Consumer-Queue Interactions

This article overviews implementation behind interactions between consumers and queue.


The main players are

  • Queue - model object providing the messaging queue functionality.
    • QueueConsumerManager - queue entity responsible for managing queue consumers
  • Consumers - queue consumers

The ConsumerTarget is the broker-side representation of a consuming client. Due to multi-queue consumers a ConsumerTarget has one or more Consumers associated with one Queue each. It is this Consumer that interacts with the Queue.


A Queue is responsible for notification of at least one interested Consumer when there is work to be done (message to consume).

A Consumer is responsible for notification of its Queue when it is ready to do some work (for example, consume messages). When notified by a Queue of available work, a Consumer MUST try to pull messages of said Queue until either it notifies the Queue that it is no longer interested OR there are no more messages available on the Queue (i.e., the Queue does not return a message).

Simple Example

  1. Message arrives on the Queue
  2. The Queue notifies some of interested Consumers that there is work to be done
  3. The Consumers notify their ConsumerTarget that they would like to do work
  4. The ConsumerTargets notify their Sessions that they would like to do work
  5. The Sessions notify their Connections that they would like to do work
  6. The Connections schedule themselves. This is the switch from the incoming Thread to the IO-Thread.
  7. The Scheduler kicks off a IO-Thread to process the work of a Connection
  8. The Connection iterates over its Sessions that want to do work
  9. The Sessions iterate over its ConsumerTargets that want to do work
  10. The ConsumerTargets iterate over its Consumers that want to do work
  11. The Consumer tries to pulls a message from the Queue
  12. If successful, the message is put on the IO-buffer to be sent down the wire

Threading Model

The consuming part is always invoked from the consuming connection‘s IO-Thread whereas the publishing part might be invoked from different threads (producing connection’s IO-Thread, Housekeeping thread for held or TTLed messages, a consuming connection's IO-Thread in case for message reject).

Therefore, the interfaces between Consumers and the Queue MUST be thread-safe and SHOULD be lock free.

Interfaces Between Consumers and Queues

These are the interfaces between Consumers and Queues and the scenarios when they are called.

  • AbstractQueue#setNotifyWorkDesired Called by the Consumer to notify the Queue whether it is interested in doing work or not.
    • FlowControl
    • Credit
    • TCP backpressure
  • QueueConsumer#notifyWork Called by the Queue to notify the Consumer that there is potentially work available.
    • Consumer becomes Interested
    • A new message arrives
    • A previously unavailable (acquired, held, blocked by message grouping) message becomes available
    • A notified consumer did not do the work we expected it to do we need to notify someone else
    • A high priority consumer becomes uninterested and thus allows a low priority consumer to consume messages
  • AbstractQueue#deliverSingleMessage Called by the Consumer to get a message from the Queue.
    • A consumer was notified and now tries to pull a message of a queue

QueueConsumerManager internals

The QueueConsumerManager (QCM for short) keeps track of the state of Consumers from the perspective of the Queue. It shares and decides which Consumer to notify of work with the Queue. To do this in a performant way it maintains a number of lists and moves Consumers between those lists to indicate state change. The lists it maintains are:

  • All (all queue consumers)
  • NonAcquiring
  • NotInterested
  • Interested
  • Notified

Typically we want these lists to be thread-safe and give us O(1) access/deletion if we know the element and O(1) size information. Unfortunately there is no data structure in the Java standard library with those characteristics which is why they are based on our own data structure QueueConsumerNodeList.


The QueueConsumerNodeList is the underlying data structure of all of QCM‘s lists. It is thread-safe and allows O(1) appending and given you have a pointer to an entry O(1) deletion. It is essentially a singly linked list. To achieve O(1) deletion entries are marked for deletion but only actually removed upon the next iteration. The rationale being that, to delete an entry you would need to update the previous entry’s “next” pointer but to get to the previous element you would need a doubly linked list which it impossible to maintain in a thread-safe way without locking. Special care must be taken when removing elements from the tail since we keep an explicit reference to it in the QueueConsumerNodeList to achieve O(1) appending. The data structure in the QueueConsumerNodeList are called QueueConsumerNodeListEntries which themselves have a reference to a QueueConsumerNode which is the persistent entity that moves between QCM's lists and has a reference to the QueueConsumer. The QueueConsumer itself also has a reference to the QueueConsumerNode to enable O(1) deletion given a Consumer. This tightly couples the QueueConsumer and QCM classes.

The “All” List

The All list contains all Consumers registered with the Queue. Consumers are added to this list when they are created and only removed when the Consumer is closed. This list is necessary to be able to iterate over all consumers in a thread-safe way without locking. The danger of using several lists instead of a single All list is that you might miss a Consumer if it moves between lists during iteration.

The “NonAcquiring” List

This is a list of Consumers that do not acquire messages for example Queue Browsers. These need to be handled separately because they should always be notified about new messages. Where they kept in the same list as the acquiring consumers we would have to iterate of the entire list to make sure we did not miss a non-acquiring consumer. Non-acquiring consumers can only move between the “NonAcquiring” and “NotInterested” lists.

The “NotInterested” List

This list contains all Consumers that indicated to the Queue that they currently are not interested in doing any work (i.e., taking messages). This typically happens when a Consumer/Connection is suspended due to FlowControl/TCP backpressure. The main purpose of this list is to avoid spurious wake-ups of Consumers which we know are not going to do any work.

The “Interested” List

This is the default list for acquiring Consumers. It signifies that they are ready to process messages. When a message becomes available, the Queue will notify Consumers from this list and move them to the “Notified” list. It will only notify a single interested Consumer to avoid spurious wake-ups.

The “Notified” List

Once an acquiring Consumer is notified that there is work to do it is moved from the “Interested” list to the “Notified” list. The QCM expects such a Consumer to either indicate that it is no longer interested (e.g., it became suspended in the meantime and therefore will not do the work we expected it to) or call AbstractQueue#deliverSingleMessage. The Consumer should remain in the “Notified” list and continue to call deliverSingleMessage until deliverSingleMessage cannot deliver a message to it any more, in which case it is moved to the back of the “Interested” list. This is to decrease latency due to wake-ups when there continues to be work available (i.e., there is a steady stream of messages). Appending it to the end of the “Interested” list ensures some level of fairness. Note that this is not perfect. It is possible that a consumer is notified but at the time it tries to pull a message of the Queue there no longer is a message available and the Consumer is returned to the end of the “Interested” list without having done work. The assumption is that while this may happen it is unlikely to always happen to the same consumer leading to a kind of “asymptotic fairness”.

Handling Consumer Priorities

When deciding which Consumer to notify the QCM should take consumer priorities into account. To do this in a performant way it maintains a QueueConsumerNodeList per consumer priority in a list of PriorityConsumerListPairs. This ensures that iteration of the Interested list happens in the right order and lookup of consumers with higher priority can be performed efficiently.