Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication in Distributed Systems

What is Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication in Distributed Systems?

In the synchronous form of communication, the sending and receiving processes synchronize at every message. In this case, both send and receive are blocking operations. Whenever a send is issued the sending process (or thread) is blocked until the corresponding receive is issued. Whenever a receive is issued by a process (or thread), it blocks until a message arrives.

In the asynchronous form of communication, the use of the send operation is non blocking in that the sending process is allowed to proceed as soon as the message has been copied to a local buffer, and the transmission of the message proceeds in parallel with the sending process.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

The send, receive, and reply operations may be synchronous or asynchronous. A synchronous operation blocks a process till the operation completes. An asynchronous operation is non-blocking and only initiates the operation.

The notion of synchronous operations requires an understanding of what it means for an operation to complete. In the case of remote assignment, both the send and receive complete when the message has been delivered to the receiver. In the case of remote procedure call, the send, receive, and reply complete when the result has been delivered to the sender, assuming there is a return value. Otherwise, the send and receive complete when the procedure finishes execution. During the time the procedure is executing, the sender and receiver are in a rendezvous, as mentioned before.

Note that synchronous/asynchronous implies blocking/not blocking but not vice versa, that is, not every blocking operation is synchronous and not every non blocking operation is asynchronous. For instance, a send that blocks till the receiver machine has received the message is blocking but not synchronous since the receiver process may not have received it.

These definitions of synchronous/asynchronous operations are similar but not identical to the ones given in your tutorials, which tend to equate synchronous with blocking.

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Asynchronous message passing allows more parallelism. Since a process does not block, it can do some computation while the message is in transit. In the case of receive, this means a process can express its interest in receiving messages on multiple ports simultaneously.

In a synchronous system, such parallelism can be achieved by forking a separate process for each concurrent operation, but this approach incurs the cost of extra process management.

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