Component: NServiceBus | Nuget: NServiceBus (Version: 3.x)
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Long-running business processes exist in many systems. Whether the steps are automated, manual, or a combination, effective handling of these processes is critical. NServiceBus employs event-driven architectural principles to bake fault-tolerance and scalability into these processes. The saga is a pattern that addresses the challenges uncovered by the relational database community years ago, packaged in NServiceBus for ease of use.

One of the common mistakes developers make when designing distributed systems is based on the assumptions that time is constant. If something runs quickly on their machine, they're liable to assume it will run with a similar performance characteristic when in production. Network invocations (like web service calls) are misleading this way. When invoked on the developer's local machine, they perform well. In production, across firewalls and data centers, they don't perform nearly as well.

While a single web service invocation need not be considered "long-running", once there are two or more calls within a given use case, take issues of consistency into account. The first call may be successful but the second call can time out. Sagas allow coding for these cases in a simple and robust fashion.

Design processes with more than one remote call to use sagas.

While it may seem excessive at first, the business implications of the system getting out of sync with the other systems it interacts with can be substantial. It's not just about exceptions that end up in the logs.

A simple Saga

A minimal Saga implementation. With NServiceBus, behavior is specified by writing a class that inherits from Saga<T> where T is the saga data class. There is also a base class for sagas that contains many features required for implementing long-running processes.

public class OrderSaga :
    public override void ConfigureHowToFindSaga()
            sagaData => sagaData.OrderId,
            message => message.OrderId);

            sagaData => sagaData.OrderId,
            message => message.OrderId);

    public void Handle(StartOrder message)
        Data.OrderId = message.OrderId;

    public void Handle(CompleteOrder message)
        // code to handle order completion

Long-running means stateful

Any process that involves multiple network calls (or messages sent and received) has an interim state. That state may be kept in memory, persisted to disk, or stored in a distributed cache; it may be as simple as 'Response 1 received, pending response 2', but the state exists.

Using NServiceBus, it is possible to explicitly define the data used for this state by inheriting from the ContainSagaData abstract class. All public get/set properties are persisted by default:

public class OrderSagaData :
    public Guid Id { get; set; }
    public string Originator { get; set; }
    public string OriginalMessageId { get; set; }
    public string OrderId { get; set; }

Adding behavior

The important part of a long-running process is its behavior. Just like regular message handlers, the behavior of a saga is implemented via the IHandleMessages<M> interface for the message types to be handled.

Starting a saga

Since a saga manages the state of a long-running process, under which conditions should a new saga be created? Sagas are, in essence, a message driven state machine. The trigger to start this state machine is the arrival of one or more specified message types. In the previous example, assume a new saga should be started every time a message of type StartOrder arrives. This would be declared by adding IAmStartedByMessages<StartOrder> to the saga.

IHandleMessages<StartOrder> is redundant since IAmStartedByMessages<StartOrder> already implies that.

This interface tells NServiceBus that the saga not only handles StartOrder, but that when that type of message arrives, a new instance of this saga should be created to handle it, if there isn't already an existing saga that correlates to the message. In essence the semantics of IAmStartedByMessages is:

Create a new instance if an existing one can't be found

Correlating messages to a saga

Correlation is needed in order to find existing saga instances based on data on the incoming message. See Message Correlation for more details.

Ending a long-running process

After receiving all the messages needed in a long-running process, or possibly after a timeout (or two, or more), the stored state of the saga needs to be cleaned up. This is done by calling the MarkAsComplete() method.

The infrastructure contacts the Timeout Manager (if an entry for it exists) telling it that timeouts for the given saga ID can be cleared. If any messages that are handled by the saga(IHandleMessages<T>) arrive after the saga has completed, they are discarded. Note that a new saga will be started if a message that is configured to start a saga arrives(IAmStartedByMessages<T>).

For more information about setting (requesting) the timeouts and handling them, see Saga Timeouts.

When a message is received that could possibly be handled by a saga, and no existing saga can be found then that is handed by the Saga Not Found feature.

Notifying callers of status

Messages can be publishing from a saga at any time. This is often used to notify the original caller, that caused the saga to be started, of some interim state that isn't relevant to other subscribers.

