Using Amazon SQS Dead-Letter Queues to Control Message Failure
Sometimes, messages can’t be processed because of a variety of possible issues, such as erroneous conditions within the producer or consumer application. For example, if a user places an order within a certain number of minutes of creating an account, the producer might pass a message with an empty string instead of a customer identifier. Occasionally, producers and consumers might fail to interpret aspects of the protocol that they use to communicate, causing message corruption or loss. Also, the consumer’s hardware errors might corrupt message payload. For these reasons, messages that can’t be processed in a timely manner are delivered to a dead-letter message queue.
The recent post Building Scalable Applications and Microservices: Adding Messaging to Your Toolbox gives an overview of messaging in the microservice architecture of modern applications. This post explains how and when you should use dead-letter queues to gain better control over message handling in your applications. It also offers some resources for configuring a dead-letter message queue in Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS).
What are the benefits of dead-letter queues?
The main task of a dead-letter queue is handling message failure. A dead-letter queue lets you set aside and isolate messages that can’t be processed correctly to determine why their processing didn’t succeed. Setting up a dead-letter queue allows you to do the following:
- Configure an alarm for any messages delivered to a dead-letter queue.
- Examine logs for exceptions that might have caused messages to be delivered to a dead-letter queue.
- Analyze the contents of messages delivered to a dead-letter queue to diagnose software or the producer’s or consumer’s hardware issues.
- Determine whether you have given your consumer sufficient time to process messages.
How do high-throughput, unordered queues handle message failure?
High-throughput, unordered queues (sometimes called standard or storage queues) keep processing messages until the expiration of the retention period. This helps ensure continuous processing of messages, which minimizes the chances of your queue being blocked by messages that can’t be processed. It also ensures fast recovery for your queue.
In a system that processes thousands of messages, having a large number of messages that the consumer repeatedly fails to acknowledge and delete might increase costs and place extra load on the hardware. Instead of trying to process failing messages until they expire, it is better to move them to a dead-letter queue after a few processing attempts.
Note: This queue type often allows a high number of in-flight messages. If the majority of your messages can’t be consumed and aren’t sent to a dead-letter queue, your rate of processing valid messages can slow down. Thus, to maintain the efficiency of your queue, you must ensure that your application handles message processing correctly.
How do FIFO queues handle message failure?
FIFO (first-in-first-out) queues (sometimes called service bus queues) help ensure exactly-once processing by consuming messages in sequence from a message group. Thus, although the consumer can continue to retrieve ordered messages from another message group, the first message group remains unavailable until the message blocking the queue is processed successfully.
Note: This queue type often allows a lower number of in-flight messages. Thus, to help ensure that your FIFO queue doesn’t get blocked by a message, you must ensure that your application handles message processing correctly.
When should I use a dead-letter queue?
- Do use dead-letter queues with high-throughput, unordered queues. You should always take advantage of dead-letter queues when your applications don’t depend on ordering. Dead-letter queues can help you troubleshoot incorrect message transmission operations. Note: Even when you use dead-letter queues, you should continue to monitor your queues and retry sending messages that fail for transient reasons.
- Do use dead-letter queues to decrease the number of messages and to reduce the possibility of exposing your system to poison-pill messages (messages that can be received but can’t be processed).
- Don’t use a dead-letter queue with high-throughput, unordered queues when you want to be able to keep retrying the transmission of a message indefinitely. For example, don’t use a dead-letter queue if your program must wait for a dependent process to become active or available.
- Don’t use a dead-letter queue with a FIFO queue if you don’t want to break the exact order of messages or operations. For example, don’t use a dead-letter queue with instructions in an Edit Decision List (EDL) for a video editing suite, where changing the order of edits changes the context of subsequent edits.
How do I get started with dead-letter queues in Amazon SQS?
Amazon SQS is a fully managed service that offers reliable, highly scalable hosted queues for exchanging messages between applications or microservices. Amazon SQS moves data between distributed application components and helps you decouple these components. It supports both standard queues and FIFO queues. To configure a queue as a dead-letter queue, you can use the AWS Management Console or the Amazon SQS
SetQueueAttributes API action.
To get started with dead-letter queues in Amazon SQS, see the following topics in the Amazon SQS Developer Guide:
To start working with dead-letter queues programmatically, see the following resources: