Transactional Connectors in Hazelcast Jet

Viliam Ďurina | Mar 27, 2020

Hazelcast Jet is a distributed stream processing engine that supports exactly-once semantics even in the presence of cluster member failures. This is achieved by snapshotting the internal state of the processors at regular intervals into reliable storage and then, in case of a failure, using the latest snapshot to restore the state and continue.

However, the exactly-once guarantee didn’t work with most of the connectors. Only replayable sources, such as Apache Kafka or IMap Journal were supported. And no sink supported this level of guarantee. Why was that?

The original snapshot API had only one phase. A processor was asked to save its state at regular intervals and that was it. But a sink writes items to some external resource and must commit if the snapshot was successful, and it must not commit if it wasn’t. It also needs to ensure that if some processor committed, all will commit, even in the presence of failures. This is where distributed transactions come to the rescue.

Distributed transactions

Jet uses the two-phase commit algorithm to coordinate individual transactions. The basic algorithm is simple:

  1. The coordinator asks all participants to prepare for commit
  2. If all participants were successful, the coordinator asks them to commit. Otherwise, it asks all of them to roll back

For correct functionality, it is required that if a participant reported success in the first phase, it must be able to commit when requested.

Jet acts as a transaction coordinator. Individual processors (that is the parallel workers doing the writes) are adapters to actual transactional resources, that is to databases, message queues, etc. So even if you have just one transactional connector in your pipeline, you have multiple participants of a distributed transaction, one on each cluster member.

Two-phase snapshot procedure

The commit procedure in Jet is tied to the life cycle of the snapshot. When a snapshot is taken, the previous transaction is committed and a new one is started. The snapshot also serves as the durable storage for the coordinator.

Since Jet 4.0, the snapshot has two phases. In the first phase, the participants prepare, in the second phase they commit. Important thing is that the snapshot is successful and can be used to restore the state of a job after the 1st phase is successful. If the job fails before executing the 2nd phase, that is without executing the commits, the processors must be able to commit the transactions after the job restart. To do so, they store transaction IDs to the snapshot. This is the basic process:

  1. When a processor starts, it opens transaction T0. It writes incoming items, but doesn’t commit.
  2. Later the processor is asked to do the 1st phase of the snapshot (the snapshotCommitPrepare() method). The processor prepares T0, stores its ID to the snapshot and starts T1.
  3. Items that arrive until the 2nd phase occurs are handled using T1.
  4. When a coordinator member receives responses from all processors that they successfully did 1st phase, it marks the snapshot as successful and initiates the phase-2.
  5. Some time later the processor is asked to do the 2nd phase (the snapshotCommitFinish() method). The processor now commits T0 and continues to use T1 until the next snapshot.
  6. The process repeats with incremented transaction ID.

Keep in mind that a failure can occur at or between any of the above steps and exactly-once guarantee must be preserved. If it occurs before step 2, the transaction is just rolled back by the remote system when the client disconnects.

If it occurs between steps 2-4, items in T1 are rolled back by the remote system because the transaction wasn’t prepared (the XA API requires this). But there’s also T0 that is prepared, but not committed. After the job restarts, it will restore from a previous snapshot (step 4 wasn’t yet executed), and since T0 isn’t found in the restored state, it will be rolled back.

If the failure occurs after step 4, then after the job restarts, it will try to commit all transaction IDs found in the restored state. So it will try to commit T0. The commit must be idempotent: if that transaction was already committed, it should do nothing, because we don’t know if step 5 was executed or not.

Consistency with internal state

The 1st phase is common for transactional processors and for processors that only save internal state. It is coordinated using the snapshot barrier, based on the Chandy-Lamport algorithm. The consequence is that the moment at which internal processors save their state and external processors prepare and switch their transactions is the same. Therefore you can combine exactly-once stages of any type in the pipeline and it will work seamlessly.

Transactions are needed for sources too

It might seem that since sources are designed to be read, we don’t need anything to store. But, for example, some message systems use acknowledgments, which are in fact writes: they change the state of the message to consumed or they delete the message.

Jet supports JMS as a source. We’ve initially implemented the JMS source using XA transactions, but it turned out that major brokers don’t support it or the support is buggy. For example, ActiveMQ only delivers a handful of messages to consumers and then stops (issue). Artemis sometimes loses messages (issue). RabbitMQ doesn’t support two-phase transactions at all.

Therefore for JMS source, we implemented a different strategy. We acknowledge consumption in the 2nd phase of the snapshot. But if the job fails after the snapshot is successful but before we manage to acknowledge, already processed messages could be redelivered, so we store the IDs of seen messages in the snapshot and then use that to deduplicate. If you’re interested in details, check the source code.

Real-life issues

As mentioned above, some brokers have incorrect or buggy XA implementation. In other cases, prepared transactions are rolled back when the client disconnects (for example in MariaDB or H2 Database) – these systems are not usable at all. On the contrary, other implementations keep even non-prepared transactions, such as Artemis (issue, fixed recently). Artemis doesn’t even return these transactions when calling recover(), the XA API method to list prepared transactions, but those transactions still exist and hold locks. Transaction interleaving is mostly also not supported, this prevents us from doing any work while waiting for the 2nd phase.

Apache Kafka, while having all the building blocks needed to implement XA standard, has its own API. It also lacks a method to commit a transaction after reconnection, but we’ve been able to do it by calling a few private methods. Also, it binds transaction ID to the connection which forces us to have multiple open connections.

Transaction ID pool

Due to the above real-life limitations in most connectors, we use two transaction IDs interchangeably per processor. This avoids the need for the recover() method to list prepared transactions, which is unreliable or missing. Instead, we just probe known transaction IDs for existence.

This tactic also avoids the problem with Apache Kafka that it binds the transaction ID to a connection: we keep a pool of 2 connections in each processor instead and we don’t have to open a new connection after each snapshot.

All connectors except for the file sink use this approach, including the JMS and JDBC sinks planned for 4.1.


The new feature allowed us to implement an exactly-once guarantee for sources and sinks where it previously wasn’t possible. Even though these kinds of connectors are not ideal for a distributed system because they generally are not distributed, they still are very useful for integration with existing systems. JMS source, Kafka sink, and file sink are available out-of-the-box in Jet 4.0.

If you consider writing your own exactly-once connector, currently you have to implement the Core API Processor, class. We consider introducing some higher-level API in the future.

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About the Author
Viliam Ďurina

Viliam Ďurina

Viliam is Jet engineer at Hazelcast.