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A tool for easy, declarative management of Kafka topics. Includes the ability to "apply" topic changes from YAML as well as a repl for interactive exploration of brokers, topics, consumer groups, messages, and more.



Managing Kafka topics via the standard tooling can be tedious and error-prone; there is no standard, declarative way to define topics (e.g., YAML files that can be checked-in to git), and understanding the state of a cluster at any given point in time requires knowing and using multiple, different commands with different interfaces.

We created topicctl to make the management of our Kafka topics more transparent and user-friendly. The project was inspired by kubectl and other tools that we've used in non-Kafka-related contexts.

See this blog post for more details.

🆕 Upgrading from v0

We recently revamped topicctl to support ZooKeeper-less cluster access as well as some additional security options (TLS/SSL and SASL)! See this blog post to learn more about why and how we did this.

All changes should be backwards compatible, but you'll need to update your cluster configs if you want to take advantage of these new features; see the clusters section below for more details on the latest config format.

The code for the old version has been preserved in the v0 branch if you run into problems and need to revert.

Related projects

Check out the data-digger for a command-line tool that makes it easy to tail and summarize structured data in Kafka.

Getting started



  1. Run go install
  2. Clone this repo and run make install in the repo root
  3. Use the Docker image: docker pull segment/topicctl

If you use (1) or (2), the binary will be placed in $GOPATH/bin.

If you use Docker, you can run the tool via docker run -ti --rm segment/topicctl [subcommand] [flags]. Depending on your Docker setup and what you're trying to do, you may also need to run in the host network via --net=host and/or mount local volumes with -v.

Quick tour

  1. Start up a 6 node Kafka cluster locally:
docker-compose up -d
  1. Run the net alias script to make the broker addresses available on localhost:
  1. Apply the topic configs in examples/local-cluster/topics:
topicctl apply --skip-confirm examples/local-cluster/topics/*yaml
  1. Send some test messages to the topic-default topic:
topicctl tester --broker-addr=localhost:9092 --topic=topic-default
  1. Open up the repl (while keeping the tester running in a separate terminal):
topicctl repl --cluster-config=examples/local-cluster/cluster.yaml
  1. Run some test commands:
get brokers
get topics
get partitions topic-default
get offsets topic-default
tail topic-default
  1. Increase the number of partitions in the topic-default topic by changing the partitions: ... value in topic-default.yaml to 9 and re-applying:
topicctl apply examples/local-cluster/topics/topic-default.yaml
  1. Bring down the local cluster:
docker-compose down




topicctl apply [path(s) to topic config(s)]

The apply subcommand ensures that the actual state of a topic in the cluster matches the desired state in its config. If the topic doesn't exist, the tool will create it. If the topic already exists but its cluster state is out-of-sync, then the tool will initiate the necessary changes to bring it into compliance.

See the Config formats section below for more information on the expected file formats.


topicctl [flags] bootstrap

The bootstrap subcommand creates apply topic configs from the existing topics in a cluster. The output can be sent to either a directory (if the --output flag is set) or stdout.


topicctl check [path(s) to topic config(s)]

The check command validates that each topic config has the correct fields set and is consistent with the associated cluster config. Unless --validate-only is set, it then checks the topic config against the state of the topic in the corresponding cluster.


topicctl get [flags] [operation]

The get subcommand lists out the instances and/or details of a particular resource type in the cluster. Currently, the following operations are supported:

Subcommand Description
get balance [optional topic] Number of replicas per broker position for topic or cluster as a whole
get brokers All brokers in the cluster
get config [broker or topic] Config key/value pairs for a broker or topic
get groups All consumer groups in the cluster
get lags [topic] [group] Lag for each topic partition for a consumer group
get members [group] Details of each member in a consumer group
get partitions [topic] All partitions in a topic
get offsets [topic] Number of messages per partition along with start and end times
get topics All topics in the cluster


topicctl repl [flags]

The repl subcommand starts up a shell that allows running the get and tail subcommands interactively.


topicctl reset-offsets [topic] [group] [flags]

The reset-offsets subcommand allows resetting the offsets for a consumer group in a topic. The partition and offset values are set in the flags.


topicctl tail [flags] [topic]

The tail subcommand tails and logs out topic messages using the APIs exposed in kafka-go. It doesn't have the full functionality of kafkacat (yet), but the output is prettier and it may be easier to use in some cases.


topicctl tester [flags]

The tester command reads or writes test messages in a topic. For testing/demonstration purposes only.

