This guide covers various topics related to consumers:

and more.


The term "consumer" means different things in different contexts. In general in messaging a consumer is an application (or application instance) that consumes messages. The same application can also publish messages and thus be a publisher at the same time.

Messaging protocols also have the concept of a lasting subscription for message delivery. Subscription is one term commonly used to describe such entity. Consumer is another. Messaging protocols supported by RabbitMQ use both terms but RabbitMQ documentation tends to prefer the latter.

In this sense a consumer is a subscription for message delivery that has to be registered before deliveries begin and can be cancelled by the application.

Consumer Tags

Every consumer has an identifier that is used by client libraries to determine what handler to invoke for a given delivery. Their names vary from protocol to protocol. Consumer tags and subscription IDs are two most commonly used terms. RabbitMQ documentation tends to use the former.

Consumer tags are also used to cancel consumers.

The Basics

RabbitMQ is a messaging broker. It accepts published messages, routes them and, if there were queues to route to, stores them for consumption or immediately delivers to consumers, if any.

Consumers consume from queues. In order to consume messages there has to be a queue. When a new consumer is added, assuming there are already messages ready in the queue, deliveries will start immediately.

The target queue can be empty at the time of consumer registration. In that case first deliveries will happen when new messages are enqueued.

An attempt to consume from a non-existent queue will result in a channel-level exception with the code of 404 Not Found and render the channel it was attempted on to be closed.

Consumer Lifecycle

Consumers are meant to be long lived: that is, throughout the lifetime of a consumer it receives multiple deliveries. Registering a consumer to consume a single message is not optimal.

Consumers are typically registered during application startup. They often would live as long as their connections or even applications run.

Consumers can be more dynamic and register in reaction to a system event, unsubscribing when they are no longer necessary. This is common with WebSocket clients used via Web STOMP and Web MQTT plugins, mobile clients and so on.

Connection Recovery

Client can lose their connection to RabbitMQ. When connection loss is detected, message delivery stops.

Some client libraries offer automatic connection recovery features that involves consumer recovery. Java, .NET and Bunny are examples of such libraries. While connection recovery cannot cover 100% of scenarios and workloads, it generally works very well for consuming applications and is recommended.

With other client libraries application developers are responsible for performing connection recovery. Usually the following recovery sequence works well:

  • Recover connection
  • Recover channels
  • Recover queues
  • Recover exchanges
  • Recover bindings
  • Recover consumers

In other words, consumers are usually recovered last, after their target queues and those queues' bindings are in place.

Registering a Consumer (Subscribing, "Push API")

Applications can subscribe to have RabbitMQ push enqueued messages (deliveries) to them. This is done by registering a consumer (subscription) on a queue. After a subscription is in place, RabbitMQ will begin delivering messages. For each delivery a user-provided handler will be invoked. Depending on the client library used this can be a user-provided function or object that adheres to a certain interface.

A successful subscription operation returns a subscription identifier (consumer tag). It can later be used to cancel the consumer.

Java Client

See Java client guide for examples.

.NET Client

See .NET client guide for examples.

Message Properties and Delivery Metadata

Every delivery combintes message metadata and delivery information. Different client libraries use slightly different ways of providing access to those properties. Typically delivery handlers have access to a delivery data structure.

The following properties are delivery and routing details; they are not message properties per se and set by RabbitMQ at routing and delivery time:

Property Type Description
Delivery tag Positive integer Delivery identifier, see Confirms.
Redelivered Boolean Set to `true` if this message was previously delivered and requeued
Exchange String Exchange which routed this message
Routing key String Routing key used by the publisher
Consumer tag String Consumer (subscription) identifier

The following are message properties. Most of them are optional. They are set by publishers at the time of publishing:

Property Type Description Required?
Delivery mode Enum (1 or 2) 2 for "persistent", 1 for "transient". Some client libraries expose this property as a boolean or enum. Yes
Type String Application-specific message type, e.g. "orders.created" No
Headers Map (string => any) An arbitrary map of headers with string header names No
Content type String Content type, e.g. "application/json". Used by applications, not core RabbitMQ No
Content encoding String Content encoding, e.g. "gzip". Used by applications, not core RabbitMQ No
Message ID String Arbitrary message ID No
Correlation ID String Helps correlate requests with responses, see tutorial 6 No
Reply To String Carries response queue name, see tutorial 6 No
Expiration String Per-message TTL No
Timestamp Timestamp Application-provided timestamp No
User ID String User ID, validated if set No
App ID String Application name No

Message Types

The type property on messages is an arbitrary string that helps applications communicate what kind of message that is. It is set by the publishers at the time of publishing. The value can be any domain-specific string that publishers and consumers agree on.

