20171015: Tweaked the hash merge function to actually deliver the claims (oneuniversality isn’t enough).
Whenever I mention a data or work distribution problem where I ideally want everything related to a given key to hit the same machine, everyone jumps to consistent hashing. I don’t know how this technique achieved the mindshare it has, although I suspect Amazon’s 2007 Dynamo DB paper is to blame (by introducing the problem to many of us, and mentioning exactly one decentralised solution)… or maybe some Google interview prep package.
Karger et al’s paper doesn’t help, since they introduce the generic concept of a consistent hash function and call their specific solution… “consistent hashing.” I’m not sure where I first encountered rendezvous hashing, but I vaguely remember a technical report by Karger, so it’s probably not some MIT vs UMich thing.
Regardless of the reason for consistent hashing’s popularity, I feel the goto technique should instead be rendezvous hashing. Its basic form is simple enough to remember without really trying (one of those desert island algorithms), it is more memory efficient than consistent hashing in practice, and its downside–a simple implementation assigns a location in time linear in the number of hosts–is not a problem for small deployments, or even medium (a couple racks) scale ones if you actually think about failure domains.
Side question: why did rendezvous have to lose its hyphen to cross the Channel?
Basic rendezvous hashing takes a distribution key (e.g., a filename),
and a set of destinations (e.g., hostnames). It then uses a hash function
to pseudorandomly map each (distribution_key, destination)
pair to a
value in [0, 1)
or [0, 2^64  1)
, and picks the destination that
gives the minimal hash value. If it needs k
destinations for
redundancy, it can pick the destinations that yield the least k
hash
values. If there are ties (unlikely with a good hash function), it
breaks them arbitrarily but consistently, e.g., by imposing a total
order on hostnames.
A Python implementation could look like the following.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 

We only need to store the list of destinations, and we can convince ourselves that data distribution is pretty good (close to uniform) and that small changes in the set of destinations only affects a small fraction of keys (those going to destinations added/removed), either with pen and paper or with a few simulations. That compares positively with consistent hashing, where a practical implementation has to create a lot (sometimes hundreds) of pseudonodes for each real destination in order to mitigate clumping in the hash ring.
The downside is that we must iterate over all the nodes, while consistent hashing is easily \(\mathcal{O}(\log n)\) time, or even \(\mathcal{O}(\log \log n)\), with respect to the number of (pseudo)nodes. However, that’s only a problem if you have a lot of nodes, and rendezvous hashing, unlike consistent hashing, does not inflate the number of nodes.
Another thing I like about rendezvous hashing is that it naturally handles weights. With consistent hashing, if I want a node to receive ten times as much load as another, I create ten times more pseudonodes. As the greatest common divisor of weights shrinks, the number of pseudonode per node grows, which makes distribution a bit slower, and, more importantly, increases memory usage (linear in the number of pseudonodes). Worse, if you hit the fundamental theorem of arithmetic (as a coworker once snarked out in a commit message), you may have to rescale everything, potentially causing massive data movement.
Rendezvous hashing generates pseudorandom scores by hashing, and ranks
them to find the right node(s). Intuitively, we want to use weights
so that the distribution of pseudorandom scores generated for a node A
with twice the weight as another node B has the same shape as that of
node B, but is linearly stretched so that the average hash value for A is
twice that for B. We also want the distribution to cover [0, infty)
,
otherwise a proportion of hashes will always go to the heavier node,
regardless of what the lighter node hashes to, and that seems wrong.
The trick,
as explained by Jason Resch
at Cleversafe, is to map our hashes from uniform in [0, 1)
to
[0, infty)
not as an exponential, but with weight / log(h)
. If you
simulate just using an exponential, you can quickly observe that it
doesn’t reweigh things correctly: while the mean is correctly scaled,
the mass of the probability density function isn’t shifted quite right.
Resch’s proof of correctness for this tweaked exponential fits on a
single page.
The Python code becomes something like:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 

There are obvious microoptimisations here (for example, computing the inverse of the score lets us precompute the reciprocal of each destination’s weight), but that’s all details. The salient part to me is that space and time are still linear in the number of nodes, regardless of the weights; consistent hashing instead needs space pseudolinear(!) in the weights, and is thus a bit slower than its \(\mathcal{O}(\log n)\) runtime would have us believe.
The lineartime computation for weighted rendezvous hashing is also CPU friendly. The memory accesses are all linear and easily prefetchable (load all metadata from an array of nodes), and the computational kernel is standard vectorisable floating point arithmetic.
In practice, I’m also not sure I ever really want to distribute between hundreds of machines: what kind of failure/resource allocation domain encompasses that many equivalent nodes? For example, when distributing data, I would likely want a hierarchical consistent distribution scheme, like Ceph’s CRUSH: something that first assigns data to sections of a datacenter, then to racks, and only then to individual machines. I should never blindly distribute data across hundreds of machines; I need to distribute between a handful of sections of the network, then one of a dozen racks, and finally to one of twenty machines. The difference between linear and logarithmic time at each level of this “failure trie” is marginal and is easily compensated by a bit of programming.
The simplicity of basic rendezvous hashing, combined with its minimal space usage and the existence of a weighted extension, makes me believe it’s a better initial/default implementation of consistent hash functions than consistent hashing. Moreover, consistent hashing’s main advantage, sublineartime distribution, isn’t necessarily compelling when you think about the whole datacenter (or even many datacenters) as a resilient system of failureprone domains. Maybe rendezvous hashing deserves a rebranding campaign (: