November 1 – 4 , 2021, Dagstuhl Seminar 21442

Ensuring the Reliability and Robustness of Database Management Systems


Alexander Böhm (SAP SE – Walldorf, DE)
Maria Christakis (MPI-SWS – Kaiserslautern, DE)
Eric Lo (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, HK)
Manuel Rigger (ETH Zürich, CH)

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Aims & Scope
List of Participants
Shared Documents
Dagstuhl Seminar Schedule [pdf]


DataBase Management Systems (DBMSs) are used ubiquitously. Due to the ever-growing number and size of data sets, increasing performance demands, and the virtually unlimited hardware resources that are provided by public cloud infrastructure, sophisticated systems and optimizations are developed continuously. This dynamic and demanding environment is a major challenge for developers of DBMSs, which have to ensure that their systems are both correct and efficient.

Database management systems are a well-established field with several decades of research and engineering attention. These efforts have resulted in a multitude of both open-source and commercial systems that are widely deployed in production today and provide the backbone of a vast range of mission-critical applications. Still, surprisingly, recent work on automatic testing of DBMSs found a large number of bugs in widely-used DBMSs. This clearly indicated that the topic of ensuring the reliability and robustness of DBMS deserves more attention, and that key insights from neighboring domains such as automatic testing and formal methods could potentially help to advance the state of the art in DBMS engineering.

Goals and Outcomes

One of the central goals and outcomes of the seminar was to build a common foundation and understanding for the key challenges of DBMS engineering, and how they can be potentially addressed. To this end, the seminar focused on

  • Best practices and challenges in building open source and commercial database engines.
    Here, the key objectives include a high developer efficiency, mandating quick feedback by tests and verification tools already during feature development, as well as systematic (stress) testing of the software under high load and error conditions.
  • The applicability of formal methods and verification tools to DBMS.
    Formal methods can be of great help to prove the correctness of key database system components such as query compilers, distributed consensus protocols, data replication components, or modules dealing with high availability. Still, an important question is how to systematically identify those components that can benefit from formal verification with reasonable implementation effort, and how to best integrate these methods into existing systems.
  • Advanced testing techniques such as fuzzers, query synthesis, and workload generators.
    These methods allow to significantly increase the test coverage of a DBMS by systematically exploring uncovered code paths and putting stress on individual, important subsystems such as input verification and error handling that are a frequent source of software defects.
  • Methods for the automatic generation of test data and testcase reduction. Occasionally, defects in database software are only found by customers running very complex queries operating on confidential data sets. Thus, to allow for problem reproduction, developers benefit from a minimal data set and a simplified query specification that does not disclose confidential data or exhibit unnecessary complexity.
  • Security aspects such as ensuring confidentiality and data integrity in the presence of different classes of attackers.

Attendee Mix and Seminar Structure

The seminar lasted 2.5 days. Its format and attendee mix was significantly influenced by the ongoing pandemic. Of the 34 attendees, 13 attended in person and 21 remotely. All but one of the in-person attendees were based in Europe. Overall, we received the highest response rate from Europe (20 attendees), and a lower one from Asia (8 attendees) and the US (6 attendees). We are grateful to the two Video Conference Assistants (VCAs), Jack Clark and Mark Raasveldt, who managed the equipment to ensure a smooth experience for all attendees.

We started the seminar with an introduction round in which every attendee introduced themselves. We held another such session in the late afternoon, to accommodate the US attendees. Prior to the seminar, we contacted attendees to give overview talks to establish a common discussion basis, which was useful given that the attendees came from different scientific communities. We had such overview talks on the first and second day. On the second and third day, we had in-depth talks. While we had planned breakout sessions, many of the talks were followed by fruitful and unplanned discussions. On the last day, we had a group discussion on the takeaways and future plans.

Future Plans

One major result from the seminar was to identify open problems and areas of future work that the group wants to address in an interdisciplinary manner. Among others, this includes the creation of a reference manual for database engineering groups to avoid redundant work and re-inventing techniques already established (or discarded) by other teams, the identification of database modules (e.g. the query compiler and transaction processing system) that can benefit from formal verification, designing new test oracles to test various data-centric systems for different kind of bugs, as well as the establishment of a common testcase specification format and a test corpus that can be shared between DBMS engineering teams. We discussed proposing another instance of the Dagstuhl seminar to utilize the established discussion basis and work on addressing these specific challenges.

Summary text license
  Creative Commons BY 4.0
  Maria Christakis, Alexander Böhm, Eric Lo, and Manuel Rigger

Related Dagstuhl Seminar


  • Databases
  • Software Engineering


  • Automatic Testing
  • Formal Methods
  • Verification
  • Database Management Systems
  • SQL


In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.


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