Software Design in Context of Database Failover (Part 3): Architecture on Transactional Persistent Resource Managers

The “Happy Path” architecture used individual consistent database transactions. What about individual (database) transactions that are only consistent as a set (set-consistent individual transactions)?


This blog is about the first row of the software architecture taxonomy (see a reference to the taxonomy in the appendix at the end of this blog as well as the previous blog []). There are two relevant aspects in context of transactions:

  • Transactional persistent resource managers
  • Set-consistent individual transactions

Transactional Persistent Resource Managers

In a general software architecture not only relational tables are accessed in a relational database management system but also queuing systems or file systems, among other storage options. In order to arrive to a consistent system state all operations must take place within transactions so that the operations either succeed successfully and a new consistent state is reached or fail and the system returns to a previous consistent state. As a consequence, a transactional queuing system or transactional file system is necessary for this type of software architecture if queues or files are used to manage data.

There are many choices for transactional resource managers. In context of the Oracle database a queuing system (Advanced Queuing, AQ) [] is available within the RDBMS that supports queuing functionality. The queue operations can be part of local database transactions. The software architecture therefore can make use of queues as well as relational tables and operations of both can be within the same or different local database transactions. This means that any operation mix of relational operations as well as queue operations are consistent when guarded by transactions.

For illustration, a small code snippet follows that shows a table insert and an AQ enqueue operation. The changes of both operations occur when successfully committed, or both rollback when aborted. Even though a table and a queue operation are performed, both are governed by a single local database transaction (no two-phase-commit protocol required).

    enqueue_options dbms_aq.enqueue_options_t;
    message_properties dbms_aq.message_properties_t;
    message_handle RAW(16);
    MESSAGE aqadm.message_type;
    enqueue_options.VISIBILITY         := DBMS_AQ.ON_COMMIT;
    enqueue_options.SEQUENCE_DEVIATION := NULL;
    -- -----
    message_properties.PRIORITY    := -5;
    message_properties.DELAY       := DBMS_AQ.NO_DELAY;
    message_properties.EXPIRATION  := DBMS_AQ.NEVER;
    message_properties.CORRELATION := 'TEST MESSAGE';
    -- -----
    MESSAGE := aqadm.message_type('blog', 
      'failover architecture');
    -- -----
    DBMS_AQ.ENQUEUE(queue_name => 'aqadm.messageQueue', 
      enqueue_options => enqueue_options, 
      message_properties => message_properties, 
      payload => MESSAGE , msgid => message_handle);
    -- ----
    INSERT INTO standardtext VALUES('data guard');

As a note, distributed transactions (for example, transactions implementing the XA protocol) are left out of the discussion in this blog as accomplishing a high-performance system is rather difficult and requires that all transactional resource managers are capable to participate in the two phase commit protocol.

Set-Consistent Individual Transactions

Not all individual transactions lead to a consistent application system state. Transactions always result in a consistent database state, but that does not mean that the application system state is consistent from the viewpoint of the application.

An example is the purchasing process on a web site of a company. The customer selects products and adds them to a cart and at some point the checkout process is started by the user. Adding products to the cart are individual transactions and each leads to a consistent state. The checkout process itself could be a single transaction, however, adding address and credit card information takes time and that duration is too long to keep one database transaction open. Therefore, the checkout process is a set of individual transactions (like adding a shipping address, entering a credit card number, selecting shipping methods) and only after all transactions are committed the checkout process itself is complete.

The company’s goal is to complete checkout processes completely as only then it can ship goods and charge for them. Any system failure and fail-over must not prevent the checkout process to complete. Therefore the application system is considered to be in a consistent state only when the checkout process is completed in its entirety. In terms of transactions, the whole set of transactions constituting the checkout process must be completed.

What happens if the system fails during the checkout process (meaning, some transactions are completed and other have yet to be completed) and must fail-over to the standby database? This will be discussed in a moment.

Database Replication For High Availability

High availability in context of databases is accomplished by database replication from a primary to a secondary database. If the primary database becomes unavailable the applications switch over to the secondary database. Ideally, the replication is “perfect” in the sense that every successful transaction is transmitted from the primary database to the secondary database instantaneously. If that is possible, no transaction would be lost after the fail-over from the primary to the secondary database.

