Handling bad messages using Kafka's Streams API

Solution 1:

Right now, Kafka Streams offers only limited error handling capabilities. There is work in progress to simplify this. For now, your overall approach seems to be a good way to go.

One comment about handling de/serialization errors: handling those error manually, requires you to do de/serialization "manually". This means, you need to configure ByteArraySerdes for key and value for you input/output topic of your Streams app and add a map() that does the de/serialization (ie, KStream<byte[],byte[]> -> map() -> KStream<keyType,valueType> -- or the other way round if you also want to catch serialization exceptions). Otherwise, you cannot try-catch deserialization exceptions.

With your current approach, you "only" validate that the given string represents a valid document -- but it could be the case, that the message itself is corrupted and cannot be converted into a String in the source operator in the first place. Thus, you don't actually cover deserialization exception with you code. However, if you are sure a deserialization exception can never happen, you approach would be sufficient, too.


This issues is tackled via KIP-161 and will be included in the next release 1.0.0. It allows you to register an callback via parameter default.deserialization.exception.handler. The handler will be invoked every time a exception occurs during deserialization and allows you to return an DeserializationResponse (CONTINUE -> drop the record an move on, or FAIL that is the default).

Update 2

With KIP-210 (will be part of in Kafka 1.1) it's also possible to handle errors on the producer side, similar to the consumer part, by registering a ProductionExceptionHandler via config default.production.exception.handler that can return CONTINUE.

Solution 2:

Update Mar 23, 2018: Kafka 1.0 provides much better and easier handling for bad error messages ("poison pills") via KIP-161 than what I described below. See default.deserialization.exception.handler in the Kafka 1.0 docs.

This could potentially be things like messages that I can't deserialize properly [...]

Ok, my answer here focuses on the (de)serialization issues as this might be the most tricky scenario to handle for most users.

[...] or perhaps the processing/filtering logic fails in some unexpected way (I have no external dependencies so there should be no transient errors of that sort).

The same thinking (for deserialization) can also be applied to failures in the processing logic. Here, most people tend to gravitate towards option 2 below (minus the deserialization part), but YMMV.

I was considering wrapping all my processing/filtering code in a try catch and if an exception was raised then routing to an "error topic". Then I can study the message and modify it or fix my code as appropriate and then replay it on to master. If I let any exceptions propagate, the stream seems to get jammed and no more messages are picked up.

  • Is this approach considered best practice?

Yes, at the moment this is the way to go. Essentially, the two most common patterns are (1) skipping corrupted messages or (2) sending corrupted records to a quarantine topic aka a dead letter queue.

  • Is there a convenient Kafka streams way to handle this? I don't think there is a concept of a DLQ...

Yes, there is a way to handle this, including the use of a dead letter queue. However, it's (at least IMHO) not that convenient yet. If you have any feedback on how the API should allow you to handle this -- e.g. via a new or updated method, a configuration setting ("if serialization/deserialization fails send the problematic record to THIS quarantine topic") -- please let us know. :-)

  • What are the alternative ways to stop Kafka jamming on a "bad message"?
  • What alternative error handling approaches are there?

See my examples below.

FWIW, the Kafka community is also discussing the addition of a new CLI tool that allows you to skip over corrupted messages. However, as a user of the Kafka Streams API, I think ideally you want to handle such scenarios directly in your code, and fallback to CLI utilities only as a last resort.

Here are some patterns for the Kafka Streams DSL to handle corrupted records/messages aka "poison pills". This is taken from http://docs.confluent.io/current/streams/faq.html#handling-corrupted-records-and-deserialization-errors-poison-pill-messages

Option 1: Skip corrupted records with flatMap

This is arguably what most users would like to do.

  • We use flatMap because it allows you to output zero, one, or more output records per input record. In the case of a corrupted record we output nothing (zero records), thereby ignoring/skipping the corrupted record.
  • Benefit of this approach compared to the others ones listed here: We need to manually deserialize a record only once!
  • Drawback of this approach: flatMap "marks" the input stream for potential data re-partitioning, i.e. if you perform a key-based operation such as groupings (groupBy/groupByKey) or joins afterwards, your data will be re-partitioned behind the scenes. Since this might be a costly step we don't want that to happen unnecessarily. If you KNOW that the record keys are always valid OR that you don't need to operate on the keys (thus keeping them as "raw" keys in byte[] format), you can change from flatMap to flatMapValues, which will not result in data re-partitioning even if you join/group/aggregate the stream later.

