Demystifying CRDTs: A Guide for Web Developers in Distributed Systems published 9/23/2023 | 3 min read

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Distributed systems are now more prevalent than ever, and as web developers, mastering them is crucial to building robust, scalable web experiences. One key construct that has emerged to maintain consistency in distributed systems is Conflict-free Replicated Data Types (CRDTs). This article will provide a comprehensive understanding of CRDTs, their advantages, types, and applications.

What are Conflict-free Replicated Data Types (CRDTs)?

CRDTs are a category of data types that allow multiple replicas to be updated independently while ensuring eventual consistency. They help in solving complex issues pertaining to concurrent updates, conflicts, and synchronization in distributed systems.

// Sample JavaScript code demonstrating a simple CRDT
let CRDT = {
    value: 1,
    increment: function() {
        this.value += 1;
    getValue: function() {
        return this.value;

Advantages of CRDTs

CRDTs present various advantages for distributed systems, including:

  1. Strong Eventual Consistency: All replicas are guaranteed to reach the same state without any conflicts.
  2. Concurrency and Fault-tolerance: CRDTs perform well under conditions of high latency and network partitioning.
  3. Decentralized Control: CRDTs don't require a centralized control, reducing the communication overhead between nodes.

Types of CRDTs

CRDTs are broadly divided into two types:

  1. Operation-based (or CmRDTs): These CRDTs propagate updates by sharing the operations performed. If a node doesn't receive an operation, it misses the update.
// Sample JavaScript code demonstrating a CmRDT
let operationBasedCRDT = {
    counter: 1,
    applyOp: function(operation) {
        if(operation === 'increment') {
           this.counter += 1; 

  1. State-based (or CvRDTs): These CRDTs share their entire state after each update. All nodes converge to the same value after a complete exchange of updates.
// Sample JavaScript code demonstrating a CvRDT
let stateBasedCRDT = {
    counter: 1,
    increment: function() {
        this.counter += 1;
    merge: function(otherCRDT) {
        this.counter = Math.max(this.counter, otherCRDT.counter);

Practical Applications of CRDTs

CRDTs see wide-ranging applications in distributed systems:

  1. Real-time Collaborative Tools: CRDTs find noticeable use in real-time collaboration systems, such as Google Docs. They help maintain consistency across various instances of the document.
  2. Distributed Databases: CRDTs are used for ensuring eventual consistency and conflict resolution in distributed databases such as Riak.
  3. Eventually Consistent Services: Services such as shopping carts, wish lists, which can afford to have weak consistency while prioritising high availability, also leverage CRDTs.

In conclusion, CRDTs offer an effective solution for maintaining consistency in distributed systems. By understanding them fully, web developers can better navigate and manage the challenges inherent in these systems. Keep exploring these concepts, and continue to engineer robust solutions for complex problems.

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