Ensuring Data Consistency in Distributed Environments

CRDTs in Distributed Systems
Data Consistency with CRDTs
Conflict-free Replicated Data Types
Distributed Data Management
CRDT Applications
by Tiziano Perrucci
May 26, 2024
Distributed Environment
Distributed Environment

Understanding CRDTs

In the article “Building Better Apps with Local First Principles”, we discussed the challenges of data consistency in distributed systems and introduced Conflict-free Replicated Data Types (CRDTs) as a solution. Now, let's dive deeper into CRDTs and explore how they can achieve data consistency in distributed applications. 

Definition of CRDTs

Conflict-free Replicated Data Types (CRDTs) are specialized data structures used in distributed computing to ensure strong eventual consistency across multiple replicas. They allow data to be updated independently at different nodes and then merged without conflicts, even when updates occur concurrently. This makes CRDTs particularly valuable in distributed systems where network partitions and latency can cause data inconsistencies.

Types of CRDTs

CRDTs come in two main types: state-based (convergent) and operation-based (commutative). Each type has its own method for achieving consistency.

State-based CRDTs (CvRDTs): In this approach, each replica maintains a local state and periodically exchanges state information with other replicas. When a replica receives state information from another, it merges this information with its own state using a predefined merge function that ensures convergence.

Example: State-based CRDT – LWW-Register (Last-Write-Wins Register)

The LWW-Register (Last-Write-Wins Register) is a simple example of a state-based CRDT that stores a value along with a timestamp. When merging, the value with the latest timestamp is chosen, ensuring that all replicas eventually converge to the same state, even if updates occur concurrently. Here’s how it works:

The LWWRegister class maintains a value and a timestamp. The set method updates the value and timestamp. The merge method combines the states from another LWWRegister instance by taking the value with the latest timestamp. The value method returns the current value.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 python import time class LWWRegister:     def __init__(self):         self.value = None         self.timestamp = 0     def set(self, value):         self.value = value         self.timestamp = time.time()     def merge(self, other):         if other.timestamp > self.timestamp:             self.value = other.value             self.timestamp = other.timestamp     def get_value(self):         return self.value # Usage example register1 = LWWRegister() register2 = LWWRegister() register1.set('A') register2.set('B') # Simulate a delay in synchronization time.sleep(1) register1.merge(register2) print(register1.get_value())  # Output: 'B' register2.merge(register1) print(register2.get_value())  # Output: 'B'

In this example, register1 and register2 are two instances of LWWRegister, each representing a different replica. Each register can independently set its value. When they are merged, the register with the latest timestamp value is chosen, demonstrating the LWW-Register's conflict-free merging and eventual consistency properties.

Operation-based CRDTs (CmRDTs): In this approach, each replica sends operations (rather than state) to other replicas. These operations are designed to be commutative, associative, and idempotent, ensuring that all replicas converge to the same state regardless of the order or duplication of operations.

Example: OR-Set (Observed-Remove Set)

The OR-Set, or Observed-Remove Set, is an example of an operation-based CRDT. It allows elements to be added and removed in a way that ensures eventual consistency across distributed replicas. The OR-Set handles concurrent additions and removals by keeping track of both the added and removed elements.

The ORSet class maintains two sets: add_set and remove_set. The add method adds an element to the add_set, while the remove method adds an element to the remove_set. The merge method combines the add_set and remove_set from another ORSet instance, ensuring all operations are accounted for. The value method returns the difference between the add_set and the remove_set, providing the current state of the set.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 python class ORSet:     def __init__(self):         self.add_set = set()         self.remove_set = set()     def add(self, element):         self.add_set.add(element)     def remove(self, element):         self.remove_set.add(element)     def merge(self, other):         self.add_set.update(other.add_set)         self.remove_set.update(other.remove_set)    def value(self):         return self.add_set - self.remove_set # Usage example orset1 = ORSet() orset2 = ORSet() orset1.add('a') orset2.add('b') orset2.remove('a') orset1.merge(orset2) print(orset1.value())  # Output: {'b'}

In the example, orset1 and orset2 are two instances of ORSet, each representing a different replica. Each set has its own operations: orset1 adds 'a', orset2 adds 'b' and removes 'a'. When they are merged, the value method correctly reflects the state of the set, showing that only 'b' remains. This demonstrates the OR-Set's ability to handle concurrent updates and maintain consistency by keeping track of both additions and removals.

Benefits of CRDTs

CRDTs offer several key benefits that make them invaluable in distributed systems where data consistency is critical. Primary advantages of using CRDTs are:

Automatic Conflict Resolution: CRDTs inherently resolve conflicts without requiring manual intervention. The predefined merge functions ensure that all replicas eventually converge to the same state.

Strong Eventual Consistency: CRDTs guarantee that, given enough time and communication between replicas, all nodes will have the same data, achieving strong eventual consistency.

Resilience to Network Partitions: CRDTs are designed to handle network partitions gracefully. They allow updates to be made independently at different nodes and merged later, ensuring data consistency even in the presence of network failures.

Having in mind the principles and mechanisms of CRDTs, we can better understand  their significance in achieving data consistency in distributed applications. 

CRDTs in Practice

CRDTs have found their way into various real-world applications, providing robust solutions to data consistency challenges in distributed environments. Let’s explore some examples of CRDT implementations.

