Building a simple message queue with Redis

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a message queue for your application. The guys at have a very comprehensive summary of the options.

There are some times, however, where you don’t need something as heavyweight as RabbitMQ or Amazon SQS. A popular alternative is to build a queue using Redis. A simple implementation will use LPUSH to push messages onto the queue, and BRPOP pull them off, respectively. Whilst this is useful for a basic FIFO queue, it does not support delayed messages - pushing a message to be pulled from the queue at a later date.

This post explores how a simple message queue can be built to support delayed messages, using Redis.

We’ll be using the following Redis data structures for our queue:

  • A hash to store the message with a unique message ID.
  • A sorted set to store the message ID with a timestamp, or message due date.

Adding a message

To add a message, we first need to generate a unique ID for the message. You’ll likely already know how to generate an ID in your programming language of choice - for example, if you are using node.js, you could use node-uuid or bson-objectid.

Once you have this unique ID, store it with your (stringified) message in the hash with HSET.

redis> HSET messages <id> <message>

We should then insert the message ID with the message due date timestamp into the sorted set:

redis> ZADD due <due_timestamp> <id>

Receiving messages

Now that we have our messages being produced, we need a consumer.

To receive a message, we need to poll the sorted set to see if any messages are past their due date. We do this with a periodic ZRANGEBYSCORE call, along with the current timestamp.

redis> ZRANGEBYSCORE due -inf <current_timestamp> LIMIT 0 1

If this returns a message ID, we know that this message is ready for consumption. We lookup the message from the hash:

redis> HGET messages <message_id>

And finally, we remove the message from the sorted set and the hash, to ensure it won’t be received again.

redis> ZREM due <message_id>
redis> HDEL messages <message_id>

Going further

Note that this is a very simple queue implementation, and is sufficient for basic purposes. For a production application, however, it’s likely that you’ll need a way to retry messages if a consumer crashes before the message has been processed, and perhaps some way of determining the total number of messages in the queue.

If you are using node.js, I would recommend taking a look at Redis Simple Message Queue. This implements the basic algorithm described above, and adds extra features such as message retrying.