Exactly-once message processing

Heterogeneous distributed transactions allow diverse systems to be integrated in powerful ways. For example, a message from a message queue can be acknowledged as processed if and only if the database transaction for processing the message was successfully committed. This is implemented by atomically committing the message acknowledgment and the database writes in a single transaction. With distributed transaction support, this is possible, even if the message broker and the database are two unrelated technologies running on different machines.

If either the message delivery or the database transaction fails, both are aborted, and so the message broker may safely redeliver the message later. Thus, by atomically committing the message and the side effects of its processing, we can ensure that the message is effectively processed exactly once, even if it required a few retries before it succeeded. The abort discards any side effects of the partially completed transaction.

Such a distributed transaction is only possible if all systems affected by the transaction are able to use the same atomic commit protocol, however. For example, say a side effect of processing a message is to send an email, and the email server does not support two-phase commit: it could happen that the email is sent two or more times if message processing fails and is retried. But if all side effects of processing a message are rolled back on transaction abort, then the processing step can safely be retried as if nothing had happened.

We will return to the topic of exactly-once message processing in Chapter 11. Let’s look first at the atomic commit protocol that allows such heterogeneous distributed transactions.

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