Demystifying and Checking Silent Semantic Violations in Large Distributed Systems


Chang Lou, Yuzhuo Jing, and Peng Huang, Johns Hopkins University


Distributed systems today offer rich features with numerous semantics that users depend on. Bugs can cause a system to silently violate its semantics without apparent anomalies. Such silent violations cause prolonged damage and are difficult to address. Yet, this problem is under-investigated.

In this paper, we first study 109 real-world silent semantic failures from nine widely-used distributed systems to shed some light on this difficult problem. Our study reveals more than a dozen informative findings. For example, it shows that surprisingly the majority of the studied failures were violating semantics that existed since the system’s first stable release.

Guided by insights from our study, we design Oathkeeper, a tool that automatically infers semantic rules from past failures and enforces the rules at runtime to detect new failures. Evaluation shows that the inferred rules detect newer violations, and Oathkeeper only incurs 1.27% overhead.

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@inproceedings {280920,
author = {Chang Lou and Yuzhuo Jing and Peng Huang},
title = {Demystifying and Checking Silent Semantic Violations in Large Distributed Systems},
booktitle = {16th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-28-1},
address = {Carlsbad, CA},
pages = {91--107},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul,