Distributed Transactions Overview


Applies To: Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server Technical Preview, Windows Vista

A distributed transaction is a transaction that updates data on two or more networked computer systems. Distributed transactions extend the benefits of transactions to applications that must update distributed data. Implementing robust distributed applications is difficult because these applications are subject to multiple failures, including failure of the client, the server, and the network connection between the client and server. In the absence of distributed transactions, the application program itself must detect and recover from these failures.


Many aspects of a distributed transaction are identical to a transaction whose scope is a single database. For example, a distributed transaction provides predictable behavior by enforcing the ACID properties that define all transactions.

For distributed transactions, each computer has a local transaction manager. When a transaction does work at multiple computers, the transaction managers interact with other transaction managers via either a superior or subordinate relationship. These relationships are relevant only for a particular transaction.

Each transaction manager performs all the enlistment, prepare, commit, and abort calls for its enlisted resource managers (usually those that reside on that particular computer). Resource managers manage persistent or durable data and work in cooperation with the DTC to guarantee atomicity and isolation to an application.

In a distributed transaction, each participating component must agree to commit a change action (such as a database update) before the transaction can occur. The DTC performs the transaction coordination role for the components involved and acts as a transaction manager for each computer that manages transactions. When committing a transaction that is distributed among several computers, the transaction manager sends prepare, commit, and abort messages to all its subordinate transaction managers. In the two-phase commit algorithm for the DTC, phase one involves the transaction manager requesting each enlisted component to prepare to commit; in phase two, if all successfully prepare, the transaction manager broadcasts the commit decision.

In general, transactions involve the following steps:

  1. Applications call the transaction manager to begin a transaction.

  2. When the application has prepared its changes, it asks the transaction manager to commit the transaction. The transaction manager keeps a sequential transaction log so that its commit or abort decisions will be durable.

    • If all components are prepared, the transaction manager commits the transaction and the log is cleared.

    • If any component cannot prepare, the transaction manager broadcasts an abort decision to all elements involved in the transaction.

    • While a component remains prepared but not committed or aborted, it is in doubt about whether the transaction committed or aborted. If a component or transaction manager fails, it reconciles in-doubt transactions when it reconnects.

When a transaction manager is in-doubt about a distributed transaction, the transaction manager queries the superior transaction manager. The root transaction manager, also referred to as the global commit coordinator, is the transaction manager on the system that initiates a transaction and is never in-doubt. If an in-doubt transaction persists for too long, the system administrator can force the transaction to commit or abort.

See Also

Application Programmer's View of Transactions
Commit Coordination
How Distributed Transactions Work
Resource Manager's Role in Transactions
Transaction Manager's Role in Transactions
Transaction Propagation