JustinDB provides eventual consistency, which allows for updates to be propagated to all replicas asynchronously.

JustinDB has a tunable availability characteristic. It is highly available to serve requests, with the ability to tune its level of availability–nearing, but never quite reaching, strong consistency. As you may have read previous post about replication you know that every data is replicated to N distinct physical nodes (servers). Besides that it allows you to decide how many nodes must be written to or read from per request. These values are settings labeled N (the number of nodes to replicate to), R (the number of nodes read from before returning), and W (the number of nodes written to before considered successful).

Under certain failure scenarios (e.g. network partitions), updates may not arrive at all replicas for an extended period of time. Its worth to notice that updates in the presence of e.g. node failures can potentially result in an object having distinct version sub-histories, which the system will need to reconcile in the future.

JustinDB uses Vector Clock in order to capture causality between different versions of the same object.

Vector Clock


A vector clock is an algorithm for generating a partial ordering of events in a distributed system and detecting causality violations.

Sounds a bit confusing.

At it basis, Vector Clock just measures a sequence of events and keep a running history of updates. Its effectively a list of (node, counter) pairs. One vector clock is associated with every version of every objects.

This is how Vector Clock is modeled in JustinDB:

case class VectorClock[Id](private val clock: Map[Id, Counter]) {
  def get(id: Id): Option[Counter] = clock.get(id)

  def increase(id: Id): VectorClock[Id] = {
    val searchedCounter = clock.getOrElse(id,
    val updatedCounter  = searchedCounter.addOne

    VectorClock(clock + (id -> updatedCounter))

  def toList: List[(Id, Counter)] = clock.toList

  def keys: Set[Id] = clock.keys.toSet

object VectorClock {

  def apply[Id](): VectorClock[Id] = VectorClock(Map.empty[Id, Counter])

  def empty[Id](id: Id): VectorClock[Id] = VectorClock(Map(id ->

  def merge[Id](receiverId: Id, vc1: VectorClock[Id], vc2: VectorClock[Id]): VectorClock[Id] = {
    val mergedClocks = vc1.clock ++ vc2.clock

    val mergedCounter = (vc1.clock.get(receiverId), vc2.clock.get(receiverId)) match {
      case (Some(counter1), Some(counter2)) => Counter.max(counter1, counter2)
      case (None, Some(counter2))           => counter2
      case (Some(counter1), None)           => counter1
      case (None, None)                     =>

    val counter = mergedCounter.addOne

    VectorClock(mergedClocks + (receiverId -> counter))
case class Counter(value: Int) extends AnyVal {
  def addOne: Counter = this.copy(value = value + 1)

object Counter {
  def max(c1: Counter, c2: Counter): Counter = {
    Counter(scala.math.max(c1.value, c2.value))

  def zero: Counter = Counter(0)

Lets illustrate vector clocks in action

Quick reminder: JustinDB at it basis can thought be as a typical key -> value data structure.

We have 3 actors in our system: Luke, Han Solo and Leia. They try to order the food.

  • Luke has decided to order sushi. Vector Clock now contains his name and the number of updates he’s performed.
key: food

vclock: {Luke: 1}
value: sushi

  • Han Solo has got a message about an order but he doesn’t like Luke decision. He decided to update the order to take spaghetti instead.
key: food

vclock: {Luke: 1, Han Solo: 1}
value: spaghetti
  • At the sime time as Han Solo, Leia comes along. She decides that sushi is a good idea (author: c’mon, it always is!) but she prefers to eat ramen.
key: food

vclock: {Luke: 1, Leia: 1}
value: ramen
  • We got a problem. Now we have two distinct vector clocks in play that diverge from {Luke: 1}. JustinDB store both values.

  • Later in the day Han Solo checks again, but this time he gets two conflicts values, with two vector clocks.

key: food

vclock: {Luke: 1, Leia: 1}
value: ramen
vclock: {Luke: 1, Han Solo: 1}
value: spaghetti

Han Solo tries to solve this problem. He actually knows that Leia is a big fun of ramen so he decided to resolves the conflict choosing her option and providing new vector clock (sorry Luke…).

key: food

vclock: {Luke: 1, Leia: 1, Han Solo: 2}
value: ramen
  • Now every subsequent request for food key will just return the agreed upon ramen.


In this part about Vector Clock we learned:

  • what is it actually
  • why do we need such technique in distributed system with enabled replication
  • how to use it in real world

In next part I’m going to show how actually we use Vector Clock with JustinDB API:

  • how Vector Clocks are generated for every stored objects
  • how to update particular object
  • how to update conflicted versions
  • how system reason about causality of conflicted versions

Cheers! ✌️