All nodes in Cassandra are peers. A client read or write request can go to any node in the cluster. When a client connects to a node and issues a read or write request, that node serves as the coordinator for that particular client operation.
The job of the coordinator is to act as a proxy between the client application and the nodes (or replicas) that own the data being requested. The coordinator determines which nodes in the ring should get the request based on the cluster configured partitioner and replica placement strategy.
For writes, the coordinator sends the write to all replicas that own the row being written. As long as all replica nodes are up and available, they will get the write regardless of the consistency level specified by the client. The write consistency level determines how many replica nodes must respond with a success acknowledgement in order for the write to be considered successful.
For example, in a single data center 10 node cluster with a replication factor of 3, an incoming write will go to all 3 nodes that own the requested row. If the write consistency level specified by the client is ONE, the first node to complete the write responds back to the coordinator, which then proxies the success message back to the client. A consistency level of ONE means that it is possible that 2 of the 3 replicas could miss the write if they happened to be down at the time the request was made. If a replica misses a write, the row will be made consistent later via one of Cassandra's built-in repair mechanisms: hinted handoff, read repair or anti-entropy node repair.
Also see About Writes in Cassandra for more information about how Cassandra processes writes locally at the node level.
In multi data center deployments, Cassandra optimizes write performance by choosing one coordinator node in each remote data center to handle the requests to replicas within that data center. The coordinator node contacted by the client application only needs to forward the write request to one node in each remote data center.
If using a consistency level of ONE or LOCAL_QUORUM, only the nodes in the same data center as the coordinator node must respond to the client request in order for the request to succeed. This way, geographical latency does not impact client request response times.
For reads, there are two types of read requests that a coordinator can send to a replica; a direct read request and a background read repair request. The number of replicas contacted by a direct read request is determined by the consistency level specified by the client. Background read repair requests are sent to any additional replicas that did not receive a direct request. Read repair requests ensure that the requested row is made consistent on all replicas.
Thus, the coordinator first contacts the replicas specified by the consistency level. The coordinator sends these requests to the replicas that respond promptly. The nodes contacted respond with the requested data; if multiple nodes are contacted, the rows from each replica are compared for consistency in memory. If replicas are inconsistent, the following events occur:
The process is read repair. Read repair can be configured per column family (using read_repair_chance), and is enabled by default.
For example, in a cluster with a replication factor of 3, and a read consistency level of QUORUM, 2 of the 3 replicas for the given row are contacted to fulfill the read request. Supposing the contacted replicas had different versions of the row, the replica with the most recent version would return the requested data. In the background, the third replica is checked for consistency with the first two, and if needed, the most recent replica issues a write to the out-of-date replicas.
Also see About Reads in Cassandra for more information about how Cassandra processes reads locally at the node level.