Conflict Resolution:

For reasons explained in the Introduction to conflict resolution, we strongly recommend adopting a conflict resolution strategy that requires applications to resolve siblings according to use-case-specific criteria. Here, we’ll provide a brief guide to conflict resolution using the official Riak Java client.

How the Java Client Handles Conflict Resolution

The official Riak Java client provides a ConflictResolver interface for handling sibling resolution. This interface requires that you implement a resolve method that takes a Java List of objects of a specific type that are stored in Riak and produces a single object of that type, i.e. converts a List<T> to a single T. Once that interface has been implemented, it can be registered as a singleton and thereby applied to all read operations on a specific data type. Below is an example resolver for the class Foo:

import com.basho.riak.client.api.cap.ConflictResolver;

public class FooResolver implements ConflictResolver<Foo> {
    public Foo resolve(List<Foo> siblings) {
        // Insert your sibling resolution logic here

What happens within the resolve method is up to you and will always depend on the use case at hand. You can implement a resolver that selects a random Foo from the list, chooses the Foo with the most recent timestamp (if you’ve set up the class Foo to have timestamps), etc. In this tutorial we’ll provide a simple example to get you started.

Basic Conflict Resolution Example

Let’s say that we’re building a social network application and storing lists of usernames representing each user’s “friends” in the network. Each user will bear the class User, which we’ll create below. All of the data for our application will be stored in buckets that bear the bucket type siblings, and for this bucket type allow_mult is set to true, which means that Riak will generate siblings in certain cases—siblings that our application will need to be equipped to resolve when they arise.

The question that we need to ask ourselves now is this: if a given user has sibling values, i.e. if there are multiple friends lists and Riak can’t decide which one is most causally recent, which list should be deemed “correct” from the standpoint of the application? What criteria should be applied in making that decision? Should the lists be merged? Should we pick a User object at random?

This decision will always be yours to make. Here, though, we’ll keep it simple and say that the following criterion will hold: if conflicting lists exist, the longer list will be the one that our application deems correct. So if the user user1234 has a sibling conflict where one possible value has friends lists with 100, 75, and 10 friends, respectively, the list of 100 friends will win out. While this might not make sense in real-world applications, it’s a good jumping-off point. We’ll explore the drawbacks of this approach, as well as a better alternative, in this document as well.

Creating Our Data Class

We’ll start by creating a User class for each user’s data. Each User object will consist of a username as well as a friends property that lists the usernames, as strings, of the user’s friends. We’ll use a Set for the friends property to avoid duplicates.

public class User {
    public String username;
    public Set<String> friends;

    public User(String username, Set<String> friends) {
        this.username = username;
        this.friends = friends;

Here’s an example of instantiating a new User object:

Set<String> friends = new HashSet<String>();
User bashobunny = new User("bashobunny", friends);

Implementing a Conflict Resolution Interface

So what happens if siblings are present and the user bashobunny has different friend lists in different object replicas? For that we can implement the ConflictResolver class described above. We need to implement that interface in a way that is specific to the need at hand, i.e. taking a list of User objects and returning the User object that has the longest friends list:

import com.basho.riak.client.api.cap.ConflictResolver;

public class UserResolver implements ConflictResolver<User> {
    public User resolve(List<User> siblings) {
        // If there are no objects present, return null
        if (siblings.size == 0) {
            return null;
        // If there is only one User object present, return that object
        } else if (siblings.size == 1) {
            return siblings.get(0);
        // And if there are multiple User objects, return the object
        // with the longest list
        } else {
            int longestList = 0;
            User userWithLongestList;

            // Iterate through the User objects to check for the longest
            // list
            for (User user : siblings) {
                if (user.friends.size() > longestList) {
                    userWithLongestList = user;
                    longestList = user.friends.size();
            // If all sibling User objects have a friends list with a length
            // of 0, it doesn't matter which sibling is selected, so we'll
            // simply select the first one in the list:
            return userWithLongestList == null ? siblings.get(0) : userWithLongestList;

Registering a Conflict Resolver Class

To use a conflict resolver, we must register it:

ConflictResolverFactory factory = ConflictResolverFactory.getInstance();
factory.registerConflictResolver(User.class, new UserResolver());

With the resolver registered, the resolution logic that we have created will resolve siblings automatically upon read. Registering a custom conflict resolver can occur at any point in the application’s lifecycle and will be applied on all reads that involve that object type.

Conflict Resolution and Writes

In the above example, we created a conflict resolver that resolves a list of discrepant User objects and returns a single User. It’s important to note, however, that this resolver will only provide the application with a single “correct” value; it will not write that value back to Riak. That requires a separate step. When this step should be undertaken depends on your application. In general, though, we recommend writing objects to Riak only when the application is ready to commit them, i.e. when all of the changes that need to be made to the object have been made and the application is ready to persist the state of the object in Riak.

Correspondingly, we recommend that updates to objects in Riak follow these steps:

  1. Read the object from Riak
  2. Resolving sibling conflicts if they exist, allowing the application to reason about one “correct” value for the object (this step is the subject of this tutorial)
  3. Modify the object
  4. Write the object to Riak once the necessary changes have been made

You can find more on writing objects to Riak, including examples from the official Java client library, in the Developing with Riak KV: Usage section.

More Advanced Example

Resolving sibling User values on the basis of which user has the longest friends list has the benefit of being simple but it’s probably not a good resolution strategy for our social networking application because it means that unwanted data loss is inevitable. If one friends list contains A, B, and C and the other contains D and E, the list containing A, B, and C will be chosen. So what about friends D and E? Those usernames are essentially lost. In the sections below, we’ll implement some other conflict resolution strategies as examples.

Merging the Lists

To avoid losing data like this, a better strategy may be to merge the lists. We can modify our original resolve function in our UserResolver to accomplish precisely that:

public class UserResolver implements ConflictResolver<User> {
    public User resolve(List<User> siblings) {
        // We apply the same logic as before, returning null if the
        // key is empty and returning the one sibling if there is only
        // one User in the siblings list
        if (siblings.size == 0) {
            return null;
        } else if (siblings.size == 1) {
            return siblings.get(0);
        } else {
            // We begin with an empty Set
            Set<String> setBuilder = new HashSet<String>();

            // We know that all User objects in the List will have the
            // same username, since we used the username for the key, so
            // we can fetch the username of any User in the list:
            String username = siblings.get(0).username;

            // Now for each User object in the list we add the friends
            // list to our empty Set
            for (User user : siblings) {

            // Then we return a new User object that takes the Set we
            // built as the friends list
            return new User(username, setBuilder);

Since the friends list is a Java Set, we don’t need to worry about duplicate usernames.

The drawback to this approach is the following: with a conflict resolution strategy like this, it’s more or less inevitable that a user will remove a friend from their friends list, and that that friend will end up back on the list during a conflict resolution operation. While that’s certainly not desirable, that is likely better than the alternative proposed in the first example, which entails usernames being simply dropped from friends lists. Sibling resolution strategies almost always carry potential drawbacks of this sort.

Riak Data Types

An important thing to always bear in mind when working with conflict resolution is that Riak offers a variety of Data Types that have specific conflict resolution mechanics built in. If you have data that can be modeled as a counter, set, or map, then you should seriously consider using those Data Types instead of creating your own application-side resolution logic.

In the example above, we were dealing with conflict resolution within a set, in particular the friends list associated with each User object. The merge operation that we built to handle conflict resolution is analogous to the resolution logic that is built into Riak sets. For more information on how you could potentially replace the client-side resolution that we implemented above, see our tutorial on Riak sets.