Microservices Asynchronous Communication

Communication among microservices can be either synchronous or asynchronous. Each mode has its own pros and cons. In this post, I would like to share the mechanism of asynchronous communication. As an example, lets consider MyKart, which is an online shopping portal. Just like a typical E-Commerce site, customers (users) can login, browse through product categories, select products and order after paying online. The service architecture is based on micro-service architecture and the application is being built on top of Java stack with the node.js/java script based UI.

Lets see how RabbitMQ can be used for asynchronous communication amongst the microservices.

Service Interaction

The interaction amongst the different services is depicted below:

SequenceDiagram

A typical use case for ordering products is:

  1. Customer (user) logs into the MyKart portal. This is facilitated by the Order service. For existing customers, the details are fetched from Customer service. For new users, a new customer account is created.
  2. Customer can scan through all the different categories of products. The Order service queries the Catalog service to get the details of all the products.
  3. Customer selects the products which he/she wants to purchase. The Billing service is used for online transaction. A payment gateway is used to pay for the purchased products.
  4. Order service maintains records of purchased products and notifies the Shipment service of the transaction. The shipment service will further inform logistics team to prepare for shipping of the purchased products.

Service Interaction and Communication

In order to help with scalability, bulk of the interaction amongst the services would be through asynchronous communication. This would be facilitated by RabbitMQ messaging system. It would help to mention here key concepts of RabbitMQ.

RabbitMQ Fundamentals

The three parts that route messages in RabbitMQ’s are exchanges, queues, and bindings. Applications direct messages to exchanges. Exchanges route those messages to queues based on bindings. Bindings tie queues to exchanges and define a key (or topic) which it binds with.

Exchange

Besides the exchange type, exchanges are declared with a number of attributes, the most important of which are:

  • Name
  • Durability (exchanges survive broker restart)
  • Auto-delete (exchange is deleted when all queues have finished using it)
  • Arguments (these are broker-dependent)

Exchanges can be durable or transient. Durable exchanges survive broker restart whereas transient exchanges do not. Different types of exchanges are as following:

  • Default Exchange – The default exchange is a direct exchange with no name (empty string) pre-declared by the broker. It has one special property that makes it very useful for simple applications: every queue that is created is automatically bound to it with a routing key which is the same as the queue name.
  • Direct Exchange – A direct exchange delivers messages to queues based on the message routing key. A direct exchange is ideal for the unicast routing of messages.
  • Fanout Exchange – A fanout exchange routes messages to all of the queues that are bound to it and the routing key is ignored. If N queues are bound to a fanout exchange, when a new message is published to that exchange a copy of the message is delivered to all N queues. Fanout exchanges are ideal for the broadcast routing of messages.
  • Topic Exchange – Topic exchanges route messages to one or many queues based on matching between a message routing key and the pattern that was used to bind a queue to an exchange. The topic exchange type is often used to implement various publish/subscribe pattern variations. Topic exchanges are commonly used for the multicast routing of messages.
  • Headers Exchange – A headers exchange is designed for routing on multiple attributes that are more easily expressed as message headers than a routing key. Headers exchanges ignore the routing key attribute. Instead, the attributes used for routing are taken from the headers attribute. A message is considered matching if the value of the header equals the value specified upon binding.

Queues

Queues store messages that are consumed by applications. The key properties of queues are as following:

  • Queue Name – Applications may pick queue names or ask the broker to generate a name for them.
  • Queue Durability – Durable queues are persisted to disk and thus survive broker restarts. Queues that are not durable are called transient. Not all scenarios and use cases mandate queues to be durable.
  • Bindings – These are rules that exchanges use (among other things) to route messages to queues. To instruct an exchange E to route messages to a queue Q, Q has to be bound to E. Bindings may have an optional routing key attribute used by some exchange types.

Message Attributes

Messages have a payload and attributes. Some of the key attributes are listed below:

  • Content type
  • Content encoding
  • Routing key
  • Delivery mode (persistent or not)
  • Message priority
  • Message publishing timestamp
  • Expiration period
  • Publisher application id

Message Acknowledgements – We know that networks can be unreliable and this might lead to failure of applications. So it is often necessary to have some kind of processing acknowledgement. In some cases it is only necessary to acknowledge the fact that a message has been received. In other cases acknowledgements mean that a message was validated and processed by a consumer.

