[erlang-questions] node to node message passing

Joe Armstrong erlang@REDACTED
Mon Sep 13 21:55:57 CEST 2010

On Sun, Sep 12, 2010 at 12:48 PM, Morten Krogh <mk@REDACTED> wrote:
>  Hi Erlangers.
> During some test with node to node communication, I sent a large binary from
> a process on node A
> to a process on another node, node B. I also sent some smaller messages from
> other processes on node A to other
> processes on node B. It turned out that the large message blocked the later
> messages. Furthermore, it even blocked
> the net tick communication, so node A and B disconnected from each other
> even though the large message was being transferred!

Just for clarification could you say what you mean by "large", "small"
etc. -  I have no idea what this means - it might mean 10's of MBytes
it might mean GBytes - without knowing I have no idea as to how
realistic your expectations are.


> After looking a bit around, I have come to the understanding that Erlang
> uses one tcp connection between two nodes, and messages are sent
> sequentially from the sending node A to the receiving node.
> If that is correct, I think some improvements are needed.
> The problem to solve is basically that small messages, including the net
> tick, should get through more or less independently of
> the presence of large messages.
> The simplest would be to have several connections, but that doesn't fully
> solve the problem. A large message will still take up
> a lot of the hardware bandwidth even on another tcp connection.
> My suggestion is something like the following.
> For communication between node A and node B, there is a process (send
> process) on each node, that coordinates all messages. The send process
> keeps queues of different priorities around, e.g., a high priority, medium
> priority and low priority. Messages are split up into fragments of
> a maximum size. The receiver(node B) send process assembles the fragments
> into the original message and delivers it locally to the
> right process. The fragments ensure that no single transfer will occupy the
> connection for very long.
> There will be a function send_priority where the user can specify a
> priority. The usual send will default to medium, say.
> Net tick will use high priority, of course. Small messages that are needed
> to produce a web application response can have high priority. File transfers
> for backup purposes can have low priority.
> The send process then switches between the queues in some way, that could be
> very similar to context switching priorities.
> More advanced, the send processes could occasionally probe the connection
> with packets to estimate latency and bandwidth. Those figures could then be
> used
> to calculate fragment sizes. High bandwidth, high latency would require
> large fragments. Low bandwidth, low latency small fragments for instance.
> There could even be a function send_estimated_transfer_time that sends a
> message and has a return value of estimated transfer time, which could be
> used in
> a timeout in a receive loop.
> I have actually implemented my own small module for splitting messages into
> fragments, and it solves the issues; net tick goes through, and small
> messages can overtake large ones.
> There is of course an issue when the sending and receiving process is the
> same for several messages. Either the guaranteed message order should be
> given up, or the
> coordinators should keep track of that as well. Personally, I think
> guaranteed message order should be given up. Erlang should model the real
> world as
> much as possible, and learn from it. In the real world, two letters going
> from person A to person B, can definitely arrive in the opposite order
> of the one in which they were sent. And as node to node communication will
> be over larger and larger distances, it is totally unnatural to require
> a certain order.
> I am relatively new to Erlang and I really enjoy it. Kudos to all involved!
> Cheers,
> Morten Krogh.
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