Introduction to NServiceBus: Publishing events

So far in this tutorial, we have only sent commands – one-way messages from a sender to a specific receiver. There's another type of message we have yet to cover called an event. In many ways events are just like commands. They're simple classes and you deal with them in much the same way. But from an architectural standpoint commands and events are polar opposites. This creates a useful dichotomy. We can take advantage of the properties of events to open up new possibilities in how we design software.

In the next 25-30 minutes, you will learn how the publish/subscribe pattern can help you create more maintainable code. Together, we'll learn to define, publish, and subscribe to an event.

Events

An event is another type of message that is published to multiple receivers, unlike a command which is sent to one receiver. Let's take a look at the formal definitions for commands and events:

A command is a message that can be sent from one or more senders and is processed by a single receiver.

An event is a message that is published from a single sender, and is processed by (potentially) many receivers.

You can see that in many ways, commands and events are exact opposites, and the differences in their definition leads us to different uses for each.

A command can be sent from anywhere, but is processed by one receiver. This is very similar to a web service, or any other RPC-style service. The big difference is that a one-way message does not have any return value like a web service would have. This means that the handler for the command is doing work for whomever is calling it, and that the sender has a very good idea about what it expects to happen as a result of sending the command. It is the sender saying "Will you please do something for me?" and so commands should be named in the imperative tense, like PlaceOrder and ChargeCreditCard. This creates tight coupling between the sender and receiver, because while it is possible to reject a command, you can't have true autonomy if someone else can tell you what to do.

An event, on the other hand, is sent by one logical sender, and received by many receivers, or maybe one receiver, or even zero receivers. This makes it an announcement that something has already happened. A subscriber can't reject or cancel an event any more than you could stop the New York Times from delivering newspapers to all of their subscribers. The publisher has no idea (and doesn't care) what receivers choose to do with the event; it's just making an announcement. So, events should be named in the past tense, commonly ending with the -ed suffix, like OrderPlaced and CreditCardCharged. This creates loose coupling, because while the contract (the content of the message) must be agreed upon, there is no requirement that subscribers of an event do anything.

Let's take a look at all of these differences side-by-side:

CommandsEvents
Marker InterfaceICommandIEvent
Logical SendersMany1
Logical Receivers1Many (or none)
Purpose"Please do something""Something has happened"
Naming (Tense)ImperativePast
ExamplesPlaceOrder
ChargeCreditCard
OrderPlaced
CreditCardCharged
Coupling StyleTightLoose

From this comparison, it's clear that commands and events will sometimes come in pairs. A command will arrive, perhaps from a website UI, telling the system to DoSomething. The system does that work, and as a result, publishes a SomethingHappened event, which other components in the system can react to.

For more details, see Messages, Events and Commands

The loose coupling provided by publishing events gives us quite a bit of flexibility to design our software systems in a much more maintainable way.

Better code through decoupling

Imagine you were implementing the SubmitOrder method for an e-commerce website. To complete the sale, you would need to retrieve the shopping cart, insert an Order and OrderLines into the database, authorize a credit card transaction and then capture the authorization, and email the user a receipt. You also may need to notify a fulfillment agency via a web service, update a wish list or gift registry, or store "frequently bought together" information, all depending upon your specific business requirements.

You could do all this work in one monolithic method with perhaps hundreds of lines of code. You could further organize it by making each task a separate method, and have the SubmitOrder method call into each one of them in turn, but while this makes each method more manageable, it doesn't reduce the risk of running all those processes in a chain.

When one of the steps in that long chain fails, you're left with a partially completed process that requires manual intervention to fix, either by mucking around manually in the database, manually reconciling with a credit card processor, or manually sending confirmation emails.

By using events, we can better follow the single responsibility principle and divide up these concerns into separate message handlers. Simply publish OrderPlaced, and all the other components that subscribe to it will take care of their own concerns.

This means that when the code for the credit card processing changes, we don't even need to touch (let alone test and redeploy) any of the code in the system except for that which is directly related to processing credit cards.

Defining events

Creating an event message is just similar to creating an event. We just create a class and mark it with the IEvent (rather than ICommand) marker interface.

public class SomethingHappened :
    IEvent
{
    public string SomeProperty { get; set; }
}

All the other considerations for command messages apply to events as well. Properties can be simple types, complex types, or collections - whatever the message serializer supports.

With events, you should be even more careful to refrain from getting carried away and putting too much information in an event message. Sometimes this complexity can't be avoided for commands, as the command receiver needs the information to do its job. That's manageable for commands because the sender and receiver are highly coupled anyway. For events, it's a different story. Since a publisher of an event does not know (or care) how many subscribers it has, it may not be possible to modify all of them if a change is required to the event.

Handling events

Create a handler class by implementing IHandleMessages<T> where T is the type of the event message.

public class SomethingHappenedHandler :
    IHandleMessages<SomethingHappened>
{
    public Task Handle(SomethingHappened message, IMessageHandlerContext context)
    {
        // Do something with the event here

        return Task.CompletedTask;
    }
}
Since we are using the Learning Transport, which supports publish/subscribe natively, we don't have to do anything else to subscribe to an event other than create the event handler. Some other transports do not support native publish/subscribe and require the extra step of defining the publisher for an event.

Exercise

Now that we've learned about events and the Publish/Subscribe pattern, let's make use of it in our ordering system. When a user places an order, we're going to publish an OrderPlaced event, and then subscribe to it from two brand new endpoints: Billing and Shipping.

We'll also create a new OrderBilled event that will be published by the Billing endpoint once the credit card transaction is complete.

