Conflicts, Synchronisation, and Revisions


If two u1dbs are synced, and then the same document is changed in different ways in each u1db, and then they are synced again, there will be a conflict. This does not block synchronisation: the document is registered as being in conflict, and resolving that is up to the u1db-using application.

Importantly, conflicts are not synced. If machine A initiates a sync with machine B, and this sync results in a conflict, the conflict only registers on machine A. This policy is sometimes called “other wins”: the machine you synced to wins conflicts, and the document will have machine B’s content on both machine A and machine B. However, on machine A the document is marked as having conflicts, and must be resolved there:

>>> import u1db
>>> db1 ='mydb1.u1db', create=True)
>>> db2 ='mydb2.u1db', create=True)
>>> doc1 = db1.create_doc({'came_from':'replica_1'})
>>> doc_id = doc1.doc_id
>>> # create a document in database 2 with the same document id.
>>> doc2 = db2.create_doc({'came_from':'replica_2'}, doc_id=doc_id)
>>> sync_target = db1.get_sync_target()
>>> synchronizer = u1db.sync.Synchronizer(db2, sync_target)
>>> synchronizer.sync()  # returns the local generation before sync
>>> db1_doc = db1.get_doc(doc_id)
>>> db1_doc.content
{u'came_from': u'replica_1'}
>>> conflicted_doc = db2.get_doc(doc_id)
>>> conflicted_doc.content  # the sync target's content wins
{u'came_from': u'replica_1'}
>>> conflicted_doc.has_conflicts # but the document is in conflict
>>> conflicts = db2.get_doc_conflicts(doc_id)
>>> len(conflicts)  # There are two conflicting versions of the document
>>> db2.resolve_doc(conflicts[1], [d.rev for d in conflicts]) # resolve in favour db2's version
>>> doc_is_now = db2.get_doc(doc_id)
>>> doc_is_now.content # the content has been updated to doc's content
{u'came_from': u'replica_2'}
>>> db2.get_doc_conflicts(doc_id)
>>> doc_is_now.has_conflicts # and is no longer in conflict
>>> # synchronize again so that the resolved version ends up in db1
>>> synchronizer.sync()
>>> db1_doc = db1.get_doc(doc_id)
>>> db1_doc.content  # now is identical to db2's version
{u'came_from': u'replica_2'}
>>> db2_doc = db2.get_doc(doc_id)
>>> db2_doc.has_conflicts  # this sync did not create any new conflicts

Note that put_doc will fail because we got conflicts from a sync, but it may also fail for another reason. If you acquire a document before a sync and then sync, and the sync updates that document, then re-putting that document with modified content will also fail, because the revision is not the current one. This will raise a RevisionConflict error.


Synchronisation between two u1db replicas consists of the following steps:

  1. The source replica asks the target replica for the information it has stored about the last time these two replicas were synchronised (if ever).
  2. The source replica validates that its information regarding the last synchronisation is consistent with the target’s information, and raises an error if not. (This could happen for instance if one of the replicas was lost and restored from backup, or if a user inadvertently tries to synchronise a copied database.)
  3. The source replica generates a list of changes since the last change the target replica knows of.
  4. The source replica checks what the last change is it knows about on the target replica.
  5. If there have been no changes on either replica that the other side has not seen, the synchronisation stops here.
  6. The source replica sends the changed documents to the target, along with what the latest change is that it knows about on the target replica.
  7. The target processes the changed documents, and records the source replica’s latest change.
  8. The target responds with the documents that have changes that the source does not yet know about.
  9. The source processes the changed documents, and records the target replica’s latest change.
  10. If the source has seen no changes unrelated to the synchronisation during this whole process, it now sends the target what its latest change is, so that the next synchronisation does not have to consider changes that were the result of this one.

The synchronisation information stored by the replica for each other replica it has ever synchronised with consists of:

  • The replica id of the other replica. (Which should be globally unique identifier to distinguish database replicas from one another.)
  • The last known generation and transaction id of the other replica.
  • The generation and transaction id of this replica at the time of the most recent succesfully completed synchronisation with the other replica.

Any change to any document in a database constitutes a transaction. Each transaction increases the database generation by 1, and u1db implementations should [1] assign a transaction id, which is meant to be a unique random string paired with each generation, that can be used to detect the case where replica A and replica B have previously synchronised at generation N, and subsequently replica B is somehow reverted to an earlier generation (say, a restore from backup, or somebody made a copy of the database file of replica B at generation < N, and tries to synchronise that), and then new changes are made to it. It could end up at generation N again, but with completely different data. Having random unique transaction ids will allow replica A to detect this situation, and refuse to synchronise to prevent data loss. (Lesson to be learned from this: do not copy databases around, that is what synchronisation is for.)

