Strong Consistency

Please Note:

Riak KV’s strong consistency is an experimental feature and may be removed from the product in the future. Strong consistency is not commercially supported or production-ready. Strong consistency is incompatible with Multi-Datacenter Replication, Riak Search, Bitcask Expiration, LevelDB Secondary Indexes, Riak Data Types and Commit Hooks. We do not recommend its usage in any production environment.

In versions 2.0 and later, Riak allows you to create buckets that provide strong consistency guarantees for the data stored within them, enabling you to use Riak as a CP system (consistent plus partition tolerant) for all of the data in that bucket. You can store just some of your data in strongly consistent buckets or all of your data, depending on your use case. Strong consistency was added to complement Riak’s standard eventually consistent, high availability mode.


When data is stored in a bucket with strong consistency guarantees, a value is guaranteed readable by any client immediately after a successful write has occurred to a given key. In this sense, single-key strongly consistent operations are atomic, and operations on a given key are linearizable. This behavior comes at the expense of availability because a quorum of primary vnodes responsible for the key must be online and reachable or the request will fail.

This trade-off is unavoidable for strongly consistent data, but the choice is now yours to make.

Enabling Strong Consistency

Complete instructions on enabling strong consistency can be found in our documentation on configuring strong consistency.

Creating Consistent Bucket Types

Strong Consistency requirements in Riak are applied on a bucket-by-bucket basis, meaning that you can use some buckets in an eventually consistent fashion and others in a strongly consistent fashion, depending on your use case.

To apply strong consistency to a bucket, you must create a bucket type that sets the consistent bucket property to true, activate that type, and then apply that type to specific bucket/key pairs.

To give an example, we’ll create a bucket type called strongly_consistent with the consistent bucket property set to true:

riak-admin bucket-type create strongly_consistent \

Note on bucket type names

You can name bucket types whatever you wish, with the exception of default, which is a reserved term (a full listing of the properties associated with the default bucket type can be found in the documentation on bucket properties and operations).

Once the strongly_consistent bucket type has been created, we can check the status of the type to ensure that it has propagated through all nodes and is thus ready to be activated:

riak-admin bucket-type status strongly_consistent

If the console outputs strongly_consistent has been created and may be activated and the properties listing shows that consistent has been set to true, then you may proceed with activation:

riak-admin bucket-type activate strongly_consistent

When activation is successful, the console will return the following:

strongly_consistent has been activated

Now, any bucket that bears the type strongly_consistent—or whatever you wish to name it—will provide strong consistency guarantees.

Elsewhere in the Riak docs, you can find more information on using bucket types, on the concept of strong consistency, and on strong consistency for operators.

Replication Properties

Strongly consistent operations in Riak function much differently from their eventually consistent counterparts. Whereas eventually consistent operations enable you to set values for a variety of replication properties either on each request or at the bucket level, using bucket types, these settings are quietly ignored for strongly consistent operations. These settings include r, pr, w, rw, and others. Two replication properties that can be set, however, are n_val and return_body.

The n_val property is extremely important for two reasons:

  1. It dictates how fault tolerant a strongly consistent bucket is. More information can be found in our recommendations for operators.
  2. Once the n_val property is set for a given bucket type, it cannot be changed. If you wish to change the n_val for one or more strongly consistent buckets using bucket types, you will need to create a new bucket type with the desired n_val.

We also recommend setting the n_val on strongly consistent buckets to at least 5. More on why we make this recommendation can be found in Fault Tolerance.

Causal Context

Riak uses causal context to determine the causal history of objects. In versions of Riak KV prior to 2.0, vector clocks were used to provide objects with causal context metadata. In Riak versions 2.0 and later there is an option to use dotted version vectors, which function much like vector clocks from the standpoint of clients, but with important advantages over vector clocks.

While we strongly recommend attaching context to objects for all updates—whether traditional vector clocks or the newer dotted version vectors—they are purely optional for all eventually consistent operations in Riak. This is not the case for strongly consistent operations. When modifying strongly consistent objects in Riak, you must attach a causal context.

If you attempt to modify a strongly consistent object without attaching a context to the request, the request will always fail. And while it is possible to make writes to non-existing keys without attaching context, we recommend doing this only if you are certain that the key does not yet exist.

Instructions on using causal context can be found in our documentation on object updates.

Strongly Consistent Writes

Writing to strongly consistent keys involves some of the same best practices that we advise when writing to eventually consistent keys. We recommend bearing the following in mind:

  1. If you know that a key does not yet exist, you can write to that key without supplying a context with the object. If you are unsure, then you should default to supplying a context object.
  2. If an object already exists under a key, strong consistency demands that you supply a causal context. If you do not supply one, the update will necessarily fail.
  3. Because strongly consistent writes must occasionally sacrifice availability for the sake of consistency, strongly consistent updates can fail even under normal conditions, particularly in the event of concurrent updates.

Error Messages

For the most part, performing reads, writes, and deletes on data in strongly consistent buckets works much like it does in non-strongly-consistent-buckets. One important exception to this is how writes are performed. Strongly consistent buckets cannot allow siblings by definition, and so all writes to existing keys must include a context with the object.

If you attempt a write to a non-empty key without including causal context, you will receive the following error:

Riak::Conflict: The object is in conflict (has siblings) and cannot be treated singly or saved:
java.lang.IllegalArgumentException: VClock cannot be null.
$response->isSuccess();  // false
$response->getStatusCode(); // 412
riak.RiakError: 'failed'
<html><head><title>412 Precondition Failed</title></head><body><h1>Precondition Failed</h1>Precondition Failed<p><hr><address>mochiweb+webmachine web server</address></body></html>

Getting Started with Riak KV clients

If you are connecting to Riak using one of Basho’s official client libraries, you can find more information about getting started with your client in our Developing with Riak KV: Getting Started section.

Known Issue with Client Libraries

All of Basho’s official client libraries currently convert errors returned by Riak into generic exceptions, with a message derived from the error message returned by Riak. In many cases this presents no problems, since many error conditions are normal when using Riak.

When working with strong consistency, however, operations like conditional puts commonly produce errors that are difficult for clients to interpret. For example, it is expected behavior for conditional puts to fail in the case of concurrent updates to an object. At present, the official Riak clients will convert this failure into an exception that is no different from other error conditions, i.e. they will not indicate any strong-consistency-specific errors.

The best solution to this problem at the moment is to catch these exceptions on the application side and parse server-side error messages to see if the error involved a conditional failure. If so, you should set up your application to retry any updates, perhaps a specified number of times or perhaps indefinitely, depending on the use case.

If you do set up a retry logic of this sort, however, it is necessary to retry the entire read/modify/put cycle, meaning that you will need to fetch the object, modify it, and then write. If you perform a simple put over and over again, without reading the object, the update will continue to fail.

A future version of Riak will address these issues by modifying the server API to more accurately report errors specific to strongly consistent operations.