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1.11.  Using Message Groups

1.11.1.  Overview

The broker allows messaging applications to classify a set of related messages as belonging to a group. This allows a message producer to indicate to the consumer that a group of messages should be considered a single logical operation with respect to the application.

The broker can use this group identification to enforce policies controlling how messages from a given group can be distributed to consumers. For instance, the broker can be configured to guarantee all the messages from a particular group are processed in order across multiple consumers.

For example, assume we have a shopping application that manages items in a virtual shopping cart. A user may add an item to their shopping cart, then change their mind and remove it. If the application sends an add message to the broker, immediately followed by a remove message, they will be queued in the proper order - add, followed by remove.

However, if there are multiple consumers, it is possible that once a consumer acquires the add message, a different consumer may acquire the remove message. This allows both messages to be processed in parallel, which could result in a "race" where the remove operation is incorrectly performed before the add operation.

1.11.2.  Grouping Messages

In order to group messages, the application would designate a particular message header as containing a message's group identifier. The group identifier stored in that header field would be a string value set by the message producer. Messages from the same group would have the same group identifier value. The key that identifies the header must also be known to the message consumers. This allows the consumers to determine a message's assigned group.

The header that is used to hold the group identifier, as well as the values used as group identifiers, are totally under control of the application.

1.11.3.  The Role of the Broker

The broker will apply the following processing on each grouped message:

  • Enqueue a received message on the destination queue.
  • Determine the message's group by examining the message's group identifier header.
  • Enforce consumption ordering among messages belonging to the same group.

Consumption ordering means that the broker will not allow outstanding unacknowledged messages to more than one consumer for a given group.

This means that only one consumer can be processing messages from a particular group at a given time. When the consumer acknowledges all of its acquired messages, then the broker may pass the next pending message from that group to a different consumer.

Specifically, for any given group the broker allows only the first N messages in the group to be delivered to a consumer. The value of N would be determined by the selected consumer's configured prefetch capacity. The broker blocks access by any other consumer to any remaining undelivered messages in that group. Once the receiving consumer has:

  • acknowledged,
  • released, or
  • rejected

all the delivered messages, the broker allows the next messages in the group to be delivered. The next messages may be delivered to a different consumer.

Note well that distinct message groups would not block each other from delivery. For example, assume a queue contains messages from two different message groups - say group "A" and group "B" - and they are enqueued such that "A"'s messages are in front of "B". If the first message of group "A" is in the process of being consumed by a client, then the remaining "A" messages are blocked, but the messages of the "B" group are available for consumption by other consumers - even though it is "behind" group "A" in the queue.

1.11.4.  Well Behaved Consumers

The broker can only enforce policy when delivering messages. To guarantee that strict message ordering is preserved, the consuming application must adhere to the following rules:

  • completely process the data in a received message before accepting that message
  • acknowledge (or reject) messages in the same order as they are received
  • avoid releasing messages (see below)

The term processed means that the consumer has finished updating all application state affected by the message that has been received. See section 2.6.2. Transfer of Responsibility, of the AMQP-0.10 specification for more detail.

Be Advised

If a consumer does not adhere to the above rules, it may affect the ordering of grouped messages even when the broker is enforcing consumption order. This can be done by selectively acknowledging and releasing messages from the same group.

Assume a consumer has received two messages from group "A", "A-1" and "A-2", in that order. If the consumer releases "A-1" then acknowledges "A-2", "A-1" will be put back onto the queue and "A-2" will be removed from the queue. This allows another consumer to acquire and process "A-1" after "A-2" has been processed.

Under some application-defined circumstances, this may be acceptable behavior. However, if order must be preserved, the client should either release all currently held messages, or discard the target message using reject.

1.11.5.  Broker Configuration

In order for the broker to determine a message's group, the key for the header that contains the group identifier must be provided to the broker via configuration. This is done on a per-queue basis, when the queue is first configured.

This means that message group classification is determined by the message's destination queue.

Specifically, the queue "holds" the header key that is used to find the message's group identifier. All messages arriving at the queue are expected to use the same header key for holding the identifer. Once the message is enqueued, the broker looks up the group identifier in the message's header, and classifies the message by its group.

Message group support can be enabled on a queue using the qpid-config command line tool. The following options should be provided when adding a new queue:

Table 1.25. qpid-config options for creating message group queues

OptionDescription
--group-header=header-nameEnable message group support for this queue. Specify name of application header that holds the group identifier.
--shared-groupsEnforce ordered message group consumption across multiple consumers.


Message group support may also be specified in the queue.declare method via the arguments parameter map, or using the messaging address syntax. The following keys must be provided in the arguments map to enable message group support on a queue:

Table 1.26. Queue Declare/Address Syntax Message Group Configuration Arguments

KeyValue
qpid.group_header_keystring - key for message header that holds the group identifier value
qpid.shared_msg_group1 - enforce ordering across multiple consumers

It is important to note that there is no need to provide the actual group identifer values that will be used. The broker learns this values as messages are recieved. Also, there is no practical limit - aside from resource limitations - to the number of different groups that the broker can track at run time.

Restrictions

Message grouping is not supported on LVQ or Priority queues.

Example 1.4. Creating a message group queue via qpid-config

This example uses the qpid-config tool to create a message group queue called "MyMsgQueue". The message header that contains the group identifier will use the key "GROUP_KEY".

qpid-config add queue MyMsgQueue --group-header="GROUP_KEY" --shared-groups
        

Example 1.5. Creating a message group queue using address syntax (C++)

This example uses the messaging address syntax to create a message group queue with the same configuration as the previous example.

sender = session.createSender("MyMsgQueue;"
                              " {create:always, delete:receiver,"
                              " node: {x-declare: {arguments:"
                              " {'qpid.group_header_key':'GROUP_KEY',"
                              " 'qpid.shared_msg_group':1}}}}")
        

1.11.5.1.  Default Group

Should a message without a group identifier arrive at a queue configured for message grouping, the broker assigns the message to the default group. Therefore, all such "unidentified" messages are considered by the broker as part of the same group. The name of the default group is "qpid.no-group". This default can be overridden by suppling a different value to the broker configuration item "default-message-group":

Example 1.6. Overriding the default message group identifier for the broker

qpidd --default-msg-group "EMPTY-GROUP"