Difference between Token-based and Non-Token-based Algorithms in Distributed Systems

Distributed systems are computing systems composed of multiple interconnected nodes that work together to perform a unified task. In such systems, algorithms play a crucial role in coordinating and managing the distributed resources efficiently. One fundamental aspect of these algorithms is the method they employ to control access to shared resources, known as synchronization. Two commonly used approaches for synchronization in distributed systems are token-based and non-token-based algorithms. In this discussion, we will explore the key differences between these two types of algorithms and their implications in distributed systems.

What are Token-based Algorithms?

Token-based algorithms use a token as a special message or object that circulates among the participating nodes in a distributed system. The token grants the exclusive right to perform a specific task or access a shared resource. Here are some key features of Token-based algorithms:

  • Token Passing: In token-based algorithms, a token is passed sequentially from one node to another in a predetermined order. Only the node possessing the token can execute a critical section or access shared resources. The token passes from one node to the next until every node has had a chance to execute the critical section.

  • Exclusive Access: Token-based algorithms provide exclusive access to resources or critical sections. When a node possesses the token, it gains the authority to execute specific tasks without any interference from other nodes. This approach ensures that conflicting operations are avoided, leading to better synchronization and resource utilization.

  • Guaranteed Progress: Token-based algorithms guarantee progress in a distributed system. Since the token circulates through each node, every node gets a fair chance to execute the critical section or access shared resources. This ensures that no node is indefinitely starved or denied access to important operations.

What are Non-Token-based Algorithms?

Non-token-based algorithms, also known as contention-based algorithms, do not rely on the concept of a circulating token to provide access to shared resources or critical sections. Instead, these algorithms utilize various mechanisms such as locking, synchronization primitives, or consensus protocols to coordinate access among multiple nodes. Here are some key features of Non Token-based algorithms:

  • Locking Mechanisms: Non-token-based algorithms often use locking mechanisms to control access to shared resources. Nodes request and acquire locks on resources, preventing other nodes from accessing them until the lock is released. This approach introduces contention and potential delays when multiple nodes concurrently request the same resource.

  • Synchronization Primitives: Non-token-based algorithms may utilize synchronization primitives like semaphores, mutexes, or condition variables to coordinate access. These primitives enable nodes to signal or wait for specific conditions before accessing shared resources. However, the absence of a token-based mechanism can lead to more complex coordination challenges and potential deadlocks.

  • Consensus Protocols: In some cases, non-token-based algorithms rely on consensus protocols to ensure agreement among nodes before accessing shared resources. Consensus algorithms, such as Paxos or Raft, help establish a consistent state across distributed nodes by coordinating agreement on a specific operation. This approach enables fault tolerance but introduces additional communication overhead.

Token-based vs. Non-Token-based Algorithms

Here are the key differences between token-based and non-token-based algorithms:


Token-Based Algorithms

Non-Token-Based Algorithms

Token Assignment

Tokens are assigned to nodes in the system, typically in a predetermined order or using a distributed algorithm

No explicit token assignment; nodes communicate and coordinate without a designated token holder

Node Coordination

Only the node holding the token can perform certain operations or execute critical tasks

Nodes can independently execute operations without requiring a token or coordination from a specific node

Sequential Execution

Tokens enforce a strict order of execution, ensuring that only one node can execute a critical task at a time

No strict order of execution; multiple nodes can execute tasks concurrently or independently.

Concurrency Control

Tokens ensure mutual exclusion, preventing multiple nodes from concurrently accessing or modifying shared resources.

Concurrency control mechanisms (e.g., locks, semaphores) are used to manage access to shared resources and prevent conflicts.

Message Passing

Nodes pass the token to each other, indicating ownership and permission for specific operations.

Nodes communicate directly without a token, exchanging messages to coordinate tasks or share information.

Fault Tolerance

Token reassignment can be used to handle node failures, ensuring continuity and fault tolerance.

Node failures may require additional mechanisms (e.g., replication, consensus algorithms) to maintain fault tolerance


Token-based algorithms may face scalability challenges, as the token holder becomes a potential bottleneck.

Non-token-based algorithms can be more scalable, as nodes can operate independently and concurrently.

System Complexity

Token-based algorithms tend to have additional complexity due to token management and coordination requirements.

Non-token-based algorithms can be simpler to implement and understand, as they don't rely on token-based coordination.


Token-based algorithms use a circulating token to grant exclusive access to resources, ensuring guaranteed progress and avoiding conflicts. On the other hand, non-token-based algorithms employ locking mechanisms, synchronization primitives, or consensus protocols to coordinate access to shared resources, introducing potential contention and complexity. The choice between these approaches depends on the specific requirements and characteristics of the distributed system being designed.

Updated on: 12-Jul-2023


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