Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Divided We Win: an event sourcing / CQRS prospective on write and read models separation. Commands and Events.

In today's post we are going to unveil some very interesting (in my opinion) architecture styles: event sourcing and command query responsibility segregation (CQRS). Essentially, in both of them events are in the heart of the system design and reflect any changes of the state which are happening. It is quite different from the traditional CRUD architecture where usually only the last known state is kept, with any historical background effectively lost.

Another appealing option which CQRS brings on the table is a natural separation of the write model (state modification initiated by commands and resulted in events) and read model (query for, in most case, last know state). It gives you a lot of freedom in picking the right data storage (or storages) for serving a different application use cases and demands. But, as always, there is no free lunch: the price to pay is the increased complexity of the system.

To keep the post reasonably short, the whole discussion is split into two parts: Commands and Events (this one), and Queries (upcoming). Using very simple model of the user entity as an example, we are going to design the application which uses CQRS architecture. There are few libraries available on the JVM platform, but the one we are going to use is Akka, more precisely its two recently added components Akka Persistence and Akka HTTP. Please do not worry if Akka is somewhat new to you, the examples are going to be really basic and (hopefully) easy to follow. So let us get started!

As we mentioned earlier, the changes in our system are happening as the result of a command and may lead to zero or more events. Let us model that by defining two traits:

trait Event
trait Command

In turn, those events may trigger state changes within application entities so let us model that with a generic trait as well:

trait State[T] {
  def updateState(event: Event): State[T]

Quite simple so far. Now, as we are modeling a user, UserAggregate is going to constitute our model and be responsible for applying updates to a particular User, identifiable by its id. Also, every user is going to have an email property which could be changed upon receiving UserEmailUpdate command and could cause UserEmailUpdated event to be created as the result. The following code snippet defines all that in terms of state, command and event within UserAggregate companion object.

object UserAggregate {
  case class User(id: String, email: String = "") extends State[User] {
    override def updateState(event: Event): State[User] = event match {
      case UserEmailUpdated(id, email) => copy(email = email)

  case class UserEmailUpdate(email: String) extends Command
  case class UserEmailUpdated(id: String, email: String) extends Event
For the readers familiar with CQRS and event sourcing, this example may look very naïve but I think it is good enough for grasping the basics.

Having our foundational blocks defined, it is a time to look on the most interesting part: accepting commands, transforming them into persisted events and applying the state changes, all of that are responsibilities of UserAggregate. In the context of CQRS and event sourcing, persisting events is a crucial capability of the system. Events are the single source of truth and the state of any single entity could be reconstructed to any point in time by replaying all the events relevant to it. This is a moment were Akka Persistence is joining the stage.

To take one step back, Akka is a brilliant library (or even toolkit) to build distributed systems based on actor model. On top of that, Akka Persistence enriches actors with persistence capabilities, letting them to store their messages (or events) in the durable journal. One might say that journal can grow very, very large and replaying all the events to reconstruct the state could take a lot of time. It is a valid point so Akka Persistence also adds the capability to store persistent snapshots in the durable storage as well. It speeds up the things a lot as only the events happening since the last snapshot should be replayed. By default, LevelDB is a durable storage engine used by Akka Persistence but it is pluggable feature with many alternatives available.

With that, let us take a look on UserAggregate actor which is going to be responsible for managing a User entity.

class UserAggregate(id: String) extends PersistentActor with ActorLogging {
  import UserAggregate._

  override def persistenceId = id
  var state: State[User] = User(id)

  def updateState(event: Event): Unit = {
    state = state.updateState(event)
  val receiveCommand: Receive = {
    case UserEmailUpdate(email) => {
      persist(UserEmailUpdated(id, email)) { event =>
        sender ! Acknowledged(id)

  override def receiveRecover: Receive = {
    case event: Event => updateState(event)
    case SnapshotOffer(_, snapshot: User) => state = snapshot

So far it is the most complicated part so let us dissect the key pieces. First of all, UserAggregate extends PersistentActor, which adds the persistent capabilities to it. Second, every persistent actor must have an unique persistenceId: it is used as an identifier inside events journal and snapshot storage. And lastly, in contrast to regular Akka actors, persistent actors do have two entry points: receiveCommand to process commands and receiveRecover to replay events.

