Queue Centric Work Pattern

The Queue Centric Work Pattern (QCWP) is simple. Send a message declaring the intent of the command, acknowledge the message and proceed. All work takes place in a background process so the user is not kept waiting for the request to return. Acknowledgement usually takes the form of persistence to ensure that no messages are lost. Real life examples of the QCWP in action would be the sending of an email or the confirmation of an order being accepted from an online retailer.

The QCWP will introduce the concept of eventual consistency, which surprisingly is not an issue in most cases. The queue itself should be implemented via some form of message queue that handles some of the more complicated technical issues regarding message meta data, routing, persistence and so on. Once a message queue has been chosen the code required to implement QCWP does not differ to far from simple request-response examples in terms of both complexity and lines of code.

Benefits

Reduced Latency

Transferring the message, confirming acknowledgement and returning to user with some form of confirmation can be very quick. If the process is long running, it can be vastly quicker to use the QCWP. Even for low latency scenarios, the use of the QCWP introduces other benefits.

Retry

If something fails you can retry the command in a background process. Nothing is lost when one or more systems are down. If the command fails consistently, then you can simply notify the user or perform some other compensating action.

Decoupled

If one system is offline the message is just stored and the queue builds up. Once back online the queue will be emptied. The temporal coupling between the two systems is now removed. Coupling has been reduced so much that you can switch consumer with another system and the client would be unaware as long as the message formats remain the same. This allows different languages to read and populate the queues.

Scaling

To increase throughput you can simple introduce a competing consumer until the appropriate amount of messages is handled within a SLA boundary. The inverse is also true. The QCWP allows throttling. Rather than peak load from web server traffic hitting the back end services, these can be scaled independently. As the consumer of the messages will handle each message at its own pace, there is no chance that other dependencies such as databases would become overwhelmed.

Downsides

These benefits don't come for free however. The main issue with the QCWP is the time it takes to get to grips with this change of conceptual model. Testing asynchronous code is a lot harder, introducing problems such as polling shared resources for changes. The very same issue means simply debugging asynchronous systems can be challenging even with good monitoring and auditing in place.

Conclusion

QCWP was a real change in terms of how I think about two services communicating. This change in pattern is not hard, merely different. Once you adjust to the challenges, the benefits enable some truly resilient systems when communication must occur out of process.