Apache Mavibot history

by Emmanuel Lécharny

Posted on Friday February 17, 2017 at 12:23AM in Technology


First of all, let me introduce Apache Mavibot: it's a MVCC B+ tree library in Java under an AL 2.0 license (MVCC stands for Multi-Version Concurrency Control). The whole idea is to have a B-tree implementation that never crashes, and does not use locks to protect the data against concurrent access (well … while reading).

The B+ tree is a variant of a B-tree, where values are only stored in the leaves, not in internal nodes.

Ok. Good. You don't know much about Mavibot after this introduction, so I'll dig a bit deeper in this post. Let's start with the original idea.

Apache Directory, CouchDB, and some other databases...

Back in 2009, I was attending the Apache Conference in Oakland. I had been working on the Apache Directory project for a bit more than a 4 years and a half. Apache Directory is a LDAP server written in Java, and we chose to store data in B-trees. There was a very limited choice back then, and the library we used - and still use as of today - was JDBM , a java avatar of GDBM.

JDBM is written in Java, implements B+trees and has transactions support (experimental), but it has one big drawback: it's not a cross-B-trees transaction system. And that does not fit our requirement in LDAP.

An alternative could have been Berkeley DB &tm;, which released a Java edition of its database, but its license was incompatible with the AL 2.0 license. Moreover Berkeley DB was bought by Oracle in 2006, so it was simply not an option.

What’s wrong with using JDBM?

In LDAP, an update operation impacts one single entry but this entry uses many AttributeTypes, which can be indexed. In other words, an update will impact as many B-trees as we have indexes (and a bit more). In order to guarantee that an entry UPDATE is consistent, we must be sure that either all or none of the indexes have been flushed to disk: otherwise we might end with an inconsistent database, where some indexes are up to date when some other aren't.


Even worse, in the event of a crash, we might simply not be able to restart the server because the database gets corrupted (and sadly, we are experiencing this problem today...).

So in Oakland, I went to the Apache Couch-DB presentation (sadly, the slides are not anymore available), and was struck by the idea behind their database: MVCC. Crucially when you start to use the database at a given revision, you always see everything associated with this revision, up to the point you are done. Sounds like Git or Subversion … actually, it's pretty much the same mechanism.

Being able to process some read operations on a specific version of the database guarantees that no update will ever corrupt the data being processed. And every time we want to access the database, the very first thing it will do is to select the latest available version: this is all we will see during the operation processing. Perfect when you don't really care about having a fresh view of the stored data at any time, which is the case in LDAP.

But Apache CouchDB was written in Erlang :/ Anyway, the discussion we had with the Directory team was really about moving to a MVCC database.


Transactions are another big missing feature in LDAP. This is not something that was in the air back then: it was specified only one year later. Of course, the original specifications said that every operation is atomic, but there is no requirement for multiple operations to be atomic (and we often need to update two entries in LDAP, and to guarantee that those two operations are either completed, or roll-backed). Think about user/group management...

Alex Karasulu always had in mind that we needed a transactional database in Apache Directory, too. And his point was proved correct when years later, we faced the first database corruptions. It's a bit sad that we ignored this aspect for so long :/

Anyway, we needed (a) transactions and (b) a rock solid database that could resist any type of crash.


For some time, we tried to mitigate the consistency problems we had by adding tons of locks. As we weren't able to protect the database against concurrent reads and writes we made them exclusive (i.e. when some write is processed, no read can be processed). This was slightly better, but it came at a huge cost: a major slowdown when writes were done. Also it was not good enough: long-lasting searches were just killing us, as there were no solution to guarantee that an entry for which we had a reference would still be present in the database when we needed to fetch it. In such cases, we simply ended up by discarding the entry.  Last, not least, a crash in the middle of an update operation would leave the database in a potential inconsistent state, which would make it impossible to start again (this was somehow mitigated by adding a 'repair' mode lately, but this is just an horrible hack).

Mavibot first steps

So we needed something better, which turned out to be Mavibot. We started working on Mavibot in June 2012 (Jun 13 00:04:10 2012, exactly).

The funny thing is that OpenLDAP started to work on the exact same kind of database 1 year before (LMDB) - even if the discussion about the need for such a database started in 2009. Parallel discussions, parallel developments, we have always shared a lot!

The very first released version of Mavibot was out one year later, in June 2013, followed by 7 other versions (all of them milestones). At some point, we added a MVBT partition in ApacheDS, in 2.0.0-M13 (and it was using a SNAPSHOT!!! Mavibot 1.0.0-M1 was used in ApacheDS 2.0.0-M15). This was 'good enough' to have the LDAPJDBM, too ;-), but it didn't offer all we wanted to add: typically, we didn't have transaction support.

So why isn’t Mavibot the Apache Directory Server backend of choice today?

Well, we don't have cross B-tree transactions, so we are pretty much in the same situation as with JDBM (except that it's faster, and we also have a bulk-loader for Mavibot). Adding cross-B-trees transaction is not a piece of cake, and it requires some thinking. Sadly, it arrived at a moment where the team had less time to work on it (new jobs, family, you name it).

So in 2017, the effort has been rebooted, and we do expect to have a working version soon enough!

I'll blog later on about various technical aspects on Apache Mavibot, so keep tuned !


Emmanuel, I've been inspired by your innovations and creative engineering solutions with ApacheDS and Mavibot. I speak on behalf of many when I say I'm most grateful for your commitment and ongoing contributions to these projects. Thanks to Kiran and Alex as well. It's exciting to hear about the rekindled Mavibot effort. The benefits for ApacheDS are well understood. In a world that's going loosely coupled, I see MVCC challenges everywhere and anticipate many uses for Mavibot in the future! Cheers, Carlo Accorsi

Posted by Carlo Accorsi on March 01, 2017 at 04:04 PM CET #

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