operations.
  • Focus: It ensures that concurrent processes execute in a way that respects certain timing constraints, like making sure certain operations happen before others or that operations do not interfere destructively with one another.
  • Examples: Synchronization primitives such as locks (mutexes), semaphores, condition variables, atomic operations, and barriers are used to coordinate access to shared resources and control the flow of execution in multi-threaded or distributed systems.

In summary, concurrency control and synchronization are complementary concepts that address different aspects of managing concurrency in software systems. Concurrency control focuses on maintaining consistency and correctness when multiple processes or threads access shared resources concurrently, while synchronization deals with coordinating the execution of concurrent operations to prevent race conditions and ensure orderly behavior. Both concepts are essential for developing robust and efficient concurrent software systems.

3. Coordination Services

Coordination services are specialized components or tools that help manage distributed systems’ complexity by providing a set of abstractions and primitives for tasks like configuration management, service discovery, leader election, and distributed locking. Examples of coordination services include Apache ZooKeeper, etcd, and Consul.

Coordination services in distributed systems provide mechanisms for managing communication, synchronization, and collaboration among distributed components or nodes. These services are essential for achieving consistency, reliability, fault tolerance, and scalability in distributed environments.

Coordination services play a crucial role in enabling effective communication, synchronization, and collaboration among distributed components in modern distributed systems. By providing the necessary infrastructure and mechanisms for managing coordination-related tasks, these services help ensure the correctness, consistency, reliability, and scalability of distributed systems.

4. Consistency Models

In distributed systems, consistency models define the rules for maintaining data consistency across multiple nodes or components. Various consistency models, such as strict consistency, sequential consistency, eventual consistency, and causal consistency, provide different levels of guarantees for data consistency and can impact the overall system performance, availability, and complexity.

Consistency models are fundamental in distributed systems, defining the rules for how and when changes made by one operation (like a write) become visible to other operations (like reads). Different models offer various trade-offs between consistency, availability, and partition tolerance. Here are some of the key consistency models, along with examples:

1. Strong Consistency
  • Definition: After a write operation completes, any subsequent read operation will immediately see the new value. In other words, strict consistency requires that every read operation returns the most recent write operation on the data.
  • Example: Traditional relational databases (RDBMS) like MySQL or PostgreSQL typically offer strong consistency. If a record is updated in one transaction, any subsequent transaction will see that update.
2. Sequential Consistency
  • Definition: Operations from all nodes or processes are seen in the same order. There is a global order of operations, but it doesn’t have to be real-time. Sequential consistency is a fundamental concept in distributed systems and parallel computing that defines a desirable property for shared memory systems. It ensures that the execution of a concurrent program produces the same results as if all operations were executed in some sequential order that respects the program order of each individual thread.
  • Example: A distributed logging system where logs from different servers are merged into a single, sequentially consistent log.
3. Eventual Consistency
  • Definition: Over time, all accesses to a particular data item will eventually return the last updated value. The time it takes to achieve consistency after a write is not guaranteed.
  • Example: Amazon’s DynamoDB uses eventual consistency. If you update a data item, the change might not be immediately visible to all users, but it will eventually propagate to all nodes.
4. Causal Consistency
  • Definition: Operations that are causally related are seen by all processes in the same order. Concurrent operations might be seen in a different order on different nodes. Causal consistency ensures that operations that are causally related are seen by all processes in a consistent order.
  • Example: In a social media app, if a user posts a message and then comments on that post, any user who sees the comment must also see the original post.
5. Read-Your-Writes Consistency
  • Definition: Read-your-writes consistency guarantees that once a client performs a write operation on a data item, all subsequent read operations from the same client will return the value written by that client or a more recent one. This model provides stronger consistency guarantees for clients’ own operations, ensuring that they observe their own updates immediately.
  • Example: A user profile update in a web application. Once the user updates their profile, they immediately see the updated profile data.
6. Session Consistency
  • Definition: Session consistency extends read-your-writes consistency by providing consistency guarantees within a session or a client’s session. It ensures that within a session, clients observe their own updates immediately and may observe updates from other clients in a consistent order. Session consistency is often used in systems with user interactions, such as web applications, to provide a more predictable user experience.
  • Example: In an e-commerce site’s shopping cart, items added to the cart in a session will be consistently visible throughout that session.
7. Monotonic Read Consistency
  • Definition: Monotonic consistency guarantees that if a process observes a set of updates to a data item, it will never see the updates being rolled back or undone. This model ensures that updates are applied in a monotonically increasing order and prevents the retraction of previously observed updates.
  • Example: A user checking a flight status on an airline app will not see a departure time that goes back in time; it will only move forward.
8. Read-After-Write Consistency
  • Definition: Read-after-write consistency guarantees that if a client performs a write operation on a data item, any subsequent read operation from the same client will return the value written by that client or a more recent one. This model provides stronger consistency guarantees for individual data items, ensuring that clients always observe their own updates immediately.
  • Example: a distributed key-value store used by an e-commerce application to store product information. The key-value store is replicated across multiple data centers for fault tolerance and scalability.

Each consistency model addresses specific requirements and challenges in distributed systems, balancing the trade-offs between providing timely, consistent views of data and maintaining system performance and availability. The choice of a consistency model often depends on the specific requirements of the application and the nature of the data being managed.

That’s all about Concurrency and Coordination in distributed systems. If you have any queries or feedback, please write us email at Enjoy learning, Enjoy system design..!!

Concurrency and Coordination
Scroll to top