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Are transactions on top of "normal file system" possible?

This answer is pure speculation, but you may be comparing apples and oranges. Or perhaps more accurately, milk and dairy products.

When a database uses a file system, it is only using a small handful of predefined files on the system (per database). These include data files and log files. The one operation that is absolutely necessary for ACID-compliant transactions is the ability to force a write to permanent memory (either disk or static RAM). And, I think most file systems provide this capability.

With this mechanism, the database can maintain locks on objects in the database as well as control access to all objects. Happily, the database has layers of memory/page management built on top of the file system. The "database" itself is written in terms of things like pages, tables, and indexes, not files, directories, and disk blocks.

A more generic transactional system has other challenges. It would need, for instance, atomic actions for more things. E.g. if you "transactionally" delete 10 files, all these would have to disappear at the same time. I don't think "traditional" file systems have this capability.

In the database world, the equivalent would be deleting 10 tables. Well, you essentially create new versions of the system tables without the tables — within a transaction, while the old tables are being used. Then you put a full lock on the system tables (preventing reads and writes), waiting until they are available. Then you swap in the new table definitions (i.e. without the tables), unlock the tables, and clean up the data. (This is intended as an intuitive view of the locking mechanism in this case, not a 100% accurate description.)

So, notice that locking and transactions are deeply embedded in the actions the database is doing. I suspect that the authors of this module come to realize that they had to basically fully re-implement all existing file system functionality to support their transactions — and that was a bit too much scope to take on.

Categories : Java

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