The EMQ broker 1.0 is more like a network Switch or Router, not a traditional enterprise message queue. Compared to a network router that routes packets based on IP or MPLS label, the EMQ broker routes MQTT messages based on topic trie.


The EMQ 2.0 seperated the Message Flow Plane and Monitor/Control Plane, the Architecture is something like:


Design Philosophy

  1. Focus on handling millions of MQTT connections and routing MQTT messages between clustered nodes.
  2. Embrace Erlang/OTP, The Soft-Realtime, Low-Latency, Concurrent and Fault-Tolerant Platform.
  3. Layered Design: Connection, Session, PubSub and Router Layers.
  4. Separate the Message Flow Plane and the Control/Management Plane.
  5. Stream MQTT messages to various backends including MQ or databases.

System Layers

  1. Connection Layer

    Handle TCP and WebSocket connections, encode/decode MQTT packets.

  2. Session Layer

    Process MQTT PUBLISH/SUBSCRIBE Packets received from client, and deliver MQTT messages to client.

  3. PubSub Layer

    Dispatch MQTT messages to subscribers in a node.

  4. Routing(Distributed) Layer

    Route MQTT messages among clustered nodes.

Connection Layer

This layer is built on the eSockd library which is a general Non-blocking TCP/SSL Socket Server:

  • Acceptor Pool and Asynchronous TCP Accept
  • Parameterized Connection Module
  • Max connections management
  • Allow/Deny by peer address or CIDR
  • Keepalive Support
  • Rate Limit based on The Leaky Bucket Algorithm
  • Fully Asynchronous TCP RECV/SEND

This layer is also responsible for encoding/decoding MQTT frames:

  1. Parse MQTT frames received from client
  2. Serialize MQTT frames sent to client
  3. MQTT Connection Keepalive

Main erlang modules of this layer:

Module Description
emqx_connection TCP Client
emqx_ws_connection WebSocket Client
emqx_protocol MQTT Protocol Handler
emqx_frame MQTT Frame Parser

Session Layer

The session layer processes MQTT packets received from client and delivers PUBLISH packets to client.

A MQTT session will store the subscriptions and inflight messages in memory:

  1. The Client’s subscriptions.
  2. Inflight qos1/2 messages sent to the client but unacked, QoS 2 messages which have been sent to the Client, but have not been completely acknowledged.
  3. Inflight qos2 messages received from client and waiting for PUBREL. QoS 2 messages which have been received from the Client, but have not been completely acknowledged.
  4. All qos1, qos2 messages published to when client is disconnected.

MQueue and Inflight Window

Concept of Message Queue and Inflight Window:

  1. Inflight Window to store the messages delivered and await for PUBACK.
  2. Enqueue messages when the inflight window is full.
  3. If the queue is full, drop qos0 messages if store_qos0 is true, otherwise drop the oldest one.

The larger the inflight window size is, the higher the throughput is. The smaller the window size is, the more strict the message order is.

PacketId and MessageId

The 16-bit PacketId is defined by MQTT Protocol Specification, used by client/server to PUBLISH/PUBACK packets. A GUID(128-bit globally unique Id) will be generated by the broker and assigned to a MQTT message.

Format of the globally unique message id:

  1. Timestamp: erlang:system_time if Erlang >= R18, otherwise os:timestamp
  2. NodeId: encode node() to 2 bytes integer
  3. Pid: encode pid to 4 bytes integer
  4. Sequence: 2 bytes sequence in one process

The PacketId and MessageId in a End-to-End Message PubSub Sequence:


PubSub Layer

The PubSub layer maintains a subscription table and is responsible to dispatch MQTT messages to subscribers.


MQTT messages will be dispatched to the subscriber’s session, which finally delivers the messages to client.

Routing Layer

The routing(distributed) layer maintains and replicates the global Topic Trie and Routing Table. The topic tire is composed of wildcard topics created by subscribers. The Routing Table maps a topic to nodes in the cluster.

For example, if node1 subscribed ‘t/+/x’ and ‘t/+/y’, node2 subscribed ‘t/#’ and node3 subscribed ‘t/a’, there will be a topic trie and route table:


The routing layer would route MQTT messages among clustered nodes by topic trie match and routing table lookup:


The routing design follows two rules:

  1. A message only gets forwarded to other cluster nodes if a cluster node is interested in it. This reduces the network traffic tremendously, because it prevents nodes from forwarding unnecessary messages.
  2. As soon as a client on a node subscribes to a topic it becomes known within the cluster. If one of the clients somewhere in the cluster is publishing to this topic, the message will be delivered to its subscriber no matter to which cluster node it is connected.

