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Kafka: The Definitive Guide by Gwen Shapira, Neha Narkhede, Todd Palino

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Chapter 4. Kafka Consumers: Reading Data from Kafka

Applications that need to read data from Kafka use a KafkaConsumer to subscribe to Kafka topics and receive messages from these topics. Reading data from Kafka is a bit different than reading data from other messaging systems, and there are few unique concepts and ideas involved. It is difficult to understand how to use the consumer API without understanding these concepts first. We’ll start by explaining some of the important concepts, and then we’ll go through some examples that show the different ways consumer APIs can be used to implement applications with varying requirements.

Kafka Consumer Concepts

In order to understand how to read data from Kafka, you first need to understand its consumers and consumer groups. The following sections cover those concepts.

Consumers and Consumer Groups

Suppose you have an application that needs to read messages from a Kafka topic, run some validations against them, and write the results to another data store. In this case your application will create a consumer object, subscribe to the appropriate topic, and start receiving messages, validating them and writing the results. This may work well for a while, but what if the rate at which producers write messages to the topic exceeds the rate at which your application can validate them? If you are limited to a single consumer reading and processing the data, your application may fall farther and farther behind, unable to keep up with the rate of incoming messages. Obviously there is a need to scale consumption from topics. Just like multiple producers can write to the same topic, we need to allow multiple consumers to read from the same topic, splitting the data between them.

Kafka consumers are typically part of a consumer group. When multiple consumers are subscribed to a topic and belong to the same consumer group, each consumer in the group will receive messages from a different subset of the partitions in the topic.

Let’s take topic T1 with four partitions. Now suppose we created a new consumer, C1, which is the only consumer in group G1, and use it to subscribe to topic T1. Consumer C1 will get all messages from all four T1 partitions. See Figure 4-1.

ktdg 04in01
Figure 4-1. One Consumer group with four partitions

If we add another consumer, C2, to group G1, each consumer will only get messages from two partitions. Perhaps messages from partition 0 and 2 go to C1 and messages from partitions 1 and 3 go to consumer C2. See Figure 4-2.

ktdg 04in02
Figure 4-2. Four partitions split to two consumers in a group

If G1 has four consumers, then each will read messages from a single partition. See Figure 4-3.

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Figure 4-3. Four consumers in a group with one partition each

If we add more consumers to a single group with a single topic than we have partitions, some of the consumers will be idle and get no messages at all. See Figure 4-4.

ktdg 04in04
Figure 4-4. More consumers in a group than partitions means idle consumers

The main way we scale data consumption from a Kafka topic is by adding more consumers to a consumer group. It is common for Kafka consumers to do high-latency operations such as write to a database or a time-consuming computation on the data. In these cases, a single consumer can’t possibly keep up with the rate data flows into a topic, and adding more consumers that share the load by having each consumer own just a subset of the partitions and messages is our main method of scaling. This is a good reason to create topics with a large number of partitions—it allows adding more consumers when the load increases. Keep in mind that there is no point in adding more consumers than you have partitions in a topic—some of the consumers will just be idle. Chapter 2 includes some suggestions on how to choose the number of partitions in a topic.

In addition to adding consumers in order to scale a single application, it is very common to have multiple applications that need to read data from the same topic. In fact, one of the main design goals in Kafka was to make the data produced to Kafka topics available for many use cases throughout the organization. In those cases, we want each application to get all of the messages, rather than just a subset. To make sure an application gets all the messages in a topic, ensure the application has its own consumer group. Unlike many traditional messaging systems, Kafka scales to a large number of consumers and consumer groups without reducing performance.

In the previous example, if we add a new consumer group G2 with a single consumer, this consumer will get all the messages in topic T1 independent of what G1 is doing. G2 can have more than a single consumer, in which case they will each get a subset of partitions, just like we showed for G1, but G2 as a whole will still get all the messages regardless of other consumer groups. See Figure 4-5.

ktdg 04in05
Figure 4-5. Adding a new consumer group, both groups receive all messages

To summarize, you create a new consumer group for each application that needs all the messages from one or more topics. You add consumers to an existing consumer group to scale the reading and processing of messages from the topics, so each additional consumer in a group will only get a subset of the messages.

Consumer Groups and Partition Rebalance

As we saw in the previous section, consumers in a consumer group share ownership of the partitions in the topics they subscribe to. When we add a new consumer to the group, it starts consuming messages from partitions previously consumed by another consumer. The same thing happens when a consumer shuts down or crashes; it leaves the group, and the partitions it used to consume will be consumed by one of the remaining consumers. Reassignment of partitions to consumers also happen when the topics the consumer group is consuming are modified (e.g., if an administrator adds new partitions).

Moving partition ownership from one consumer to another is called a rebalance. Rebalances are important because they provide the consumer group with high availability and scalability (allowing us to easily and safely add and remove consumers), but in the normal course of events they are fairly undesirable. During a rebalance, consumers can’t consume messages, so a rebalance is basically a short window of unavailability of the entire consumer group. In addition, when partitions are moved from one consumer to another, the consumer loses its current state; if it was caching any data, it will need to refresh its caches—slowing down the application until the consumer sets up its state again. Throughout this chapter we will discuss how to safely handle rebalances and how to avoid unnecessary ones.

The way consumers maintain membership in a consumer group and ownership of the partitions assigned to them is by sending heartbeats to a Kafka broker designated as the group coordinator (this broker can be different for different consumer groups). As long as the consumer is sending heartbeats at regular intervals, it is assumed to be alive, well, and processing messages from its partitions. Heartbeats are sent when the consumer polls (i.e., retrieves records) and when it commits records it has consumed.

If the consumer stops sending heartbeats for long enough, its session will time out and the group coordinator will consider it dead and trigger a rebalance. If a consumer crashed and stopped processing messages, it will take the group coordinator a few seconds without heartbeats to decide it is dead and trigger the rebalance. During those seconds, no messages will be processed from the partitions owned by the dead consumer. When closing a consumer cleanly, the consumer will notify the group coordinator that it is leaving, and the group coordinator will trigger a rebalance immediately, reducing the gap in processing. Later in this chapter we will discuss configuration options that control heartbeat frequency and session timeouts and how to set those to match your requirements.