Collaborative Editing Tools

CRDTs are used in some collaborative editing tools, particularly those designed for peer-to-peer systems. A notable example is MUTE (Multi User Text Editor), which utilizes a CRDT-based consistency algorithm called LogootSplit. MUTE allows real-time collaboration on documents with hundreds of users and can function without a powerful central server, supporting offline work and later synchronization​.

Distributed Databases

CRDTs are also extensively used in distributed databases to handle data replication and ensure consistency across nodes. Distributed databases must manage concurrent updates and network partitions efficiently, making CRDTs an ideal solution.

For instance, Riak, a distributed NoSQL database, uses CRDTs to manage data replication and conflict resolution. Riak's implementation of CRDTs includes data structures like counters, sets, and maps, allowing it to handle complex data operations without manual conflict resolution. This ensures that data remains consistent across all nodes, even in the presence of network partitions.

More Examples


SoundCloud, a popular music streaming platform, uses CRDTs to manage user data across its distributed system. By employing CRDTs, SoundCloud ensures that user playlists, likes, and other data remain consistent, even when users interact with the platform from multiple devices. This approach has improved data reliability and user experience.

IPFS (InterPlanetary File System)

IPFS is a peer-to-peer distributed file system that aims to make the web faster, safer, and more open. IPFS uses CRDTs to manage data consistency across its distributed network of nodes. By leveraging CRDTs, IPFS can handle concurrent updates and ensure that all nodes converge to the same state, providing a reliable and scalable distributed file system.


Automerge is a library that implements CRDTs for building collaborative applications. It provides data structures like maps, lists, and text, which can be updated concurrently by multiple users. Automerge ensures that all changes are merged without conflicts, making it an excellent choice for real-time collaborative applications.

Let’s take a look at some code using Automerge.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 javascript const Automerge = require('automerge') // Create a new document let doc1 = Automerge.from({ items: [] }) // Apply changes locally doc1 = Automerge.change(doc1, 'Add item', doc => {   doc.items.push('item1') }) // Simulate another user adding an item concurrently let doc2 = Automerge.from(doc1) doc2 = Automerge.change(doc2, 'Add item', doc => {   doc.items.push('item2') }) // Merge changes let finalDoc = Automerge.merge(doc1, doc2) console.log(finalDoc.items)  // Output: ['item1', 'item2']

In this example, Automerge handles concurrent updates to a list of items and merges them without conflicts, demonstrating the practical application of CRDTs in a collaborative setting.

Challenges and Solutions

While CRDTs offer significant benefits for ensuring data consistency in distributed systems, their implementation is not without challenges. Understanding and addressing these challenges is crucial for leveraging CRDTs effectively. Here, we discuss common challenges and propose solutions to overcome them.

Common Challenges

Performance Bottlenecks:

One of the primary challenges in using CRDTs is ensuring their efficient performance in large-scale systems. CRDTs must handle high volumes of data and frequent updates, which can lead to performance issues, especially in environments with high network latency.

Network Latency: CRDTs rely on communication between nodes to synchronize data. High network latency can slow down this process, leading to delays in data consistency.

Data Volume: As the volume of data increases, the overhead of maintaining and synchronizing CRDTs can impact performance. Larger datasets require more bandwidth and processing power to manage effectively.


Implementing and managing CRDTs can be complex, requiring a deep understanding of distributed systems and data consistency models. This complexity can pose several challenges:

Design and Implementation: Designing CRDTs that meet specific application requirements while ensuring efficiency and correctness can be difficult. It requires careful planning and a thorough understanding of CRDT principles.

Operational Overhead: Managing CRDTs in a production environment involves monitoring, debugging, and optimizing performance, which can be resource-intensive.

Learning Curve: Teams need to be trained on CRDT concepts and best practices, which can take time and resources. The lack of familiarity with CRDTs can lead to implementation errors and suboptimal performance.

Proposed Solutions


Optimizing the performance of CRDTs involves using efficient data structures and algorithms to reduce the amount of data exchanged between replicas and minimize network latency.

Efficient Data Structures: Use data structures that minimize the memory footprint and computational overhead. For example, delta-based CRDTs reduce the amount of data transmitted by only sending changes (deltas) rather than the entire state.

Compression: Implement data compression techniques to reduce the size of data transmitted over the network. This can help mitigate the impact of high data volumes on network bandwidth and latency.

Local Processing: Perform as much processing as possible locally before synchronizing data with other replicas. This reduces the frequency and volume of network communication, improving overall performance.


Simplifying the implementation and management of CRDTs involves using well-documented libraries and frameworks and providing adequate training and documentation to team members.

Libraries and Frameworks: Leverage existing CRDT libraries and frameworks that provide robust implementations of CRDTs. This reduces the complexity of implementing CRDTs from scratch and ensures that best practices are followed.

Training and Documentation: Invest in training and documentation to ensure that all team members have a thorough understanding of CRDT concepts and practices. This includes providing examples, tutorials, and comprehensive documentation on CRDT usage and integration.


CRDTs are a powerful solution for ensuring data consistency and reliability in distributed environments. By leveraging the principles of CRDTs, teams can build robust systems that handle network partitions and concurrent updates gracefully. The use of well-documented libraries and frameworks, along with adequate training and documentation, simplifies the implementation and management of CRDTs.

At Squads, we have extensive experience in development testing and implementing CRDTs. If you need guidance on integrating CRDTs into your distributed systems or optimizing your practices, we are here to help. Reach out to us for expert support and to ensure your systems remain consistent and reliable.