Service Communication

All the services of MyKart would utilize RabbitMQ infrastructure for communicating with each other. This is depicted in the following diagram:

RabbitMQ-Comm

When different services want to implement request-response communication using RabbitMQ, there are two key patterns:

  • Exclusive reply queue per request – In this case each request creates a reply queue. The benefits are that it is simple to implement. There is no problem with correlating the response with the request, since each request has its own response consumer. If the connection between the client and the broker fails before a response is received, the broker will dispose of any remaining reply queues and the response message will be lost. Key consideration to take care is that we need to clean up any replies queues in the event that a problem with the server means that it never publishes the response. This pattern has a performance cost because a new queue and consumer has to be created for each request.
  • Exclusive reply queue per client – In this case each client connection maintains a reply queue which many requests can share. This avoids the performance cost of creating a queue and consumer per request, but adds the overhead that the client needs to keep track of the reply queue and match up responses with their respective requests. The standard way of doing this is with a correlation id that is copied by the server from the request to the response.

Durable reply queue – In both the above patterns, the response message can be lost if the connection between the client and broker goes down while the response is in flight. This is because they use exclusive queues that are deleted by the broker when the connection that owns them is closed. This can be avoided by using a non-exclusive reply queue. However this creates some management overhead. One needs some way to name the reply queue and associate it with a particular client. The problem is that it’s difficult for the client to know if any one reply queue belongs to itself, or to another instance. It’s easy to naively create a situation where responses are being delivered to the wrong instance of the client. In the worst case, we would have to manually create and name response queues, which remove one of the main benefits of choosing broker based messaging in the first place.

Rather than using the exclusive reply queue per request, I would recommend to use exclusive reply queue per client. Each service would have its own exchange of type direct where other services would send request events. For response events, the default exchange would be leveraged. All services would have a response queue bound to default exchange corresponding to each service from which response is expected.

Request – Response Event
The request and response messages would be send as an event structure. They would contain the following information:

  1. Correlation Id
    In order to co-relate response event with request event, unique request correlation id would be used. This would help in uniquely identifying a request and tying it up with response. One way of generating unique id is to leverage UUID class of Java. See the code snippet below:
    UUID.randomUUID().toString();
    There can be other mechanisms also for unique id generation, but in my view this is most suitable and user-friendly.
  2. Payload
    The request information and response details would be serialized as a JSON string. While sending a request, the request object details would be converted into JSON format. Similarly, while receiving response, the JSON information would be used to populate the actual response object. The third party Jackson utility would be leveraged for object to JSON conversion and vice-versa.

Service Interaction
Let us take an example to see how the different services would leverage the messaging infrastructure for interaction. Let us take the use case when a customer logs in to the Order service and it then fetches customer information.

  1. Order service needs to get customer information, like name, address, etc. and for this it has to query the Customer service.
  2. The request object contains the customer id. It is converted into JSON format using Jackson.
  3. Java UUID class is used to generate the correlation id.
  4. The message is send to Customer exchange with customer.read as the routing key. The CustomerReadQueue is bound to Customer exchange with this key and so the message gets delivered to CustomerReadQueue.
  5. The reply_to field is used to indicate on which particular queue the response event should be send. In this case, the reply_to field is filled with the value CustomerResponseQueue.
  6. Once the Customer service is able to fetch the desired information, it converts it into JSON format. It then populates the Correlation Id received earlier. The response event is then send to CustomerResponseQueue, which is bound to the default exchange.
  7. The Order service is waiting for response messages on CustomerResponseQueue. Once it receives an event it uses the JSON payload to populate the Response object. The Correlation Id is used to map it to the request object send earlier.

Service Notification
Besides, the regular request-response interaction, the messaging infrastructure can also be used for one way notifications. Any good application should always log important information and also raise metrics/alarms for the same. All the services of MyKart would send important notifications to Logging Service and Metrics service. The Logging service would use these events to log information in logging infrastructure. The Metrics service would use this information to raise metrics and alarms. These metrics are helpful in serviceability of microservices.

For MyKart, there is Fanout exchange by the name of Notification exchange. It would send the received information to all the registered queues. Both the Logging service and Metrics service have their queues bound to this exchange. Events for Logging service are received on LoggingQueue and the events for Metrics service are received on MetricsQueue.

Conclusion

As has been demonstrated in the shopping cart example, RabbitMQ can be used effectively for asynchronous communication among different services.