How Does the Process of Assigning Partitions to Brokers Work?

When a consumer wants to join a group, it sends a JoinGroup request to the group coordinator. The first consumer to join the group becomes the group leader. The leader receives a list of all consumers in the group from the group coordinator (this will include all consumers that sent a heartbeat recently and which are therefore considered alive) and is responsible for assigning a subset of partitions to each consumer. It uses an implementation of PartitionAssignor to decide which partitions should be handled by which consumer.

Kafka has two built-in partition assignment policies, which we will discuss in more depth in the configuration section. After deciding on the partition assignment, the consumer group leader sends the list of assignments to the GroupCoordinator, which sends this information to all the consumers. Each consumer only sees his own assignment—the leader is the only client process that has the full list of consumers in the group and their assignments. This process repeats every time a rebalance happens.

Creating a Kafka Consumer

The first step to start consuming records is to create a KafkaConsumer instance. Creating a KafkaConsumer is very similar to creating a KafkaProducer—you create a Java Properties instance with the properties you want to pass to the consumer. We will discuss all the properties in depth later in the chapter. To start we just need to use the three mandatory properties: bootstrap.servers, key.deserializer, and value.deserializer.

The first property, bootstrap.servers, is the connection string to a Kafka cluster. It is used the exact same way as in KafkaProducer (you can refer to Chapter 3 for details on how this is defined). The other two properties, key.deserializer and value.deserializer, are similar to the serializers defined for the producer, but rather than specifying classes that turn Java objects to byte arrays, you need to specify classes that can take a byte array and turn it into a Java object.

There is a fourth property, which is not strictly mandatory, but for now we will pretend it is. The property is group.id and it specifies the consumer group the KafkaConsumer instance belongs to. While it is possible to create consumers that do not belong to any consumer group, this is uncommon, so for most of the chapter we will assume the consumer is part of a group.

The following code snippet shows how to create a KafkaConsumer:

Properties props = new Properties();
props.put("bootstrap.servers", "broker1:9092,broker2:9092");
props.put("group.id", "CountryCounter");
props.put("key.deserializer",
    "org.apache.kafka.common.serialization.StringDeserializer");
props.put("value.deserializer",
    "org.apache.kafka.common.serialization.StringDeserializer");

KafkaConsumer<String, String> consumer =
    new KafkaConsumer<String, String>(props);

Most of what you see here should be familiar if you’ve read Chapter 3 on creating producers. We assume that the records we consume will have String objects as both the key and the value of the record. The only new property here is group.id, which is the name of the consumer group this consumer belongs to.

Subscribing to Topics

Once we create a consumer, the next step is to subscribe to one or more topics. The subcribe() method takes a list of topics as a parameter, so it’s pretty simple to use:

consumer.subscribe(Collections.singletonList("customerCountries")); 1
1

Here we simply create a list with a single element: the topic name customerCountries.

It is also possible to call subscribe with a regular expression. The expression can match multiple topic names, and if someone creates a new topic with a name that matches, a rebalance will happen almost immediately and the consumers will start consuming from the new topic. This is useful for applications that need to consume from multiple topics and can handle the different types of data the topics will contain. Subscribing to multiple topics using a regular expression is most commonly used in applications that replicate data between Kafka and another system.

To subscribe to all test topics, we can call:

consumer.subscribe(Pattern.compile("test.*"));

The Poll Loop

At the heart of the consumer API is a simple loop for polling the server for more data. Once the consumer subscribes to topics, the poll loop handles all details of coordination, partition rebalances, heartbeats, and data fetching, leaving the developer with a clean API that simply returns available data from the assigned partitions. The main body of a consumer will look as follows:

try {
    while (true) { 1
        ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100); 2
        for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) 3
        {
            log.debug("topic = %s, partition = %d, offset = %d,"
                customer = %s, country = %s\n",
                record.topic(), record.partition(), record.offset(),
                record.key(), record.value());

            int updatedCount = 1;
            if (custCountryMap.countainsValue(record.value())) {
                updatedCount = custCountryMap.get(record.value()) + 1;
            }
            custCountryMap.put(record.value(), updatedCount)

            JSONObject json = new JSONObject(custCountryMap);
            System.out.println(json.toString(4)) 4
        }
    }
} finally {
    consumer.close(); 5
}
1

This is indeed an infinite loop. Consumers are usually long-running applications that continuously poll Kafka for more data. We will show later in the chapter how to cleanly exit the loop and close the consumer.

2

This is the most important line in the chapter. The same way that sharks must keep moving or they die, consumers must keep polling Kafka or they will be considered dead and the partitions they are consuming will be handed to another consumer in the group to continue consuming. The parameter we pass, poll(), is a timeout interval and controls how long poll() will block if data is not available in the consumer buffer. If this is set to 0, poll() will return immediately; otherwise, it will wait for the specified number of milliseconds for data to arrive from the broker.

3

poll() returns a list of records. Each record contains the topic and partition the record came from, the offset of the record within the partition, and of course the key and the value of the record. Typically we want to iterate over the list and process the records individually.

4

Processing usually ends in writing a result in a data store or updating a stored record. Here, the goal is to keep a running count of customers from each county, so we update a hashtable and print the result as JSON. A more realistic example would store the updates result in a data store.

5

Always close() the consumer before exiting. This will close the network connections and sockets. It will also trigger a rebalance immediately rather than wait for the group coordinator to discover that the consumer stopped sending heartbeats and is likely dead, which will take longer and therefore result in a longer period of time in which consumers can’t consume messages from a subset of the partitions.

The poll loop does a lot more than just get data. The first time you call poll() with a new consumer, it is responsible for finding the GroupCoordinator, joining the consumer group, and receiving a partition assignment. If a rebalance is triggered, it will be handled inside the poll loop as well. And of course the heartbeats that keep consumers alive are sent from within the poll loop. For this reason, we try to make sure that whatever processing we do between iterations is fast and efficient.