Specifying the target cluster

There are three ways to specify a target cluster in the topicctl subcommands:

  1. --cluster-config=[path], where the refererenced path is a cluster configuration in the format expected by the apply command described above,
  2. --zk-addr=[zookeeper address] and --zk-prefix=[optional prefix for cluster in zookeeper], or
  3. --broker-addr=[bootstrap broker address]

All subcommands support the cluster-config pattern. The last two are also supported by the get, repl, reset-offsets, and tail subcommands since these can be run independently of an apply workflow.

Version compatibility

We've tested topicctl on Kafka clusters with versions between 0.10.1 and 2.7.1, inclusive.

Note, however, that clusters at versions prior to 2.4.0 cannot use broker APIs for applying and thus also require ZooKeeper API access for full functionality. See the cluster access details section below for more details.

If you run into any unexpected compatibility issues, please file a bug.

Config formats

topicctl uses structured, YAML-formatted configs for clusters and topics. These are typically source-controlled so that changes can be reviewed before being applied.


Each cluster associated with a managed topic must have a config. These configs can also be used with the get, repl, reset-offsets, and tail subcommands instead of specifying a broker or ZooKeeper address.

The following shows an annotated example:

  name: my-cluster                      # Name of the cluster
  environment: stage                    # Cluster environment
  region: us-west-2                     # Cloud region of the cluster
  shard: 1                              # Shard index of this cluster, if it is sharded.
  description: |                        # A free-text description of the cluster (optional)
    Test cluster for topicctl.

  bootstrapAddrs:                       # One or more broker bootstrap addresses
  clusterID: abc-123-xyz                # Expected cluster ID for cluster (optional,
                                        # used as safety check only)

  # ZooKeeper access settings (only required for pre-v2 clusters; leave off to force exclusive use
  # of broker APIs)
  zkAddrs:                              # One or more cluster zookeeper addresses; if these are
    -               # omitted, then the cluster will only be accessed via
                                        # broker APIs; see the section below on cluster access for
                                        # more details.
  zkPrefix: my-cluster                  # Prefix for zookeeper nodes if using zookeeper access
  zkLockPath: /topicctl/locks           # Path used for apply locks (optional)

  # TLS/SSL settings (optional, not supported if using ZooKeeper)
    enabled: true                       # Whether TLS is enabled
    caCertPath: path/to/ca.crt          # Path to CA cert to be used (optional)
    certPath: path/to/client.crt        # Path to client cert to be used (optional)
    keyPath: path/to/client.key         # Path to client key to be used (optional)

  # SASL settings (optional, not supported if using ZooKeeper)
    enabled: true                       # Whether SASL is enabled
    mechanism: SCRAM-SHA-512            # Mechanism to use; choices are AWS-MSK-IAM, PLAIN,
                                        # SCRAM-SHA-256, and SCRAM-SHA-512
    username: my-username               # SASL username; ignored for AWS-MSK-IAM
    password: my-password               # SASL password; ignored for AWS-MSK-IAM

Note that the name, environment, region, and description fields are used for description/identification only, and don't appear in any API calls. They can be set arbitrarily, provided that they match up with the values set in the associated topic configs.

If the tool is run with the --expand-env option, then the cluster config will be prepreocessed using os.ExpandEnv at load time. The latter will replace references of the form $ENV_VAR_NAME or ${ENV_VAR_NAME} with the associated values from the environment.


