Read-Write set semantics

This document discusses the details of the current implementation about the semantics of read-write sets.

Transaction simulation and read-write set

During simulation of a transaction at an endorser, a read-write set is prepared for the transaction. The read set contains a list of unique keys and their committed version numbers (but not values) that the transaction reads during simulation. The write set contains a list of unique keys (though there can be overlap with the keys present in the read set) and their new values that the transaction writes. A delete marker is set (in the place of new value) for the key if the update performed by the transaction is to delete the key.

Further, if the transaction writes a value multiple times for a key, only the last written value is retained. Also, if a transaction reads a value for a key, the value in the committed state is returned even if the transaction has updated the value for the key before issuing the read. In another words, Read-your-writes semantics are not supported.

As noted earlier, the versions of the keys are recorded only in the read set; the write set just contains the list of unique keys and their latest values set by the transaction.

There could be various schemes for implementing versions. The minimal requirement for a versioning scheme is to produce non-repeating identifiers for a given key. For instance, using monotonically increasing numbers for versions can be one such scheme. In the current implementation, we use a blockchain height based versioning scheme in which the height of the committing transaction is used as the latest version for all the keys modified by the transaction. In this scheme, the height of a transaction is represented by a tuple (txNumber is the height of the transaction within the block). This scheme has many advantages over the incremental number scheme - primarily, it enables other components such as statedb, transaction simulation and validation to make efficient design choices.

Following is an illustration of an example read-write set prepared by simulation of a hypothetical transaction. For the sake of simplicity, in the illustrations, we use the incremental numbers for representing the versions.

  <NsReadWriteSet name="chaincode1">
      <read key="K1", version="1">
      <read key="K2", version="1">
      <write key="K1", value="V1">
      <write key="K3", value="V2">
      <write key="K4", isDelete="true">

Additionally, if the transaction performs a range query during simulation, the range query as well as its results will be added to the read-write set as query-info.

Transaction validation and updating world state using read-write set

A committer uses the read set portion of the read-write set for checking the validity of a transaction and the write set portion of the read-write set for updating the versions and the values of the affected keys.

In the validation phase, a transaction is considered valid if the version of each key present in the read set of the transaction matches the version for the same key in the world state - assuming all the preceding valid transactions (including the preceding transactions in the same block) are committed (committed-state). An additional validation is performed if the read-write set also contains one or more query-info.

This additional validation should ensure that no key has been inserted/deleted/updated in the super range (i.e., union of the ranges) of the results captured in the query-info(s). In other words, if we re-execute any of the range queries (that the transaction performed during simulation) during validation on the committed-state, it should yield the same results that were observed by the transaction at the time of simulation. This check ensures that if a transaction observes phantom items during commit, the transaction should be marked as invalid. Note that the this phantom protection is limited to range queries (i.e., GetStateByRange function in the chaincode) and not yet implemented for other queries (i.e., GetQueryResult function in the chaincode). Other queries are at risk of phantoms, and should therefore only be used in read-only transactions that are not submitted to ordering, unless the application can guarantee the stability of the result set between simulation and validation/commit time.

If a transaction passes the validity check, the committer uses the write set for updating the world state. In the update phase, for each key present in the write set, the value in the world state for the same key is set to the value as specified in the write set. Further, the version of the key in the world state is changed to reflect the latest version.

Example simulation and validation

This section helps with understanding the semantics through an example scenario. For the purpose of this example, the presence of a key, k, in the world state is represented by a tuple (k,ver,val) where ver is the latest version of the key k having val as its value.

Now, consider a set of five transactions T1, T2, T3, T4, and T5, all simulated on the same snapshot of the world state. The following snippet shows the snapshot of the world state against which the transactions are simulated and the sequence of read and write activities performed by each of these transactions.

World state: (k1,1,v1), (k2,1,v2), (k3,1,v3), (k4,1,v4), (k5,1,v5)
T1 -> Write(k1, v1'), Write(k2, v2')
T2 -> Read(k1), Write(k3, v3')
T3 -> Write(k2, v2'')
T4 -> Write(k2, v2'''), read(k2)
T5 -> Write(k6, v6'), read(k5)

Now, assume that these transactions are ordered in the sequence of T1,..,T5 (could be contained in a single block or different blocks)

  1. T1 passes validation because it does not perform any read. Further, the tuple of keys k1 and k2 in the world state are updated to (k1,2,v1'), (k2,2,v2')
  2. T2 fails validation because it reads a key, k1, which was modified by a preceding transaction - T1
  3. T3 passes the validation because it does not perform a read. Further the tuple of the key, k2, in the world state is updated to (k2,3,v2'')
  4. T4 fails the validation because it reads a key, k2, which was modified by a preceding transaction T1
  5. T5 passes validation because it reads a key, k5, which was not modified by any of the preceding transactions

Note: Transactions with multiple read-write sets are not yet supported.