Thread Safety

You can’t have multiple consumers that belong to the same group in one thread and you can’t have multiple threads safely use the same consumer. One consumer per thread is the rule. To run multiple consumers in the same group in one application, you will need to run each in its own thread. It is useful to wrap the consumer logic in its own object and then use Java’s ExecutorService to start multiple threads each with its own consumer. The Confluent blog has a tutorial that shows how to do just that.

Configuring Consumers

So far we have focused on learning the consumer API, but we’ve only looked at a few of the configuration properties—just the mandatory bootstrap.servers, group.id, key.deserializer, and value.deserializer. All the consumer configuration is documented in Apache Kafka documentation. Most of the parameters have reasonable defaults and do not require modification, but some have implications on the performance and availability of the consumers. Let’s take a look at some of the more important properties.

fetch.min.bytes

This property allows a consumer to specify the minimum amount of data that it wants to receive from the broker when fetching records. If a broker receives a request for records from a consumer but the new records amount to fewer bytes than fetch.min.bytes, the broker will wait until more messages are available before sending the records back to the consumer. This reduces the load on both the consumer and the broker as they have to handle fewer back-and-forth messages in cases where the topics don’t have much new activity (or for lower activity hours of the day). You will want to set this parameter higher than the default if the consumer is using too much CPU when there isn’t much data available, or reduce load on the brokers when you have large number of consumers.

fetch.max.wait.ms

By setting fetch.min.bytes, you tell Kafka to wait until it has enough data to send before responding to the consumer. fetch.max.wait.ms lets you control how long to wait. By default, Kafka will wait up to 500 ms. This results in up to 500 ms of extra latency in case there is not enough data flowing to the Kafka topic to satisfy the minimum amount of data to return. If you want to limit the potential latency (usually due to SLAs controlling the maximum latency of the application), you can set fetch.max.wait.ms to a lower value. If you set fetch.max.wait.ms to 100 ms and fetch.min.bytes to 1 MB, Kafka will receive a fetch request from the consumer and will respond with data either when it has 1 MB of data to return or after 100 ms, whichever happens first.

max.partition.fetch.bytes

This property controls the maximum number of bytes the server will return per partition. The default is 1 MB, which means that when KafkaConsumer.poll() returns ConsumerRecords, the record object will use at most max.partition.fetch.bytes per partition assigned to the consumer. So if a topic has 20 partitions, and you have 5 consumers, each consumer will need to have 4 MB of memory available for ConsumerRecords. In practice, you will want to allocate more memory as each consumer will need to handle more partitions if other consumers in the group fail. max. partition.fetch.bytes must be larger than the largest message a broker will accept (determined by the max.message.size property in the broker configuration), or the broker may have messages that the consumer will be unable to consume, in which case the consumer will hang trying to read them. Another important consideration when setting max.partition.fetch.bytes is the amount of time it takes the consumer to process data. As you recall, the consumer must call poll() frequently enough to avoid session timeout and subsequent rebalance. If the amount of data a single poll() returns is very large, it may take the consumer longer to process, which means it will not get to the next iteration of the poll loop in time to avoid a session timeout. If this occurs, the two options are either to lower max. partition.fetch.bytes or to increase the session timeout.

session.timeout.ms

The amount of time a consumer can be out of contact with the brokers while still considered alive defaults to 3 seconds. If more than session.timeout.ms passes without the consumer sending a heartbeat to the group coordinator, it is considered dead and the group coordinator will trigger a rebalance of the consumer group to allocate partitions from the dead consumer to the other consumers in the group. This property is closely related to heartbeat.interval.ms. heartbeat.interval.ms controls how frequently the KafkaConsumer poll() method will send a heartbeat to the group coordinator, whereas session.timeout.ms controls how long a consumer can go without sending a heartbeat. Therefore, those two properties are typically modified together—heartbeat.interval.ms must be lower than session.timeout.ms, and is usually set to one-third of the timeout value. So if session.timeout.ms is 3 seconds, heartbeat.interval.ms should be 1 second. Setting session.timeout.ms lower than the default will allow consumer groups to detect and recover from failure sooner, but may also cause unwanted rebalances as a result of consumers taking longer to complete the poll loop or garbage collection. Setting session.timeout.ms higher will reduce the chance of accidental rebalance, but also means it will take longer to detect a real failure.

auto.offset.reset

This property controls the behavior of the consumer when it starts reading a partition for which it doesn’t have a committed offset or if the committed offset it has is invalid (usually because the consumer was down for so long that the record with that offset was already aged out of the broker). The default is “latest,” which means that lacking a valid offset, the consumer will start reading from the newest records (records that were written after the consumer started running). The alternative is “earliest,” which means that lacking a valid offset, the consumer will read all the data in the partition, starting from the very beginning.

enable.auto.commit

We’ll discuss the different options for committing offsets later in this chapter. This parameter controls whether the consumer will commit offsets automatically, and defaults to true. Set it to false if you prefer to control when offsets are committed, which is necessary to minimize duplicates and avoid missing data. If you set enable.auto.commit to true, then you might also want to control how frequently offsets will be committed using auto.commit.interval.ms.

partition.assignment.strategy

We learned that partitions are assigned to consumers in a consumer group. A PartitionAssignor is a class that, given consumers and topics they subscribed to, decides which partitions will be assigned to which consumer. By default, Kafka has two assignment strategies:

Range

Assigns to each consumer a consecutive subset of partitions from each topic it subscribes to. So if consumers C1 and C2 are subscribed to two topics, T1 and T2, and each of the topics has three partitions, then C1 will be assigned partitions 0 and 1 from topics T1 and T2, while C2 will be assigned partition 2 from those topics. Because each topic has an uneven number of partitions and the assignment is done for each topic independently, the first consumer ends up with more partitions than the second. This happens whenever Range assignment is used and the number of consumers does not divide the number of partitions in each topic neatly.

