Changefeeds in RethinkDB

Changefeeds lie at the heart of RethinkDB’s real-time functionality.

They allow clients to receive changes on a table, a single document, or even the results from a specific query as they happen. Nearly any ReQL query can be turned into a changefeed.

Data Modeling Illustration

Basic usage

Subscribe to a feed by calling changes on a table:

r.table('users').changes().run(conn, function(err, cursor) {

The changes command returns a cursor (like the table or filter commands do). You can iterate through its contents using ReQL. Unlike other cursors, the output of changes is infinite: the cursor will block until more elements are available. Every time you make a change to the table or document the changes feed is monitoring, a new object will be returned to the cursor. For example, if you insert a user {id: 1, name: Slava, age: 31} into the users table, RethinkDB will post this document to changefeeds subscribed to users:

  old_val: null,
  new_val: {id: 1, name: 'Slava', age: 31}

Here old_val is the old version of the document, and new_val is a new version of the document. On an insert, old_val will be null; on a delete, new_val will be null. On an update, both old_val and new_val are present.

Point (single document) changefeeds

A “point” changefeed returns changes to a single document within a table rather than the table as a whole.

r.table('users').get(100).changes().run(conn, callback);

The output format of a point changefeed is identical to a table changefeed.

Changefeeds with filtering and aggregation queries

Like any ReQL command, changes integrates with the rest of the query language. You can call changes after most commands that transform or select data:

You can also chain changes before any command that operates on a sequence of documents, as long as that command doesn’t consume the entire sequence. (For instance, count and orderBy cannot come after the changes command.)

Suppose you have a chat application with multiple clients posting messages to different chat rooms. You can create feeds that subscribe to messages posted to a specific room:

).changes().run(conn, callback)

You can also use more complicated expressions. Let’s say you have a table scores that contains the latest game score for every user of your game. You can create a feed of all games where a user beats their previous score, and get only the new value:

)('new_val').run(conn, callback)

There are some limitations and caveats on chaining with changefeeds.

  • min, max and orderBy must be used with indexes.
  • orderBy requires limit; neither command works by itself.
  • orderBy must be used with a secondary index or the primary index; it cannot be used with an unindexed field.
  • You cannot use changefeeds after concatMap or other transformations whose results cannot be pushed to the shards.
  • You cannot apply a filter after orderBy.limit in a changefeed.
  • Transformations are applied before changes are calculated.

Including state changes

The includeStates optional argument to changes allows you to receive extra “status” documents in changefeed streams. These can allow your application to distinguish between initial values returned at the start of a stream and subsequent changes. Read the changes API documentation for a full explanation and example.

Including initial values

By specifying true to the includeInitial optional argument, the changefeed stream will start with the current contents of the table or selection being monitored. The initial results will have new_val fields, but no old_val fields, so it’s easy to distinguish them from change events.

If an initial result for a document has been sent and a change is made to that document that would move it to the unsent part of the result set (for instance, a changefeed monitors the top 100 posters, the first 50 have been sent, and poster 48 has become poster 52), an “uninitial” notification will be sent, with an old_val field but no new_val field. This is distinct from a delete change event, which would have a new_val of null. (In the top 100 posters example, that could indicate the poster has been deleted, or has dropped out of the top 100.)

If you specify true for both includeStates and includeInitial, the changefeed stream will start with a {state: 'initializing'} status document, followed by initial values. A {state: 'ready'} status document will be sent when all the initial values have been sent.

Including result types

The includeTypes optional argument adds a third field, type, to each result sent. The string values for type are largely self-explanatory:

  • add: a new value added to the result set.
  • remove: an old value removed from the result set.
  • change: an existing value changed in the result set.
  • initial: an initial value notification.
  • uninitial: an uninitial value notification.
  • state: a status document from includeStates.

Including the type field can simplify code that handles different cases for changefeed results.

Handling latency

Depending on how fast your application makes changes to monitored data and how fast it processes change notifications, it’s possible that more than one change will happen between calls to the changes command. You can control what happens in that case with the squash optional argument.

By default, if more than one change occurs between invocations of changes, your application will receive a single change object whose new_val will incorporate all the changes to the data. Suppose three updates occurred to a monitored document between change reads:

Change Data
Initial state (old_val) { name: “Fred”, admin: true }
update({name: “George”}) { name: “George”, admin: true }
update({admin: false}) { name: “George”, admin: false }
update({name: “Jay”}) { name: “Jay”, admin: false }
new_val { name: “Jay”, admin: false }

Your application would by default receive the object as it existed in the database after the most recent change. The previous two updates would be “squashed” into the third.

If you wanted to receive all the changes, including the interim states, you could do so by passing squash: false. The server will buffer up to 100,000 changes. (This number can be changed with the changefeedQueueSize optional argument.)

A third option is to specify how many seconds to wait between squashes. Passing squash: 5 to the changes command tells RethinkDB to squash changes together every five seconds. Depending on your application’s use case, this might reduce the load on the server. A number passed to squash may be a float. Note that the requested interval is not guaranteed, but is rather a best effort.

Note: Changefeeds ignore the read_mode flag to run, and always behave as if it is set to single (i.e., the values they return are in memory on the primary replica, but have not necessarily been written to disk yet). For more details read Consistency guarantees.

Scaling considerations

Changefeeds perform well as they scale, although they create extra intracluster messages in proportion to the number of servers with open feed connections on each write. This can be mitigated by running a RethinkDB proxy server (the rethinkdb proxy startup option); read Running a proxy node for details.

Since changefeeds are unidirectional with no acknowledgement returned from clients, they cannot guarantee delivery. If you need real-time updating with delivery guarantees, consider using a model that distributes to the clients through a message broker such as RabbitMQ.

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