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course: Designing Events and Event Streams

Dimension 3: Modeling as Single vs. Multiple Event Streams

8 min

Adam Bellemare

Staff Technologist, Office of the CTO (Presenter)

The third dimension to consider when designing events and event streams is the relationship between your event definitions and the event streams themselves. One of the most common questions we receive is, “Is it okay to put multiple event types in one stream? Or should we publish each event type to its own stream?”

This module explores the factors that contribute to answering these questions, and offers a set of recommendations that should help you find the best answer for your own use cases.

Example Consumer Use Cases

  • General alerting of state changes (deltas)
  • Processing sequences of events (deltas)
  • Transferring state (facts)
  • Mixing facts and deltas

The consumer’s use case should be a top consideration when deciding how to structure your event streams. Event streams are replayable sources of data that are written only once, but that can be read many times by many different consumers.

We want to make it as easy as possible for them to use the data according to their own needs.

Use Case: General Alerting of Changes


As we saw in Dimension 1, deltas work very well for the general change alerting. Applications can respond to the delta events exposed from inside of an application. Splitting up events so that there is only one type per stream provides a high granularity, and permits consumer applications to subscribe to only the deltas they care about.

Use Case: Processing Sequences of Delta Events


But what if a single application needs to read several deltas, and the ordering between events is very important? Following a one-event per stream strategy introduces the risk that events may be read and processed out of order, giving inconsistent sequencing results. While both Kafka Streams and ksqlDB contain logic to process events in both ascending timestamp and offset order, it is merely a best-effort attempt. Out-of-order processing may still occur due to intermittent failure modes such as network and application failures.

What About Strict Ordering?

But what do you do if you need something with stronger guarantees? A precise and strict ordering of events may be a significant factor for your business use case.

In this case, you may be better off putting all of your events into a single event stream, so that your consumer receives them in the same order as they are written. You also need a consistent partitioning strategy to ensure that all events of the same key go to the same partition, as Kafka only guarantees order at a per-partition basis.

Note that this technique is not about reducing the number of topics you’re using—topics are relatively cheap, and you should choose to build your topics based on the data they’re carrying and the purposes they’re meant to serve—not to simply cut down on topic count. Apache Kafka is perfectly capable of handling thousands of topics without any problem.

Single Stream, Multiple Delta Types


Putting related event types into a single topic partition provides a strict incremental order for consumer processing - but it does require that all events are written by a single producer, as it needs strict control over the ordering of events.

In this example, we have merged all of the adds, removes, and discount codes for the shopping cart into a single partition of a single event stream.

Use Case: Processing Sequences of Delta Events


Zooming back out, you can see a single consumer coupled on this stream of events. They must be able to understand and interpret each of the types in the stream. It’s important not to turn your topic into a dumping ground for multiple event types, and expect your consumers to simply figure it out. Rather, the consumer must know how to process each delta type, and any new types or changes to existing types would need to be negotiated between the application owners.

Use ksqlDB to Split Stream Up


You can also use a stream processor like ksqlDB to split the single cart events stream up into an event stream per delta, writing each event to a new topic. Consumers can choose to subscribe to these purpose-built delta streams, or they can subscribe to the original stream and simply filter out events they do not care about.

Word of Caution


A word of caution, however. This pattern can result in a very strong coupling between the producer and the consumer service. Usually it is only suitable for applications that are intended to be strongly coupled, such as a pair of systems using event sourcing, and not for general purpose usage. You should also ask yourself if these two applications merit separation, or if they should be redesigned into a single application.

Use Case: Transferring State with Facts


Fact events present a much better option for transferring state, do not require the consumer to interpret a sequence of events, and offer a much looser coupling option. In this case, only a single event type is used per event stream - there is no mixing of facts from various streams.


Keeping only one fact type per stream makes it much easier to transfer read-only state to any application that needs access to it. Streams of Facts effectively act as data building blocks for you to compose purpose-built applications and services for solving your business problems.

Single Fact Type per Stream


The convention of one type of fact per stream shows up again when you look into the tools you can build your applications with—like Kafka Streams or ksqlDB.

In this example, a ksqlDB application materializes the item facts into a table. The query specifies the table schema, the Kafka topic source, the key column, and the key and value schema format.

ksqlDB enforces a strict schema definition and will throw away incoming events that do not adhere to it. This is identical to how a relational database will throw an exception if you try to insert data that doesn’t meet the table schema requirements.

Joining Disparate Fact Streams


You can leverage ksqlDB’s join functionality when consuming multiple types of facts from different streams, selecting only the fields you need for your own business logic and discarding the rest. In this example, the ksqlDB application consumes from both inventory and item facts, and selects just the id, price, name, and stock, but only keeps records where there is at least one item in stock. The data is filtered and joined together, then emitted to the in-stock items facts stream, which can be used by any application that needs it.

Best Practice: Record the Entire State in One Fact


When recording an event, it’s important to keep everything that happened in a single detailed event.

Consider an order that consists of both a cart entity and a user entity. When creating the order event we insert all of the cart information as well as all of the user information for the user at that point in time. We record the event as a single atomic message, and do not split it up into multiple events in several other topics. This lets us maintain an accurate representation of what happened, but also gives our consumers the freedom to select only the data they really want. You can always split up the compound event, but it’s much harder to reconstruct the original event if you split it up too soon.

A best practice is to give the initial event a unique ID, and then propagate it down to any derivative events. This provides event tracing. We will cover event IDs in more detail in the best practices module.

Use Case: Mixing Facts and Deltas


Consumers can also compose applications by selecting the fact streams that they need, and combine them with selected deltas.

This approach is best served by single types per event stream, as it allows for easy mixing of data according to each consumers needs.


General Alerting of State Changes (Deltas)

Single streams of single delta types make it easy for applications to respond to specific edge conditions, but they remain responsible for building up their own state and applying their own business logic.


Processing Sequences of Events (Deltas)

You can also put multiple event types in the same stream if you are concerned about strict ordering purposes.


Transferring State (Facts)

And finally, use a single event type for fact streams. Your consumers can mix, match, and blend the fact streams they need for their own use-cases, with the support of stream processing tools such as Kafka Streams and ksqlDB.


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