RoundRobin

Takes all the partitions from all subscribed topics and assigns them to consumers sequentially, one by one. If C1 and C2 described previously used RoundRobin assignment, C1 would have partitions 0 and 2 from topic T1 and partition 1 from topic T2. C2 would have partition 1 from topic T1 and partitions 0 and 2 from topic T2. In general, if all consumers are subscribed to the same topics (a very common scenario), RoundRobin assignment will end up with all consumers having the same number of partitions (or at most 1 partition difference).

The partition.assignment.strategy allows you to choose a partition-assignment strategy. The default is org.apache.kafka.clients.consumer.RangeAssignor, which implements the Range strategy described above. You can replace it with org.apache.kafka.clients.consumer.RoundRobinAssignor. A more advanced option is to implement your own assignment strategy, in which case partition.assignment.strategy should point to the name of your class.

client.id

This can be any string, and will be used by the brokers to identify messages sent from the client. It is used in logging and metrics, and for quotas.

max.poll.records

This controls the maximum number of records that a single call to poll() will return. This is useful to help control the amount of data your application will need to process in the polling loop.

receive.buffer.bytes and send.buffer.bytes

These are the sizes of the TCP send and receive buffers used by the sockets when writing and reading data. If these are set to -1, the OS defaults will be used. It can be a good idea to increase those when producers or consumers communicate with brokers in a different datacenter, because those network links typically have higher latency and lower bandwidth.

Commits and Offsets

Whenever we call poll(), it returns records written to Kafka that consumers in our group have not read yet. This means that we have a way of tracking which records were read by a consumer of the group. As discussed before, one of Kafka’s unique characteristics is that it does not track acknowledgments from consumers the way many JMS queues do. Instead, it allows consumers to use Kafka to track their position (offset) in each partition.

We call the action of updating the current position in the partition a commit.

How does a consumer commit an offset? It produces a message to Kafka, to a special __consumer_offsets topic, with the committed offset for each partition. As long as all your consumers are up, running, and churning away, this will have no impact. However, if a consumer crashes or a new consumer joins the consumer group, this will trigger a rebalance. After a rebalance, each consumer may be assigned a new set of partitions than the one it processed before. In order to know where to pick up the work, the consumer will read the latest committed offset of each partition and continue from there.

If the committed offset is smaller than the offset of the last message the client processed, the messages between the last processed offset and the committed offset will be processed twice. See Figure 4-6.

ktdg 04in06
Figure 4-6. Re-processed messages

If the committed offset is larger than the offset of the last message the client actually processed, all messages between the last processed offset and the committed offset will be missed by the consumer group. See Figure 4-7.

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Figure 4-7. Missed messages between offsets

Clearly, managing offsets has a big impact on the client application. The KafkaConsumer API provides multiple ways of committing offsets:

Automatic Commit

The easiest way to commit offsets is to allow the consumer to do it for you. If you configure enable.auto.commit=true, then every five seconds the consumer will commit the largest offset your client received from poll(). The five-second interval is the default and is controlled by setting auto.commit.interval.ms. Just like everything else in the consumer, the automatic commits are driven by the poll loop. Whenever you poll, the consumer checks if it is time to commit, and if it is, it will commit the offsets it returned in the last poll.

Before using this convenient option, however, it is important to understand the consequences.

Consider that, by default, automatic commits occur every five seconds. Suppose that we are three seconds after the most recent commit and a rebalance is triggered. After the rebalancing, all consumers will start consuming from the last offset committed. In this case, the offset is three seconds old, so all the events that arrived in those three seconds will be processed twice. It is possible to configure the commit interval to commit more frequently and reduce the window in which records will be duplicated, but it is impossible to completely eliminate them.

With autocommit enabled, a call to poll will always commit the last offset returned by the previous poll. It doesn’t know which events were actually processed, so it is critical to always process all the events returned by poll() before calling poll() again. (Just like poll(), close() also commits offsets automatically.) This is usually not an issue, but pay attention when you handle exceptions or exit the poll loop prematurely.

Automatic commits are convenient, but they don’t give developers enough control to avoid duplicate messages.

Commit Current Offset

Most developers exercise more control over the time at which offsets are committed—both to eliminate the possibility of missing messages and to reduce the number of messages duplicated during rebalancing. The consumer API has the option of committing the current offset at a point that makes sense to the application developer rather than based on a timer.

By setting enable.auto.commit=false, offsets will only be committed when the application explicitly chooses to do so. The simplest and most reliable of the commit APIs is commitSync(). This API will commit the latest offset returned by poll() and return once the offset is committed, throwing an exception if commit fails for some reason.

It is important to remember that commitSync() will commit the latest offset returned by poll(), so make sure you call commitSync() after you are done processing all the records in the collection, or you risk missing messages as described previously. When a rebalance is triggered, all the messages from the beginning of the most recent batch until the time of the rebalance will be processed twice.

Here is how we would use commitSync to commit offsets after we finished processing the latest batch of messages:

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
        System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s, offset =
            %d, customer = %s, country = %s\n",
            record.topic(), record.partition(),
            record.offset(), record.key(), record.value()); 1
    }
    try {
        consumer.commitSync(); 2
    } catch (CommitFailedException e) {
        log.error("commit failed", e) 3
    }
}
1

Let’s assume that by printing the contents of a record, we are done processing it. Your application will likely do a lot more with the records—modify them, enrich them, aggregate them, display them on a dashboard, or notify users of important events. You should determine when you are “done” with a record according to your use case.

2

Once we are done “processing” all the records in the current batch, we call commitSync to commit the last offset in the batch, before polling for additional messages.

3

commitSync retries committing as long as there is no error that can’t be recovered. If this happens, there is not much we can do except log an error.

Asynchronous Commit

One drawback of manual commit is that the application is blocked until the broker responds to the commit request. This will limit the throughput of the application. Throughput can be improved by committing less frequently, but then we are increasing the number of potential duplicates that a rebalance will create.

