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:

            Control Plane
            |            |
FrontEnd -> | Flow Plane | -> BackEnd
            |            |
          Session      Router
             Monitor Plane

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
emqttd_client TCP Client
emqttd_ws_client WebSocket Client
emqttd_protocol MQTT Protocol Handler
emqttd_parser MQTT Frame Parser
emqttd_serializer MQTT Frame Serializer

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:

      |<----------------- Max Len ----------------->|
IN -> |     Messages Queue    |  Inflight Window    | -> Out
                              |<---   Win Size  --->|
  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:

|        Timestamp       |  NodeID + PID  |  Sequence  |
|<------- 64bits ------->|<--- 48bits --->|<- 16bits ->|
  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:

PktId <-- Session --> MsgId <-- Router --> MsgId <-- Session --> PktId

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:

|            t          |
|           / \         |
|          +   #        |
|        /  \           |
|      x      y         |
| t/+/x -> node1, node3 |
| t/+/y -> node1        |
| t/#   -> node2        |
| t/a   -> node3        |

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.

Authentication and ACL

The EMQ broker supports an extensible authentication/ACL mechanism, which is implemented by emqttd_access_control, emqttd_auth_mod and emqttd_acl_mod modules.

emqttd_access_control module provides two APIs that help register/unregister auth or ACL module:

register_mod(auth | acl, atom(), list()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

register_mod(auth | acl, atom(), list(), non_neg_integer()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

Authentication Bahaviour

The emqttd_auth_mod defines an Erlang behaviour for authentication module:



-callback init(AuthOpts :: list()) -> {ok, State :: any()}.

-callback check(Client, Password, State) -> ok | ignore | {error, string()} when
    Client    :: mqtt_client(),
    Password  :: binary(),
    State     :: any().

-callback description() -> string().



behaviour_info(callbacks) ->
    [{init, 1}, {check, 3}, {description, 0}];
behaviour_info(_Other) ->


The authentication modules implemented by plugins:


The emqttd_acl_mod defines an Erlang behavihour for ACL module:




-callback init(AclOpts :: list()) -> {ok, State :: any()}.

-callback check_acl({Client, PubSub, Topic}, State :: any()) -> allow | deny | ignore when
    Client   :: mqtt_client(),
    PubSub   :: pubsub(),
    Topic    :: binary().

-callback reload_acl(State :: any()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

-callback description() -> string().



behaviour_info(callbacks) ->
    [{init, 1}, {check_acl, 2}, {reload_acl, 1}, {description, 0}];
behaviour_info(_Other) ->


emqttd_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}.

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 2.0 broker:

Hook Description
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.delivered Run when a MQTT message is delivered
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:

                --------  ok | {ok, NewAcc}   --------  ok | {ok, NewAcc}   --------
(Args, Acc) --> | Fun1 | -------------------> | Fun2 | -------------------> | Fun3 | --> {ok, Acc} | {stop, Acc}
                --------                      --------                      --------
                   |                             |                             |
              stop | {stop, NewAcc}         stop | {stop, NewAcc}         stop | {stop, NewAcc}

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 are depending on the types of hook. Clone the emq_plugin_template project to check the argument in detail.

Hook Implementation

The hook APIs defined in emqttd module:


%% Hooks API
-export([hook/4, hook/3, unhook/2, run_hooks/3]).
hook(Hook :: atom(), Callback :: function(), InitArgs :: list(any())) -> ok | {error, any()}.

hook(Hook :: atom(), Callback :: function(), InitArgs :: list(any()), Priority :: integer()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

unhook(Hook :: atom(), Callback :: function()) -> ok | {error, any()}.

run_hooks(Hook :: atom(), Args :: list(any()), Acc :: any()) -> {ok | stop, any()}.

And implemented in emqttd_hook module:


%% Hooks API
-export([add/3, add/4, delete/2, run/3, lookup/1]).

add(HookPoint :: atom(), Callback :: function(), InitArgs :: list(any())) -> ok.

add(HookPoint :: atom(), Callback :: function(), InitArgs :: list(any()), Priority :: integer()) -> ok.

delete(HookPoint :: atom(), Callback :: function()) -> ok.

run(HookPoint :: atom(), Args :: list(any()), Acc :: any()) -> any().

lookup(HookPoint :: atom()) -> [#callback{}].

Hook Usage

The emq_plugin_template project provides the examples for hook usage:


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

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

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

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

on_message_delivered(ClientId, Message, _Env) ->
    io:format("delivered to client ~s: ~s~n", [ClientId, emqttd_message:format(Message)]),
    {ok, Message}.

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

unload() ->
    emqttd:unhook('message.publish', fun ?MODULE:on_message_publish/2),
    emqttd:unhook('message.acked', fun ?MODULE:on_message_acked/3),
    emqttd:unhook('message.delivered', fun ?MODULE:on_message_delivered/3).

Plugin Design

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

emqttd_plugins Module

The plugin mechanism is implemented by emqttd_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/emqttd_ctl’ CLI to load/unload a plugin:

./bin/emqttd_ctl plugins load emq_auth_redis

./bin/emqttd_ctl plugins unload emq_auth_redis

Mnesia/ETS Tables

Table Type Description
mqtt_trie mnesia Trie Table
mqtt_trie_node mnesia Trie Node Table
mqtt_route mnesia Global Route Table
mqtt_local_route mnesia Local Route Table
mqtt_pubsub ets PubSub Tab
mqtt_subscriber ets Subscriber Tab
mqtt_subscription ets Subscription Tab
mqtt_session mnesia Global Session Table
mqtt_local_session ets Local Session Table
mqtt_client ets Client Table
mqtt_retained mnesia Retained Message Table