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Delayed queue in Java and Redis

Java *
Original author: Sergey Galkin

Several years ago we had to solve how to enqueue events with an arbitrary delay, e.g. check a status of a payment 3 hours later, or send notification to a client in 45 minutes. At that point of time, we didn't find suitable libraries to accomplish this task, which didn't require us to spend time on configuration and maintenance. After analysing possible solutions we ended up building our own small library delayed queue in Java language on top of Redis storage engine. In this article I'll explain capabilities of this library, alternatives and problems we solved during creation process.


So what exactly is delayed queue capable of? An event, added to delayed queue, is delivered to a handler after arbitrary delay. If event handling is unsuccessful, it would be delivered again later. However, the number of retries is limited. Redis does not provide any resilient guarantees, thus users should be prepared to deal with this. Regardless, in clustered configuration Redis shows sufficiently high reliability and we haven't faced any issues during 1.5 years of usage.


Add an event to a queue

eventService.enqueueWithDelayNonBlocking(new DummyEvent("1"), Duration.ofHours(1)).subscribe();

Please beware, that the method returns Mono, so you have to call one of the methods below to launch execution:

  • subscribe(...)
  • block()

More details on this could be found in the documentation of Project Reactor. Event context could be added in the following manner:

eventService.enqueueWithDelayNonBlocking(new DummyEvent("1"), Duration.ofHours(1), Map.of("key", "value")).subscribe();

Register an event handler

eventService.addHandler(DummyEvent.class, e -> Mono.just(true), 1);

the same action, but with event context:

        e -> Mono
            .doOnNext(ctx -> {
                Map<String, String> eventContext = ctx.get("eventContext");
                log.info("context key {}", eventContext.get("key"));

Remove event handler


Create service

You can rely on defaults:

import static com.github.fred84.queue.DelayedEventService.delayedEventService;

var eventService = delayedEventService().client(redisClient).build();

or configure everything by yourself:

import static com.github.fred84.queue.DelayedEventService.delayedEventService;

var eventService = delayedEventService()
        .eventContextHandler(new DefaultEventContextHandler())
        .metrics(new NoopMetrics())

Shutting down the service (and all open connections to Redis) could be done via eventService.close() or framework with support for the lifecycle annotation @javax.annotation.PreDestroy.


Any system is prone to face faults and we have to monitor it. For delayed queue we should look out for:

  • Redis overall memory usage
  • size of list for every event type ("delayed.queue.ready.for.handling.count" + a tag with event type)


Here is a brief overview on how delayed queue evolved over time. In 2018, we launched our small project in Amazon Web Services. Only 2 engineers were in charge of this project, so adding more components, which required configuration and maintenance was discouraged. The main aim was "to use components managed by AWS unless they were too pricey".

Possible candidates

The first two were rejected due to maintenance requirements. The last one (SQS) was not considered as the maximum delay could not be bigger than 15 minutes.

Overlooked candidates

Unfortunately, we missed some libraries, which could have solved our needs and were discovered much-much later:

The first one uses the same technology stack (Java and Redis), the latter is built on top of ActiveMQ.

First naive implementation

Initially, we already had a backup mechanism with polling a relational database once a day. After reading several articles on organising simple delayed queues, we decided to build our solution around Redis, not RDBMS. The structure inside Redis is as following:

  • an event is added to sorted sets, where weight serves as future execution time
  • once weight becomes lower that now, the event is moved from sorted_set to list (which could be used as a queue with push and pop methods)

First version of the dispatcher, responsible for moving events from sorted set to list was:
(simplified code is shown here and after):

var events = redis.zrangebyscore("delayed_events", Range.create(-1, System.currentTimeMillis()), 100);
events.forEach(key -> {
  var payload = extractPayload(key);
  var listName = extractType(key);
  redis.lpush(listName, payload);
  redis.zrem("delayed_events", key);

Event handlers were built on top of Spring Integration,
which executed the following command under the hood:


The first problems came soon.

Unreliable dispatcher

If an error appeared in the process of adding an element to the list (e.g. a connection timeout after the element was added), the dispatcher retried to do this operation, which resulted in multiple copies of an event being added to the list. Luckily, Redis supports transactions, so we wrapped the 2 commands above into transaction.

events.forEach(key -> {
  redis.zrem("delayed_events", key);
  redis.lpush(listName, payload);

Unreliable handler

On the other side of the list lurked another problem. If a handler failed, an event would be lost forever. As a solution, we chose to reschedule an event to a later period of time (unless a maximum number of attempts had been reached) and delete it only after successful processing by the handler.

events.forEach(key -> {
  redis.zadd("delayed_events", nextAttempt(key))
  redis.zrem("delayed_events", key);
  redis.lpush(listName, payload);

Non-unique event

As I mentioned before, we already had the fallback mechanism, which polled RDBMS and re-added all "pending" entities to delayed queue. At that time, key in sorted set was structured as metadata;payload, with a mutable metadata (e.g. an attempt number, a log context, ...) and an immutable payload. So again, it resulted in multiple copies of an event being added to the list. To solve this problem, we moved metadata;payload to new structure Redis hset and kept only
event type + event id as a key in sorted set. Consequently, event enqueueing transformed from:

var envelope = metadata + SEPARATOR + payload;
redis.zadd(envelope, scheduledAt);


var envelope = metadata + SEPARATOR + payload;
var key = eventType + SEPARATOR + eventId;

redis.zadd(key, scheduledAt);
redis.hset("metadata", key, envelope)

Sequential dispatcher launch

All our handlers were idempotent, so we didn't pay much attention to event duplicates. However, there was still room for improvement. The dispatchers were running on all our application instances and from time to time were launched simultaneously. This again resulted in duplicate events in list. The solution was the trivial lock with small TTL:

redis.set(lockKey, "value", ex(lockTimeout.toMillis() * 1000).nx());

Fork into independent project

When the necessity for using delayed queue in a project without Spring emerged, we moved it to a standalone project. To accomplish it, we were forced to remove the following dependencies:

The first one was easily replaced with the Lettuce Redis driver. The second led to much more changes. At that point of time I had already acquired some experience working with reactive streams in general and with Project Reactor in particular. So we chose "hot stream" as a source for our handlers.
To achieve the uniform distribution of events among handlers on different application instances we had to implement our own Subscriber:

  .brpop(timeout, queue)
  .map(e -> deserialize(e))
  .subscribe(new InnerSubscriber<>(handler, ... params ..))


class InnerSubscriber<T extends Event> extends BaseSubscriber<EventEnvelope<T>> {

    protected void hookOnNext(@NotNull EventEnvelope<T> envelope) {
        Mono<Boolean> promise = handler.apply(envelope.getPayload());
        promise.subscribe(r -> request(1));

As a result, we created a library, which delivers events to registered handlers (unlike Netflix dyno queue, where you have to poll a storage for events).

What's next?

  • add Kotlin DSL. Currently, our new projects are created in Kotlin language, so it would be handy to use suspend fun instead of
    direct interaction with Project Reactor API
  • add configurable intervals for retries
  • replace Redis transactions with LUA script

Tags: javaredisreactor
Hubs: Java
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