LCS Publication Details
Publication Title: On Building Blocks for Distributed Systems
Publication Author: DePrisco, Roberto
Additional Authors:
LCS Document Number: MIT-LCS-TR-803
Publication Date: 4-20-2000
LCS Group: Theory of Computation
Additional URL: No URL Given
In this thesis we have investigated two building blocks for distributed systems: group communication services and distributed consensus services. Using group communication services is a successful approach in developing fault tolerant distributed applications. Such services provide communication tools that greatly facilitate the development of applications. Though many existing systems are used in real world applications, there is still the need of providing formal specifications for the group communication services offered by these systems. Great efforts are being made by many researchers to provide such specifications. In this thesis we have tackled this problem and have provided specifications for group communication services. One of our specifications considers the notion of primary view; another one generalizes this notion to that of primary configurations (views with quorums). Both specifications are shown to be implementable. The usefulness of both specifications is demonstrated by applications running on top of them. Our specifications are tailored to dynamic systems, where processes join and leave the system even permanently. We also showed how the approach used to develop the specifications can be applied to transform known algorithms, designed for stating settings, in order to make them adaptable to dynamic systems. Distributed consensus is the abstraction of many coordination problems, which are of fundamental importance in distributed systems. Distributed consensus has been thoroughly studied and one important result showed that it is not possible to solve consensus in asynchronous systems if failures are allowed. However in such systems it is possible to solve the $k$-set consensus problem, which is a relaxed version of the consensus problem: each participating process begins the protocol with an input value and by the end of the protocol it must decide on one value so that at most $k$ total values are decided by all correct processes (the classical consensus problem requires that there be a unique value decided by all correct processes). In this thesis we have investigated the $k$-set consensus problem in asynchronous distributed systems. We extended previous work by exploring several variations of the problem definition and model, including for the first time investigation of Byzantine failures. We showed that the precise definition of the validity requirement, which characterizes what decision values are allowed as a function of the input values and whether failures occur, is crucial to the solvability of the problem. We introduced six validity conditions for this problem (all considered in various contexts in the literature), and we demarcated the line between possible and impossible for each case. In many cases this line is different from the one of the originally studied $k$-set consensus problem.
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