Part 4: RabbitMQ Exchanges, routing keys and bindings

What is an exchange? What are routing keys and bindings? How are exchanges and queues associated with each other? When should I use them and how? This article explains the different types of exchanges in RabbitMQ and scenarios for how to use them.

Messages are not published directly to a queue. Instead, the producer sends messages to an exchange. Exchanges are message routing agents, defined by the virtual host within RabbitMQ. An exchange is responsible for routing the messages to different queues with the help of header attributes, bindings, and routing keys.

A binding is a "link" that you set up to bind a queue to an exchange.

The routing key is a message attribute the exchange looks at when deciding how to route the message to queues (depending on exchange type).

Exchanges, connections, and queues can be configured with parameters such as durable, temporary, and auto delete upon creation. Durable exchanges survive server restarts and last until they are explicitly deleted. Temporary exchanges exist until RabbitMQ is shut down. Auto-deleted exchanges are removed once the last bound object is unbound from the exchange.

In RabbitMQ, there are four different types of exchanges that route the message differently using different parameters and bindings setups. Clients can create their own exchanges or use the predefined default exchanges which are created when the server starts for the first time.

Standard RabbitMQ message flow

  1. The producer publishes a message to the exchange.
  2. The exchange receives the message and is now responsible for the routing of the message.
  3. Binding must be set up between the queue and the exchange. In this case, we have bindings to two different queues from the exchange. The exchange routes the message into the queues.
  4. The messages stay in the queue until they are handled by a consumer.
  5. The consumer handles the message.
Exchanges Bindings Routing Keys

If you are not familiar with RabbitMQ and message queueing, read RabbitMQ for beginners - what is RabbitMQ? before reading about exchanges, routing keys, headers, and bindings.

Exchange types

Direct Exchange

A direct exchange delivers messages to queues based on a message routing key. The routing key is a message attribute added to the message header by the producer. Think of the routing key as an "address" that the exchange is using to decide how to route the message. A message goes to the queue(s) with the binding key that exactly matches the routing key of the message.

The direct exchange type is useful to distinguish messages published to the same exchange using a simple string identifier.

The default exchange AMQP brokers must provide for the direct exchange is "amq.direct".

Imagine that queue A (create_pdf_queue) in the image below (Direct Exchange Figure) is bound to a direct exchange (pdf_events) with the binding key pdf_create. When a new message with routing key pdf_create arrives at the direct exchange, the exchange routes it to the queue where the binding_key = routing_key, in the case to queue A (create_pdf_queue).

Scenario 1

  • Exchange: pdf_events
  • Queue A: create_pdf_queue
  • Binding key between exchange (pdf_events) and Queue A (create_pdf_queue): pdf_create

Scenario 2

  • Exchange: pdf_events
  • Queue B: pdf_log_queue
  • Binding key between exchange (pdf_events) and Queue B (pdf_log_queue): pdf_log

Example

Example: A message with routing key pdf_log is sent to the exchange pdf_events. The messages is routed to pdf_log_queue because the routing key (pdf_log) matches the binding key (pdf_log).

If the message routing key does not match any binding key, the message is discarded.

rabbitmq exchange
Direct Exchange: A message goes to the queues whose binding key exactly matches the routing key of the message.

Default exchange

The default exchange is a pre-declared direct exchange with no name, usually referred by an empty string. When you use default exchange, your message is delivered to the queue with a name equal to the routing key of the message. Every queue is automatically bound to the default exchange with a routing key which is the same as the queue name.

Topic Exchange

Topic exchanges route messages to queues based on wildcard matches between the routing key and the routing pattern, which is specified by the queue binding. Messages are routed to one or many queues based on a matching between a message routing key and this pattern.

The routing key must be a list of words, delimited by a period (.). Examples are agreements.us and agreements.eu.stockholm which in this case identifies agreements that are set up for a company with offices in lots of different locations. The routing patterns may contain an asterisk (“*”) to match a word in a specific position of the routing key (e.g., a routing pattern of "agreements.*.*.b.*" only match routing keys where the first word is "agreements" and the fourth word is "b"). A pound symbol (“#”) indicates a match of zero or more words (e.g., a routing pattern of "agreements.eu.berlin.#" matches any routing keys beginning with "agreements.eu.berlin").

The consumers indicate which topics they are interested in (like subscribing to a feed for an individual tag). The consumer creates a queue and sets up a binding with a given routing pattern to the exchange. All messages with a routing key that match the routing pattern are routed to the queue and stay there until the consumer consumes the message.

The default exchange AMQP brokers must provide for the topic exchange is "amq.topic".

Scenario 1

The image to the right shows an example where consumer A is interested in all the agreements in Berlin.

