On the Semantics of Snapshot Isolation

  • Azalea RaadEmail author
  • Ori Lahav
  • Viktor Vafeiadis
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 11388)


Snapshot isolation (SI) is a standard transactional consistency model used in databases, distributed systems and software transactional memory (STM). Its semantics is formally defined both declaratively as an acyclicity axiom, and operationally as a concurrent algorithm with memory bearing timestamps.

We develop two simpler equivalent operational definitions of SI as lock-based reference implementations that do not use timestamps. Our first locking implementation is prescient in that requires a priori knowledge of the data accessed by a transaction and carries out transactional writes eagerly (in-place). Our second implementation is non-prescient and performs transactional writes lazily by recording them in a local log and propagating them to memory at commit time. Whilst our first implementation is simpler and may be better suited for developing a program logic for SI transactions, our second implementation is more practical due to its non-prescience. We show that both implementations are sound and complete against the declarative SI specification and thus yield equivalent operational definitions for SI.

We further consider, for the first time formally, the use of SI in a context with racy non-transactional accesses, as can arise in STM implementations of SI. We introduce robust snapshot isolation (RSI), an adaptation of SI with similar semantics and guarantees in this mixed setting. We present a declarative specification of RSI as an acyclicity axiom and analogously develop two operational models as lock-based reference implementations (one eager, one lazy). We show that these operational models are both sound and complete against the declarative RSI model.



We thank the VMCAl reviewers for their constructive feedback. The first author was supported in part by a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant for the project “RustBelt”, under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (grant agreement number 683289). The second author was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant number 5166651), and by Len Blavatnik and the Blavatnik Family foundation.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MPI-SWSKaiserslauternGermany
  2. 2.Tel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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