tzimmermann dot org
Jun 16, 2017 • 8 min read

Transaction Logs

This is series of blog posts to build a transaction manager in C. We have already implemented support for transactional memory and simple functions that operate only on memory, such as memcpy(). In this installment we’re going to look at logs, transactional logging and transactional memory allocation.

If you missed earlier entries in the series, you might want to go back and read the installments so far.

This is the first part of a two-part mini-series on transaction logs. In this entry we’re going to examine the uses for transaction logs and how they work in theory. In the next entry, we’ll implement a log for our transaction manager simpletm.

If you’ve been following this series over the course of the last weeks, you might have noticed how we’re going from more specific use cases to more broad scenarios, and how we’re going from memory operations to arbitrary functions.

When we added memory privatization to our transaction manager, we layed the foundation for calling C functions directly from within a transaction. C functions often take pointers as their arguments, and memory privatization is required allow this in a transaction-safe manner.

In this blog post, we’ll do the next step towards support for arbitrary functions. We’ll look at transaction logs and functions that require some form of transactional log.

Operations That Have To Be Undone

Let’s take a look at the following code fragment.


    void* buf = malloc(size);



Like many C programs, this transaction allocates memory using malloc(). This memory could be a temporary buffer required for an algorithm executed by the transaction. The transaction further performs several load and store operations. It could be a producer transaction that creates data for a consumer.

Looks good so far, however there’s a problem lurking.

Imaging a conflict happens during one of the load or store operations. If the transaction tries to acquire a memory location that is owned by a concurrent transaction, the transaction manager will resolve the conflict usually by rolling back the transaction that came last.

This rollback is a problem because of the memory buffer we allocated. Simply reverting all load and stores and restarting the transaction will leak the allocated memory.

To free allocated memory during a rollback, we have to inform the transaction manager about every allocation we performed during the transaction. This information is stored in the transaction log.

Operations That Have To Be Delayed

Let’s further take a look at another example.

void* buf = malloc(size);






In this program, memory is allocated outside of the transaction using malloc(). After the transaction started, it loads several memory locations and performs computations. As part of the transaction the allocated memory buffer is released using free(), and finally some stores are performed to save the transaction’s results. This transaction could be the consumer to our producer from the previous example.

This example illustrates another problem. Imaging the transaction frees the buffer and then one of the store operations observes a conflict. The transaction would have to rollback and restart. The free() operation, however, cannot be rolled back. It has already been performed and the memory might have already been allocated by another part of the program.

To allow the rollback of a free operation, we have to delay the invocation of free() until the commit happens. This information is also stored in the transaction log.

Undo and Redo

The examples above illustrate the two use case that require a log: some operations require to be reverted during a rollback, some operations require to be delayed until commit time.

One can distiguish between undo and redo logs, although implementaions might not be so strict.

An undo log is a log that for each operation stores the old value before that operation. It is useful for reverting operations. In the case of malloc() it would store a pointer to the allocated memory, so that the transaction manager knows that before this invocation of malloc(), the memory had not been allocated.

A redo log stores the changes for each operation that affects the state of the transaction. In the case of free() it stores the pointer that needs to be freed during commit. With this type of log it’s possible to re-do the transaction step by step.

We’ve already seen something like these logs before. Let’s for a moment remember the write-back and write-through semantics that we used for store operations on transactional memory. For each memory resource, we had a transaction-local buffer that either stored the original value or the transaction’s modified copy.

In write-back mode the transaction performed all changes in its local buffer, which was synchronized with the shared global buffer during commit. So the local buffer acted like a redo log, although it merges all store operations into one.

A similar thing is true for write-through mode. For a store, the transaction first copys the shared global value into its local buffer as a backup. Then it performed modifications directly on the global buffer. During a rollback the global buffer is reverted to its original state from the content of the local buffer. So the local buffer acts like an undo log.

Implementation Outline

A database usually has an abstract interface to the stored data and the implemented algorithms. Because access happens though abstract languages such as SQL, the database’s implementation might be able to only go with an undo or redo log only.

But as mentioned before, an implementation might not be too strict about distiguishing between undo and redo logs. In our case, we’ve already seen that we require both semantics: the undo semantics for malloc() and the redo semantics for free().

Generally speaking, we can say that we require

An operation that allocates a resource can also be a call to open() for opening a file. An operation for releasing a resource can also be a call to close() for closing a file descriptor.

We can simply combine both types of logs into the same data structure. For each allocating operation we have to

  1. perform the operation, because the result is required immediately by the transaction, and
  2. put an entry into the log.

For each releasing operation we have to

  1. put and entry into the log, and
  2. don’t do anything else; especially no the operation itself.

During a commit we can be sure that the transaction is about to complete. So we go through the log entries one-by-one and

During a rollback we go backwards through the log entries one-by-one and

As system transactions are about concurrency control and error handling, each transaction can get by with its own private log. If we have multiple transactions running concurrently, they won’t have to content for access to a global log. Databases have different use cases and stricter requirements for their transaction’s durability. Therefore they often require logs that are either shared globally among transactions, or allow for restoring a global history from the individual transaction’s logs. Fortunately none of this is required in our case.


In this block post, we’ve investigated the use of logs in our transaction manager.

So far we only covered some theory and concepts. In the next installment of this series of blog posts, we will implement a simple transactional log and implement transactional malloc() and free() on top of it.

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Post by: Thomas Zimmermann

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