Shagun Sodhani
Sep 27, 2015 · 7 min read

Design Considerations

Dynamo achieves high availability at the cost of weaker consistency. Changes propagate to the replicas in the background and conflict resolution is done at read time to make sure none of the write operations can fail. Dynamo uses simple policies like “last write win” for conflict resolution though applications using Dynamo may override these techniques with their own methods. Eg the cart application may choose to add items across all versions to make sure none of the items is lost.


Dynamo exposes two operations: get() and put(). get(key) returns value or list of values along with context objects corresponding to the key. put(key, context, value) stores the value and the context corresponding to the key. context objects are used for conflict resolution.


There are 2 modes of routing requests in Dynamo. In the first mode, servers route the request. The node fulfilling the request is called coordinator. If it is a read request, any node can act as the coordinator. For a write request, the coordinator is one of the nodes from the key’s current preference list. So if the write request reaches a node which is not in the preference list, it routes the request to one of the nodes in the preference list.


Apart from the architecture described above, Dynamo uses optimizations like read-repair where, during quorum, if a node returns a stale response for a read query, it is updated with the latest version of data. Similarly, since writes follow reads, the coordinator for read operation is the node that replies fastest to the previous read operation. This increases the chances of having read you write consistency.

Lessons Learnt

Although Dynamo is primarily designed as a write intensive data store, N, R and W provides ample control to modify its behavior for other scenarios as well. For example, setting R = 1 and W = N makes it a high performance read engine. Services maintaining product catalog and promotional items can use this mode. Similarly setting W = 1 means a write request is never rejected as long as at least one server is up though this increases the risk of inconsistency. Given that Dynamo allows the clients to override the conflict resolution methods, it becomes a general solution for many more scenarios than it was originally intended for.

Shagun Sodhani

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