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Data Modeling

TigerBeetle is a domain-specific database — its schema of Accounts and Transfers is built-in and fixed. In return for this prescriptive design, it provides excellent performance, integrated business logic, and powerful invariants. This section is a sample of techniques for mapping an application's requirements onto TigerBeetle's data model. Which (if any) of these techniques are suitable is highly application-specific.

When possible, round trips and coordination can be minimized by encoding application invariants directly in TigerBeetle rather than implementing them in the application itself (or with a foreign database). This is useful for both maintaining consistency and performance.

Debits vs Credits

TigerBeetle tracks each account's cumulative posted debits and cumulative posted credits. In double-entry accounting, an account balance is the difference between the two — computed as either debits - credits or credits - debits depending on the type of account. It is up to the application to compute the balance from the cumulative debits/credits.

From the database's perspective the distinction is arbitrary, but by convention:

  • balance = debits - credits for accounts representing the database operator's assets.
  • balance = credits - debits for accounts representing the database operator's liabilities.
  • A transfer "from" account A "to" account B credits account A and debits account B.

Example

For example, if TigerBeetle is operated by a bank, with customers Alice and Bob, its ledger might look something like this:

Account OwnerDebits PostedCredits PostedFlags
Bank300credits_must_not_exceed_debits
Alice020debits_must_not_exceed_credits
Bob010debits_must_not_exceed_credits
  • The bank has a total of $30 in assets.
  • Alice and Bob have deposited money ($20 and $10 respectively) in the bank — from the bank's perspective this is a liability.
  • Alice and Bob cannot "overdraw" their account — that is, their balance will never be negative.

user_data

user_data is the most flexible field in the schema (for both accounts and transfers). user_data's contents are arbitrary, interpreted only by the application.

user_data is indexed for efficient point and range queries.

Example uses:

  • Set user_data to a "foreign key" — that is, an identifier of a corresponding object within another database.
  • Set user_data to a group identifier for objects that will be queried together.
  • Set user_data to a transfer or account id. (TODO: Can we use this for join queries via the query API, or must the application implement them?)

id

The primary purpose of an id (for both accounts and transfers) is to serve as an "idempotency key". The database uses ids to avoid repeating duplicate events.

Randomly-generated identifiers are recommended for most applications.

When selecting an id scheme:

  • Idempotency is particularly important (and difficult) in the context of application crash recovery.
  • Be careful to avoid id collisions.
  • An account and a transfer may share the same id — they belong to different "namespaces".
  • Avoid requiring a central oracle to generate each unique id (e.g. an auto-increment field in SQL). A central oracle may become a performance bottleneck when creating accounts/transfers.

Examples

Random Identifier

Randomly-generated identifiers are recommended for most applications.

  • Random identifiers require coordination with a secondary database to implement idempotent application crash recovery.
  • Random identifiers have an insignificant risk of collisions.
  • Random identifiers do not require a central oracle.
  • Only point queries are useful for fetching randomly-generated identifiers.

To maximize id entropy, prefer a cryptographically-secure PRNG (most languages have one in their cryptography library). We don't recommend UUIDv4 because it uses a few fixed bits.

Reuse Foreign Identifier

This technique is most appropriate when integrating TigerBeetle with an existing application where TigerBeetle accounts or transfers map one-to-one with an entity in the foreign database.

Set id to a "foreign key" — that is, reuse an identifier of a corresponding object from another database. For example, if every user (within the application's database) has a single account, then the identifier within the foreign database can be used as the Account.id within TigerBeetle.

To reuse the foreign identifier, it must conform to TigerBeetle's id constraints.

Like randomly-generated identifiers, this technique requires careful coordination with the foreign database for idempotent application crash recovery.

Examples (Advanced)

Randomly-generated identifiers are recommended for most applications.

id is mostly accessed by point queries, but it is indexed for efficient iteration by range queries as well. The schemes described in this section take advantage of that index ordering.

Logically Grouped Objects

Often accounts or transfers are logically grouped together from the application's perspective. For example, a simple currency exchange transaction is one logical transfer conducted between four accounts — two physical transfers.

A non-random identifier scheme can:

  • leave user_data free for a different purpose, and
  • allow a group's members and roles to be derived by the application code,

without relying on a foreign database to store metadata for each member of the group.

A group may (but does not necessarily) correspond to objects chained by flags.linked.

Identifier Offsets

For each group, generate a single "root" id, and set group member's ids relative to that root.

  • From the root, use known offsets to derive member identifiers (e.g. root + 1).
  • From a group member, use code, ledger, or both to determine the object's role and derive the root identifier.

This technique enables a simple range query to iterate every member of a target group.

If groups are large (or variable-sized), it may be be preferable to rely on user_data for grouping to sidestep the risk of id collisions.

Identifier Prefixes

When a group consists of a fixed number of heterogeneous members (each with a distinct role), ids with the same role could be created with a common, application-known prefix. In this arrangement, the suffix could be randomized, but shared by a group's members.

  • A group's role is derived from its id's prefix.
  • A group's members are derived by swapping the id prefix.

This technique enables a simple range query to iterate every object with a target role.