Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When a Delete is a Write!

So Cassandra -- a No-Sql database -- has a few peculiarities that might take newbies by surprise. One of them is that deletion involves a write!

Before we take a brief look at that, do you know the story of Cassandra from Greek mythology? Cassandra was so beautiful that Apollo wanted to have carnal knowledge of her. She refused. Consequently, she was cursed by Apollo with prophesying the truth, yet with no-one believing it. Personally, TheHackerCIO knows how she felt. All the time I tell the truth, but it seems that very few actually believe it. It's enough to drive one crazy.

I wonder at this choice of mascot for the NoSql database which trades off consistency for availability per Brewer's Conjecture (A.K.A., "The CAP Theorem"). Is it that Cassandra will always return the truth, but we the DBAs won't believe it?

Well, leaving off the speculation, let's return to the peculiarity mentioned before: how can a delete be a write operation?

Remember, Cassandra uses an immutable data model. Data just continues to be written out to represent all changes. One consequence of this is that updates and inserts really are interchangeable. They call this the Cassandra "UpSert," because if you insert and a row with that primary key already exists, then it simply becomes an update. Conversely, if you update a row and the primary key involved doesn't exist, Cassandra will simply insert it. That is, either way, you will "UpSert" a row.

Another consequence of the immutable data model is that delete operations are really just "marking for deletion." We're all familiar with this from the file-system, but to have a database that does this adds a few wrinkles. For instance, you now have to deal with "compaction," where the deleted data element no longer remains within the working set of data elements.

So, for people from the relational database world -- and aren't we all -- you need to spend a little time wrapping your head around the world of NoSql in general, and Cassandra in particular.

As you do so,

I Remain,


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