Hooks Design

The EMQ broker implements a simple but powerful hooks mechanism to help users develop plugin. The broker would run the hooks when a client is connected/disconnected, a topic is subscribed/unsubscribed or a MQTT message is published/delivered/acked.

Hooks defined by the EMQ 3.0 broker:

Hook Description
client.authenticate Run when client is trying to connect to the broker
client.check_acl Run when client is trying to publish or subscribe to a topic
client.connected Run when client connected to the broker successfully
client.subscribe Run before client subscribes topics
client.unsubscribe Run when client unsubscribes topics
session.subscribed Run After client(session) subscribed a topic
session.unsubscribed Run After client(session) unsubscribed a topic
message.publish Run when a MQTT message is published
message.deliver Run when a MQTT message is delivering to target client
message.acked Run when a MQTT message is acked
client.disconnected Run when client disconnected from broker

The EMQ broker uses the Chain-of-responsibility_pattern to implement hook mechanism. The callback functions registered to hook will be executed one by one:


The callback function for a hook should return:

Return Description
ok Continue
{ok, NewAcc} Return Acc and Continue
stop Break
{stop, NewAcc} Return Acc and Break

The input arguments for a callback function depends on the types of hook. Checkout the emqx_plugin_template project to see the hook examples in detail.

Hook Implementation

The hook APIs are defined in the emqx module:

-spec(hook(emqx_hooks:hookpoint(), emqx_hooks:action()) -> ok | {error, already_exists}).
hook(HookPoint, Action) ->
    emqx_hooks:add(HookPoint, Action).

-spec(hook(emqx_hooks:hookpoint(), emqx_hooks:action(), emqx_hooks:filter() | integer())
    -> ok | {error, already_exists}).
hook(HookPoint, Action, Priority) when is_integer(Priority) ->
    emqx_hooks:add(HookPoint, Action, Priority);
hook(HookPoint, Action, Filter) when is_function(Filter); is_tuple(Filter) ->
    emqx_hooks:add(HookPoint, Action, Filter);
hook(HookPoint, Action, InitArgs) when is_list(InitArgs) ->
    emqx_hooks:add(HookPoint, Action, InitArgs).

-spec(hook(emqx_hooks:hookpoint(), emqx_hooks:action(), emqx_hooks:filter(), integer())
    -> ok | {error, already_exists}).
hook(HookPoint, Action, Filter, Priority) ->
    emqx_hooks:add(HookPoint, Action, Filter, Priority).

-spec(unhook(emqx_hooks:hookpoint(), emqx_hooks:action()) -> ok).
unhook(HookPoint, Action) ->
    emqx_hooks:del(HookPoint, Action).

-spec(run_hook(emqx_hooks:hookpoint(), list(any())) -> ok | stop).
run_hook(HookPoint, Args) ->
    emqx_hooks:run(HookPoint, Args).

-spec(run_fold_hook(emqx_hooks:hookpoint(), list(any()), any()) -> any()).
run_fold_hook(HookPoint, Args, Acc) ->
    emqx_hooks:run_fold(HookPoint, Args, Acc).

Hook Usage

The emqx_plugin_template project provides the examples for hook usage:


-export([load/1, unload/0]).

-export([on_message_publish/2, on_message_deliver/3, on_message_acked/3]).

load(Env) ->
    emqx:hook('message.publish', fun ?MODULE:on_message_publish/2, [Env]),
    emqx:hook('message.deliver', fun ?MODULE:on_message_deliver/3, [Env]),
    emqx:hook('message.acked', fun ?MODULE:on_message_acked/3, [Env]).

on_message_publish(Message, _Env) ->
    io:format("publish ~s~n", [emqx_message:format(Message)]),
    {ok, Message}.

on_message_deliver(Credentials, Message, _Env) ->
    io:format("delivered to client ~s: ~s~n", [Credentials, emqx_message:format(Message)]),
    {ok, Message}.

on_message_acked(Credentials, Message, _Env) ->
    io:format("client ~s acked: ~s~n", [Credentials, emqx_message:format(Message)]),
    {ok, Message}.

unload() ->
    emqx:unhook('message.publish', fun ?MODULE:on_message_publish/2),
    emqx:unhook('message.acked', fun ?MODULE:on_message_acked/3),
    emqx:unhook('message.deliver', fun ?MODULE:on_message_deliver/3).