Another option is the asynchronous commit API. Instead of waiting for the broker to respond to a commit, we just send the request and continue on:

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
        System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s,
            offset = %d, customer = %s, country = %s\n",
            record.topic(), record.partition(), record.offset(),
            record.key(), record.value());
    }
    consumer.commitAsync(); 1
}
1

Commit the last offset and carry on.

The drawback is that while commitSync() will retry the commit until it either succeeds or encounters a nonretriable failure, commitAsync() will not retry. The reason it does not retry is that by the time commitAsync() receives a response from the server, there may have been a later commit that was already successful. Imagine that we sent a request to commit offset 2000. There is a temporary communication problem, so the broker never gets the request and therefore never responds. Meanwhile, we processed another batch and successfully committed offset 3000. If commitAsync() now retries the previously failed commit, it might succeed in committing offset 2000 after offset 3000 was already processed and committed. In the case of a rebalance, this will cause more duplicates.

We mention this complication and the importance of correct order of commits, because commitAsync() also gives you an option to pass in a callback that will be triggered when the broker responds. It is common to use the callback to log commit errors or to count them in a metric, but if you want to use the callback for retries, you need to be aware of the problem with commit order:

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
        System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s,
        offset = %d, customer = %s, country = %s\n",
        record.topic(), record.partition(), record.offset(),
        record.key(), record.value());
    }
    consumer.commitAsync(new OffsetCommitCallback() {
        public void onComplete(Map<TopicPartition,
        OffsetAndMetadata> offsets, Exception e) {
            if (e != null)
                log.error("Commit failed for offsets {}", offsets, e);
        }
    }); 1
}
1

We send the commit and carry on, but if the commit fails, the failure and the offsets will be logged.

Retrying Async Commits

A simple pattern to get commit order right for asynchronous retries is to use a monotonically increasing sequence number. Increase the sequence number every time you commit and add the sequence number at the time of the commit to the commitAsync callback. When you’re getting ready to send a retry, check if the commit sequence number the callback got is equal to the instance variable; if it is, there was no newer commit and it is safe to retry. If the instance sequence number is higher, don’t retry because a newer commit was already sent.

Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Commits

Normally, occasional failures to commit without retrying are not a huge problem because if the problem is temporary, the following commit will be successful. But if we know that this is the last commit before we close the consumer, or before a rebalance, we want to make extra sure that the commit succeeds.

Therefore, a common pattern is to combine commitAsync() with commitSync() just before shutdown. Here is how it works (we will discuss how to commit just before rebalance when we get to the section about rebalance listeners):

try {
    while (true) {
        ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
        for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
            System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s, offset = %d,
                customer = %s, country = %s\n",
                record.topic(), record.partition(),
                record.offset(), record.key(), record.value());
        }
        consumer.commitAsync(); 1
    }
} catch (Exception e) {
    log.error("Unexpected error", e);
} finally {
    try {
        consumer.commitSync(); 2
    } finally {
        consumer.close();
    }
}
1

While everything is fine, we use commitAsync. It is faster, and if one commit fails, the next commit will serve as a retry.

2

But if we are closing, there is no “next commit.” We call commitSync(), because it will retry until it succeeds or suffers unrecoverable failure.

Commit Specified Offset

Committing the latest offset only allows you to commit as often as you finish processing batches. But what if you want to commit more frequently than that? What if poll() returns a huge batch and you want to commit offsets in the middle of the batch to avoid having to process all those rows again if a rebalance occurs? You can’t just call commitSync() or commitAsync()—this will commit the last offset returned, which you didn’t get to process yet.

Fortunately, the consumer API allows you to call commitSync() and commitAsync() and pass a map of partitions and offsets that you wish to commit. If you are in the middle of processing a batch of records, and the last message you got from partition 3 in topic “customers” has offset 5000, you can call commitSync() to commit offset 5000 for partition 3 in topic “customers.” Since your consumer may be consuming more than a single partition, you will need to track offsets on all of them, which adds complexity to your code.

Here is what a commit of specific offsets looks like:

private Map<TopicPartition, OffsetAndMetadata> currentOffsets =
    new HashMap<>(); 1
int count = 0;

....

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
        System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s, offset = %d,
            customer = %s, country = %s\n",
            record.topic(), record.partition(), record.offset(),
            record.key(), record.value()); 2
        currentOffsets.put(
            new TopicPartition(record.topic(), record.partition()),
            new OffsetAndMetadata(record.offset()+1, "no metadata")); 3
        if (count % 1000 == 0)   4
            consumer.commitAsync(currentOffsets, null); 5
        count++;
    }
}
1

This is the map we will use to manually track offsets.

2

Remember, println is a stand-in for whatever processing you do for the records you consume.

3

After reading each record, we update the offsets map with the offset of the next message we expect to process. This is where we’ll start reading next time we start.

4

Here, we decide to commit current offsets every 1,000 records. In your application, you can commit based on time or perhaps content of the records.

5

I chose to call commitAsync(), but commitSync() is also completely valid here. Of course, when committing specific offsets you still need to perform all the error handling we’ve seen in previous sections.

Rebalance Listeners

As we mentioned in the previous section about committing offsets, a consumer will want to do some cleanup work before exiting and also before partition rebalancing.

If you know your consumer is about to lose ownership of a partition, you will want to commit offsets of the last event you’ve processed. Perhaps you also need to close file handles, database connections, and such.

The consumer API allows you to run your own code when partitions are added or removed from the consumer. You do this by passing a ConsumerRebalanceListener when calling the subscribe() method we discussed previously. ConsumerRebalanceListener has two methods you can implement:

public void onPartitionsRevoked(Collection<TopicPartition> partitions)

Called before the rebalancing starts and after the consumer stopped consuming messages. This is where you want to commit offsets, so whoever gets this partition next will know where to start.

public void onPartitionsAssigned(Collection<TopicPartition> partitions)

Called after partitions have been reassigned to the broker, but before the consumer starts consuming messages.

