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How Hazelcast Handles Event Disorder

To make sure that late events do not slow down jobs, Hazelcast allows you to define a threshold (lag) for how late events can be before they are ignored. To determine a late event, Hazelcast uses distributed watermarks to define the current time and compare it against the configured lag.

The Watermark

The key event-time concept is the watermark which corresponds to the notion of now in the processing-time domain. It marks a position in the data stream and tells what time it is at that position.

The Watermark

The user has configured the maximum tolerable lag as 0:02. We can see that the watermark always reflects that and lags behind the event timestamps by at most 0:02. When an event arrives out of order, the watermark lags behind it by less than 0:02 and, if the lag would be negative (watermark is already past the event’s timestamp), Hazelcast considers that event as a "fluke in the input" and ignores it. By this time Hazelcast already emitted the aggregation result for the window where this event belongs so there’s no point in dealing with it.

Distributed Watermark

The picture above is the simplest and a most straightforward aspect of dealing with event disorder. More serious problems start when we take into account that a processing task doesn’t receive a single data stream, but many streams from many parallel upstream tasks.

Coalescing the Distributed Watermark

Every such substream has its own watermark and we must find a way to combine (coalesce) all them into a unified watermark value observed by the task. The invariant we want to protect is that an event that wasn’t late within its substream, can’t become late in the merged flow. This means that the coalesced watermark should be the lowest watermark of any substream:

Distributed Watermark

The overall result is that there is no upper bound anymore on how much the watermark can lag behind an event in the stream. The substream with the highest latency holds back all others, but not just that: since the watermark is purely data-driven, even a substream with no latency can cause unbounded watermark lag simply by having low activity — a lot of time passing between consecutive events. This can occur when substreams come from a partitioned source. Since partitioning is based on some key like user ID, it may happen that there are no users active on a partition. While on others there are millions of events, on one there is nothing for minutes.

Hazelcast mitigates this problem by tracking the watermark on each partition of a partitioned source, detecting when a partition has gone idle, and starting to advance the watermark even in the absence of data.