Paxos Definition & Meaning

Paxos is a family of protocols used to achieve consensus or agreement among a distributed set of computers that communicate through a network that is asynchronous, meaning they are unreliable. One or more clients propose a value to Paxos, and if a majority of the running systems agree on the value, consensus happens. Consensus is used for reasons such as agreeing on who gets access to a resource, who is the leader, or a common order of events among a collection of computers.

Paxos is typically used to maintain the same ordering of commands among multiple replicas so that all replicas eventually converge to the same value. The protocol tries to make progress even if a bounded number of replicas are unresponsive. It also provides abortable consensus, meaning that some processes abort the consensus if there is contention when deciding on the value. The processes that are deciding must agree on the same value. An abortable consensus allows a process to terminate instead of being eternally blocked.

Paxos assumptions

The following are assumptions made about the processors and network on which the protocol is implemented.

Processors

  • Operated at arbitrary speed and may experience failure
  • Processors with stable storage may rejoin the protocol after failure
  • Processors do not collude, lie, or attempt to subvert the protocol

Network

  • Processors can send messages to any other processor
  • Messages are sent asynchronously and may take longer to deliver
  • Messages may be lost, reordered, or duplicated
  • Messages are delivered without corruption

The Paxos family of protocols is similar to the Raft consensus algorithm. While both address the fundamental problem of reaching a consensus among a cluster of computer systems, Paxos is more concerned with the mechanics of consensus, whereas Raft is oriented around the practical challenges of implementing a replicated log. Raft is generally designed to be more understandable than Paxos.

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