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Acknowledgments and redelivery

Consumers may crash at any time, so it could happen that a broker delivers a message to a consumer but the consumer never processes it, or only partially processes it before crashing. In order to ensure that the message is not lost, message brokers use acknowledgments: a client must explicitly tell the broker when it has finished processing a message so that the broker can remove it from the queue.

If the connection to a client is closed or times out without the broker receiving an acknowledgment, it assumes that the message was not processed, and therefore it delivers the message again to another consumer. (Note that it could happen that the message actually was fully processed, but the acknowledgment was lost in the network. Handling this case requires an atomic commit protocol, as discussed in “Distributed Transactions in Practice” on page 360.)

When combined with load balancing, this redelivery behavior has an interesting effect on the ordering of messages. In Figure 11-2, the consumers generally process messages in the order they were sent by producers. However, consumer 2 crashes while processing message m3, at the same time as consumer 1 is processing message m4. The unacknowledged message m3 is subsequently redelivered to consumer 1, with the result that consumer 1 processes messages in the order m4, m3, m5. Thus, m3 and m4 are not delivered in the same order as they were sent by producer 1.

Consumer 2 crashes while processing m3, so it is redelivered to consumer 1 at a later time

Figure 11-2. Consumer 2 crashes while processing m3, so it is redelivered to consumer 1 at a later time.

Even if the message broker otherwise tries to preserve the order of messages (as required by both the JMS and AMQP standards), the combination of load balancing with redelivery inevitably leads to messages being reordered. To avoid this issue, you can use a separate queue per consumer (i.e., not use the load balancing feature). Message reordering is not a problem if messages are completely independent of each other, but it can be important if there are causal dependencies between messages, as we shall see later in the chapter.

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