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Why is concurrency control needed?

If transactions are executed serially, i.e., sequentially with no overlap in time, no transaction concurrency exists. However, if concurrent transactions with interleaving operations are allowed in an uncontrolled manner, some unexpected, undesirable result may occur, such as:

  • The lost update problem: A second transaction writes a second value of a data-item (datum) on top of a first value written by a first concurrent transaction, and the first value is lost to other transactions running concurrently which need, by their precedence, to read the first value. The transactions that have read the wrong value end with incorrect results.
  • The dirty read problem: Transactions read a value written by a transaction that has been later aborted. This value disappears from the database upon abort, and should not have been read by any transaction (“dirty read”). The reading transactions end with incorrect results.
  • The incorrect summary problem: While one transaction takes a summary over the values of all the instances of a repeated data-item, a second transaction updates some instances of that data-item. The resulting summary does not reflect a correct result for any (usually needed for correctness) precedence order between the two transactions (if one is executed before the other), but rather some random result, depending on the timing of the updates, and whether certain update results have been included in the summary or not.

Most high-performance transactional systems need to run transactions concurrently to meet their performance requirements. Thus, without concurrency control such systems can neither provide correct results nor maintain their databases consistently.


The main categories of concurrency control mechanisms are:

  • Optimistic – Delay the checking of whether a transaction meets the isolation and other integrity rules (e.g., serializability and recoverability) until its end, without blocking any of its (read, write) operations (“…and be optimistic about the rules being met…”), and then abort a transaction to prevent the violation, if the desired rules are to be violated upon its commit. An aborted transaction is immediately restarted and re-executed, which incurs an obvious overhead (versus executing it to the end only once). If not too many transactions are aborted, then being optimistic is usually a good strategy.
  • Pessimistic – Block an operation of a transaction, if it may cause violation of the rules, until the possibility of violation disappears. Blocking operations is typically involved with performance reduction.
  • Semi-optimistic – Block operations in some situations, if they may cause violation of some rules, and do not block in other situations while delaying rules checking (if needed) to transaction’s end, as done with optimistic.

Different categories provide different performance, i.e., different average transaction completion rates (throughput), depending on transaction types mix, computing level of parallelism, and other factors. If selection and knowledge about trade-offs are available, then category and method should be chosen to provide the highest performance.

The mutual blocking between two transactions (where each one blocks the other) or more results in a deadlock, where the transactions involved are stalled and cannot reach completion. Most non-optimistic mechanisms (with blocking) are prone to deadlocks which are resolved by an intentional abort of a stalled transaction (which releases the other transactions in that deadlock), and its immediate restart and re-execution. The likelihood of a deadlock is typically low.

Blocking, deadlocks, and aborts all result in performance reduction, and hence the trade-offs between the categories.

Published at : Updated
Written By
Evaristus Didik
Concentration & Content Coordinator | Information System, Binus University
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