A few days ago, I asked the RabbitMq community for input on what is missing in todays high level .NET clients. One of the topics that came up was the ability to control the concurrency of messages consumed. This has been discussed before, so I thought I’d implement it for RawRabbit.

A common reason for wanting to throttle the number of concurrent messages handled is that a high message rate may affect the overall prestandard of the system. If the throughput is in the range of thousands messages per second, and each message involves one or more database read/writes it can easely put unnecessary pressure on the system.

## The right tool for the job

There are a few different approaches to manage concurrency. The TPL Dataflow library is widely used, and offers control through classes like ActionBlock<T>. The problem with using an external library right off is that it adds a required and (potentially) unwanted dependency to the project that couples the solution to that specific library.

The approach that provides most flexibility is to allow the user to register an action or func that is called when a message is received, that in turn is responsible for the throttle. This way, the user can decide on a home rolled locking solutions, a “limited” task factory with custom task schedulers or any external library.

The right tool is the tool is whatever the caller wants to use.

### Deciding on a default

As a default, a SemaphoreSlim suffices for concurrency management. This is what Stephen Cleary proposed as an option to TPL at Stack Overflow “TPL Dataflow is great, especially if you’re looking to limit work in one part of a larger pipeline. However, […] it sounds more like you really do just have one action that you need to throttle.”. The same is true for our message consume, there is only one action that we need to throttle.

The basic usage of a SemaphoreSlim is pretty straight-forward

    var semaphore = new SemaphoreSlim(1,1);
await semaphore.WaitAsync();
/* entered */
semaphore.Release();


There are two features of the SemaphoreSlim that I want to highlight. The first is that it allows for task based execution. Ever tried to use the async keyword in a lock statements? Your code wouldn’t compile, as it is simply not allowed1. There is no compile time error when using Monitor.Enter(obj) together with tasks, but you get a runtime error if you try to exit on a different thread (which isn’t surprising since they are precisely equivalent.)

Secondly, semaphores are not exclusive lock mechanisms. The constructor declares the initial number of requests that can be granted, the second parameter is the maximum concurrent requests. If you’re confused over the concept, there are several answers at stack overflow that clarifies further.

One very important detail when working with semaphores is to always release the lock after the execution. The reason for this is simple: if multiple threads enters but gets interrupted (by exceptions or other) before they get the change to release, the semaphore will be locked indefinitely.

## Under the hood

By adding a ThrottledExecutionFunc to the IPipeContext2, it can be retrieved when setting up the consumer. When a message is received, the throttle function is called]. This is the implementation of the middleware that handles message consume.

public override Task InvokeAsync(IPipeContext context, CancellationToken token)
{
var consumer = ConsumeFunc(context);
var throttlingFunc = GetThrottlingFunc(context);
consumer.OnMessage((sender, args) =>
{
throttlingFunc(() => InvokeConsumePipeAsync(context, args, token), token);
});

return Next.InvokeAsync(context, token);
}


The signature of the throttle function is Action<Func<Task>, CancellationToken> and defaults to immediate execution (not throttled). This means that be default there is no message throttling.

## Client invokation

How should the semaphore be exposed in the main interface IBusClient? The ambition has always been to keep the it intuitive, and concepts like message throttling is more of an advanced topic. My first thought was to extend the existing, optional configuration builders that are used to tweak just about any aspect of the consume. However, I was a bit hesitant to add the functionality there, as the methods only reflect options from the underlying RabbitMQ.Client.

I had to do something, so I added another optional action for IPipeContext that could manipulate the pipe context. With the cancellation token, the method now had three optional parameters, which is too much. It was then that I realized the I could move the configuration action to the pipe context action. The result was pretty neat

await subscriber.SubscribeAsync<BasicMessage>(async recieved =>
{

// code goes here.

}, ctx => ctx
.UseThrottledConsume((func, token) => func()) // immediate execution
.UseConsumerConfiguration(cfg => cfg
.Consume(c => c
.WithRoutingKey("custom_key")
.WithConsumerTag("custom_tag")
.WithPrefetchCount(2)
.WithNoLocal(false))
.FromDeclaredQueue(q => q
.WithName("custom_queue")
.WithAutoDelete()
.OnDeclaredExchange(e=> e
.WithName("custom_exchange")
.WithType(ExchangeType.Topic))
));


In addition to the above example, there are extension methods for using the default implementation; either through UseConsumerConcurrency(3) (creates new semaphore) or by providing a semaphore explicitly UseConsumeSemaphore(semaphore). This opens up for users to write custom logic for which semaphore to use/reuse. This has some interesting implications. If the same semaphore is used across the application, the throttling will be “global”. The user can provide throttling semaphores for the message types that are prone to put heavy load on the system. If a semaphore is provided with max concurrency set to 1, the message consume will be sequential which might make sense when the execution order is important.

The fact that the caller provides the throttle func is what makes this a powerful feature, with minimal complexity in the client.

## Unexpected synergies

The approach with fluent actions on the IPipeContext also opened up for invocation overrides of the client configuration.

await secondSubscriber.SubscribeAsync<BasicMessage>(async msg =>
{

// code goes here.

}, ctx => ctx
.UseApplicationQueueSuffix() // application name based on .exe
.UseHostnameQueueSuffix() // hostname based on Environment
.UseCustomQueueSuffix("custom") // custom suffix
);


Other examples includes changing the request timeout and publish acknowledge.

The control over messaging will be even more granular in 2.0. The client comes with a set of default configurations that “makes sense” in most cases. They can be overridden by providing a custom RawRabbitConfiguration. However that configuration can also be overridden for specific calls by using the fluent builder.

#### Footnotes

1. “an await expression cannot occur in the body of a synchronous function, in a query expression, in the block of a lock statement, or in an unsafe context”