This example will show how to use onPartitionsRevoked() to commit offsets before losing ownership of a partition. In the next section we will show a more involved example that also demonstrates the use of onPartitionsAssigned():

private Map<TopicPartition, OffsetAndMetadata> currentOffsets =
    new HashMap<>();

private class HandleRebalance implements ConsumerRebalanceListener { 1
    public void onPartitionsAssigned(Collection<TopicPartition>
        partitions) { 2
    }

    public void onPartitionsRevoked(Collection<TopicPartition> partitions) {
        System.out.println("Lost partitions in rebalance. " +
            "Committing current offsets:" + currentOffsets);
        consumer.commitSync(currentOffsets); 3
    }
}

try {
    consumer.subscribe(topics, new HandleRebalance()); 4

    while (true) {
        ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
        for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
            System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s, offset = %d,
                 customer = %s, country = %s\n",
                 record.topic(), record.partition(), record.offset(),
                 record.key(), record.value());
             currentOffsets.put(
                 new TopicPartition(record.topic(), record.partition()),
                 new OffsetAndMetadata(record.offset()+1, "no metadata"));
        }
        consumer.commitAsync(currentOffsets, null);
    }
} catch (WakeupException e) {
    // ignore, we're closing
} catch (Exception e) {
    log.error("Unexpected error", e);
} finally {
    try {
        consumer.commitSync(currentOffsets);
    } finally {
        consumer.close();
        System.out.println("Closed consumer and we are done");
    }
}
1

We start by implementing a ConsumerRebalanceListener.

2

In this example we don’t need to do anything when we get a new partition; we’ll just start consuming messages.

3

However, when we are about to lose a partition due to rebalancing, we need to commit offsets. Note that we are committing the latest offsets we’ve processed, not the latest offsets in the batch we are still processing. This is because a partition could get revoked while we are still in the middle of a batch. We are committing offsets for all partitions, not just the partitions we are about to lose—because the offsets are for events that were already processed, there is no harm in that. And we are using commitSync() to make sure the offsets are committed before the rebalance proceeds.

4

The most important part: pass the ConsumerRebalanceListener to the subscribe() method so it will get invoked by the consumer.

Consuming Records with Specific Offsets

So far we’ve seen how to use poll() to start consuming messages from the last committed offset in each partition and to proceed in processing all messages in sequence. However, sometimes you want to start reading at a different offset.

If you want to start reading all messages from the beginning of the partition, or you want to skip all the way to the end of the partition and start consuming only new messages, there are APIs specifically for that: seekToBeginning(Collection<TopicPartition> tp) and seekToEnd(Collection<TopicPartition> tp).

However, the Kafka API also lets you seek a specific offset. This ability can be used in a variety of ways; for example, to go back a few messages or skip ahead a few messages (perhaps a time-sensitive application that is falling behind will want to skip ahead to more relevant messages). The most exciting use case for this ability is when offsets are stored in a system other than Kafka.

Think about this common scenario: Your application is reading events from Kafka (perhaps a clickstream of users in a website), processes the data (perhaps remove records that indicate clicks from automated programs rather than users), and then stores the results in a database, NoSQL store, or Hadoop. Suppose that we really don’t want to lose any data, nor do we want to store the same results in the database twice.

In these cases, the consumer loop may look a bit like this:

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
        currentOffsets.put(
            new TopicPartition(record.topic(), record.partition()),
            record.offset());
        processRecord(record);
        storeRecordInDB(record);
        consumer.commitAsync(currentOffsets);
    }
}

In this example, we are very paranoid, so we commit offsets after processing each record. However, there is still a chance that our application will crash after the record was stored in the database but before we committed offsets, causing the record to be processed again and the database to contain duplicates.

This could be avoided if there was a way to store both the record and the offset in one atomic action. Either both the record and the offset are committed, or neither of them are committed. As long as the records are written to a database and the offsets to Kafka, this is impossible.

But what if we wrote both the record and the offset to the database, in one transaction? Then we’ll know that either we are done with the record and the offset is committed or we are not and the record will be reprocessed.

Now the only problem is if the offset is stored in a database and not in Kafka, how will our consumer know where to start reading when it is assigned a partition? This is exactly what seek() can be used for. When the consumer starts or when new partitions are assigned, it can look up the offset in the database and seek() to that location.

Here is a skeleton example of how this may work. We use ConsumerRebalanceLister and seek() to make sure we start processing at the offsets stored in the database:

public class SaveOffsetsOnRebalance implements ConsumerRebalanceListener {

    public void onPartitionsRevoked(Collection<TopicPartition> partitions) {
        commitDBTransaction(); 1
    }

    public void onPartitionsAssigned(Collection<TopicPartition> partitions) {
        for(TopicPartition partition: partitions)
            consumer.seek(partition, getOffsetFromDB(partition)); 2
    }
}


consumer.subscribe(topics, new SaveOffsetOnRebalance(consumer));
consumer.poll(0);

for (TopicPartition partition: consumer.assignment())
    consumer.seek(partition, getOffsetFromDB(partition));   3

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, String> records =
        consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
        processRecord(record);
        storeRecordInDB(record);
        storeOffsetInDB(record.topic(), record.partition(),
            record.offset()); 4
    }
    commitDBTransaction();
}
1

We use an imaginary method here to commit the transaction in the database. The idea here is that the database records and offsets will be inserted to the database as we process the records, and we just need to commit the transactions when we are about to lose the partition to make sure this information is persisted.

2

We also have an imaginary method to fetch the offsets from the database, and then we seek() to those records when we get ownership of new partitions.

3

When the consumer first starts, after we subscribe to topics, we call poll() once to make sure we join a consumer group and get assigned partitions, and then we immediately seek() to the correct offset in the partitions we are assigned to. Keep in mind that seek() only updates the position we are consuming from, so the next poll() will fetch the right messages. If there was an error in seek() (e.g., the offset does not exist), the exception will be thrown by poll().

4

Another imaginary method: this time we update a table storing the offsets in our database. Here we assume that updating records is fast, so we do an update on every record, but commits are slow, so we only commit at the end of the batch. However, this can be optimized in different ways.

There are many different ways to implement exactly-once semantics by storing offsets and data in an external store, but all of them will need to use the ConsumerRebalanceListener and seek() to make sure offsets are stored in time and that the consumer starts reading messages from the correct location.

But How Do We Exit?

Earlier in this chapter, when we discussed the poll loop, I told you not to worry about the fact that the consumer polls in an infinite loop and that we would discuss how to exit the loop cleanly. So, let’s discuss how to exit cleanly.

When you decide to exit the poll loop, you will need another thread to call consumer.wakeup(). If you are running the consumer loop in the main thread, this can be done from ShutdownHook. Note that consumer.wakeup() is the only consumer method that is safe to call from a different thread. Calling wakeup will cause poll() to exit with WakeupException, or if consumer.wakeup() was called while the thread was not waiting on poll, the exception will be thrown on the next iteration when poll() is called. The WakeupException doesn’t need to be handled, but before exiting the thread, you must call consumer.close(). Closing the consumer will commit offsets if needed and will send the group coordinator a message that the consumer is leaving the group. The consumer coordinator will trigger rebalancing immediately and you won’t need to wait for the session to time out before partitions from the consumer you are closing will be assigned to another consumer in the group.

Here is what the exit code will look like if the consumer is running in the main application thread. This example is a bit truncated, but you can view the full example at http://bit.ly/2u47e9A.

Runtime.getRuntime().addShutdownHook(new Thread() {
    public void run() {
        System.out.println("Starting exit...");
        consumer.wakeup(); 1
        try {
            mainThread.join();
        } catch (InterruptedException e) {
            e.printStackTrace();
        }
    }
});

...

try {
    // looping until ctrl-c, the shutdown hook will cleanup on exit
    while (true) {
        ConsumerRecords<String, String> records =
            movingAvg.consumer.poll(1000);
        System.out.println(System.currentTimeMillis() +
            "--  waiting for data...");
        for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
            System.out.printf("offset = %d, key = %s, value = %s\n",
                record.offset(), record.key(), record.value());
        }
        for (TopicPartition tp: consumer.assignment())
            System.out.println("Committing offset at position:" +
                consumer.position(tp));
            movingAvg.consumer.commitSync();
    }
} catch (WakeupException e) {
    // ignore for shutdown 2
} finally {
    consumer.close(); 3
    System.out.println("Closed consumer and we are done");
}
1

ShutdownHook runs in a separate thread, so the only safe action we can take is to call wakeup to break out of the poll loop.

2

Another thread calling wakeup will cause poll to throw a WakeupException. You’ll want to catch the exception to make sure your application doesn’t exit unexpectedly, but there is no need to do anything with it.

3

Before exiting the consumer, make sure you close it cleanly.

Deserializers

As discussed in the previous chapter, Kafka producers require serializers to convert objects into byte arrays that are then sent to Kafka. Similarly, Kafka consumers require deserializers to convert byte arrays received from Kafka into Java objects. In previous examples, we just assumed that both the key and the value of each message are strings and we used the default StringDeserializer in the consumer configuration.

In Chapter 3 about the Kafka producer, we saw how to serialize custom types and how to use Avro and AvroSerializers to generate Avro objects from schema definitions and then serialize them when producing messages to Kafka. We will now look at how to create custom deserializers for your own objects and how to use Avro and its deserializers.

It should be obvious that the serializer used to produce events to Kafka must match the deserializer that will be used when consuming events. Serializing with IntSerializer and then deserializing with StringDeserializer will not end well. This means that as a developer you need to keep track of which serializers were used to write into each topic, and make sure each topic only contains data that the deserializers you use can interpret. This is one of the benefits of using Avro and the Schema Repository for serializing and deserializing—the AvroSerializer can make sure that all the data written to a specific topic is compatible with the schema of the topic, which means it can be deserialized with the matching deserializer and schema. Any errors in compatibility—on the producer or the consumer side—will be caught easily with an appropriate error message, which means you will not need to try to debug byte arrays for serialization errors.

We will start by quickly showing how to write a custom deserializer, even though this is the less common method, and then we will move on to an example of how to use Avro to deserialize message keys and values.

Custom deserializers

Let’s take the same custom object we serialized in Chapter 3, and write a deserializer for it:

public class Customer {
    private int customerID;
    private String customerName;

    public Customer(int ID, String name) {
        this.customerID = ID;
        this.customerName = name;
    }

    public int getID() {
        return customerID;
    }

    public String getName() {
        return customerName;
    }
}

The custom deserializer will look as follows:

import org.apache.kafka.common.errors.SerializationException;

import java.nio.ByteBuffer;
import java.util.Map;

public class CustomerDeserializer implements Deserializer<Customer> { 1

    @Override
    public void configure(Map configs, boolean isKey) {
        // nothing to configure
    }

    @Override
    public Customer deserialize(String topic, byte[] data) {
        int id;
        int nameSize;
        String name;

        try {
            if (data == null)
                return null;
            if (data.length < 8)
                throw new SerializationException("Size of data received " +
                    "by IntegerDeserializer is shorter than expected");

            ByteBuffer buffer = ByteBuffer.wrap(data);
            id = buffer.getInt();
            nameSize = buffer.getInt();

            byte[] nameBytes = new byte[nameSize];
            buffer.get(nameBytes);
            name = new String(nameBytes, "UTF-8");

            return new Customer(id, name); 2

        } catch (Exception e) {
  	    throw new SerializationException("Error when serializing " +
  	        "Customer to byte[] " + e);
        }
    }

    @Override
    public void close() {
        // nothing to close
    }
}
1

The consumer also needs the implementation of the Customer class, and both the class and the serializer need to match on the producing and consuming applications. In a large organization with many consumers and producers sharing access to the data, this can become challenging.

2

We are just reversing the logic of the serializer here—we get the customer ID and name out of the byte array and use them to construct the object we need.

