Send notifications to the users whenever new content matching their interests is added on the platform.
Search alerts are designed to monitor changes to the documents being searched, whereas search engines are designed for finding documents matching a specific search term.
Check out the blog post on percolator to get an idea on how the search upside down works in Elasticsearch:
This proof of concept handles both kind of notifications for its users:
- immediate: as soon as new content of interest is made available
- batched: hourly/ daily/ weekly in case there new content of interest is made available
For the sake of better understanding the purpose of this system there will be considered that this system handles the search alert functionality for a news platform.
The users of the news platform which have interest for a certain topic can register search alerts to be notified (e.g.: by email) when new articles matching their criteria are published on the platform. The search alerts can be configured by the users to send notifications immediately/ hourly/ daily/ weekly about new interesting content.
The tech stack of the presented system makes use of:
- Apache Kafka for streaming data between the components of the system
- Elasticsearch distributed, RESTful search engine providing percolator functionality
- Apache Cassandra for storing information about the search alert messages already sent in order to avoid sending duplicated messages (e.g.: for a batched search alert on a specific hour/day).
There are some subtle differences in handling the immediate and the batched search alerts.
The search alert immediate notifications should be sent as their name denotes as soon as a corresponding news is being published, whereas the batched notifications are to be sent only after their corresponding frequency time window (e.g.: hour/day/week) elapses.
This is a rather simple component which consumes news records from the input Apache Kafka topic, percolates them and writes each of the corresponding search alerts retrieved from Elasticsearch to its corresponding topic to be consumed by:
- the immediate-messenger component in case that the search alert has an immediate notification policy
- the batched-messenger component in case that the search alert has a batched notification policy
The search alerts stored in Elasticsearch should store at a minimum meta information like:
- the notification policy: immediate/hourly/daily/weekly
- the email address of the user who registered the search alert
Immediate search alerts
Handling immediate search alerts is relatively straightforward by following the architecture concept diagram presented above.
Each time a new document (e.g. : news) is being percolated, for each of the corresponding search alerts
there will be written to the
immediate Apache Kafka topic an entry containing:
- news details
- search agent details
Using the search alert id as record key for the message sent towards the topic
that the notifications sent for a search alert will be handled in a serial fashion (which comes in handy
when checking for duplicates).
On the immediate-messenger side, the record will be simply sent to the mail (or push) notification service and will be subsequently recorded to the database to avoid sending duplicate messages to the user in case of errors/bugs on the percolator component side.
To avoid sending duplicates, in the Cassandra database backing the immediate-messenger component will be checked before sending a notification whether for the key:
- search alert id (partition key)
- news id (clustering key)
has already been recorded.
The body of the notification for the search alert is composed out of the incoming news details
in the consumer record from
immediate Apache Kafka topic.
Batched search alerts
If the immediate search alerts are sent straight away after percolating a new document (e.g.: news), the batched search alerts on the other hand need to be “parked” until their corresponding notification period (e.g.: hour/day/week) elapses.
Considering that a search alert is configured to hourly notify a user about new articles matching a specific
search criteria, when an article is being published on
2020-06-19 09:21:05 on the news platform,
the search alert should then notify the user at
The approach used by this proof of concept to solve this problem is to use corresponding topics for each kind of frequency window(hour/day/week) offered by the search alert service.
In the above mentioned case, the search alert information would be pushed to the topic
1592553600000 corresponds to
In case that the search alert would have been configured to delivery notifications daily, then
the search alert information would be then published to the topic
The consumption of the entries from the
hourly_1592553600000 topic will start at the earliest
The consumption of the entries from the
daily_1592604000000 topic will start at the earliest
The batched-messenger component is responsible for handling the batched search alerts from a specified topic that contain entries for the hourly/daily/weekly search alerts. The consumption from the Apache Kafka topic corresponding to a specific hour/day/week time window will begin only after its corresponding time window has elapsed. Once the consumption of the Apache Kafka topic reaches the end of the topic, the batched-messenger component instance can end its runtime because there will be no new content added to this topic in the future.
Once all the partitions of the Apache Kafka topic
hourly_1592553600000 are fully read by the
batched-messenger component (current offset is equal with the end offset on all the partitions
of the topic), the batched topic can be considered obsolete (and can be eventually be deleted)
and not being taken anymore into consideration for consumption.
To avoid sending duplicates, in the Cassandra database backing the batched-messenger component will be checked before sending a notification whether for the key:
- search alert id (partition key)
- frequency (clustering key. possible values: hour/day/week)
there has already been recorded a timestamp corresponding for the beginning of the frequency window that is the same (or higher) as the current frequency window being handled by the batched-messenger component.
Using the search alert id as record key for the messages sent from the percolator component towards the batched topics ensures that the notifications sent for a search alert will be handled in a serial fashion (which comes in handy when checking for duplicates).
The body of the notification for the search alert is composed out of the latest news retrieved by running the search query corresponding to the search alert (from the consumer record of the Apache Kafka batched topic) on Elasticsearch.
OPTIONAL In case of finding a matching batched search alert for a percolated news article, the percolator component should be responsible to “pause” the search alert until its current batching period (hour/day/week) elapses in order to avoid doing unnecessary matches against new incoming articles.
Orchestrating batched messengers
As mentioned previously, the batched search alert notifications need to be “parked” until their corresponding notification period(hour/day/week) elapses.
At the beginning of each batched time window (hour/day/week) should be therefor started one or multiple instances of the batched-messenger component for the batched Apache Kafka topics on which the consumer offset of the batched-messenger lags behind.
Depending on the amount of the batched search alert hits from the topic that need to be processed, the orchestrator could then choose how many instances of the batched-messenger component to spawn.
Being a proof of concept, this blog post is accompanied by a the search-alert Github project which contains the following modules:
which fit to the description from the Architecture section.
- Apache Kafka
- Apache Cassandra
in order to test the functionality of the code in a realstic fashion.
NOTE: The current implementation of the mailing service from the messenger projects doesn’t actually send email notifications, but just logs them.
A key point that hasn’t been covered by the search-alert Github project accompanying this blog post is the orchestration of the batched messengers.
At the beginning of each batched time window (hour/day/week) there should run a program in a cron fashion to spawn batched-messenger instances for the previous time window. In case of eventual previous failures (when batched Apache Kafka topics having consumer offset lagging behind the end offset), this program should also spawn batched-messenger instances for other previous time windows.
The garbage collection for obsolete batched Apache Kafka topics (current offset is equal with the end offset on all the partitions of the topic) should also be taken care of by the above described program.
Probably one of the next posts will tackle this problem with kubernetes.