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From Doug Cutting <cutt...@apache.org>
Subject RPC versioning
Date Fri, 03 Oct 2008 16:37:10 GMT
It has been proposed in the discussions defining Hadoop 1.0 that we 
extend our back-compatibility policy.


Currently we only attempt to promise that application code will run 
without change against compatible versions of Hadoop.  If one has 
clusters running different yet compatible versions, then one must use a 
different classpath for each cluster to pick up the appropriate version 
of Hadoop's client libraries.

The proposal is that we extend this, so that a client library from one 
version of Hadoop will operate correctly with other compatible Hadoop 
versions, i.e., one need not alter one's classpath to contain the 
identical version, only a compatible version.

Question 1: Do we need to solve this problem soon, for release 1.0, 
i.e., in order to provide a release whose compatibility lifetime is ~1 
year, instead of the ~4months of 0. releases?  This is not clear to me. 
  Can someone provide cases where using the same classpath when talking 
to multiple clusters is critical?

Assuming it is, to implement this requires RPC-level support for 
versioning.  We could add this by switching to an RPC mechanism with 
built-in, automatic versioning support, like Thrift, Etch or Protocol 
Buffers.  But none of these is a drop-in replacement for Hadoop RPC. 
They will probably not initially meet our performance and scalability 
requirements.  Their adoption will also require considerable and 
destabilizing changes to Hadoop.  Finally, it is not today clear which 
of these would be the best candidate.  If we move too soon, we might 
regret our choice and wish to move again later.

So, if we answer yes to (1) above, wishing to provide RPC 
back-compatibility in 1.0, but do not want to hold up a 1.0 release, is 
there an alternative to switching?  Can we provide incremental 
versioning support to Hadoop's existing RPC mechanism that will suffice 
until a clear replacement is available?

Below I suggest a simple versioning style that Hadoop might use to
permit its RPC protocols to evolve compatibly until an RPC system with
built-in versioning support is selected.  This is not intended to be a
long-term solution, but rather something that would permit us to more
flexibly evolve Hadoop's protocols over the next year or so.

This style assumes a globally increasing Hadoop version number.  For
example, this might be the subversion repository version of trunk when
a change is first introduced.

When an RPC client and server handshake, they exchange version
numbers.  The lower of their two version numbers is selected as the
version for the connection.

Let's walk through an example.  We start with a class that contains
no versioning information and a single field, 'a':

   public class Foo implements Writable {
     int a;

     public void write(DataOutput out) throws IOException {

     public void readFields(DataInput in) throws IOException {
       a = in.readInt();

Now, in version 1, we add a second field, 'b' to this:

   public class Foo implements Writable {
     int a;
     float b;                                        // new field

     public void write(DataOutput out) throws IOException {
       int version = RPC.getVersion(out);
       if (version >= 1) {                           // peer supports b
	out.writeFloat(b);                          // send it

     public void readFields(DataInput in) throws IOException {
       int version = RPC.getVersion(in);
       a = in.readInt();
       if (version >= 1) {                           // if supports b
	b = in.readFloat();                         // read it

Next, in version 2, we remove the first field, 'a':

   public class Foo implements Writable {
     float b;

     public void write(DataOutput out) throws IOException {
       int version = RPC.getVersion(out);
       if (version < 2) {                            // peer wants a
	out.writeInt(0);                            // send it
       if (version >= 1) {

     public void readFields(DataInput in) throws IOException {
       int version = RPC.getVersion(in);
       if (version < 2) {                            // peer writes a
	in.readInt();                               // ignore it
       if (version >= 1) {
	b = in.readFloat();

Could something like this work?  It would require just some minor 
changes to Hadoop's RPC mechanism, to support the version handshake. 
Beyond that, it could be implemented incrementally as RPC protocols 
evolve.  It would require some vigilance, to make sure that versioning 
logic is added when classes change, but adding automated tests against 
prior versions would identify lapses  here.

This may appear to add a lot of version-related logic, but with 
automatic versioning, in many cases, some version-related logic is still 
required.  In simple cases, one adds a completely new field with a 
default value and is done, with automatic versioning handling much of 
the work.  But in many other cases an existing field is changed and the 
application must translate old values to new, and vice versa.  These 
cases still require application logic, even with automatic versioning. 
So automatic versioning is certainly less intrusive, but not as much as 
one might first assume.

The fundamental question is how soon we need to address inter-version 
RPC compatibility.  If we wish to do it soon, I think we'd be wise to 
consider a solution that's less invasive and that does not force us into 
a potentially premature decision.


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