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The Verification of a Distributed System

By Caitie McCaffrey

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 59 No. 2, Pages 52-55
10.1145/2844108

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Leslie Lamport, known for his seminal work in distributed systems, famously said, "A distributed system is one in which the failure of a computer you didn't even know existed can render your own computer unusable." Given this bleak outlook and the large set of possible failures, how do you even begin to verify and validate the distributed systems you build are doing the right thing?

Distributed systems are difficult to build and test for two main reasons: partial failure and asynchrony. Asynchrony is the nondeterminism of ordering and timing within a system; essentially, there is no now.10 Partial failure is the idea components can fail along the way, resulting in incomplete results or data.

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