Code example:

Serde<byte[]> bytesSerde = Serdes.ByteArray();
Serde<String> stringSerde = Serdes.String();
Serde<Long> longSerde = Serdes.Long();

// Input topic, which might contain corrupted messages
KStream<byte[], byte[]> input = builder.stream(bytesSerde, bytesSerde, inputTopic);

// Note how the returned stream is of type KStream<String, Long>,
// rather than KStream<byte[], byte[]>.
KStream<String, Long> doubled = input.flatMap(
    (k, v) -> {
      try {
        // Attempt deserialization
        String key = stringSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, k);
        long value = longSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, v);

        // Ok, the record is valid (not corrupted).  Let's take the
        // opportunity to also process the record in some way so that
        // we haven't paid the deserialization cost just for "poison pill"
        // checking.
        return Collections.singletonList(KeyValue.pair(key, 2 * value));
      catch (SerializationException e) {
        // log + ignore/skip the corrupted message
        System.err.println("Could not deserialize record: " + e.getMessage());
      return Collections.emptyList();

Option 2: dead letter queue with branch

Compared to option 1 (which ignores corrupted records) option 2 retains corrupted messages by filtering them out of the "main" input stream and writing them to a quarantine topic (think: dead letter queue). The drawback is that, for valid records, we must pay the manual deserialization cost twice.

KStream<byte[], byte[]> input = ...;

KStream<byte[], byte[]>[] partitioned = input.branch(
    (k, v) -> {
      boolean isValidRecord = false;
      try {
        stringSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, k);
        longSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, v);
        isValidRecord = true;
      catch (SerializationException ignored) {}
      return isValidRecord;
    (k, v) -> true

// partitioned[0] is the KStream<byte[], byte[]> that contains
// only valid records.  partitioned[1] contains only corrupted
// records and thus acts as a "dead letter queue".
KStream<String, Long> doubled = partitioned[0].map(
    (key, value) -> KeyValue.pair(
        // Must deserialize a second time unfortunately.
        stringSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, key),
        2 * longSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, value)));

// Don't forget to actually write the dead letter queue back to Kafka!
partitioned[1].to(Serdes.ByteArray(), Serdes.ByteArray(), "quarantine-topic");

Option 3: Skip corrupted records with filter

I only mention this for completeness. This option looks like a mix of options 1 and 2, but is worse than either of them. Compared to option 1, you must pay the manual deserialization cost for valid records twice (bad!). Compared to option 2, you lose the ability to retain corrupted records in a dead letter queue.

KStream<byte[], byte[]> validRecordsOnly = input.filter(
    (k, v) -> {
      boolean isValidRecord = false;
      try {
        bytesSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, k);
        longSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, v);
        isValidRecord = true;
      catch (SerializationException e) {
        // log + ignore/skip the corrupted message
        System.err.println("Could not deserialize record: " + e.getMessage());
      return isValidRecord;
KStream<String, Long> doubled = validRecordsOnly.map(
    (key, value) -> KeyValue.pair(
        // Must deserialize a second time unfortunately.
        stringSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, key),
        2 * longSerde.deserializer().deserialize(inputTopic, value)));

Any help greatly appreciated.

I hope I could help. If yes, I'd appreciate your feedback on how we could improve the Kafka Streams API to handle failures/exceptions in a better/more convenient way than today. :-)

Solution 3:

For the processing logic you could take this approach:


    .mapValues(inputValue -> {
        // for each execution the below "return" could provide a different class than the previous run!
        // e.g. "return isFailedProcessing ? failValue : successValue;" 
        // where failValue and successValue have no related classes
        return someObject; // someObject class vary at runtime depending on your business
    }) // here you'll have KStream<whateverKeyClass, Object> -> yes, Object for the value!

    // you could have a different logic for choosing  
    // the target topic, below is just an example
    .to((k, v, recordContext) -> v instanceof failValueClass ?
            "dead-letter-topic" : "success-topic",
            // you could completelly ignore the "Produced" part 
            // and rely on spring-boot properties only, e.g. 
            // spring.kafka.streams.properties.default.key.serde=yourKeySerde
            // spring.kafka.streams.properties.default.value.serde=org.springframework.kafka.support.serializer.JsonSerde
                            // JsonSerde could be an instance configured as you need 
                            // (with type mappings or headers setting disabled, etc)
                            new JsonSerde<>())); 

Your classes, though different and landing into different topics, will serialize as expected.

When not using to(), but instead one wants to continue with other processing, he could use branch() with splitting the logic based on the kafka-value class; the trick for branch() is to return KStream<keyClass, ?>[] in order to further allow one to cast to the appropriate class the individual array items.