Replication Manager automatically conducts elections when necessary, based on configuration information supplied to the DB_ENV->rep_set_priority() method.

It is the responsibility of a Base API application to initiate elections if desired. It is never dangerous to hold an election, as the Berkeley DB election process ensures there is never more than a single master database environment. Clients should initiate an election whenever they lose contact with the master environment, whenever they see a return of DB_REP_HOLDELECTION from the DB_ENV->rep_process_message() method, or when, for whatever reason, they do not know who the master is. It is not necessary for applications to immediately hold elections when they start, as any existing master will be discovered after calling DB_ENV->rep_start(). If no master has been found after a short wait period, then the application should call for an election.

For a client to win an election, the replication group must currently have no master, and the client must have the most recent log records. In the case of clients having equivalent log records, the priority of the database environments participating in the election will determine the winner. The application specifies the minimum number of replication group members that must participate in an election for a winner to be declared. We recommend at least ((N/2) + 1) members. If fewer than the simple majority are specified, a warning will be given.

If an application's policy for what site should win an election can be parameterized in terms of the database environment's information (that is, the number of sites, available log records and a relative priority are all that matter), then Berkeley DB can handle all elections transparently. However, there are cases where the application has more complete knowledge and needs to affect the outcome of elections. For example, applications may choose to handle master selection, explicitly designating master and client sites. Applications in these cases may never need to call for an election. Alternatively, applications may choose to use DB_ENV->rep_elect()'s arguments to force the correct outcome to an election. That is, if an application has three sites, A, B, and C, and after a failure of C determines that A must become the winner, the application can guarantee an election's outcome by specifying priorities appropriately after an election:

on A: priority 100, nsites 2
on B: priority 0, nsites 2

It is dangerous to configure more than one master environment using the DB_ENV->rep_start() method, and applications should be careful not to do so. Applications should only configure themselves as the master environment if they are the only possible master, or if they have won an election. An application knows it has won an election when it receives the DB_EVENT_REP_ELECTED event.

Normally, when a master failure is detected it is desired that an election finish quickly so the application can continue to service updates. Also, participating sites are already up and can participate. However, in the case of restarting a whole group after an administrative shutdown, it is possible that a slower booting site had later logs than any other site. To cover that case, an application would like to give the election more time to ensure all sites have a chance to participate. Since it is intractable for a starting site to determine which case the whole group is in, the use of a long timeout gives all sites a reasonable chance to participate. If an application wanting full participation sets the nvotes arg to the DB_ENV->rep_elect() method to the number of sites in the group and one site does not reboot, a master can never be elected without manual intervention.

In those cases, the desired action at a group level is to hold a full election if all sites crashed and a majority election if a subset of sites crashed or rebooted. Since an individual site cannot know which number of votes to require, a mechanism is available to accomplish this using timeouts. By setting a long timeout (perhaps on the order of minutes) using the DB_REP_FULL_ELECTION_TIMEOUT flag to the DB_ENV->rep_set_timeout() method, an application can allow Berkeley DB to elect a master even without full participation. Sites may also want to set a normal election timeout for majority based elections using the DB_REP_ELECTION_TIMEOUT flag to the DB_ENV->rep_set_timeout() method.

Consider 3 sites, A, B, and C where A is the master. In the case where all three sites crash and all reboot, all sites will set a timeout for a full election, say 10 minutes, but only require a majority for nvotes to the DB_ENV->rep_elect() method. Once all three sites are booted the election will complete immediately if they reboot within 10 minutes of each other. Consider if all three sites crash and only two reboot. The two sites will enter the election, but after the 10 minute timeout they will elect with the majority of two sites. Using the full election timeout sets a threshold for allowing a site to reboot and rejoin the group.

To add a database environment to the replication group with the intent of it becoming the master, first add it as a client. Since it may be out-of-date with respect to the current master, allow it to update itself from the current master. Then, shut the current master down. Presumably, the added client will win the subsequent election. If the client does not win the election, it is likely that it was not given sufficient time to update itself with respect to the current master.

If a client is unable to find a master or win an election, it means that the network has been partitioned and there are not enough environments participating in the election for one of the participants to win. In this case, the application should repeatedly call DB_ENV->rep_start() and DB_ENV->rep_elect(), alternating between attempting to discover an existing master, and holding an election to declare a new one. In desperate circumstances, an application could simply declare itself the master by calling DB_ENV->rep_start(), or by reducing the number of participants required to win an election until the election is won. Neither of these solutions is recommended: in the case of a network partition, either of these choices can result in there being two masters in one replication group, and the databases in the environment might irretrievably diverge as they are modified in different ways by the masters.

Note that this presents a special problem for a replication group consisting of only two environments. If a master site fails, the remaining client can never comprise a majority of sites in the group. If the client application can reach a remote network site, or some other external tie-breaker, it may be able to determine whether it is safe to declare itself master. Otherwise it must choose between providing availability of a writable master (at the risk of duplicate masters), or strict protection against duplicate masters (but no master when a failure occurs). Replication Manager offers this choice via the DB_ENV->rep_set_config() method. Base API applications can accomplish this by judicious setting of the nvotes and nsites parameters to the DB_ENV->rep_elect() method.

It is possible for a less-preferred database environment to win an election if a number of systems crash at the same time. Because an election winner is declared as soon as enough environments participate in the election, the environment on a slow booting but well-connected machine might lose to an environment on a badly connected but faster booting machine. In the case of a number of environments crashing at the same time (for example, a set of replicated servers in a single machine room), applications should bring the database environments on line as clients initially (which will allow them to process read queries immediately), and then hold an election after sufficient time has passed for the slower booting machines to catch up.

If, for any reason, a less-preferred database environment becomes the master, it is possible to switch masters in a replicated environment. For example, the preferred master crashes, and one of the replication group clients becomes the group master. In order to restore the preferred master to master status, take the following steps:

  1. The preferred master should reboot and re-join the replication group as a client.
  2. Once the preferred master has caught up with the replication group, the application on the current master should complete all active transactions and reconfigure itself as a client using the DB_ENV->rep_start() method.
  3. Then, the current or preferred master should call for an election using the DB_ENV->rep_elect() method.