Quite literally, the word 'heartbeat' is used to refer to the health of components of a Hadoop cluster. To elaborate, in technical terms, a 'heartbeat' is a name for a signal sent between a DataNode and NameNode.
This signal is taken as a sign of vitality. If there is no response to the signal, then it is understood that there are certain health issues/ technical problems going on with the DataNode or the TaskTracker.
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