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The Heard-Of model: computing in distributed systems with benign faults


Problems in fault-tolerant distributed computing have been studied in a variety of models. These models are structured around two central ideas: (1) degree of synchrony and failure model are two independent parameters that determine a particular type of system, (2) the notion of faulty component is helpful and even necessary for the analysis of distributed computations when faults occur. In this work, we question these two basic principles of fault-tolerant distributed computing, and show that it is both possible and worthy to renounce them in the context of benign faults: we present a computational model based only on the notion of transmission faults. In this model, computations evolve in rounds, and messages missed in a round are lost. Only information transmission is represented: for each round r and each process p, our model provides the set of processes that p “hears of” at round r (heard-of set), namely the processes from which p receives some message at round r. The features of a specific system are thus captured as a whole, just by a predicate over the collection of heard-of sets. We show that our model handles benign failures, be they static or dynamic, permanent or transient, in a unified framework. We demonstrate how this approach leads to shorter and simpler proofs of important results (non-solvability, lower bounds). In particular, we prove that the Consensus problem cannot be generally solved without an implicit and permanent consensus on heard-of sets. We also examine Consensus algorithms in our model. In light of this specific agreement problem, we show how our approach allows us to devise new interesting solutions.

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Author information

Correspondence to Bernadette Charron-Bost.

Additional information

A. Schiper’s research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation under grant number 200021-111701 and Hasler Foundation under grant number 2070.

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Charron-Bost, B., Schiper, A. The Heard-Of model: computing in distributed systems with benign faults. Distrib. Comput. 22, 49–71 (2009).

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  • Consensus
  • Benign fault
  • Computational model
  • HO (Heard-Of) model
  • Transmission fault