Each topic is configured in a YAML file. The following is an annotated example:

  name: topics-test                     # Name of the topic
  cluster: my-cluster                   # Name of the cluster
  environment: stage                    # Environment of the cluster
  region: us-west-2                     # Region of the cluster
  description: |                        # Free-text description of the topic (optional)
    Test topic in my-cluster.

  partitions: 9                         # Number of topic partitions
  replicationFactor: 3                  # Replication factor per partition
  retentionMinutes: 360                 # Number of minutes to retain messages (optional)
    strategy: in-zone                   # Placement strategy, see info below
    picker: randomized                  # Picker method, see info below (optional)
  settings:                             # Miscellaneous other config settings (optional)
    cleanup.policy: delete
    max.message.bytes: 5242880

The cluster, environment, and region fields are used for matching against a cluster config and double-checking that the cluster we're applying in is correct; they don't appear in any API calls.

See the Kafka documentation for more details on the parameters that can be set in the settings field. Note that retention time can be set in either this section or via retentionMinutes but not in both places. The latter is easier, so it's recommended.

Multiple topics can be included in the same file, separated by --- lines, provided that they reference the same cluster.

Placement strategies

The tool supports the following per-partition, replica placement strategies:

Strategy Description
any Allow any replica placement
balanced-leaders Ensure that the leaders of each partition are evenly distributed across the broker racks
in-rack Ensure that the followers for each partition are in the same rack as the leader; generally this is done when the leaders are already balanced, but this isn't required
cross-rack Ensure that the replicas for each partition are all in different racks; generally this is done when the leaders are already balanced, but this isn't required
static Specify the placement manually, via an extra staticAssignments field
static-in-rack Specify the rack placement per partition manually, via an extra staticRackAssignments field

Picker methods

There are often multiple options to pick from when updating a replica. For instance, with an in-rack strategy, we can pick any replica in the target rack that isn't already used in the partition.

Currently, topicctl supports the following methods for this replica "picking" process:

Method Description
cluster-use Pick based on broker frequency in the topic, then break ties by looking at the frequency of each broker across all topics in the cluster
lowest-index Pick based on broker frequency in the topic, then break ties by choosing the lowest-index broker
randomized Pick based on broker frequency in the topic, then break ties randomly. The underlying random generator uses a consistent seed (generated from the topic name, partition, and index), so the choice won't vary between apply runs.

If no picking method is set in the topic config, then randomized is used by default.

Note that these all try to achieve in-topic balance, and only vary in the case of ties. Thus, the placements won't be significantly different in most cases.

In the future, we may add pickers that allow for some in-topic imbalance, e.g. to correct a cluster-wide broker inbalance.


If apply is run with the --rebalance flag set, then topicctl will do a full broker rebalance after the usual apply steps. This process will check the balance of the brokers for each index position (i.e., first, second, third, etc.) in each partition and make replacements if there are any brokers that are significantly over- or under-represented.

The rebalance process can optionally remove brokers from a topic too. To use this feature, set the --to-remove flag. Note that this flag has no effect unless --rebalance is also set.

Rebalancing is not done by default on all apply runs because it can be fairly disruptive and generally shouldn't be necessary unless the topic started off in an inbalanced state or there has been a change in the number of brokers.

Tool safety

The bootstrap, get, repl, and tail subcommands are read-only and should never make any changes in the cluster.

The apply subcommand can make changes, but under the following conditions:

  1. A user confirmation is required for any mutation to the cluster
  2. Topics are never deleted
  3. Partitions can be added but are never removed
  4. All apply runs are interruptable and idempotent (see sections below for more details)
  5. Partition changes in apply runs are locked on a per-cluster basis
  6. Leader changes in apply runs are locked on a per-topic basis
  7. Partition replica migrations are protected via "throttles" to prevent the cluster network from getting overwhelmed
  8. Before applying, the tool checks the cluster ID against the expected value in the cluster config. This can help prevent errors around applying in the wrong cluster when multiple clusters are accessed through the same address, e.g localhost:2181.

