Distributed Unique Time Stamp Identifiers

Recently I published an article on using timestamps as unique identifiers, generated in a fraction of a microsecond. This article covers an implementation that supports distributed identifier generation directly.

This specific implementation supports up to one billion new 64-bit identifiers every second only repeating after 520 years. They can also be printed as timestamps containing the wall clock to make it easier to read.

Concurrent identifier generation in a distributed system

Each host has a predefined, unique host identifier, or hostId.
This TimeProvider assumes up to 100 hosts to produce different identifiers concurrently. 
JVMs using the same hostId must be on the same physical machine using the same memory-mapped file,
or you can give each JVM a different hostId

A nano-second timestamp with a host identifier

DistributedUniqueTimeProvider stores a host identifier in the lower two digits of the timestamp making it easier to read.
The previous implementation used bit shifting so the HostId could be obtained, but difficult for a human to read.
This allows you to produce guaranteed unique identifiers, encoded with up to 100 sources, across up to 100 machines,
with multiple JVMs on the same machine sharing a hostId. The timestamp looks like this on a machine with a hostId of 28.


Where the date/time/microseconds are the time and the last two digits are the host identifier, making it easier to see the source in the time stamp.

This gives a resolution of one-tenth of a microsecond (hundreds of nano-seconds) This is often the limit of the available wall clock in many systems anyway.

The hostId can be set as a system property by default on the command line with -DhostId=xx, or programmatically by calling the 


Speeding up the assignment with a host identifier

Having a preconfigured host identifier and keeping track of the most recent identifier in shared memory, allows fast concurrent generation of identifiers across machines.

Up to the theoretical limit of one billion per second.

The happy path is simple. Take the current time, remove the lower two digits and add the hostId. As long as this is higher than the last identifier, it’s ok.  Should the machine fail and the information as to the last identifier be lost, the assumption is that the time taken to restart the service is enough time to ensure there is no overlap. If the service fails, but not the machine, the information is retained.

NOTE: This used the MappedFile in shared memory supported by Chronicle Bytes, an open-source library.

If the time hasn’t progressed, either due to high contention, or the wall clock going backwards e.g. due to a correction, a loop is called to find the next available identifier.

This loop looks for the next possible timestamp (with the hostId) and attempts to update it.

Using JMH to benchmark the timestamp provider

With JMH, benchmarking this utility in a single-threaded manner is pretty easy.

After less than five minutes, we get the following result on my windows laptop. You can get better results on a high-end server or desktop. The average time is around 37.4 nanoseconds. While this is single-threaded, this is generally on the unhappy path, as timestamps need to be at least 100 ns apart or they temporarily run ahead of the wall clock.

UUID.randomUUID() is also very fast, only six times longer, however, if you need a timestamp

and a source identifier for your event anyway, this is additional work/data.

On an i9-10980HK

Benchmark                                                Mode  Cnt   Score   Error  Units

DistributedUniqueTimeProviderBenchmark.currentTimeNanos  avgt   25  37.395 ± 0.391  ns/op

DistributedUniqueTimeProviderBenchmark.randomUUID        avgt   25 207.709 ± 1.586  ns/op

On a Ryzen 9 5950X Benchmark                                                Mode  Cnt    Score   Error  Units DistributedUniqueTimeProviderBenchmark.currentTimeNanos  avgt   25   43.557 ± 0.801  ns/op DistributedUniqueTimeProviderBenchmark.randomUUID        avgt   25  265.285 ± 2.690  ns/op


There are some advantages to using UUIDs.

  • It’s built-in and the extra overhead might not be a concern

  • No configuration is required

  • They are not predictable, the timestamp-based ones are highly predictable


You can have an 8-byte lightweight identifier that is unique across many hosts if you can use

some predetermined partitioning by host identifier. The identifier is still easily readable as text in

a slightly modified form of a timestamp.


  1. Impressive scores in the benchmark! This is nice.

    In the browser there seems to be some rendering error (or could be a mistake?): "The hostId can be set as a system property by default on the command line with -DhostId=xx, or programmatically by calling the " (unfinished sentence). Would be useful to see the call you refer to.
    Thanks for this post, very informative!

    1. If you look at the JMH test setUp(), you can see the call. Unfortunately, its an image so I can't easily paste it here.

    2. Thank you for asking, I have added the missing code.


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