Oracle provides the Active Data Guard [] functionality for replication. It replicates data from the primary (“active”) database to the secondary (“standby”) database by means of different replication policies:

  • Maximum Availability
  • Maximum Performance
  • Maximum Protection

Maximum Protection actually achieves perfect replication. However, this relies on a synchronous communication of the primary database with the secondary database. As soon as this encounters problems like a significant delay or unavailability, the policy can change dynamically to Maximum Availability. In this case the primary database communicates asynchronously with the secondary database and in case of a failure in this situation data loss can happen if not all data was replicated from the primary database to the secondary database at the time of the failure.

Software Architecture Execution in Context of Database Fail-over

From an architecture viewpoint two data consistency cases have to be considered in case of fail-over:

  • no data loss: committed transactions on the secondary (new primary) are the same as in the primary (new secondary). The application system sees the exact same database state and can continue processing (after the application reset its database connections to the new primary).
  • data loss: some committed transactions are not present in the new primary. The application sees transaction as of some time ago; this is like a time-shift into the past. However, this time shift does not create an inconsistency from a data perspective.

From the viewpoint of transactions, also two cases have to be considered:

  • individual consistent transactions: the new primary has a consistent database and application system state. The application system can continue processing in both cases: data loss as well as no data loss.
  • set-consistent transactions: this is the more complex case and requires a more differentiated discussion next.

Before a fail-over, a group of set-consistent transactions can be completely finished and a consistent application system state is reached. It is also possible that only some of the transactions in a group of set-consistent transactions are executed (in-flight group of set-consistent transactions).

When a fail-over occurs, then there are different consequences depending on the data loss situation:

  • no data loss: if not data is lost during fail-over, then the group of set-consistent transactions sees the same state as before and processing can continue without interruption on the new primary database.
  • data loss: if data loss occurred then a group of set-consistent transactions that was completed before the fail-over might be set back to an in-flight state. In this case the application system will have to reprocess the lost transactions after the fail-over. A previously in-flight set-consistent transactions group might be set back also and some of the transactions have to be reprocessed in this case also.
  • pre-group data loss: in the worst case the data loss might be complete from the viewpoint of a group of set-consistent transactions in the sense the all transactions of a group of set-consistent transactions are lost. In this case there is no indication that the group ever existed.

From an architecture viewpoint, the case of an in-flight group of set-consistent transactions is the relevant one to focus on. In this case it is important that the application realizes that there is such a group and continues processing after a fail-over. Aside from the committed transactions there needs to be a persistent flag implemented that indicates the progress made and which transactions were completed, and which not yet. This persistent flag then allows the application system to realize that it needs to continue processing those transactions of a group of set-consistent transactions that have not been executed yet.

Since transactions are executed one after another sequentially the persistent flag only needs to record the last successful transaction. And the persistent flag is written as part of that transaction. So each transaction writes a persistent flag that indicates the last committed transaction. An application system can select all persistent flags after a fail-over and determines the transactions that need to be executed next (in this sense the application system is re-entrant).

If the data loss is pre-group, then there is no record of the group having ever existed. In this case the group will not be (re-)started on the new primary as there is no record of it. The application system either relies on user input (like in the above example: the user is irritated and starts the checkout process again) or, alternatively, a search can be performed looking for locations where a group can possibly started and that then would allow to prompt for user confirmation that a group of set-consistent transactions needs to be restarted (or not). For example, the user could be asked if the checkout process should be started.


If individual or set-consistent transactions rely solely on database transactions and on resource managers that are implemented in a database system (like Oracle) then it is possible to implement a system architecture to support fail-over in such a way that application systems can continue processing and deal with possibly lost transactions after fail-over. The reason for this is that application systems always encounter a consistent application system state and take this as the basis for continued processing after a fail-over.


Appendix: Taxonomy

The software architecture taxonomy relevant for database fail-over can be built based on the combinations of resource manager types used. In the following the various combinations are discussion on a high level (“x” means that the software architecture uses one or more of the indicated resource manager types).

Software Architecture Transactional Persistent Non-transactional Persistent Non-transactional and Non-persistent and rebuildable Non-transactional and Non-persistent and Non-rebuildable
Consistent x
Consistent x x
Possibly consistent x x
Possibly consistent x x x
Possibly consistent x x x x


The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.