Synchronisation Over HTTP

Synchronisation over HTTP is tuned to minimize the number of request/response round trips. The anatomy of a full synchronisation over HTTP is as follows:

  1. The application wishing to synchronise sends the following GET request to the server:

    GET /thedb/sync-from/my_replica_uid

    Where thedb is the name of the database to be synchronised, and my_replica_uid is the replica id of the application’s (i.e. the local, or synchronisation source) database.

  2. The target responds with a JSON document that looks like this:

        "target_replica_uid": "other_replica_uid",
        "target_replica_generation": 12,
        "target_replica_transaction_id": "T-sdkfj92292j",
        "source_replica_uid": "my_replica_uid",
        "source_replica_generation": 23,
        "source_transaction_id": "T-39299sdsfla8"

    With all the information it has stored for the most recent synchronisation between itself and this particular source replica. In this case it tells us that the synchronisation target believes that when it and the source were last synchronised, the target was at generation 12 and the source at generation 23.

  3. If source and target agree on the above information, the source now starts a streaming POST request to the same URL:

    POST /thedb/sync-from/my_replica_uid

    The request is of MIME type application/x-u1db-sync-stream, which is a subset of JSON. The format is a JSON array with a JSON object on each line, followed by a comma and a carriage return and a newline, like this:


    The first object contains the following information:

    {"last_known_generation": 12, "last_known_trans_id": "T-39299sdsfla8"},\r\n

    and then for each document that it has changes for that are more recent than generation 23, ordered by generation in ascending order, it sends, on a single line, followed by a comma and a newline character, the following JSON object:

    {"id": "mydocid", "rev": "my_replica_uid:4", "content": "{}", "generation": 48, "trans_id": "T-88djlahhhd"},\r\n


    Note that content contains a JSON encoded representation of the document’s content (which in this case is empty).

    The server reads and processes these lines one by one. Note that each such JSON document includes the generation and transaction id of the change. This means that when the synchronisation is ever interrupted, the source can resume by starting at the last generation that was successfully synchronised.

  4. After it gets to the end of the request, the server responds with a status 200 and starts streaming a response, also of MIME type application/x-u1db-sync-stream, which starts as follows:

    {"new_generation": 15, "new_transaction_id": "T-999j3jjsfl"},\r\n

    which tells the source what the target’s new generation and transaction id are, now that it processed the changes it received from the source. Then it starts streaming its changes since its last generation that was synced (12 in this case), in exactly the same format (and order) as the source did in step 3.

  5. When the source has processed all the changes it received from the target, and it detects that there have been no changes to its database since the start of the synchronisation that were not a direct result of the synchronisation, it now performs a final PUT request, to inform the target of its new generation and transaction id, so that the next synchronisation can start there, rather than with the generation the source was at when this synchronisation started:

    PUT /thedb/sync-from/my_replica_uid

    With the content:

    {"generation": 53, "transaction_id": "T-camcmls92"}


As an app developer, you should treat a Document‘s revision as an opaque cookie; do not try and deconstruct it or edit it. It is for your u1db implementation’s use. You can therefore ignore the rest of this section.

If you are writing a new u1db implementation, understanding revisions is important, and this is where you find out about them.

To keep track of document revisions u1db uses vector clocks. Each synchronised instance of the same database is called a replica and has a unique identifier (replica uid) assigned to it (currently the reference implementation by default uses UUID4s for that); a revision is a mapping between replica uids and revisions, as follows: rev = <replica_uid:revision...>, or using a functional notation rev(replica_uid) = revision. The current concrete format is a string built out of each replica_uid concatenated with ':' and with its revision in decimal, sorted lexicographically by replica_uid and then all joined with '|', for example: 'replicaA:1|replicaB:3' . Absent replica uids in a revision mapping are implicitly mapped to revison 0.

The new revision of a document modified locally in a replica, is the modification of the old revision where the revision mapped to the editing replica uid is increased by 1.

When syncing one needs to establish whether an incoming revision is newer than the current one or in conflict. A revision

rev1 = <replica_1i:revision1i|i=1..n>

is newer than a different

rev2 = <replica_2j:revision2j|j=1..m>

if for all i=1..n, rev2(replica_1i) <= revision1i

and for all j=1..m, rev1(replica_2j) >= revision2j.

Two revisions which are not equal nor one newer than the other are in conflict.

When resolving a conflict locally in a replica replica_resol, starting from rev1...revN in conflict, the resulting revision rev_resol is obtained by:

R is the set the of all replicas explicitly mentioned in rev1..revN

rev_resol(r) = max(rev1(r)...revN(r)) for all r in R, with r != rev_resol

rev_resol(replica_resol) = max(rev1(replica_resol)...revN(replica_resol))+1


[1]Implementations are not required to use transaction ids. If they don’t they should return an empty string when asked for a transaction id. All implementations should accept an empty string as a valid transaction id. We suggest to implement transaction ids where possible though, since omitting them can lead to data loss in scenarios like the ones described above.

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