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Three Pitfalls and Best Practice for Saga Pattern in Microservices

Saga is the most common pattern for ensuring cross-service data consistency. It splits a global transaction into multiple sub-transactions, and if all sub-transaction operations succeed, then the global transaction succeeds, and if one sub-transaction still fails after retries, then all executed sub-transactions are compensated.

The above process is simple and clear, but in a distributed environment, there are anomalies that can occur. It is not an easy job to ensure that a Saga transaction is working correctly and to keep the data in consistent. We will discuss the various anomalies that can occur here and how to manage them.

For the purposes of discussion, we will refer to the forward action of a branch transaction in Saga as Action and the compensating action as Compensation.

Three Types of Anomalies

Normally, the Action is executed before the Compensation in Saga transactions if rollback happens. But due to network delays, or process pauses, it is possible that the Compensation is executed first and the Action is executed later or not at all.

This scenarios introduces two anomalies in distributed transactions:

  1. Null Compensation: When Compensation is executing, the corresponding Action has not been executed, so the Compensation needs to determine that the Action has not been executed, ignore the business data updates, and return directly.
  2. Hanging Action: When the Action is executing, the Compensation has been executed, so the Action needs to determine that the Compensation has been executed, ignore the business data updates, and return directly

Another common anomaly that needs to be dealt with in distributed transactions is Duplicated Requests. When a process crashes and Saga retries the service, the service may be called multiple times, so idempotent processing is needed.

These three types of anomalies need to be managed carefully, otherwise data inconsistencies can occur and disrupt the business.

Best Practice pioneered a technique name Sub-transaction Barrier for managing these three types of anomalies at the same time. For Saga pattern, the principle is as follows.

  1. Create a table dtm_barrier.barrier in the local database, with a unique index of gid-branchid-branchop
  2. Begin a local transaction
  3. In Action and Compensation, insert ignore a row gid-branchid-action|compensation, if the number of affected rows is 0 (in case of Duplicate Requests, Hanging Action), commit directly and return
  4. In Compensation, insert ignore an additional row gid-branchid-action, if the number of rows affected is 1 (in case of Null Compensation), commit directly and return
  5. Execute business logic and commit, or roll back if errors occur

Duplicated Requests

Because of the unique index above, insertion in duplicated requests are guaranteed to be ignored and business processing is skipped

Null Compensation

When a null compensation occurs, a successful insertion of step 3 and an ignored insertion of step 4 will be committed directly and returned, skipping the business logic.

Hanging Action

When Hanging Action occurs, the compensation has been executed and a row gid-branchid-action has been inserted, so in Action, it will find that the insertion at step 3 was ignored and then return directly, skipping the business logic

Action and Compensation Overlap

If Action and Compensation overlap in execution time, both Compensation and Action will insert the same row gid-branchid-action. Due to a unique index conflict, only one of the two operations will succeed, while the other will wait for the transaction holding the lock to complete and then return.

  • Scenario 1: The Action fails and the Compensation succeeds in inserting gid-branchid-action. This is a typical Null Compensation and Hanging Action scenario and both Action and Compensation will ignore the business logic and return directly according to the above algorithm
  • Scenario 2: The Action succees and the Compensation fails in inserting gid-branchid-action. The order of transaction execution is Action before Compensation, and no anomaly occur. According to the above algorithm, the business in Action and Compensation will be executed orderly
  • Scenario 3, If the database go down during the overlap, the operations will be retried and will eventually go to scenario 1 or 2.

In summary of the above scenarios, the Sub-transaction Barrier is able to properly manage the anomalies and ensure the data consistency.

The algorithm described above also applies to TCC distributed transactions. Even if you are using a workflow engine, such as Candence, Camunda, to handle Saga transactions, the algorithm also applies.


The above Sub-transaction Barrier technique, when used in conjunction with the distributed transaction framework, has been made available in several language SDKs, with the following example code in Go.

app.POST(BusiAPI+"/SagaBTransOut", dtmutil.WrapHandler(func(c *gin.Context) interface{} {
  barrier := MustBarrierFromGin(c)
  return barrier.Call(txGet(), func(tx *sql.Tx) error {
    return SagaAdjustBalance(tx, TransOutUID, -reqFrom(c).Amount, "")
app.POST(BusiAPI+"/SagaBTransOutCom", dtmutil.WrapHandler(func(c *gin.Context) interface{} {
  barrier := MustBarrierFromGin(c)
  return barrier.Call(txGet(), func(tx *sql.Tx) error {
    return SagaAdjustBalance(tx, TransOutUID, reqFrom(c).Amount, "")
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In TransOut service, the first line is to create a barrier from http request, and the next several lines call the business inside the barrier.

When we put business processing inside a sub-transaction barrier, the various anomalies described earlier, are filtered and the developer only needs to consider the business processing under normal flow.

The complete example can be found here: After dtm setup, you can run a complete example by following command:
go run main.go http_saga_barrier


This article propose an algorithm to handle anomalies in Saga pattern for microservices. It is elegant and efficient, which can apply to TCC pattern, and also apply to many workflows.

You are welcomed to visit It is an opensourced project dedicated to ease the development of distributed transactions.

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