Lesson 4 Diagram

When the Shipping endpoint receives both the OrderPlaced and OrderBilled, it will know that it is time to ship the product to the customer. Because this requires stored state, we can't accomplish that with message handlers alone. To implement that functionality, we would need a Saga, but that will not be covered in this lesson.

Create an event

Let's create our first event, OrderPlaced:

  1. In the Messages project, create a new class called OrderPlaced.
  2. Mark OrderPlaced as public and implement IEvent.
  3. Add a public property of type string named OrderId.

When complete, your OrderPlaced class should look like the following:

public class OrderPlaced :
    IEvent
{
    public string OrderId { get; set; }
}

Publish an event

Now that the OrderPlaced event is defined, we can publish it from the PlaceOrderHandler.

  1. Locate the PlaceOrderHandler within the Sales endpoint.
  2. Remove the return Task.CompletedTask; line.
  3. Instead, modify the Handle method to look like the following:
public Task Handle(PlaceOrder message, IMessageHandlerContext context)
{
    log.Info($"Received PlaceOrder, OrderId = {message.OrderId}");

    // This is normally where some business logic would occur

    var orderPlaced = new OrderPlaced
    {
        OrderId = message.OrderId
    };
    return context.Publish(orderPlaced);
}

If we ran the solution now, nothing new or exciting will happen, at least visibly. We're publishing a message, but there are no subscribers, so no physical messages actually get sent anywhere. We're like a newspaper with no circulation. To fix that, we need a subscriber.

Create a subscriber

Unlike the command PlaceOrder, which is a request to do something, OrderPlaced is an announcement that something has actually happened. So another endpoint needs to register interest in hearing about placed orders.

When an order is placed, we will want to charge the credit card for that order. So we will create a Billing service, which will subscribe to OrderPlaced so that it can handle the payment transaction.

Since this is the third endpoint we've created, the instructions will be a little more abbreviated. Feel free to refer back to Lesson 2 where we created the Sales endpoint for more detailed instructions.
  1. Create a new Console Application named Billing.
  2. Add references for the NServiceBus NuGet package and the Messages assembly.
  3. Copy the configuration from the Program.cs file in Sales, and paste it into the same file in Billing.
  4. In the Billing endpoint's Program.cs, change the value of Console.Title and the endpoint name argument of the EndpointConfiguration constructor to "Billing".
  5. In the Billing endpoint, add a class named OrderPlacedHandler, mark it as public, and implement IHandleMessages<OrderPlaced>.
  6. Modify the handler class to log the receipt of the event:
public class OrderPlacedHandler :
    IHandleMessages<OrderPlaced>
{
    static ILog log = LogManager.GetLogger<OrderPlacedHandler>();

    public Task Handle(OrderPlaced message, IMessageHandlerContext context)
    {
        log.Info($"Received OrderPlaced, OrderId = {message.OrderId} - Charging credit card...");

        return Task.CompletedTask;
    }
}

And finally, modify the solution properties so that Billing will start when debugging.

Now when we run the solution, we'll see the following output in the Billing window:

INFO  Billing.OrderPlacedHandler Received OrderPlaced, OrderId = 01698293-9da9-4606-8468-2b7f1b86b380 - Charging credit card...

That's great, but why stop there? The whole point of Publish/Subscribe is that we can have multiple subscribers.

Create another subscriber

In a real system, after an order is placed and billed, we would need to ship the products. So let's add another event and two more subscribers. Once the credit card is charged, we'll publish an OrderBilled event. Then, we'll create a new endpoint Shipping that will subscribe to both events.

This is also a good opportunity to check your understanding. If you can complete these steps without looking back at previous steps or previous lessons, you can be sure you have a good understanding of everything we've covered so far. (Don't worry, you can always check your work against the solution.)

  1. In Messages, create a new event called OrderBilled, implementing IEvent and containing a property for the OrderId.
  2. In Billing, publish the OrderBilled event at the end of the OrderPlacedHandler.
  3. Create a new endpoint named Shipping with the necessary dependencies. Be sure to set the console title and endpoint name to "Shipping", and configure it to start when debugging.
  4. In Shipping, create a message handler for OrderPlaced.
  5. In Shipping, create a message handler for OrderBilled.

Running the solution

If everything worked, you should now see output like this in your Shipping window:

INFO  Shipping.OrderPlacedHandler Received OrderPlaced, OrderId = 96ee660a-5dd7-4772-9058-863d303ee0aa - Should we ship now?
INFO  Shipping.OrderBilledHandler Received OrderBilled, OrderId = 96ee660a-5dd7-4772-9058-863d303ee0aa - Should we ship now?

Of course, these messages could appear out of order. With asynchronous messaging, there are no message ordering guarantees. Even though OrderBilled comes logically after OrderPlaced, it's possible that OrderBilled could arrive first.

You'll note that in the sample solution, the message for each handler says "Should we ship now?" This is because both message handlers are stateless. Like HTTP requests, message handlers have no intrinsic memory of what came before. NServiceBus contains a feature called Sagas provides the ability to retain state between messages, but that won't be covered in this lesson.

Summary

In this lesson we learned all about events, how they differ from commands, and how that enables us to create systems that are more decoupled and adhere better to the Single Responsibility Principle. We published an OrderPlaced event from the Sales endpoint, and created the Billing and Shipping endpoints to subscribe to that event. We also published the OrderBilled event from the Billing endpoint, and subscribed to it in Shipping.

In the final lesson for this tutorial, we'll see what happens when we introduce errors into our system, and see how we can automatically retry those messages to make a truly resilient system.

Next Lesson: Retrying errors


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