COMP 420,  COMP 532:

Introduction to Distributed Computer Systems

Fall 2018

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A distributed computer system involves a number of independent computers, which do not share memory, connected by a computer network. These computers communicate with each other by passing messages over the network, generally cooperating with each other, appearing to the users as a single coherent system, for example for sharing computation, storage, or other resources.

This course will examine the concepts, architecture, algorithms, protocols, and implementation of distributed computer systems, focusing on issues such as distribution, scale, robustness in the face of failure, and security. Some of the topics we will cover include communication in distributed systems, clocks and order of events in a distributed system, distributed system fault tolerance, distributed file systems, peer-to-peer systems, and distributed shared memory.

There are two versions of this course: COMP 420, intended for undergraduate students, and COMP 532, intended for graduate students. The lectures for both versions meet together, and the projects and exams for both are the same. However, for students taking the graduate version of the course, COMP 532, there will be an additional requirements as part of each of the projects.


  • Annepha has to be out of her office tomorrow (Tuesday, December 11), so if you haven't yet turned in your final exam, please turn it in tomorrow to Sherry Nassar rather than to Annepha. Sherry's office is DCH 3140, which is very near Annepha's office, on that same section of hallway. And as a reminder, your exams are due by 12:00 noon tomorrow (Tuesday).

  • Copies of the final exam are now ready to be picked up. As announced in class, the final exam will be take-home, in the same way and with the same procedures as we did for the midterm exam. Like the midterm, the time limit for the exam will be 4 hours, all used in a single contiguous uninterrupted period, but you can choose your own 4-hour period to do the exam. The exam is conducted under the Rice Honor System. Copies of the exam can be picked up from Annepha Hurlock in Duncan Hall 3122, and completed exams should be returned back to Annepha before the deadline of 12:00 noon on Tuesday, December 11. The final exam will focus on material we have done in class after what was covered on the midterm exam.

  • [Optional]  Please read the paper "Virtual Time". This material will not be on the final exam, but we will discuss this in class at the end of this week.

  • As I announced in class, please read the paper "Transparent Process Migration: Design Alternatives and the Sprite Implementation".

  • The project description for Lab #2 is now available. Your completed project is due by 11:59 PM, Tuesday November 20  Wednesday, November 28, 2018.

  • This semester, we will be using Piazza for class discussion. Piazza is a web-based platform that will allow you to post questions about the course material, including the projects, and to quickly receive answers from me and from your fellow classmates. Please register for COMP 420 on Piazza and check it frequently for any new questions, answers, or other information.


Course meetings:

  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 1:00-1:50, DCH 1075.

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Reading assignments:

  • The required textbook for the class is Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design, by George Coulouris, Jean Dollimore, Tim Kindberg, and Gordon Blair, Fifth Edition, published by Addison-Wesley/Pearson, 2012. The book is available from many on-line retailers such as and

    Note that we will cover topics in more depth than in the book, and will also cover some in a different order. There will also be a few additional reading assignments, not included in the textbook, during the semester.

    You should have already read Chapters 1, 2, 3.1-3.3, 14.1-14.4, 4.2, 4.4, 5.1-5.3, 6, 12, 4.5, 10, and 13 in the textbook.

    Please read the paper "Transparent Process Migration: Design Alternatives and the Sprite Implementation". You should have already read the other "Additional reading assignments" listed below.


  • Dave Johnson, dbj!#,?@$^!), DCH 3007, x3063. Office hours: TBA.

Course information: