Kafka Message Queue

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Using kmq you can acknowledge processing of individual messages in Kafka, and have unacknowledged messages re-delivered after a timeout.

This is in contrast to the usual Kafka offset-committing mechanism, using which you can acknowledge all messages up to a given offset only.

If you are familiar with Amazon SQS, kmq implements a similar message processing model.

How does this work?

For a more in-depth overview see the blog: Using Kafka as a message queue, and for performance benchmarks: Kafka with selective acknowledgments (kmq) performance & latency benchmark

The acknowledgment mechanism uses a marker topic, which should have the same number of partitions as the "main" data topic (called the queue topic). The marker topic is used to track which messages have been processed, by writing start/end markers for every message.

message flow diagram

Using kmq

An application using kmq should consist of the following components:

  • a number of RedeliveryTrackers. This components consumes the marker topic and redelivers messages if appropriate. Multiple copies should be started in a cluster for fail-over. Uses automatic partition assignment.
  • components which send data to the queue topic to be processed
  • queue clients, either custom or using the KmqClient

Maven/SBT dependency


"com.softwaremill.kmq" %% "core" % "0.3.1"



Note: The supported Scala versions are: 2.12, 2.13.

Client flow

The flow of processing a message is as follows:

  1. read messages from the queue topic, in batches
  2. write a start marker to the markers topic for each message, wait until the markers are written
  3. commit the biggest message offset to the queue topic
  4. process messages
  5. for each message, write an end marker. No need to wait until the markers are written.

This ensures at-least-once processing of each message. Note that the acknowledgment of each message (writing the end marker) can be done for each message separately, out-of-order, from a different thread, server or application.

Example code

There are three example applications:

  • example-java/embedded: a single java application that starts all three components (sender, client, redelivery tracker)
  • example-java/standalone: three separate runnable classes to start the different components
  • example-scala: an implementation of the client using reactive-kafka

Time & timestamps

How time is handled is crucial for message redelivery, as messages are redelivered after a given amount of time passes since the start marker was sent.

To track what was sent when, kmq uses Kafka's message timestamp. By default, this is messages create time (message.timestamp.type=CreateTime), but for the markers topic, it is advisable to switch this to LogAppendTime. That way, the timestamps more closely reflect when the markers are really written to the log, and are guaranteed to be monotonic in each partition (which is important for redelivery - see below).

To calculate which messages should be redelivered, we need to know the value of "now", to check which start markers have been sent later than the configured timeout. When a marker has been received from a partition recently, the maximum such timestamp is used as the value of "now" - as it indicates exactly how far we are in processing the partition. What "recently" means depends on the useNowForRedeliverDespiteNoMarkerSeenForMs config setting. Otherwise, the current system time is used, as we assume that all markers from the partition have been processed.

Dead letter queue (DMQ)

The redelivery of the message is attempted only a configured number of times. By default, it's 3. You can change that number by setting maxRedeliveryCount value in KmqConfig. After that number is exceeded messages will be forwarded to a topic working as a dead letter queue. By default, the name of that topic is name of the message topic concatenated with the suffix __undelivered. You can configure the name by setting deadLetterTopic in KmqConfig. The number of redeliveries is tracked by kmq with a special header. The default the name of that header is kmq-redelivery-count. You can change it by setting redeliveryCountHeader in KmqConfig.