Sessions and Distributed Locks Overview
Consul provides a session mechanism which can be used to build distributed locks. Sessions act as a binding layer between nodes, health checks, and key/value data. They are designed to provide granular locking and are heavily inspired by The Chubby Lock Service for Loosely-Coupled Distributed Systems.
A session in Consul represents a contract that has very specific semantics.
When a session is constructed, a node name, a list of health checks, a behavior,
a TTL, and a
lock-delay may be provided. The newly constructed session is provided with
a named ID that can be used to identify it. This ID can be used with the KV
store to acquire locks: advisory mechanisms for mutual exclusion.
Below is a diagram showing the relationship between these components:
The contract that Consul provides is that under any of the following situations, the session will be invalidated:
- Node is deregistered
- Any of the health checks are deregistered
- Any of the health checks go to the critical state
- Session is explicitly destroyed
- TTL expires, if applicable
When a session is invalidated, it is destroyed and can no longer
be used. What happens to the associated locks depends on the
behavior specified at creation time. Consul supports a
delete behavior. The
release behavior is the default
if none is specified.
release behavior is being used, any of the locks held in
association with the session are released, and the
the key is incremented. Alternatively, if the
delete behavior is
used, the key corresponding to any of the held locks is simply deleted.
This can be used to create ephemeral entries that are automatically
deleted by Consul.
While this is a simple design, it enables a multitude of usage patterns. By default, the gossip based failure detector is used as the associated health check. This failure detector allows Consul to detect when a node that is holding a lock has failed and to automatically release the lock. This ability provides liveness to Consul locks; that is, under failure the system can continue to make progress. However, because there is no perfect failure detector, it's possible to have a false positive (failure detected) which causes the lock to be released even though the lock owner is still alive. This means we are sacrificing some safety.
Conversely, it is possible to create a session with no associated health checks. This removes the possibility of a false positive and trades liveness for safety. You can be absolutely certain Consul will not release the lock even if the existing owner has failed. Since Consul APIs allow a session to be force destroyed, this allows systems to be built that require an operator to intervene in the case of a failure while precluding the possibility of a split-brain.
A third health checking mechanism is session TTLs. When creating a session, a TTL can be specified. If the TTL interval expires without being renewed, the session has expired and an invalidation is triggered. This type of failure detector is also known as a heartbeat failure detector. It is less scalable than the gossip based failure detector as it places an increased burden on the servers but may be applicable in some cases. The contract of a TTL is that it represents a lower bound for invalidation; that is, Consul will not expire the session before the TTL is reached, but it is allowed to delay the expiration past the TTL. The TTL is renewed on session creation, on session renew, and on leader failover. When a TTL is being used, clients should be aware of clock skew issues: namely, time may not progress at the same rate on the client as on the Consul servers. It is best to set conservative TTL values and to renew in advance of the TTL to account for network delay and time skew.
The final nuance is that sessions may provide a
is a time duration, between 0 and 60 seconds. When a session invalidation
takes place, Consul prevents any of the previously held locks from
being re-acquired for the
lock-delay interval; this is a safeguard
inspired by Google's Chubby. The purpose of this delay is to allow
the potentially still live leader to detect the invalidation and stop
processing requests that may lead to inconsistent state. While not a
bulletproof method, it does avoid the need to introduce sleep states
into application logic and can help mitigate many issues. While the
default is to use a 15 second delay, clients are able to disable this
mechanism by providing a zero delay value.
Integration between the KV store and sessions is the primary place where sessions are used. A session must be created prior to use and is then referred to by its ID.
The KV API is extended to support an
acquire operation acts like a Check-And-Set operation except it
can only succeed if there is no existing lock holder (the current lock holder
acquire, see below). On success, there is a normal key update, but
there is also an increment to the
LockIndex, and the
Session value is
updated to reflect the session holding the lock.
If the lock is already held by the given session during an
LockIndex is not incremented but the key contents are updated. This
lets the current lock holder update the key contents without having to give
up the lock and reacquire it.
Once held, the lock can be released using a corresponding
providing the same session. Again, this acts like a Check-And-Set operation
since the request will fail if given an invalid session. A critical note is
that the lock can be released without being the creator of the session.
This is by design as it allows operators to intervene and force-terminate
a session if necessary. As mentioned above, a session invalidation will also
cause all held locks to be released or deleted. When a lock is released, the
does not change; however, the
Session is cleared and the
These semantics (heavily borrowed from Chubby), allow the tuple of (Key, LockIndex, Session)
to act as a unique "sequencer". This
sequencer can be passed around and used
to verify if the request belongs to the current lock holder. Because the
is incremented on each
acquire, even if the same session re-acquires a lock,
sequencer will be able to detect a stale request. Similarly, if a session is
invalided, the Session corresponding to the given
LockIndex will be blank.
To be clear, this locking system is purely advisory. There is no enforcement that clients must acquire a lock to perform any operation. Any client can read, write, and delete a key without owning the corresponding lock. It is not the goal of Consul to protect against misbehaving clients.
The primitives provided by sessions and the locking mechanisms of the KV store can be used to build client-side leader election algorithms. These are covered in more detail in the Leader Election guide.
Prepared queries may be attached to a session in order to automatically delete the prepared query when the session is invalidated.