Impossibility of Strongly-Linearizable Message-Passing Objects via Simulation by Single-Writer Registers

Authors Hagit Attiya , Constantin Enea , Jennifer L. Welch

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Hagit Attiya
  • Computer Science Department, Technion, Haifa, Israel
Constantin Enea
  • Université de Paris, IRIF, CNRS, France
Jennifer L. Welch
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA


We thank the anonymous referees for helpful comments that improved the presentation of the paper.

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Hagit Attiya, Constantin Enea, and Jennifer L. Welch. Impossibility of Strongly-Linearizable Message-Passing Objects via Simulation by Single-Writer Registers. In 35th International Symposium on Distributed Computing (DISC 2021). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 209, pp. 7:1-7:18, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2021)


A key way to construct complex distributed systems is through modular composition of linearizable concurrent objects. A prominent example is shared registers, which have crash-tolerant implementations on top of message-passing systems, allowing the advantages of shared memory to carry over to message-passing. Yet linearizable registers do not always behave properly when used inside randomized programs. A strengthening of linearizability, called strong linearizability, has been shown to preserve probabilistic behavior, as well as other "hypersafety" properties. In order to exploit composition and abstraction in message-passing systems, it is crucial to know whether there exist strongly-linearizable implementations of registers in message-passing. This paper answers the question in the negative: there are no strongly-linearizable fault-tolerant message-passing implementations of multi-writer registers, max-registers, snapshots or counters. This result is proved by reduction from the corresponding result by Helmi et al. The reduction is a novel extension of the BG simulation that connects shared-memory and message-passing, supports long-lived objects, and preserves strong linearizability. The main technical challenge arises from the discrepancy between the potentially minuscule fraction of failures to be tolerated in the simulated message-passing algorithm and the large fraction of failures that can afflict the simulating shared-memory system. The reduction is general and can be viewed as the inverse of the ABD simulation of shared memory in message-passing.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Distributed computing models
  • Computing methodologies → Distributed algorithms
  • Computing methodologies → Concurrent algorithms
  • Theory of computation → Concurrent algorithms
  • Theory of computation → Distributed algorithms
  • Concurrent Objects
  • Message-passing systems
  • Strong linearizability
  • Impossibility proofs
  • BG simulation
  • Shared registers


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