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django-pgpubsub

django-pgpubsub provides a framework for building an asynchronous and distributed message processing network on top of a Django application using a PostgreSQL database. This is achieved by leveraging Postgres' LISTEN/NOTIFY protocol to build a message queue at the database layer. The simple user-friendly interface, minimal infrastructural requirements and the ability to leverage Postgres' transactional behaviour to achieve exactly-once messaging, makes django-pgpubsub a solid choice as a lightweight alternative to AMPQ messaging services, such as Celery

Primary Authors

Highlights

  • Minimal Operational Infrastructure: If you're already running a Django application on top of a Postgres database, the installation of this library is the sum total of the operational work required to implement a framework for a distributed message processing framework. No additional servers or server configuration is required.

  • Integration with Postgres Triggers (via django-pgtrigger): To quote the official Postgres docs:

    "When NOTIFY is used to signal the occurrence of changes to a particular table, a useful programming technique is to put the NOTIFY in a statement trigger that is triggered by table updates. In this way, notification happens automatically when the table is changed, and the application programmer cannot accidentally forget to do it."

    By making use of the django-pgtrigger library, django-pgpubsub offers a Django application layer abstraction of the trigger-notify Postgres pattern. This allows developers to easily write python-callbacks which will be invoked (asynchronously) whenever a custom django-pgtrigger is invoked. Utilising a Postgres-trigger as the ground-zero for emitting a message based on a database table event is far more robust than relying on something at the application layer (for example, a post_save signal, which could easily be missed if the bulk_create method was used).

  • Lightweight Polling: we make use of the Postgres LISTEN/NOTIFY protocol to have achieve notification polling which uses no CPU and no database transactions unless there is a message to read.

  • Exactly-once notification processing: django-pgpubsub can be configured so that notifications are processed exactly once. This is achieved by storing a copy of each new notification in the database and mandating that a notification processor must obtain a postgres lock on that message before processing it. This allows us to have concurrent processes listening to the same message channel with the guarantee that no two channels will act on the same notification. Moreover, the use of Django's .select_for_update(skip_locked=True) method allows concurrent listeners to continue processing incoming messages without waiting for lock-release events from other listening processes.

  • Durability and Recovery: django-pgpubsub can be configured so that notifications are stored in the database before they're sent to be processed. This allows us to replay any notification which may have been missed by listening processes, for example in the event a notification was sent whilst the listening processes were down.

  • Atomicity: The Postgres NOTIFY protocol respects the atomicity of the transaction in which it is invoked. The result of this is that any notifications sent using django-pgpubsub will be sent if and only if the transaction in which it sent is successfully committed to the database.

Limitations

  • A database-based queue will not be capable of the same volume of throughput as a dedicated AMPQ queue.

  • If a message is sent using Postgres' NOTIFY and no process is listening at that time, the message is lost forever. As explained in the Durability and Recovery section above, pgpubsub can easily be configured so that we can replay "lost" messages, but this comes at the performance penalty of inserting a row into a table before sending each notification. This is the same penalty we must pay if we wish to have concurrent processes listening to the same channel without duplicate notiifcation processing, as explained in the Exactly-once notification processing section above.

Alternatives

  • Celery: The canonical distributed message processing library for django based applications. This can handle large volumes of throughput and is well tested in production. It is however operationally quite heavy to maintain and set-up.

  • Procrastinate: This was a library we discovered whilst developing pgpubsub which also implements a distributed message processing library using the Postgres LISTEN/NOTIFY protocol. Whilst Procrastinate is well tested and offers several features which are not currently offered by pgpubsub, we believe that the interface of pgpubsub coupled with the integration with django and Postgres triggers make our library a good alternative for certain use cases.

Quick start

Prerequisites

Before using this library, you must be running Django 2.2 (or later) on top of a (single) PostgreSQL 11 (or later) database.

Installing

pip install django-pgpubsub

django-pgpubsub ships with a Notification model. This table must be added to the app's database via the usual django migrate command. We should also add pgpubsub and pgtrigger into INSTALLED_APPS. Additionally, if we wish to run the pgpubsub tests, we need to add pgpubsub.tests into INSTALLED_APPS too.

Minimal Example

Let's get a brief overview of how to use pgpubsub to asynchronously create a Post row whenever an Author row is inserted into the database. For this example, our notifying event will come from a postgres trigger, but this is not a requirement for all notifying events. A more detailed version of this example, and an example which does not use a postgres trigger, can be found in the Documentation (by Example) section below.