The reset-offsets command can also make changes in the cluster and should be used carefully.


Apply runs are designed to be idemponent- the effects should be the same no matter how many times they are run, assuming everything else in the cluster remains constant (e.g., the number of brokers, each broker's rack, etc.). Changes in other topics should generally not effect idempotency, unless, possibly, if the topic is configured to use the cluster-use picker.


If an apply run is interrupted, then any in-progress broker migrations or leader elections will continue and any applied throttles will be kept in-place. The next time the topic is applied, the process should continue from where it left off.

Cluster access details

ZooKeeper vs. broker APIs

topicctl can interact with a cluster through either ZooKeeper or by hitting broker APIs directly.

Broker APIs are used exclusively if the tool is run with either of the following flags:

  1. --broker-addr or
  2. --cluster-config and the cluster config doesn't specify any ZK addresses

We recommend using this "broker only" access mode for all clusters running Kafka versions >= 2.4.

In all other cases, i.e. if --zk-addr is specified or the cluster config has ZK addresses, then ZooKeeper will be used for most interactions. A few operations that are not possible via ZK will still use broker APIs, however, including:

  1. Group-related get commands: get groups, get lags, get members
  2. get offsets
  3. reset-offsets
  4. tail
  5. apply with topic creation

This "mixed" mode is required for clusters running Kafka versions < 2.0.

Limitations of broker-only access mode

There are a few limitations in the tool when using the broker APIs exclusively:

  1. Only newer versions of Kafka are supported. In particular:
    • v2.0 or greater is required for read-only operations (get brokers, get topics, etc.)
    • v2.4 or greater is required for applying topic changes
  2. Apply locking is not yet implemented; please be careful when applying to ensure that someone else isn't applying changes in the same topic at the same time.
  3. The values of some dynamic broker properties, e.g. leader.replication.throttled.rate, are marked as "sensitive" and not returned via the API; topicctl will show the value as SENSITIVE. This appears to be fixed in v2.6.
  4. Broker timestamps are not returned by the metadata API. These will be blank in the results of get brokers.
  5. Applying is not fully compatible with clusters provisioned in Confluent Cloud. It appears that Confluent prevents arbitrary partition reassignments, among other restrictions. Read-only operations seem to work.


TLS (referred to by the older name "SSL" in the Kafka documentation) is supported when running topicctl in the exclusive broker API mode. To use this, either set --tls-enabled in the command-line or, if using a cluster config, set enabled: true in the TLS section of the latter.

In addition to standard TLS, the tool also supports mutual TLS using custom certs, keys, and CA certs (in PEM format). As with the enabling of TLS, these can be configured either on the command-line or in a cluster config. See this config for an example.


topicctl supports SASL authentication when running in the exclusive broker API mode. To use this, either set the --sasl-mechanism and other appropriate --sasl-* flags on the command line or fill out the SASL section of the cluster config.

The following mechanisms can be used:

  2. PLAIN
  3. SCRAM-SHA-256
  4. SCRAM-SHA-512

If using AWS-MSK-IAM, then topicctl will attempt to discover your AWS credentials in the locations and order described here. The other mechanisms require a username and password to be set in either the cluster config or on the command-line. See the cluster configs in the examples/auth and examples/msk directories for some specific examples.

Note that SASL can be run either with or without TLS, although the former is generally more secure.


Run tests

First, set up docker-compose and the associated network alias:

docker-compose up -d

This will create a 6 node, 3 rack cluster locally with the brokers accessible on

Then, run:

make test

You can change the Kafka version of the local cluster by setting the KAFKA_IMAGE_TAG environment variable when running docker-compose up -d. See the wurstmeister/kafka dockerhub page for more details on the available versions.

Run against local cluster

To run the get, repl, and tail subcommands against the local cluster, set --zk-addr=localhost:2181 and leave the --zk-prefix flag unset.

To test out apply, you can use the configs in examples/local-cluster/.


Tool for declarative management of Kafka topics







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