  • Exchange: agreements
  • Queue A: berlin_agreements
  • Routing pattern between exchange (agreements) and Queue A (berlin_agreements): agreements.eu.berlin.#
  • Example of message routing key that matches: agreements.eu.berlin and agreements.eu.berlin.headstore

Scenario 2

Consumer B is interested in all the agreements.

  • Exchange: agreements
  • Queue B: all_agreements
  • Routing pattern between exchange (agreements) and Queue B (all_agreements): agreements.#
  • Example of message routing key that matches: agreements.eu.berlin and agreements.us
rabbitmq topic exchange
Topic Exchange: Messages are routed to one or many queues based on a match between a message routing key and the routing pattern.

Scenario 3

Consumer C is interested in all agreements for European head stores.

  • Exchange: agreements
  • Queue C: headstore_agreements
  • Routing pattern between exchange (agreements) and Queue C (headstore_agreements): agreements.eu.*.headstore
  • Example of message routing keys that will match: agreements.eu.berlin.headstore and agreements.eu.stockholm.headstore

Example

A message with routing key agreements.eu.berlin is sent to the exchange agreements. The messages are routed to the queue berlin_agreements because the routing pattern of "agreements.eu.berlin.#" matches the routing keys beginning with "agreements.eu.berlin". The message is also routed to the queue all_agreements because the routing key (agreements.eu.berlin) matches the routing pattern (agreements.#).

Fanout Exchange

A fanout exchange copies and routes a received message to all queues that are bound to it regardless of routing keys or pattern matching as with direct and topic exchanges. The keys provided will simply be ignored.

Fanout exchanges can be useful when the same message needs to be sent to one or more queues with consumers who may process the same message in different ways.

The image to the right (Fanout Exchange) shows an example where a message received by the exchange is copied and routed to all three queues bound to the exchange. It could be sport or weather updates that should be sent out to each connected mobile device when something happens, for instance.

The default exchange AMQP brokers must provide for the topic exchange is "amq.fanout".

rabbitmq fanout exchange
Fanout Exchange: The received message is routed to all queues that are bound to the exchange.

Scenario 1

  • Exchange: sport_news
  • Queue A: Mobile client queue A
  • Binding: Binding between the exchange (sport_news) and Queue A (Mobile client queue A)

Example

A message is sent to the exchange sport_news. The message is routed to all queues (Queue A, Queue B, Queue C) because all queues are bound to the exchange. Provided routing keys are ignored.

Headers Exchange

A headers exchange routes messages based on arguments containing headers and optional values. Headers exchanges are very similar to topic exchanges, but route messages based on header values instead of routing keys. A message matches if the value of the header equals the value specified upon binding.

A special argument named "x-match", added in the binding between exchange and queue, specifies if all headers must match or just one. Either any common header between the message and the binding count as a match, or all the headers referenced in the binding need to be present in the message for it to match. The "x-match" property can have two different values: "any" or "all", where "all" is the default value. A value of "all" means all header pairs (key, value) must match, while value of "any" means at least one of the header pairs must match. Headers can be constructed using a wider range of data types, integer or hash for example, instead of a string. The headers exchange type (used with the binding argument "any") is useful for directing messages which contain a subset of known (unordered) criteria.

The default exchange AMQP brokers must provide for the topic exchange is "amq.headers".

  • Exchange: Binding to Queue A with arguments (key = value): format = pdf, type = report, x-match = all
  • Exchange: Binding to Queue B with arguments (key = value): format = pdf, type = log, x-match = any
  • Exchange: Binding to Queue C with arguments (key = value): format = zip, type = report, x-match = all

Scenario 1

Message 1 is published to the exchange with header arguments (key = value): "format = pdf", "type = report", and with the binding argument "x-match = all".

Message 1 is delivered to Queue A - all key/value pairs match.

Scenario 2

Message 2 is published to the exchange with header arguments of (key = value): "format = pdf" and with the binding argument "x-match = any".

Message 2 is delivered to Queue A and Queue B - the queue is configured to match any of the headers (format or type).

rabbitmq Headers exchange
Headers exchange routes messages to queues that are bound using arguments (key and value) containing headers and optional values.

Scenario 3

Message 3 is published to the exchange with header arguments of (key = value): "format = zip", "type = log", and with the binding argument "x-match = all".

Message 3 is not delivered to any queue - the queue is configured to match all of the headers (format or type).

Dead Letter Exchange

If no matching queue can be found for the message, the message is silently dropped. RabbitMQ provides an AMQP extension known as the "Dead Letter Exchange", which provides the functionality to capture messages that are not deliverable.

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