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A critique of the CAP theorem

Martin Kleppmann

arXiv:1509.05393 [cs.DC], September 2015.


The CAP Theorem is a frequently cited impossibility result in distributed systems, especially among NoSQL distributed databases. In this paper we survey some of the confusion about the meaning of CAP, including inconsistencies and ambiguities in its definitions, and we highlight some problems in its formalization. CAP is often interpreted as proof that eventually consistent databases have better availability properties than strongly consistent databases; although there is some truth in this, we show that more careful reasoning is required. These problems cast doubt on the utility of CAP as a tool for reasoning about trade-offs in practical systems. As alternative to CAP, we propose a delay-sensitivity framework, which analyzes the sensitivity of operation latency to network delay, and which may help practitioners reason about the trade-offs between consistency guarantees and tolerance of network faults.