An Introduction to Zookeeper – Part I of the Zookeeper series

A distributed system consists of multiple computers that communicate through a computer network and interact with each other to achieve a common goal.Major benefits that distributed systems offer over centralized systems is scalability and redundancy. Systems can be easily expanded by adding more machines as needed, and even if one of the machines is unavailable, the service continues to be available. However, such a system comes with its own challenges.

Zookeeper is an open source, high-performance coordination service for distributed applications. It tackles the common challenges that distributed applications face. It exposes common services that are required in the distributed environment like naming, configuration management, group service and provides the solution to distributed synchronization.

Zookeeper can be run in either a single-server mode or cluster(replicated) mode. Running zookeeper in single-server mode does not take advantage of zookeeper’s inherent features of high availability and resilience. Typically in a production environment, Zookeeper is run in a multi-server mode. A zookeeper cluster is called as an ensemble. A leader is elected on service startup. If the leader goes down, a new leader is elected. Clients only connect to a single zookeeper server and maintain a TCP connection. A Client can read from any zookeeper server, however writes go through the leader and needs a majority consensus.

Zookeeper provides sequential consistency guarantee, i.e., updates are applied in the order in which they are sent. It guarantees atomic updates, i.e., the updates either succeed or fail, there are no partial updates. It guarantees that a zookeeper client sees the same view of the service irrespective of the server in the ensemble that it connects to. A server will not accept a connection from a client until it has caught up with the state of the server to which the client was connected previously. Zookeeper ensures reliability, i.e., if an update succeeds in Zookeeper, then it is not rolled back. Zookeeper guarantees timeliness, i.e., a client is bound to see system changes within a certain time bound.

Zookeeper is an eventually consistent system, i.e., it does not guarantee that different clients will have identical view of zookeeper data at every instance in time. But it guarantees that if a follower falls too far behind the leader, then it goes offline.

The distributed processes using Zookeeper coordinate with each other through shared hierarchical namespaces. These namespaces are organized like UNIX file system. More on Zookeeper in the next post.

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