RabbitMQ does not validate or use this field, it exists for applications and plugins to use and interpret.

Message types in practice naturally fall into groups, a dot-separated naming convention is common (but not required by RabbitMQ or clients), e.g. orders.created or logs.line or profiles.image.changed.

If a consumer gets a delivery of an unknown type it is highly advised to log such events to make troubleshooting easier.

Content Type and Encoding

The content (MIME media) type and content encoding fields allow publishers communicate how message payload should be deserialized and decoded by consumers.

RabbitMQ does not validate or use these fields, it exists for applications and plugins to use and interpret.

For example, messages with JSON payload should use application/json. If the payload is compressed with the LZ77 (GZip) algorithm, its content encoding should be gzip.

Multiple encodings can be specified by separating them with commas.

Acknowledgement Modes

When registering a consumer applications can choose one of two delivery modes:

  • Automatic (deliveries require no acknowledgement, a.k.a. "fire and forget")
  • Manual (deliveries require client acknowledgement)

Consumer acknowledgements are a subject of a separate documentation guide, together with publisher confirms, a closely related concept for publishers.

Limiting Simultaneous Deliveries with Prefetch

With manual acknowledgement mode consumers have a way of limiting how many deliveries can be "in flight" (in transit over the network or delivered but unacknowledged). This can avoid consumer overload.

This feature, together with consumer acknowledgements are a subject of a separate documentation guide.

Cancelling a Consumer (Unsubscribing)

To cancel a consumer its identifier (consumer tag) must be known.

After a consumer is cancelled there will be no future deliveries dispatched to it. Note that there can still be "in flight" deliveries dispatched previously. Cancelling a consumer will not discard them.

Java Client

See Java client guide for examples.

.NET Client

See .NET client guide for examples.

Fetching Individual Messages ("Pull API")

With AMQP 0-9-1 it is possible to fetch messages one by one using the basic.get protocol method. Messages are fetched in the FIFO order. It is possible to use automatic or manual acknowledgements, just like with consumers (subscriptions).

Fetching messages one by one is not necessary in most cases as it is inefficient and has all the downsides of polling. When in doubt, prefer registering a consumer.

Java Client

See Java client guide for examples.

.NET Client

See .NET client guide for examples.


When registering a consumer with an AMQP 0-9-1 client, the exclusive flag can be set to true to request the consumer to be the only one on the target queue. The call succeeds only if there's no consumer already registered to the queue at that time. This allows to make sure only one consumer at a time consumes from the queue.

If the exclusive consumer is cancelled or dies, this is the application responsibility to register a new one to keep on consuming from the queue.


Normally, active consumers connected to a queue receive messages from it in a round-robin fashion.

Consumer priorities allow you to ensure that high priority consumers receive messages while they are active, with messages only going to lower priority consumers when the high priority consumers are blocked, e.g. by effective prefetch setting.

When consumer priorities are in use, messages are delivered round-robin if multiple active consumers exist with the same high priority.

Consumer priorities are covered in a separate guide.

Exception Handling

Consumers are expected to handle any exceptions that arise during handling of deliveries or any other consumer operations. Such exceptions should be logged, collected and ignored.

If a consumer cannot process deliveries due to a dependency not being available or similar reasons it should clearly log so and cancel itself until it is capable of processing deliveries again. This will make the consumer's unavailability visible to RabbitMQ and monitoring systems.

Concurrency Considerations

Consumer concurrency is primarily a matter of client library implementation details and application configuration. With most client libraries (e.g. Java, .NET, Go, Erlang) deliveries are dispatched to a thread pool (or similar) that handles all asynchronous consumer operations. The pool usually has controllable degree of concurrency.

Java and .NET clients guarantee that deliveries on a single channel will be dispatched in the same order there were received regardless of the degree of concurrency. Note that once dispatched, concurrent processing of deliveries will result in a natural race condition between the threads doing the processing.

Certain clients (e.g. Bunny) and frameworks might choose to limit consumer dispatch pool to a single thread (or similar) to avoid a natural race condition when deliveries are processed concurrently. Some applications depend on strictly sequential processing of deliveries and thus must use concurrency factor of one or handle synchronisation in their own code. Applications that can process deliveries concurrently can use the degree of concurrency up to the number of cores available to them.

Queue Parallelism Considerations

A single RabbitMQ queue is bounded to a single core. Use more than one queue to improve CPU utilisation on the nodes. Plugins such as sharding and consistent hash exchange can be helpful in increasing parallelism.

Getting Help and Providing Feedback

If you have questions about the contents of this guide or any other topic related to RabbitMQ, don't hesitate to ask them on the RabbitMQ mailing list.

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