The consumer code that uses this serializer will look similar to this example:

Properties props = new Properties();
props.put("bootstrap.servers", "broker1:9092,broker2:9092");
props.put("group.id", "CountryCounter");
props.put("key.deserializer",
    "org.apache.kafka.common.serialization.StringDeserializer");
props.put("value.deserializer",
    CustomerDeserializer.class.getName());

KafkaConsumer<String, Customer> consumer =
    new KafkaConsumer<>(props);

consumer.subscribe(Collections.singletonList("customerCountries"))

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, Customer> records = consumer.poll(100);
    for (ConsumerRecord<String, Customer> record : records) {
        System.out.println("current customer Id: " +
            record.value().getID() + " and
            current customer name: " +  record.value().getName());
    }
    consumer.commitSync();
}

Again, it is important to note that implementing a custom serializer and deserializer is not recommended. It tightly couples producers and consumers and is fragile and error-prone. A better solution would be to use a standard message format such as JSON, Thrift, Protobuf, or Avro. We’ll now see how to use Avro deserializers with the Kafka consumer. For background on Apache Avro, its schemas, and schema-compatibility capabilities, refer back to Chapter 3.

Using Avro deserialization with Kafka consumer

Let’s assume we are using the implementation of the Customer class in Avro that was shown in Chapter 3. In order to consume those objects from Kafka, you want to implement a consuming application similar to this:

Properties props = new Properties();
props.put("bootstrap.servers", "broker1:9092,broker2:9092");
props.put("group.id", "CountryCounter");
props.put("key.deserializer",
    "org.apache.kafka.common.serialization.StringDeserializer");
props.put("value.deserializer",
    "io.confluent.kafka.serializers.KafkaAvroDeserializer"); 1
props.put("schema.registry.url", schemaUrl); 2
String topic = "customerContacts"

KafkaConsumer<String, Customer> consumer =
    new KafkaConsumer<>(props);
consumer.subscribe(Collections.singletonList(topic));

System.out.println("Reading topic:" + topic);

while (true) {
    ConsumerRecords<String, Customer> records = consumer.poll(1000); 3

    for (ConsumerRecord<String, Customer> record: records) {
        System.out.println("Current customer name is: " +
            record.value().getName()); 4
    }
    consumer.commitSync();
}
1

We use KafkaAvroDeserializer to deserialize the Avro messages.

2

schema.registry.url is a new parameter. This simply points to where we store the schemas. This way the consumer can use the schema that was registered by the producer to deserialize the message.

3

We specify the generated class, Customer, as the type for the record value.

4

record.value() is a Customer instance and we can use it accordingly.

Standalone Consumer: Why and How to Use a Consumer Without a Group

So far, we have discussed consumer groups, which are where partitions are assigned automatically to consumers and are rebalanced automatically when consumers are added or removed from the group. Typically, this behavior is just what you want, but in some cases you want something much simpler. Sometimes you know you have a single consumer that always needs to read data from all the partitions in a topic, or from a specific partition in a topic. In this case, there is no reason for groups or rebalances—just assign the consumer-specific topic and/or partitions, consume messages, and commit offsets on occasion.

When you know exactly which partitions the consumer should read, you don’t subscribe to a topic—instead, you assign yourself a few partitions. A consumer can either subscribe to topics (and be part of a consumer group), or assign itself partitions, but not both at the same time.

Here is an example of how a consumer can assign itself all partitions of a specific topic and consume from them:

List<PartitionInfo> partitionInfos = null;
partitionInfos = consumer.partitionsFor("topic"); 1

if (partitionInfos != null) {
    for (PartitionInfo partition : partitionInfos)
        partitions.add(new TopicPartition(partition.topic(),
            partition.partition()));
    consumer.assign(partitions); 2

    while (true) {
        ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(1000);

        for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record: records) {
            System.out.printf("topic = %s, partition = %s, offset = %d,
                customer = %s, country = %s\n",
                record.topic(), record.partition(), record.offset(),
                record.key(), record.value());
        }
        consumer.commitSync();
    }
}
1

We start by asking the cluster for the partitions available in the topic. If you only plan on consuming a specific partition, you can skip this part.

2

Once we know which partitions we want, we call assign() with the list.

Other than the lack of rebalances and the need to manually find the partitions, everything else is business as usual. Keep in mind that if someone adds new partitions to the topic, the consumer will not be notified. You will need to handle this by checking consumer.partitionsFor() periodically or simply by bouncing the application whenever partitions are added.

Older Consumer APIs

In this chapter we discussed the Java KafkaConsumer client that is part of the org.apache.kafka.clients package. At the time of writing, Apache Kafka still has two older clients written in Scala that are part of the kafka.consumer package, which is part of the core Kafka module. These consumers are called SimpleConsumer (which is not very simple). SimpleConsumer is a thin wrapper around the Kafka APIs that allows you to consume from specific partitions and offsets. The other old API is called high-level consumer or ZookeeperConsumerConnector. The high-level consumer is somewhat similar to the current consumer in that it has consumer groups and it rebalances partitions, but it uses Zookeeper to manage consumer groups and does not give you the same control over commits and rebalances as we have now.

Because the current consumer supports both behaviors and provides much more reliability and control to the developer, we will not discuss the older APIs. If you are interested in using them, please think twice and then refer to Apache Kafka documentation to learn more.

Summary

We started this chapter with an in-depth explanation of Kafka’s consumer groups and the way they allow multiple consumers to share the work of reading events from topics. We followed the theoretical discussion with a practical example of a consumer subscribing to a topic and continuously reading events. We then looked into the most important consumer configuration parameters and how they affect consumer behavior. We dedicated a large part of the chapter to discussing offsets and how consumers keep track of them. Understanding how consumers commit offsets is critical when writing reliable consumers, so we took time to explain the different ways this can be done. We then discussed additional parts of the consumer APIs, handling rebalances and closing the consumer.

We concluded by discussing the deserializers used by consumers to turn bytes stored in Kafka into Java objects that the applications can process. We discussed Avro deserializers in some detail, even though they are just one type of deserializer you can use, because these are most commonly used with Kafka.

Now that you know how to produce and consume events with Kafka, the next chapter explains some of the internals of a Kafka implementation.

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