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Dead Letter Queue

The Dead Letter Queue feature provides a systematic way of dealing with persistent consumption errors that may require a different handling approach while allowing you to continue processing.

While consuming data, not everything may go as intended. When an error occurs in Karafka, by default, the framework will apply a back-off strategy and will try again and again. Some errors, however, may be non-recoverable. For example, a broken JSON payload will not be fixed by parsing it again. Messages with non-recoverable errors can be safely moved and analyzed later without interrupting the flow of other valid messages.

And this is where the Dead Letter Queue pattern shines.

A Dead Letter Queue in Karafka is a feature that, when enabled, will transfer problematic messages into a separate topic allowing you to continue processing even upon errors.

*This example illustrates a simple DLQ flow with a processing retry.

Using Dead Letter Queue

The only thing you need to add to your setup is the dead_letter_queue definition for topics for which you want to enable it:

class KarafkaApp < Karafka::App
  routes.draw do
    topic :orders_states do
      consumer OrdersStatesConsumer

        # Name of the target topic where problematic messages should be moved to
        topic: 'dead_messages',
        # How many times we should retry processing with a back-off before
        # moving the message to the DLQ topic and continuing the work
        # If set to zero, will not retry at all.
        max_retries: 2

Once enabled, after the defined number of retries, problematic messages will be moved to a separate topic unblocking the processing.

Disabling retries

If you do not want to retry processing at all upon errors, you can set the max_retries value to 0:

class KarafkaApp < Karafka::App
  routes.draw do
    topic :orders_states do
      consumer OrdersStatesConsumer

        topic: 'dead_messages',
        max_retries: 0

Messages will never be re-processed with the following settings and will be moved without retries to the DLQ topic.

Disabling dispatch

For some use cases, you may want to skip messages after retries without dispatching them to an alternative topic.

This functionality is available in Karafka Pro, and you can read about it here.

Dispatch warranties

Messages dispatched to the DLQ topic preserve both payload and headers. They do not follow any partitioning strategy and will be distributed randomly.

Please note that the original offset, partition, and topic information will not be preserved. If you need those, we recommend you use the Enhanced Dead Letter Queue.

If you need messages dispatched to the DLQ topic to preserve order, you either need to use a DLQ topic with a single partition, or you need to use the Enhanced Dead Letter Queue implementation.

Manual DLQ dispatch

When the Dead Letter Queue is enabled, Karafka will provide you with an additional method called #dispatch_to_dlq that you can use to transfer messages to the DLQ topic. You can use it if you encounter messages you do not want to deal with but do not want to raise an exception:

class OrdersStatesConsumer
  def consume
    messages.each do |message|
      if EventContract.valid?(message.payload)
        # Skip on messages that are not valid without raising an exception


Monitoring and instrumentation

Each time a message is moved to the Dead Letter Queue topic, it will emit a dead_letter_queue.dispatched with a message key.

You can use it to enrich your instrumentation and monitoring:

Karafka.monitor.subscribe('dead_letter_queue.dispatched') do |event|
  message = event[:message]

  topic = message.topic
  partition = message.partition
  offset = message.offset

  puts "Oh no! We gave up on this flunky message: #{topic}/#{partition}/#{offset}"

Batch processing limitations

At the moment, DLQ does not have the ability to skip whole batches. For scenarios where the collective outcome of messages operations is causing errors, Karafka will skip one after another. This means that you may encounter "flickering", where seemingly valid messages are being moved to the DLQ before reaching the corrupted one.

If skipping batches is something you would utilize, please get in touch with us so we can understand your use cases and possibly introduce this functionality.

Compacting limitations

Karafka does not publish the key value for DLQ messages. This means that if you set your log.cleanup.policy to compact, newer messages will overwrite the older once when the log compaction process kicks in.

Karafka Pro sets the key value based on the errored message partition to ensure the same partition delivery for consecutive errors from the same original partition.

We recommend either:

  • Enhancing the DLQ messages with a proper key value using the Enhanced Dead Letter Queue custom details feature.
  • Not using a compact policy and relying on instead to make sure that the given DLQ topic does not grow beyond expectations.
  • Enhancing the DLQ dispatched message by forking Karafka and making needed enhancements to the code.

Pro Enhanced Dead Letter Queue

We highly recommend you check out the Enhanced Dead Letter Queue, especially if you:

  • expect a higher quantity of messages being moved to the DLQ topic,
  • need to preserve original topic, partition, and offset,
  • need to preserve the ordering of messages,
  • want to have a DLQ topic with several partitions.
  • want to alter payload, headers, key or any other attributes of the DQL message.

Features compatibility

Usage with ActiveJob

The Dead Letter Queue feature can be used with ActiveJob. The only thing worth keeping is that the #payload of the transferred message will be the serialized job.

Usage with Manual Offset Management

The Dead Letter Queue feature can be used with Manual Offset Management. The only implication is that Karafka will not commit the offset when skipping messages.

Usage with Virtual Partitions

Virtual Partitions can be used with the Enhanced Dead Letter Queue.