(Micro)services with Event Notifications

Cengiz Han
Feb 25, 2019 · 6 min read

Microservices is an architectural style that describes software design as independently deployable, loosely coupled services which are modelled around particular business domain.

Extracting different business domain capabilities from a single process monolith application and creating a system design that contains smaller service processes enables you to scale and deploy each service separately.

The fact that each service needs to be deployable separately requires and also enables application deployment automation, Continuous Delivery.

Martin Fowler describes pre requirements of microservices in his articles and emphasises the importance of DevOpsCulture.

You must be this tall to use microservices.

I have been mostly working with micro-services and event-driven systems for almost last 7 years. In this post, I will try to explain my view on a particular challenge when designing your service oriented system.

How they talk to each other?

One of the fastest way people start with is service to service communication between services. It is a fast way to start making call from to another but it brings lots of problems with it. Going down this route creates a distributed mess and brings problems of all services being available all the time and each services possibly depending on each other which makes things like failing safely really hard, mostly impossible.

Image for post
Microservices directly calling each other. A bit of mess right?

You always need to plan for failures and how are you going to handle them, how are you going to fail safely. Service to service sync communication makes handling failures way much harder. When a business operation needs orchestration of a couple services to be successfully completed you need to start thinking about decoupling services, eventual consistency and bounded context (a way of defining boundaries of a complex domain into business context).

A system’s being “fail-safe” means not that failure is impossible or improbable, but rather that the system’s design prevents or mitigates unsafe consequences of the system’s failure. That is, if and when a “fail-safe” system “fails”, it is “safe” or at least no less safe than when it was operating correctly. wikipedia.

For example, what happens if SMTP service is down or you get an error message back from Notification Service when you call it from Order Service? Are you going to cancel the order for that reason? Of course not! If you are doing service to service communication, you need to create a retry mechanism in sync context or persist a state somewhere that needs to be processed by a background running job to keep sending notifications later when notification service is back online and functioning. And you need to think about all the failure scenarios in all service to service communications, no need to say it is a complex solution, guaranteeing reliability and maintainability, and keeping operability simple becomes a hard thing to accomplish.

Event Driven Architecture

Event Driven Architecture is mostly known as storing all the application state changes as sequence of events. But when you look at the different implementations on different projects we see different usage patterns under the name of Event Sourcing, Command Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS), Event Notification. Martin Fowler published an article and talked about different type of Event Driven Architecture’s on April, 2017 on a GoTo Conference and created a better classification for different models we were using under the name of Event Driven Architecture. It is not my place to classify them when a guru has done it already.

I have used CQRS before in two projects, one of them went production, one of them was changed to “Events as secondary concern” as I called back then without knowing the better name to identify the pattern. I now know, it is named as Event Notification.

Event notification: components communicating via events
Event-based State Transfer: allowing components to access data without calling the source.
Event Sourcing: using an event log as the primary record for a system
CQRS: having a separate component for updating a store from any readers of the store

Please see Martin’s post and video on this link for further information about different types.

Event Notification

There is a slight difference between Event Notification and Event-base State Transfer. In EbST design events contain all the information for consumer service, but Event Notification just contains information about event and consumer services needs to go and get the all context about that event from origin service. Imagine you have an event called OrderCreated and that event contains OrderNumber and maybe some other metadata about order, but if you are creating a Notification Service to send an email/sms to customer about their recent order you might need to go to Order Service and ask details of that order with order number you just received via OrderCreated event.

Event Notification provides great decoupling and it allows other systems to hook up to events without telling it to source event. You can create a new service which is interested with an event from any service without telling or asking any change to the originating service.

One gotcha about this design you need to find a way to get all dependencies and which service depends what event from which service. You can not tell what happens in all system when a particular event happens, you can not just read code in source service and see what happens after that event. You need to go through all subscriptions and find out what happens in whole system. This is generally the case we all ignore till we end up in a place we have no idea what happens in the system.

One of the further things to think about once you started using Event Notification is what goes in to the events? Should you use Event-based State Transfer or do you need to call Order Service to get more information about order that was just created.

Image for post
Image for post
Microservices does not know each other, they are decoupled by event notification

In the above model, when you use Event Notification model you create services that publish events and downstream services subscribes to those events on your event stream. This way, you push the complexity of handling failures in to event stream and event stream processors, your downstream services.

Order Service publishes an order created event and notification service subscribes to OrderCreated event and send a notification to customer.

Event store system stores all your events, you can use something like Kafka, RabbitMQ, nsq to store events and dispatch each event type to subscribers. If a service is down temporarily event store sends it to subscriber when they are back, you do not need to implement anything different in this scenario your system design handles it automatically.

Now you have an event driven architecture, that notifies other system when something happens, when you have a new requirement to react to OrderCreated event you do not need to go and make any changes in your Order Service. All you need to do is create a new subscriber service that subscribes to OrderCreated event.

Say, you want to show your customers product reviews separately by other customers who actually bought that product. They are verified customer reviews and more valuable to potential buyers, so you create a new subscription in your Customer Product Reviews Service to listen for OrderCreated and other order related events to mark customers as verified customers for that product. Very simple, it does not touch the existing part of the system, you build and deploy it separately without touching upstream service.

I am planning to write a follow up post with a code example to demonstrate what I mentioned here. Till then I highly recommend to watch Martin’s keynote on goto conference.

Originally published at cengizhan.com on September 4, 2017.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store