Authentication and ACL

The EMQ broker supports extensible Authentication/ACL by hooking to hook-points client.authenticate and client.check_acl:

Write Authentication Hook CallBacks

To register a callback function to client.authenticate:

emqx:hook('client.authenticate', fun ?MODULE:on_client_authenticate/1, []).

The callbacks must have an argument that receives the Credentials, and returns an updated Credentials:

on_client_authenticate(Credentials = #{password := Password}) ->
    {ok, Credentials#{result => success}}.

The Credentials is a map that contains AUTH related info:

  client_id => ClientId,     %% The client id
  username  => Username,     %% The username
  peername  => Peername,     %% The peer IP Address and Port
  password  => Password,     %% The password (Optional)
  result    => Result        %% The authentication result, must be set to ``success`` if OK,
                             %% or ``bad_username_or_password`` or ``not_authorized`` if failed.

Write ACL Hook Callbacks

To register a callback function to client.authenticate:

emqx:hook('client.check_acl', fun ?MODULE:on_client_check_acl/4, []).

The callbacks must have arguments that receives the Credentials, AccessType, Topic, ACLResult, and then returns a new ACLResult:

on_client_check_acl(#{client_id := ClientId}, AccessType, Topic, ACLResult) ->
    {ok, allow}.

AccessType can be one of publish and subscribe. Topic is the MQTT topic. The ACLResult is either allow or deny.

The module emqx_mod_acl_internal implements the default ACL based on etc/acl.conf file:

%%% -type who() :: all | binary() |
%%%                {ipaddr, esockd_access:cidr()} |
%%%                {client, binary()} |
%%%                {user, binary()}.
%%% -type access() :: subscribe | publish | pubsub.
%%% -type topic() :: binary().
%%% -type rule() :: {allow, all} |
%%%                 {allow, who(), access(), list(topic())} |
%%%                 {deny, all} |
%%%                 {deny, who(), access(), list(topic())}.

{allow, {user, "dashboard"}, subscribe, ["$SYS/#"]}.

{allow, {ipaddr, ""}, pubsub, ["$SYS/#", "#"]}.

{deny, all, subscribe, ["$SYS/#", {eq, "#"}]}.

{allow, all}.

The Authentication/ACL plugins implemented by emqx organization:

Plugin Authentication
emqx_auth_username Username and Password
emqx_auth_clientid ClientID and Password
emqx_auth_ldap LDAP
emqx_auth_http HTTP API
emqx_auth_mysql MySQL
emqx_auth_pgsql PostgreSQL
emqx_auth_redis Redis
emqx_auth_mongo MongoDB
emqx_auth_jwt JWT

Plugin Design

Plugin is a normal erlang application that can be started/stopped dynamically by a running EMQ broker.

emqx_plugins Module

The plugin mechanism is implemented by emqx_plugins module:


-export([load/1, unload/1]).

%% @doc Load a Plugin
load(PluginName :: atom()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

%% @doc UnLoad a Plugin
unload(PluginName :: atom()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

Load a Plugin

Use ‘./bin/emqx_ctl’ CLI to load/unload a plugin:

./bin/emqx_ctl plugins load emqx_auth_redis

./bin/emqx_ctl plugins unload emqx_auth_redis

Mnesia/ETS Tables

Table Type Description
emqx_conn ets Connection Table
emqx_metrics ets Metrics Table
emqx_session ets Session Table
emqx_hooks ets Hooks Table
emqx_subscriber ets Subscriber Table
emqx_subscription ets Subscription Table
emqx_admin mnesia The Dashboard admin users Table
emqx_retainer mnesia Retained Message Table
emqx_shared_subscription mnesia Shared Subscription Table
emqx_session_registry mnesia Global Session Registry Table
emqx_alarm_history mnesia Alarms History
emqx_alarm mnesia Alarms
emqx_banned mnesia Built-In Banned Table
emqx_route mnesia Global Route Table
emqx_trie mnesia Trie Table
emqx_trie_node mnesia Trie Node Table
mqtt_app mnesia App table