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New Credit Flow Settings on RabbitMQ 3.5.5

· 15 min read
Alvaro Videla

In order to prevent fast publishers from overflowing the broker with more messages than it can handle at any particular moment, RabbitMQ implements an internal mechanism called credit flow that will be used by the various systems inside RabbitMQ to throttle down publishers, while allowing the message consumers to catch up. In this blog post we are going to see how credit flow works, and what we can do to tune its configuration for an optimal behaviour.

The latest version of RabbitMQ includes a couple of new configuration values that let users fiddle with the internal credit flow settings. Understanding how these work according to your particular workload can help you get the most out of RabbitMQ in terms of performance, but beware, increasing these values just to see what happens can have adverse effects on how RabbitMQ is able to respond to message bursts, affecting the internal strategies that RabbitMQ has in order to deal with memory pressure. Handle with care.

To understand the new credit flow settings first we need to understand how the internals of RabbitMQ work with regards to message publishing and paging messages to disk. Let's see first how message publishing works in RabbitMQ.

Message Publishing

To see how credit_flow and its settings affect publishing, let's see how internal messages flow in RabbitMQ. Keep in mind that RabbitMQ is implemented in Erlang, where processes communicate by sending messages to each other.

Whenever a RabbitMQ instance is running, there are probably hundreds of Erlang processes exchanging messages to communicate with each other. We have for example a reader process that reads AMQP frames from the network. Those frames are transformed into AMQP commands that are forwarded to the AMQP channel process. If this channel is handling a publish, it needs to ask a particular exchange for the list of queues where this message should end up going, which means the channel will deliver the message to each of those queues. Finally if the AMQP message needs to be persisted, the msg_store process will receive it and write it to disk. So whenever we publish an AMQP message to RabbitMQ we have the following erlang message flow1:

reader -> channel -> queue process -> message store.

In order to prevent any of those processes from overflowing the next one down the chain, we have a credit flow mechanism in place. Each process initially grants certain amount of credits to the process that it's sending them messages. Once a process is able to handle N of those messages, it will grant more credit to the process that sent them. Under default credit flow settings (credit_flow_default_credit under rabbitmq.config) these values are 200 messages of initial credit, and after 50 messages processed by the receiving process, the process that sent the messages will be granted 50 more credits.

Say we are publishing messages to RabbitMQ, this means the reader will be sending one erlang message to the channel process per AMQP basic.publish received. Each of those messages will consume one of these credits from the channel. Once the channel is able to process 50 of those messages, it will grant more credit to the reader. So far so good.

In turn the channel will send the message to the queue process that matched the message routing rules. This will consume one credit from the credit granted by the queue process to the channel. After the queue process manages to handle 50 deliveries, it will grant 50 more credits to the channel.

Finally if a message is deemed to be persistent (it's persistent and published to a durable queue), it will be sent to the message store, which in this case will also consume credits from the ones granted by the message store to the queue process. In this case the initial values are different and handled by the msg_store_credit_disc_bound setting: 2000 messages of initial credit and 500 more credits after 500 messages are processed by the message store.

So we know how internal messages flow inside RabbitMQ and when credit is granted to a process that's above in the msg stream. The tricky part comes when credit is granted between processes. Under normal conditions a channel will process 50 messages from the reader, and then grant the reader 50 more credits, but keep in mind that a channel is not just handling publishes, it's also sending messages to consumers, routing messages to queues and so on.

What happens if the reader is sending messages to the channel at a higher speed of what the channel is able to process? If we reach this situation, then the channel will block the reader process, which will result in producers being throttled down by RabbitMQ. Under default settings, the reader will be blocked once it sends 200 messages to the channel, but the channel is not able to process at least 50 of them, in order to grant credit back to the reader.

Again, under normal conditions, once the channel manages to go through the message backlog, it will grant more credit to the reader, but there's a catch. What if the channel process is being blocked by the queue process, due to similar reasons? Then the new credit that was supposed to go to the reader process will be deferred. The reader process will remain blocked.

