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Section: New Results

Optimistic approaches in collaborative editing

Participants : Marc Shapiro [correspondent] , Marek Zawirski, Pierpaolo Cincilla.

In recent years, the Web has seen an explosive growth of massive collaboration tools, such as wiki and weblog systems. By the billions, users may share knowledge and collectively advance innovation, in various fields of science and art. Existing tools, such as the MediaWiki system for wikis, are popular in part because they do not require any specific skills. However, they are based on a centralised architecture and hence do not scale well. Moreover, they provide limited functionality for collaborative authoring of shared documents.

A natural research direction is to use P2P techniques to distribute collaborative documents. This raises the issue of supporting collaborative edits, and of maintaining consistency, over a massive population of users, shared documents, and sites.

In order to avoid complex and unnatural concurrency control and synchronisation, and to enable different styles of collaboration (from online “what you see is what I see” to fully asynchronous disconnected work) we invented the concept of a Commutative Replicated Data Type (CRDT). A CRDT is one where all concurrent operations commute. The replicas of a CRDT converge automatically, without complex concurrency control.

In the context of collaborative editing, we propose, a novel CRDT design called Treedoc. An essential property is that the identifiers of Treedoc atoms are selected from a dense space. We study practical alternatives for implementing the identifier space based on an extended binary tree. We also focus storage alternatives for data and meta-data, and mechanisms for compacting the tree. In the best case, Treedoc incurs no overhead with respect to a linear text buffer. We validate the results with traces from existing edit histories.

Treedoc will be used in ANR projects PROSE (Section  8.1.5 ) and STREAMS, and will be further studied and developed in ANR project ConcoRDanT (Section  8.1.3 ) and under a Google European Doctoral Fellowship.