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Effectively Nonblocking Consensus Procedures Can Execute Forever - a Constructive Version of FLP

by Robert L. Constable

The Fischer-Lynch-Paterson theorem (FLP) says that it is impossible for processes in an asynchronous distributed system to achieve consensus on a binary value when a single process can fail. It is a widely cited theoretical result about network computing. All proofs that I know depend essentially on classical (nonconstructive) logic, although they use the hypothetical construction of a nonterminating execution as a main lemma. FLP is also a guide for protocol designers, and in that role there is a connection to an important property of consensus procedures, namely that they should not block, i.e. reach a global state in which no process can decide. A deterministic fault-tolerant consensus protocol is effectively nonblocking if from any reachable global state we can find an execution path that decides. In this article we effectively construct a nonterminating execution of such a protocol. That is, given the protocol P and a natural number n, we show how to compute the n-th step of an infinitely indecisive computation of P. From this fully constructive result, the classical FLP follows as a corollary as well as a stronger classical result, called here Strong FLP. Moreover, the construction focuses attention on the important role of nonblocking in protocol design.

bibTex ref: con08A

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