Attempting to use Reply() or Return() to communicate with the caller, that would only achieve the desired result in the case where the current message came from that client, and not in the case where any other partner sent a message arriving at that saga. For this reason, notice that the saga data contains the original client's return address. It also contains the message ID of the original request so that the client can correlate status messages on its end.

To communicate status in the example:

public class MySaga :
    public void Handle(StartMessage message)
        Data.SomeId = message.SomeId;
        var almostDoneMessage = new AlmostDoneMessage
            SomeId = Data.SomeId

This is one of the methods on the saga base class that would be very difficult to implement without tying the saga code to low-level parts of the NServiceBus infrastructure.

Configuring Saga persistence

Make sure to configure appropriate saga persistence.


Sagas and automatic subscriptions

The auto subscription feature applies to sagas as well as the regular message handlers. This is a change compared to earlier versions of NServiceBus.

Sagas and request/response

Sagas often play the role of coordinator, especially when used in integration scenarios. In essence this means that the saga decides what to do next and then asks someone else to do it. This allows sagas to remain free from interacting with non-transactional things like file systems and rest services. The type of communication pattern best suited best for these type of interactions is the request/response pattern since there is really only one party interested in the response and that is the saga itself.

A typical scenario is a saga controlling the process of billing a customer through Visa or MasterCard. It is often the case that there are separate endpoints for making the web service/rest-calls to each payment provider and a saga coordinating retries and fallback rules. Each payment request would be a separate saga instance, so how would the instance hydrate and invoke when the response returns?

The usual way is to correlate on some kind of ID and let the user control how to find the correct saga instance using that ID. While this is easily done it was decided that this was common enough to warrant native support in NServiceBus for these type of interactions. In Version 3.0, NServiceBus handles this. If a Reply is done in response to a message coming from a saga, NServiceBus will detect it and automatically set the correct headers so that it can correlate the reply back to the saga instance that issued the request. The exception to this rule is the request/response message exchange between two sagas. In such case the automatic correlation won't work and the reply message needs to be explicitly mapped using ConfigureHowToFindSaga.

Accessing databases and other resources from a saga

Other than interacting with its own internal state, a saga should not access a database, call out to web services, or access other resources - neither directly nor indirectly by having such dependencies injected into it.

Instead, a saga should send messages to perform those actions. The corresponding message handler would access databases, call web services, or access other resources. Usually those message handlers will send response messages back to the saga, as described in the previous section. These message handlers can be hosted in separate endpoints or in the same endpoint depending on other architectural decisions.

Querying Saga Data

Sagas manage state of potentially long-running business processes. To access the current state of a business process the urge exists to query the saga data directly. It can be done, but is recommend against it. While this can be appropriate for very simple administrative or support functionality, it is not recommend as a general-purpose approach for these reasons:

  • The way a given persistence chooses to store the saga data is an implementation detail to the specific persistence that can potentially change over time. By directly querying for the saga data that query is being coupled to this implementation and risks being affected by format changes.
  • By exposing the data outside of the safeguards of the business logic in the saga the risk is that the data is not treated as read-only. Eventually, a component tries to bypass the saga and directly modify the data.
  • Querying the data might require additional indexes, resources etc. which need to be managed by the component issuing the query. Those additional resources can influence saga performance.
  • The saga data may not contain all the required data. A saga handling the order process may keep track of the "payment id" and the status of the payment, but it is not interested in keeping track of the amount paid. On the other hand, for querying it may be required to query the paid amount along with other data.

The recommended approach is for the saga to publish events, containing the required data, and have handlers that process these events and store the data in one or more read model(s) for querying purposes. It reduces coupling to the internals of the specific saga persistence, removes contention and doesn't bypass the safeguard of the existing saga logic.


Related Articles

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    Use IFindSaga to write custom code that resolves sagas.
  • Message Correlation
    Correlation is needed in order to find existing saga instances based on data on the incoming message.
  • Reply and ReplyToOriginator differences
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  • Saga Concurrency
    NServiceBus gives ACID semantics, using underlying storage so only one worker thread hitting a saga instance can commit.
  • Saga Timeouts
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  • Sagas Not Found
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