Sequence Numbers

A common problem for one-to-many messages is that a message can get lost or dropped due to a network failure. A simple pattern for resolving this situation is to include a sequence id with the message. Receivers can check the sequence id to see if they have missed anything. Sequence numbers combined with heartbeats in the absence of new data form a powerful and resilient pattern to detect loss. Systems that store and persist messages can also solve this problem, but sometimes are overkill for the problem at hand and usually cause additional management and operational cost.

In order to really leverage sequence ids there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Each sender will have to use their own sequence

  • If possible, receivers should be able to ask for missing messages by id

With NATS you can embed sequence ids in the message or include them as a token in the subject. For example, a sender can send messages to updates.1, updates.2, etc... and the subscribers can listen to updates.* and parse the subject to determine the sequence id. Placing a sequence token into the subject may be desireable if the payload is unknown or embedding additional data such as a sequence number in the payload is not possible.