Introduction to HDFS High Availability

This section provides an overview of the HDFS high availability (HA) feature and how to configure and manage an HA HDFS cluster.

This document assumes that the reader has a general understanding of components and node types in an HDFS cluster. For details, see the Apache HDFS Architecture Guide.


In a standard configuration, the NameNode is a single point of failure (SPOF) in an HDFS cluster. Each cluster has a single NameNode, and if that machine or process became unavailable, the cluster as a whole is unavailable until the NameNode is either restarted or brought up on a new host. The Secondary NameNode does not provide failover capability.

The standard configuration reduces the total availability of an HDFS cluster in two major ways:
  • In the case of an unplanned event such as a host crash, the cluster is unavailable until an operator restarts the NameNode.
  • Planned maintenance events such as software or hardware upgrades on the NameNode machine result in periods of cluster downtime.

HDFS HA addresses the above problems by providing the option of running two NameNodes in the same cluster, in an Active/Passive configuration. These are referred to as the Active NameNode and the Standby NameNode. Unlike the Secondary NameNode, the Standby NameNode is hot standby, allowing a fast failover to a new NameNode in the case that a machine crashes, or a graceful administrator-initiated failover for the purpose of planned maintenance. You cannot have more than two NameNodes.


Cloudera Manager 5 and CDH 5 support Quorum-based Storage as the only HA implementation.

Quorum-based Storage

Quorum-based Storage refers to the HA implementation that uses a Quorum Journal Manager (QJM).

In order for the Standby NameNode to keep its state synchronized with the Active NameNode in this implementation, both nodes communicate with a group of separate daemons called JournalNodes. When any namespace modification is performed by the Active NameNode, it durably logs a record of the modification to a majority of these JournalNodes. The Standby NameNode is capable of reading the edits from the JournalNodes, and is constantly watching them for changes to the edit log. As the Standby Node sees the edits, it applies them to its own namespace. In the event of a failover, the Standby will ensure that it has read all of the edits from the JournalNodes before promoting itself to the Active state. This ensures that the namespace state is fully synchronized before a failover occurs.

In order to provide a fast failover, it is also necessary that the Standby NameNode has up-to-date information regarding the location of blocks in the cluster. In order to achieve this, the DataNodes are configured with the location of both NameNodes, and they send block location information and heartbeats to both.

It is vital for the correct operation of an HA cluster that only one of the NameNodes be active at a time. Otherwise, the namespace state would quickly diverge between the two, risking data loss or other incorrect results. In order to ensure this property and prevent the so-called "split-brain scenario," the JournalNodes will only ever allow a single NameNode to be a writer at a time. During a failover, the NameNode which is to become active will simply take over the role of writing to the JournalNodes, which will effectively prevent the other NameNode from continuing in the Active state, allowing the new Active NameNode to safely proceed with failover.

General Questions about HDFS HA

What does the message "Operation category READ/WRITE is not supported in state standby" mean?
The following information comes from the Apache Hadoop wiki:

In an HA-enabled cluster, DFS clients cannot know in advance which NameNode is active at a given time. So when a client contacts a NameNode and it happens to be the standby, the READ or WRITE operation will be refused and this message is logged. The client will then automatically contact the other NameNode and try the operation again. As long as there is one active and one standby NameNode in the cluster, this message can be safely ignored.

If an application is configured to contact only one NameNode always, this message indicates that the application is failing to perform any read/write operation. In such situations, the application would need to be modified to use the HA configuration for the cluster. The Jira HDFS-3447 deals with lowering the severity of this message (and similar ones) to DEBUG so as to reduce noise in the logs but is unresolved as of October 2018.