Once the queue process manages to go through the deliveries backlog from the channel, it will grant more credit to the channel, unblocking it, which will result in the channel granting more credit to the reader, unblocking it. Once again, that's under normal conditions, but, you guessed it, what if the message store is blocking the queue process? Then credit to the channel will be deferred, which will remain blocked, deferring credit to the reader, leaving the reader blocked. At some point, the message store will grant messages to the queue process, which will grant messages back to the channel, and then the channel will finally grant messages to the reader and unblock the reader:

reader <--[grant]-- channel <--[grant]-- queue process <--[grant]-- message store.

Having one channel and one queue process makes things easier to undertand but it might not reflect reality. It's common for RabbitMQ users to have more than one channel publishing messages on the same connection. Even more common is to have one message being routed to more than one queue. What happens with the credit flow scheme we've just explained is that if one of those queues blocks the channel, then the reader will be blocked as well.

The problem is that from a reader standpoint, when we read a frame from the network, we don't even know to which channel it belongs to. Keep in mind that channels are a logical concept on top of AMQP connections. So even if a new AMQP command will end up in a channel that is not blocking the reader, the reader has no way of knowing it. Note that we only block publishing connections, consumers connections are unaffected since we want consumers to drain messages from queues. This is a good reason why it might be better to have connections dedicated to publishing messages, and connections dedicated for consumers only.

On a similar fashion, whenever a channel is processing message publishes, it doesn't know where messages will end up going, until it performs routing. So a channel might be receiving a message that should end up in a queue that is not blocking the channel. Since at ingress time we don't know any of this, then the credit flow strategy in place is to block the reader until processes down the chain are able to handle new messages.

One of the new settings introduced in RabbitMQ 3.5.5 is the ability to modify the values for credit_flow_default_credit. This setting takes a tuple of the form {InitialCredit, MoreCreditAfter}. InitialCredit is set to 200 by default, and MoreCreditAfter is set to 50. Depending on your particular workflow, you need to decide if it's worth bumping those values. Let's see the message flow scheme again:

reader -> channel -> queue process -> message store.

Bumping the values for {InitialCredit, MoreCreditAfter} will mean that at any point in that chain we could end up with more messages than those that can be handled by the broker at that particular point in time. More messages means more RAM usage. The same can be said about msg_store_credit_disc_bound, but keep in mind that there's only one message store2 per RabbitMQ instance, and there can be many channels sending messages to the same queue process. So while a queue process has a value of 2000 as InitialCredit from the message store, that queue can be ingesting many times that value from different channel/connection sources. So 200 credits as initial credit_flow_default_credit value could be seen as too conservative, but you need to understand if according to your workflow that's still good enough or not.

Message Paging

Let's take a look at how RabbitMQ queues store messages. When a message enters the queue, the queue needs to determine if the message should be persisted or not. If the message has to be persisted, then RabbitMQ will do so right away3. Now even if a message was persisted to disk, this doesn't mean the message got removed from RAM, since RabbitMQ keeps a cache of messages in RAM for fast access when delivering messages to consumers. Whenever we are talking about paging messages out to disk, we are talking about what RabbitMQ does when it has to send messages from this cache to the file system.

When RabbitMQ decides it needs to page messages to disk it will call the function reduce_memory_use on the internal queue implementation in order to send messages to the file system. Messages are going to be paged out in batches; how big are those batches depends on the current memory pressure status. It basically works like this:

The function reduce_memory_use will receive a number called target ram count which tells RabbitMQ that it should try to page out messages until only that many remain in RAM. Keep in mind that whether messages are persistent or not, they are still kept in RAM for fast delivery to consumers. Only when memory pressure kicks in, is when messages in memory are paged out to disk. Quoting from our code comments: The question of whether a message is in RAM and whether it is persistent are orthogonal.

The number of messages that are accounted for during this chunk calculation are those messages that are in RAM (in the aforementioned cache), plus the number of pending acks that are kept in RAM (i.e.: messages that were delivered to consumers and are pending acknowledgment). If we have 20000 messages in RAM (cache + pending acks) and then target ram count is set to 8000, we will have to page out 12000 messages. This means paging will receive a quota of 12000 messages. Each message paged out to disk will consume one unit from that quota, whether it's a pending ack, or an actual message from the cache.

Once we know how many messages need to be paged out, we need to decide from where we should page them first: pending acks, or the message cache. If pending acks is growing faster than messages the cache, ie: more messages are being delivered to consumers than those being ingested, this means the algorithm will try to page out pending acks first, and then try to push messages from the cache to the file system. If the cache is growing faster than pending acks, then messages from the cache will be pushed out first.

