18.1. Interaction cycle

All database operations that access the graph, indexes, or the schema must be performed in a transaction. Transactions are thread confined and can be nested as “flat nested transactions”. Flat nested transactions means that all nested transactions are added to the scope of the top level transaction. A nested transaction can mark the top level transaction for rollback, meaning the entire transaction will be rolled back. To only rollback changes made in a nested transaction is not possible.

The interaction cycle of working with transactions looks like this:

  1. Begin a transaction.
  2. Perform database operations.
  3. Mark the transaction as successful or not.
  4. Finish the transaction.

It is very important to finish each transaction. The transaction will not release the locks or memory it has acquired until it has been finished. The idiomatic use of transactions in Neo4j is to use a try-finally block, starting the transaction and then try to perform the graph operations. The last operation in the try block should mark the transaction as successful while the finally block should finish the transaction. Finishing the transaction will perform commit or rollback depending on the success status.


All modifications performed in a transaction are kept in memory. This means that very large updates have to be split into several top level transactions to avoid running out of memory. It must be a top level transaction since splitting up the work in many nested transactions will just add all the work to the top level transaction.

In an environment that makes use of thread pooling other errors may occur when failing to finish a transaction properly. Consider a leaked transaction that did not get finished properly. It will be tied to a thread and when that thread gets scheduled to perform work starting a new (what looks to be a) top level transaction it will actually be a nested transaction. If the leaked transaction state is “marked for rollback” (which will happen if a deadlock was detected) no more work can be performed on that transaction. Trying to do so will result in error on each call to a write operation.