Optimistic and Pessimistic Concurrency

A concurrency conflict occurs when one user displays an entity’s data in order to edit it, and then another user updates the same entity’s data before the first user’s change is written to the database. If you don’t enable the detection of such conflicts, whoever updates the database last overwrites the other user’s changes. In many applications, this risk is acceptable: if there are few users, or few updates, or if isn’t really critical if some changes are overwritten, the cost of programming for concurrency might outweigh the benefit. In that case, you don’t have to configure the application to handle concurrency conflicts.

Pessimistic Concurrency (Locking)

If your application does need to prevent accidental data loss in concurrency scenarios, one way to do that is to use database locks. This is called pessimistic concurrency. For example, before you read a row from a database, you request a lock for read-only or for update access. If you lock a row for update access, no other users are allowed to lock the row either for read-only or update access, because they would get a copy of data that’s in the process of being changed. If you lock a row for read-only access, others can also lock it for read-only access but not for update.

Managing locks has disadvantages. It can be complex to program. It requires significant database management resources, and it can cause performance problems as the number of users of an application increases. For these reasons, not all database management systems support pessimistic concurrency. The Entity Framework provides no built-in support for it, and this tutorial doesn’t show you how to implement it.

Optimistic Concurrency

The alternative to pessimistic concurrency is optimistic concurrency. Optimistic concurrency means allowing concurrency conflicts to happen, and then reacting appropriately if they do.

Detecting Concurrency Conflicts

You can resolve conflicts by handling OptimisticConcurrencyException exceptions that the Entity Framework throws. In order to know when to throw these exceptions, the Entity Framework must be able to detect conflicts. Therefore, you must configure the database and the data model appropriately. Some options for enabling conflict detection include the following:

In the database table, include a tracking column that can be used to determine when a row has been changed. You can then configure the Entity Framework to include that column in the Where clause of SQL Update or Delete commands.

The data type of the tracking column is typically rowversion. The rowversion value is a sequential number that’s incremented each time the row is updated. In an Update or Delete command, the Where clause includes the original value of the tracking column (the original row version) . If the row being updated has been changed by another user, the value in the rowversion column is different than the original value, so the Update or Delete statement can’t find the row to update because of the Where clause. When the Entity Framework finds that no rows have been updated by the Update or Delete command (that is, when the number of affected rows is zero), it interprets that as a concurrency conflict.

Configure the Entity Framework to include the original values of every column in the table in the Where clause of Update and Delete commands.

As in the first option, if anything in the row has changed since the row was first read, the Where clause won’t return a row to update, which the Entity Framework interprets as a concurrency conflict. For database tables that have many columns, this approach can result in very large Where clauses, and can require that you maintain large amounts of state. As noted earlier, maintaining large amounts of state can affect application performance. Therefore this approach is generally not recommended, and it isn’t the method used in this tutorial.

If you do want to implement this approach to concurrency, you have to mark all non-primary-key properties in the entity you want to track concurrency for by adding the ConcurrencyCheck attribute to them. That change enables the Entity Framework to include all columns in the SQL WHERE clause of UPDATE statements.

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