A Little Riak Book for LFE

Request Tuning

Riak is extensively (perhaps too extensively) configurable. Much of that flexibility involves platform tuning accessible only via the host operating system, but several core behavioral values can (and should) be managed by applications.

With the notable exceptions of n_val (commonly referred to as N) and allow_mult, the parameters described below can be overridden with each request. All of them can be configured per-bucket type (available with Riak 2.0) or per-bucket.

Key concepts

Any default value listed below as quorum is equivalent to n_val/2+1, or 2 whenever n_val has not been modified.

Primary servers are the cluster members that, in the absence of any network or server failure, are supposed to "own" any given key/value pair.

Riak's key/value engine does not itself write values to storage. That job is left to the backends that Riak supports: Bitcask, LevelDB, and Memory.

No matter what the parameters below are set to, requests will be sent to n_val servers on behalf of the client, except for strongly-consistent read requests with Riak 2.0, which can be safely retrieved from the current leader for that key/value pair.

Tuning parameters

Leave this alone

n_val : The number of copies of data that are written. This is independent of the number of servers in the cluster. Default: 3.

The n_val is vital to nearly everything that Riak does. The default value of 3 should never be lowered except in special circumstances, and changing it after a bucket has data can lead to unexpected behavior.

Configure at the bucket

allow_mult : Specify whether this bucket retains conflicts for the application to resolve (true) or pick a winner using vector clocks and server timestamp even if the causality history does not indicate that it is safe to do so (false). See Conflict Resolution for more. Default: false for untyped buckets (including all buckets prior to Riak 2.0), true otherwise

You **should** give this value careful thought. You **must** know what it will be in your environment to do proper key/value data modeling.

last_write_wins : Setting this to true is a slightly stronger version of allow_mult=false: when possible, Riak will write new values to storage without bothering to compare against existing values. Default: false

Configure at the bucket or per-request

r : The number of servers that must successfully respond to a read request before the client will be sent a response. Default: quorum

w : The number of servers that must successfully respond to a write request before the client will be sent a response. Default: quorum

pr : The number of primary servers that must successfully respond to a read request before the client will be sent a response. Default: 0

pw : The number of primary servers that must successfully respond to a write request before the client will be sent a response. Default: 0

dw : The number of servers that must respond indicating that the value has been successfully handed off to the backend for durable storage before the client will be sent a response. Default: 2 (effective minimum 1)

notfound_ok : Specifies whether the absence of a value on a server should be treated as a successful assertion that the value doesn't exist (true) or as an error that should not count toward the r or pr counts (false). Default: true


Generally speaking, the higher the integer values listed above, the more latency will be involved, as the server that received the request will wait for more servers to respond before replying to the client.

Higher values can also increase the odds of a timeout failure or, in the case of the primary requests, the odds that insufficient primary servers will be available to respond.

Write failures

Please read this. Very important. Really.

The semantics for write failure are very different under eventually consistent Riak than they are with the optional strongly consistent writes available in Riak 2.0, so I'll tackle each separately.

Eventual consistency

In most cases when the client receives an error message on a write request, the write was not a complete failure. Riak is designed to preserve your writes whenever possible, even if the parameters for a request are not met. Riak will not roll back writes.

Even if you attempt to read the value you just tried to write and don't find it, that is not definitive proof that the write was a complete failure. (Sorry.)

If the write is present on at least one server, and that server doesn't crash and burn, and future updates don't supersede it, the key and value written should make their way to all servers responsible for them.

Retrying any updates that resulted in an error, with the appropriate vector clock to help Riak intelligently resolve conflicts, won't cause problems.

Strong consistency

Strong consistency is the polar opposite from the default Riak behaviors. If a client receives an error when attempting to write a value, it is a safe bet that the value is not stashed somewhere in the cluster waiting to be propagated, unless the error is a timeout, the least useful of all possible responses.

No matter what response you receive, if you read the key and get the new value backclient-libs, you can be confident that all future successful reads (until the next write) will return that same value.

client-libs. To be absolutely certain your value is in Riak after

a write error and a successful read, you can issue a new read request not tied to any existing object; your client library could be caching the value you just wrote.

Tuning for immutable data

If you constrain a bucket to contain nothing but immutable data, you can tune for very fast responses to read requests by setting r=1 and notfound_ok=false.

This means that read requests will (as always) be sent to all n_val servers, but the first server that responds with a value other than notfound will be considered "good enough" for a response to the client.

Ordinarily with r=1 and the default value notfound_ok=true if the first server that responds doesn't have a copy of your data you'll get a not found response; if a failover server happens to be actively serving requests, there's a very good chance it'll be the first to respond since it won't yet have a copy of that key.

Further reading