Ruby ZeroMQ based jobserver with truly pulling workers
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Ruby ZeroMQ based job server with truly pulling workers.

This project is primarily a playground to build a ruby job server that solves some of my messaging problems using ZMQ primitives.

Currently the subject is task distribution in a classic multi worker central job distribution setup.

ZeroMQ is a messaging framework, not a out-of-the-box messaging solution.

So please keep in mind my "Problems" below are not problems of ZMQ itself.

Maybe this all can be solved just by using rabbbitMQ and friends. But it is much more fun to wrap my head around these problems for myself.

Problem 1: Peers cannot know how busy a worker is.

This is a generic problem. Peers can only infer worker workload using some more or less accurate heuristics. For example haproxy can use connection count. Nginx does round robin out of the box. My problem is the workloads for each job are varying heavy. Some computations only take ~20 ms while others could easily block a worker for several seconds. The central distribution point cannot know the heaviness of a job in advance. From my point of view only the worker can decide if he needs more work.

Background: A zmq PULL socket connecting a PUSH socket does not really pull from the server. It pulls from the local mailbox. You basically do not have any control how many messages are in your mailbox, so you do not know if a big job in execution will add latency to many small ones.

Problem 2: Lost tasks in worker mailboxes on crash

Task distribution can easily be done using zmqs unique ability to connect more than one downstream per socket. Each downstream socket/worker has its own mailbox.

Unprocessed messages are lost when this worker crashes. When this mailbox is big or there are many small messages this can hurt latency for the hole system. (Imagine retries are implemented on client side).

Background: ZMQ pushes messages from mailbox to mailbox zmq_recv and zmq_send add or remove messages from this mailbox. A background thread does the transport between mailboxes. You cannot know by design in which mailbox your message currently is.

Problem 3: Adding workers while processing many jobs

Imagine a PUSH - PULL zmq setup. 1 PUSH sockets sends 1000 small messages to 2 PULL sockets. Each message takes 1 second to process. After 10 seconds you are connecting a 3rd worker. But all 1000 messages are already send to one of the workers mailboxes. Bad. Your new worker is waiting for jobs while the other two have to much.

Idea: Let the workers pull work from the server.

When workers are pulling the servers for work there is no worker side queue of unprocessed, lost-in-case-of-crash or present-in-mailbox-while-other-workers-do-not-have-anything-to-do. This adds an extra round trip for signalling, and defeats ZMQ message batching, but it might give a better overall latency.


To be documented. The current stage works but is far from well designed tested etc...

I really appreciate any input!


With git and local working copy:

$ git clone git://
$ cd rz
$ gem install bundler
$ bundle install
examples/service a &
examples/worker a &
examples/client &

NOTE: This gem is currently only tested with 1.9 is likely to work with ruby-1.8 using backports.


See examples directory for code.

Note on Patches/Pull Requests

  • If you want your code merged into the mainline, please discuss the proposed changes with me before doing any work on it. This library is still in early development, and it may not always be clear the direction it is going. Some features may not be appropriate yet, may need to be deferred until later when the foundation for them is laid, or may be more applicable in a plugin.
  • Fork the project.
  • Make your feature addition or bug fix.
  • Add specs for it. This is important so I don't break it in a future version unintentionally. Tests must cover all branches within the code, and code must be fully covered. (I'm missing this requirement atm).
  • Commit, do not mess with Rakefile, version, or history.
    (if you want to have your own version, that is fine but bump version in a commit by itself I can ignore when I pull)
  • Run "rake ci". This must pass and not show any regressions in the metrics for the code to be merged.
  • Send me a pull request. Bonus points for topic branches.


Copyright © 2011 Markus Schirp. See LICENSE for details.