Define a Channel

Channels are the medium through which we send notifications. We define our channel in our app's channels.py file as a dataclass as follows:

from dataclasses import dataclass

from pgpubsub.channel import TriggerChannel
from pgpubsub.tests.models import Author


@dataclass
class AuthorTriggerChannel(TriggerChannel):
    model = Author

Define a Listener

A listener is the function which processes notifications sent through a channel. We define our listener in our app's listeners.py file as follows:

import datetime

import pgpubsub
from pgpubsub.tests.channels import AuthorTriggerChannel
from pgpubsub.tests.models import Author, Post


@pgpubsub.post_insert_listener(AuthorTriggerChannel)
def create_first_post_for_author(old: Author, new: Author):
    print(f'Creating first post for {new.name}')
    Post.objects.create(
        author_id=new.pk,
        content='Welcome! This is your first post',
        date=datetime.date.today(),
    )

Note that since AuthorTriggerChannel is a trigger-based channel, we need to perform a migrate command after first defining the above listener so as to install the underlying trigger in the database.

Finally, we must also ensure that this listeners.py module is imported into the app's config class. In this example, our app is calls "tests":

# tests/apps.py
from django.apps import AppConfig


class TestsConfig(AppConfig):
    name = 'tests'

    def ready(self):
        import pgpubsub.tests.listeners

Start Listening

To have our listener function listen for notifications on the AuthorTriggerChannel, we use the listen management command:

./manage.py listen

Now whenever an Author is inserted into our database, our listener process creates a Post object referencing that Author:

Screen.Recording.2022-04-28.at.07.32.26.mov

Documentation (by Example)

In this section we give a brief overview of how to use pgpubsub to add asynchronous message processing functionality to an existing django application.

Our Test Application

Suppose we have the following basic django models ( a fully executable version of this example can be found in pgpubsub.tests):

# models.py
class Author(models.Model):
    user = models.ForeignKey(User, on_delete=models.PROTECT, null=True)
    name = models.TextField()


class Post(models.Model):
    content = models.TextField()
    date = models.DateTimeField()
    author = models.ForeignKey(
        Author, null=True, on_delete=models.SET_NULL, related_name='entries'
    )

Given these models, we'll describe the mechanics of using the pgpubsub library to achieve the following aims (which are for illustrative purposes only):

  • To asynchronously maintain a cache of how frequently Post objects are read per day.

  • To define a postgres-trigger to ensure that, whenever an Author object is created, a Post object is asynchronously created for that author with the title "Test Post".

Channels

Channels are the medium through which messages are sent. A channel is defined as a dataclass, where the dataclass fields define the accepted notification payload. A channel must be declared in your app's channels.py file.

For our first example, the data required to update the aforementioned post-reads-per-day cache is a date and a Post id. This payload defines the fields of our first channel dataclass, through which notifications will be sent to update the post-reads-per-day cache:

# channels.py
from dataclasses import dataclass
import datetime

from pgpubsub.channel import Channel


@dataclass
class PostReads(Channel):
    model_id: int
    date: datetime.date

Note the accepted dataclass field types for classes inheriting from Channel are iterables (lists, tuples, dicts, sets) of:

  • python primitive types
  • (naive) datetime.date objects

In our second example we wish to have a channel through which notifications sent whenever a postgres-trigger is invoked by the creation of an Author object. To achieve this, we define our channel like so ( also in our apps channels.py module):

from dataclasses import dataclass

from pgpubsub.channel import TriggerChannel
from pgpubsub.tests.models import Author

@dataclass
class AuthorTriggerChannel(TriggerChannel):
    model = Author

Note that the key difference between this and the previous example is that this channel inherits from TriggerChannel, which defines the payload for all trigger-based notifications:

@dataclass
class TriggerChannel(_Channel):
    model = NotImplementedError
    old: django.db.models.Model
    new: django.db.models.Model

Here the old and new parameters are the (unsaved) versions of what the trigger invoking instance looked like before and after the trigger was invoked. In this example, old would refer to the state of our Author object pre-creation (and would hence be None) and new would refer to a copy of the newly created Author instance. This payload is inspired by the OLD and NEW values available in the postgres CREATE TRIGGER statement (https://www.postgresql.org/docs/9.1/sql-createtrigger.html). The only custom logic we need to define on a trigger channel is the model class-level attribute.

Listeners

In the pgpubsub library, a listener is the function which processes notifications sent through some particular channel.

A listener must be defined in our app's listeners.py file and must be declared using one of the decorators in pgpubsub.listen.py. These decorators are also responsible for pointing a listener function to listen to a particular channel. When a function is associated to a channel in this way, we say that function "listening" to that channel.