The catch here is that paging messages from pending acks (or the cache if that comes first) might result in the first part of the process consuming all the quota of messages that need to be pushed to disk. So if pending acks pushes 12000 acks to disk as in our example, this means we won't page out messages from the cache, and vice versa.

This first part of the paging process sent to disk certain amount of messages (between acks + messages paged from the cache). The messages that were paged out just had their contents paged out, but their position in the queue is still in RAM. Now the queue needs to decide if this extra information that's kept in RAM needs to be paged out as well, to further reduce memory usage. Here is were finally msg_store_io_batch_size enters into play (coupled with msg_store_credit_disc_bound as well). Let's try to understand how they work.

The settings for msg_store_credit_disc_bound affect how internal credit flow is handled when sending message to disk. The rabbitmq_msg_store module implements a database that takes care of persisting messages to disk. Some details about the why's of this implementation can be found here: RabbitMQ, backing stores, databases and disks.

The message store has a credit system for each of the clients that send writes to it. Every RabbitMQ queue would be a read/write client for this store. The message store has a credits mechanism to prevent a particular writer to overflow its inbox it with messages. Assuming current default values, when a writer starts talking to the message store, it receives an initial credit of 2000 messages, and it will receive more credit once 500 messages are processed. When is this credit consumed then? Credit is consumed whenever we write to the message store, but that doesn't happen for every message. The plot thickens.

Since version 3.5.0 it's possible to embed small messages into the queue index, instead of having to reach the message store for that. Messages that are smaller than a configurable setting (currently 4096 bytes) will go to the queue index when persisted, so those messages won't consume this credit. Now, let's see what happens with messages that do need to go to the message store.

Whenever we publish a message that's determined to be persistent (persistent messages published to a durable queue), then that message will consume one of these credits. If a message has to paged out to disk from the cache mentioned above, it will also consume one credit. So if during message paging we consume more credits than those currently available for our queue, the first half of the paging process might stop, since there's no point in sending writes to the message store when it won't accept them. This means that from the initial quota of 12000 that we would have had to page out, we only managed to process 2000 of them (assuming all of them need to go to the message store).

So we managed to page out 2000 messages, but we still keep their position in the queue in RAM. Now the paging process will determine if it needs to also page out any of these messages positions to disk as well. RabbitMQ will calculate how many of them can stay in RAM, and then it will try to page out the remaining of them to disk. For this second paging to happen, the amount of messages that has to be paged to disk must be greater than msg_store_io_batch_size. The bigger this number is, the more message positions RabbitMQ will keep in RAM, so again, depending on your particular workload, you need to tune this parameter as well.

Another thing we improved significantly in 3.5.5 is the performance of paging queue index contents to disk. If your messages are generally smaller than queue_index_embed_msgs_below, then you'll see the benefit of these changes. These changes also affect how message positions are paged out to disk, so you should see improvements in this area as well. So while having a low msg_store_io_batch_size might mean the queue index will have more work paging to disk, keep in mind this process has been optimized.

Queue Mirroring

To keep the descriptions above a bit simpler, we avoided bringing queue mirroring into the picture. Credit flows also affects mirroring from a channel point of view. When a channel delivers AMQP messages to queues, it sends the message to each mirror, consuming one credit from each mirror process. If any of the mirrors is slow processing the message then that particular mirror might be responsible for the channel being blocked. If the channel is being blocked by a mirror, and that queue mirror gets partitioned from the network, then the channel will be unblocked only after RabbitMQ detects the mirror death.

Credit flow also takes part when synchronising mirrored queues, but this is something you shouldn't care too much about, mostly because there's nothing you could do about it, since mirror synchronisation is handled entirely by RabbitMQ.


In any case, we hope this blog post has been informative and helps you with your RabbitMQ tuning. If you have comments or questions about the new credit flow settings, don't hesitate to contact us at the RabbitMQ mailing list: rabbitmq-users.


  1. A message can be delivered to more than one queue process.

  2. There are two message stores, one for transient messages and one for persistent messages.

  3. RabbitMQ will call fsync every 200 ms.