Getting back to our example, once the UserAggregate receives UserEmailUpdate command, first of all it persists the UserEmailUpdated event in the journal using persist(...) call and then updates aggregate's state using updateState(...) call, replying with acknowledgement to the sender. To see the complete example in action, let us create a simple REST endpoint using another great project from Akka's family, Akka HTTP, emerged from terrific Spray framework.

For now, we are going to define a simple route to handle a PUT request at /api/v1/users/{id} location, where {id} essentially is a placeholder for user identifier. It will accept a single form-encoded parameter email to update user's email address.

object UserRoute {
  import scala.concurrent.ExecutionContext.Implicits.global
  import scala.language.postfixOps
  implicit val system = ActorSystem()
  implicit val materializer = ActorMaterializer()
  implicit val timeout: Timeout = 5 seconds

  val route = {
    logRequestResult("eventsourcing-example") {
      pathPrefix("api" / "v1" / "users") {
        path(LongNumber) { id =>
          (put & formFields('email.as[String])) { email =>
            complete {
                .recover {
                  case _: ActorNotFound => 
                    system.actorOf(Props(new UserAggregate(id.toString)), s"user-$id")
                .map {                 
                  _ ? UserEmailUpdate(email) map {
                    case Acknowledged(_) => 
                      HttpResponse(status = OK, entity = "Email updated: " + email)
                    case Error(_, message) => 
                      HttpResponse(status = Conflict, entity = message)
The only missed piece is the runnable class to plug the handler for this REST endpoint so let us define one, thanks to Akka HTTP it is trivial:
object Boot extends App with DefaultJsonProtocol {
  Http().bindAndHandle(route, "localhost", 38080)
Nothing gives more assurance that the things are really working except an easy and readable test cases, built using ScalaTest framework complemented by Akka HTTP TestKit.
class UserRouteSpec extends FlatSpec 
      with ScalatestRouteTest 
      with Matchers 
      with BeforeAndAfterAll {
  import com.example.domain.user.UserRoute
  implicit def executionContext = scala.concurrent.ExecutionContext.Implicits.global

  "UserRoute" should "return success on email update" in {
    Put("http://localhost:38080/api/v1/users/123", FormData("email" ->  "a@b.com")) ~> UserRoute.route ~> check {
      response.status shouldBe StatusCodes.OK
      responseAs[String] shouldBe "Email updated: a@b.com"
Lastly, let us run the complete example and use curl from command line to perform a real call to the REST endpoint, forcing all the parts of the application to work together.
$ curl -X PUT http://localhost:38080/api/v1/users/123 -d email=a@b.com
Email updated: a@b.com
Nice! The results are matching our expectations. Before we finish up with this part, there is one more thing: please notice that when application is restarted, the state will be restored for the users for which aggregates did already exist. Another way to say it using Akka Persistence specifics, if event journal has events/snapshots associated with actor's persistenceId (here is why it should be unique and permanent), the recovery process takes place by applying more recent snapshot (if any) and replaying events.

In this post we looked behind the curtain of event sourcing and CQRS, covering only the write (or command) part of the architecture. There are many things to work on like for example, email uniqueness validation, user latest state retrieval, ... which represent the read (or query) flow of the application and are going to be discussed in the consequent blog post. As for now, I hope that event sourcing and CQRS are a bit demystified and might become a part of your future or existing applications.

Final disclaimer: Akka HTTP is marked as experimental component at the moment (nonetheless the main goals stand still, the API may change slightly) while Akka Persistence just graduated out of experimental status with recent Akka's 2.4.0-RC1 release. Please be aware of that.

The complete project is available on GitHub. Many thanks to Regis Leray and Esfandiar Amirrahimi, two brilliant developers, for helping out a lot with this series of blog posts.