Continuing with the example whereby we maintain a cache of post reads, we implement a listener function like so:

# tests/listeners.py
from collections import defaultdict
import datetime

import pgpubsub
from pgpubsub.tests.channels import PostReads

# Simple cache for illustrative purposes only
post_reads_per_date_cache = defaultdict(dict)
author_reads_cache = dict()

@pgpubsub.listener(PostReads)
def update_post_reads_per_date_cache(model_id: int, date: datetime.date):
    print(f'Processing update_post_reads_per_date with '
          f'args {model_id}, {date}')
    print(f'Cache before: {post_reads_per_date_cache}')
    current_count = post_reads_per_date_cache[date].get(model_id, 0)
    post_reads_per_date_cache[date][model_id] = current_count + 1
    print(f'Cache after: {post_reads_per_date_cache}')

A few notes on the above:

  • As we may expect, the channel we associate to a listener also defines the signature of the listener function.
  • The notification payload is deserialized in such a way that the input arguments to the listener function have the same type as was declared on the PostReads channel.
  • It is possible to have multiple listeners to a single channel and the signatures of those listeners can vary by arguments declared as optional on their common channel - see pgpubsub.tests.listeners.py for an example.

Next we implement the listener which is used to asynchronously create a Post object whenever a new Author object is created. For this listener, we can use the pre-defined post_insert_listener decorator:

# tests/listeners.py
import datetime

import pgpubsub
from pgpubsub.tests.channels import AuthorTriggerChannel
from pgpubsub.tests.models import Author, Post


@pgpubsub.post_insert_listener(AuthorTriggerChannel)
def create_first_post_for_author(old: Author, new: Author):
    print(f'Creating first post for {new.name}')
    Post.objects.create(
        author_id=new.pk,
        content='Welcome! This is your first post',
        date=datetime.date.today(),
    )

Any listener associated to a trigger-based channel (one inheriting from TriggerChannel) necessarily has a signature consisting of the old and new payload described in the previous section. Note that declaring a trigger-based listener in the manner above actually writes a postgres-trigger to our database. This is achieved by leveraging the django-pgtrigger library to write a pg-trigger which will send a payload using the postgres NOTIFY command whenever an Author object is inserted into the database. Note that as with all triggers defined using django-pgtrigger, this trigger is first written to the database after a migration.

Thus, we must perform a django migrate command after adding a listener on a trigger channel as above.

Finally, we must also ensure that this listeners.py module is imported into the app's config class (similar to how one would use django signals):

# tests/apps.py
from django.apps import AppConfig


class TestsConfig(AppConfig):
    name = 'tests'

    def ready(self):
        import pgpubsub.tests.listeners

Listening

To have our listener functions "listen" for incoming notifications on their associated channel, we can make use of the listen management command provided by the pgpubsub library:

./manage.py listen

When a process started in this manner encounters an exception, pgpubsub will automatically spins up a secondary process to continue listening before the exception ends the initial process. This means that we do not have to worry about restarting our listening processes any time a listener incurs a python level exception.

The listen command accepts three optional arguments:

  • --channels: a space separated list of the full module paths of the channels we wish to listen to. When no value is supplied, we default to listening to all registered channels in our project. For example, we can use the following command to listen to notifications coming through the PostReads channel only:

    ./manage.py listen --channels 'pgpubsub.tests.channels.PostReads'

  • --processes: an integer which denotes the number of concurrent processes we wish to dedicate to listening to the specified channels. When no value is supplied, we default to using a single process. Note that if multiple processes are listening to the same channel then by default both processes will act on each notification. To prevent this and have each notification be acted upon by exactly one listening process, we need to add lock_notifications = True to our channel. See the "Lockable Notifications and Exactly-Once Messaging" section below for more.

  • --recover: when supplied, we process all stored notifications for any of the selected channels. When no channels argument is supplied with recover, we process notifications of all registered channels with lock_notifications=True. See the Recovery section below for more.

Here's an example of using all three options in one command:

./manage.py listen --channels 'pgpubsub.tests.channels.AuthorTriggerChannel' --processes 2 --recover

Notifications

With our listener's listening on our channels, all that remains is to define where our notifications are sent from.

For our first example, we need to send a notification through the PostReads channel whenever a Post object is read. To achieve this, we can make use of the pgpubsub.notify.notify function. In our example, we create a fetch classmethod on the Post model which is used to retrieve a Post instance from the database and also send a notification via the PostReads channel to asynchronously invoke the update_post_reads_per_date_cache listener. This fetch method could then of course be utilised in whatever API call is used when a user reads a post:

# tests/models.py
import datetime

from django.db import models

import pgpubsub

class Post(models.Model):
    ...
    @classmethod
    def fetch(cls, post_id):
        post = cls.objects.get(pk=post_id)
        pgpubsub.notify(
            'pgpubsub.tests.channels.PostReads',
            model_id=post_id,
            date=datetime.date.today(),
        )
        return post

A few notes on the above implementation:

  • Under the hood, this python function is making use of the postgres NOTIFY command to send the payload as a JSON object.
  • The first argument to the notify function can either be the full module path of a channel or the channel class itself. The following keyword arguments should match the dataclass fields of the channel we're notifying (up to optional kwargs).
  • Using pgpubsub.notify.notify is the appropriate choice for any non-postgres trigger based notification.

