[erlang-questions] question re. message delivery

Miles Fidelman <>
Tue Sep 26 18:58:16 CEST 2017

See in-line...

On 9/26/17 9:39 AM, Matthias Lang wrote:

> Hi,
> I'm more than a bit surprised by what I'm reading here and maybe part
> of it has to do with people meaning different things by "message
> passing protocol".
>   MF> I think that your examples essentially demonstrate that, for a lot of
>   MF> applications, one pretty much has to implement one's own message passing
>   MF> protocol on top of Erlang's - to guarantee that all messages are
>   MF> delivered, and delivered in order.  Some applications can tolerate
>   MF> missed messages, a lot can't.
> I like the 20 year old advice from Per Hedeland which I quote in the
> FAQ (10.8 and 10.9)
>    http://erlang.org/faq/academic.html#idp33047120
> If this advice is wrong, then I should update it, but convincing arguments
> and some sort of consensus would be required for a change.
> The situations I'm aware of where messages can disappear are:
>    1. When the receiving process disappears, for instance because it
>       crashed. This applies to both single-node and distributed Erlang.
>    2. When the communication between nodes breaks. This applies to
>       distributed Erlang only.

Which is what I'm curious about.  Of course, with multi-processor 
architectures, one must also consider communications between processors 
on the same node.
>    3. Quite a few years ago (2005? 2007?), Hans Svensson demonstrated
>       some cases where if you restarted nodes in a distributed Erlang
>       system in particular ways, then things could get strange with
>       message passing.

>    4. Hardware errors, compiler bugs, etc.
> For #1 and #2, I don't think it's good to describe the solution as
> "implement one's own message passing protocol on top of Erlang's".
> The failure is quite specific, you get all messages up to the crash
> and then you get none after that. It's not the message passing that's
> the problem.

Of course it is.  If one wants reliable packet delivery, one implements 
TCP (or equivalent) above raw IP.  If one wants reliable email, one 
implements a return receipt function.  Etc.

> For #3, my unreliable recollection was that this was a situation where
> the implementation was unexpectedly weak. It may go deeper than that
> and it may be that the implementaiton is better today. I don't know.
> #4 seems irrelevant. If you're worried that just the right combination
> of flipped bits or compiler errors, no matter how unlikely, can cause
> a message to disappear, then putting "one's own message passing
> protocol on top of Erlang's": isn't going to eliminite that. There
> will be some combination of flipped bits that will defeat it.
> Miles, do you have some concrete examples of situations where you're
> worried about messages disappearing? Here's one from me: process 1
> sends two messages to process 2. The messages are A and B,
> respectively. Process 2 sends an ACK for message B back to process
> 1. For single-node Erlang, if message A disappears then that is a
> bug. I'll let others reason about distributed Erlang.

Sure.  Bank transactions.  Edits to a document.  Dispatch commands to a 

Both order and missing messages matter.

The question remains, how does the actual Erlang run-time system respond 
in the case of various kinds of failures.  And will those behaviors 
remain consistent in future releases.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice, there is.  .... Yogi Berra

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