For trigger based channels, notifications are sent purely at the database layer whenever the corresponding trigger is invoked. To understand this in a bit more detail, let's consider our example above:

import datetime

import pgpubsub
from pgpubsub.tests.channels import AuthorTriggerChannel
from pgpubsub.tests.models import Author, Post

@pgpubsub.post_insert_listener(AuthorTriggerChannel)
def create_first_post_for_author(old: Author, new: Author):
    print(f'Creating first post for {new.name}')
    Post.objects.create(
        author_id=new.pk,
        content='Welcome! This is your first post',
        date=datetime.date.today(),
    )

As explained above, if we write this function and perform a migration , the post_insert_listener decorator ensures that a trigger function is written to the database. Then, after any Author row is inserted to the database, the post_insert_listener also ensures that that database-level trigger function is invoked, firing a notification with a JSON payload consisting of the OLD and NEW values of the Author instance before and after the its creation. Associating the channel like so

post_insert_listener(AuthorTriggerChannel)

ensures that the notification is sent via the AuthorTriggerChannel and hence ends up being processed by the create_first_post_for_author listener. To examine the internals of the trigger functions used to send notifications at the database level, see pgpubsub.triggers.py.

Note that postgres ensures that notifications sent via NOTIFY are only sent after the commit which created them is committed, we can be sure that in our example our newly created Author will be safely in the database before the listener process attempts to associate a Post to it.

Lockable Notifications and Exactly-Once Messaging

In the default implementation of the Postgres LISTEN/NOTIFY protocol, multiple processes listening to the same channel will result in each process acting upon each notification sent through that channel. This behaviour is often undesirable, so pgpubsub offers users the option to define channels which allow one, and only one, listening process to act upon each notification. We can achieve this simply by defining lock_notifications=True on our channel object. This is the desired notification processing behaviour for our AuthorTriggerChannel, where we want to create exactly one Post whenever an Author row is inserted:

from dataclasses import dataclass

from pgpubsub.channel import TriggerChannel
from pgpubsub.tests.models import Author

@dataclass
class AuthorTriggerChannel(TriggerChannel):
    model = Author
    lock_notifications = True

Note that when we change the value of lock_notifications on a trigger based channel, we must perform a migrate command after the change.

Enabling lock_notifications on a channel has the following effect:

  1. Whenever a notification is sent through that channel (either via the pgpubsub.notify function or the pgpubsub.triggers.Notify trigger), a pgpubsub.models.Notification object is inserted into the database. This stored notification contains the same JSON payload as the transient Postgres notification. Note that since Postgres notify events are atomic with respect to their transaction, the notification is sent if and only if a Notification is stored.

  2. When a process listening to that channel detects an incoming Postgres notification, it fetches and obtains a lock upon any stored Notification object with the same payload. This is achieved as follows:

        notification = (
                Notification.objects.select_for_update(
                        skip_locked=True).filter(
                            channel=self.notification.channel,
                            payload=self.notification.payload,
                    ).first()
                )

    The fact that select_for_update in the above applies a lock on notification ensures that no other process listening to the same channel can retrieve this notification object. Moreover, the use of skip_locked=True means that any process which cannot obtain the lock does not wait for the lock to release. This allows other processes to freely skip this notification and poll for others, whilst the one which did obtain the lock continues carries on to pass its notification into the listener callback. If the callback then successfully completes, the stored Notification is removed from the database.

Recovery

In the default implementation of the Postgres LISTEN/NOTIFY protocol, if a notification is sent via a channel and no process is listening on that channel at that time, the notification is lost forever. As described in the previous section, enabling lock_notifications on our channel means we store a Notification object in the database. Thus, if we happen to "lose" a notification on such a channel in the aforementioned way (e.g. if all of our listener processes were down when a notification was sent), we still have a stored copy of the payload in our database.

pgpubsub provides a function pgpubsub.process_stored_notifications which fetches all stored Notifications from the database and sends them to their respective channels to be processed. This allows to recover from scenarios like the one in the paragraph described above.

Note that this recovery option can be enabled whenever we use the listen management command by supplying it with the --recover option. This will tell the listening processes to replay any missed stored notifications automatically when it starts up.

Live Demos

bulk_create over several processes

In the below example we show how pgpubsub handles a bulk creation of Author objects when several processes are listening to the AuthorTriggerChannel channel. For the sake of the below demonstration, we added a time.sleep(3) statement into the create_first_post_for_author listener function. Note how only one processes is able to process any given notification:

Screen.Recording.2022-04-28.at.19.20.33.mov

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A distributed task processing framework for Django built on top of the Postgres NOTIFY/LISTEN protocol.

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