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NestJS

Part 1: Introduction and Setup

John Biundo
I'm a member of the core team for NestJS. I'm interested in all things open source, web dev, SQL, and linux.
Updated on ・13 min read

John is a member of the NestJS core team

Introduction

This article series covers the topic of building a custom transporter for the NestJS microservices subsystem. Is this article right for you? It is if you fit into one of the following two audiences:

  • You're trying to build or modify a NestJS microservices transporter. That one was probably pretty obvious 😄.
  • You're a NestJS application developer (someone who writes code in what I'll often refer to as "user-land"), and want a deeper understanding of how NestJS microservices work. Candidly, this is where I came from, and a main motivator for doing the research to write this article series. Even if you never intend to build your own transporter, you can still benefit from this deeper understanding, as I have done. Along the way, I'll try to share insights on how you can become a better user of Nest microservices.

Recommended Reading

If you haven't already read it, please check out my NestJS Microservices in Action series, where I cover many of the basics of the NestJS microservices subsystem architecture, and establish the terminology used in all my Nest Microservices articles, including answering the question "what the heck is a transporter?".

Star Trek Transporter

Close, but no cigar!

Anyway, while not strictly required, this series assumes a good understanding of the material in that article series.

Why Custom Transporters?

Let's start with the Why? question. The Nest microservices subsystem provides a communications layer abstraction that makes it easy for applications (both Nest and non-Nest) to communicate over a wide variety of what are called transporters. This provides several key benefits, covered fully in the previous article series. Nest comes with a variety of built-in transporters, including NATS, RabbitMQ, Kafka, and others. But what if you want to build your own transporter — say for ZeroMQ, Google Cloud Pub/Sub, Amazon Kinesis or Apache ActiveMQ? If that's your desire, you've landed on the right article! Or, if you just want to understand more about how this key part of the Nest infrastructure works, read on!

A related question is "How can I extend the capabilities of existing Nest transporters?" For example, maybe you'd like to use MQTT's QoS feature with the MQTT transporter. That's a topic I'll cover in another upcoming series (already under development 💥), but this series provides a baseline for addressing that requirement.

Article Series Overview

  • Part 1 (this article): Sets the background for the entire series. We'll begin by examining the simple Faye message broker to set the stage for building a custom Nest transporter that sits on top of it. By the time we're done with Part 5, we'll have a fully functional Faye Transporter!
  • Part 2: Tackles building an initial version of the server side of our custom transporter. The result is a working version that should familiarize you with the main concepts needed to understand how to build the server component of any custom transporter. It defers implementation of a few important details to the next article so as to keep us focused on the main path.
  • Part 3: Cleans up some loose ends, and dives deep on a few of the more advanced and impressive features of the framework, and shows you how to enable these features in your custom transporter.
  • Part 4: Switches to the client side. As with the server side, this article walks through a basic functional implementation for Faye, deferring a few of the more complex features to the next article.
  • Part 5: Completes the client-side journey, resulting in a finished, fully functional Custom Transporter for Faye.
  • Part 6: (Coming soon!) Surveys a few of the built-in NestJS transporters and compares their implementation to the Faye implementation to shed light on some broker-specific nuanced implementation details.

Let's get started!

Get the Code

All of the code in these articles is available here. As always, these tutorials work best if you follow along with the code. The README covers all the steps you need to get the repository, build the apps, and follow along. It's easy! I strongly encourage you to do so. Note that each article has a corresponding branch in the repository. For example, this article (Part 1), has a corresponding branch called part1. Read on, or get more details here on using the repository.

Git checkout the current version

For this article, you should git checkout the branch part1. You can get more information about the git repository branches here.

Build the Apps for This Part

For each article in the series, we introduce some new components (and sometimes entirely new projects). For convenience, at the start of each article, you should run the following command from the top-level directory (where you cloned the repo):*

$ # from root directory of project (e.g., transporter-tutorial, or whatever you chose as the root)
$ sh build.sh

*This is a shell script that runs on Linux-like systems. You may have to make an adjustment for non-Linux systems. Note that the script is simply a convenience that runs npm install && npm run buildinside each top-level directory, so you can always fall back to that technique if you have trouble with the script.

Overview for Part 1

For this case study, we'll build a custom transporter to work with the Faye message broker. Faye is a simple OSS JavaScript publish/subscribe message broker that runs nicely on Node.js. Getting it up and running and understanding its API are simple, making it a convenient target. At the same time, it provides all the features Nest needs to build a transporter.

Faye uses a very simple — almost canonical — publish/subscribe protocol, as depicted in Figure 1 below.

Faye Message Protocol

Figure 1: Faye Message Protocol

Building Basic Faye Client Apps

As we did in the NestJS Microservices in Action series, we'll start by building simple native requestor and responder apps. These are TypeScript apps that exercise the Faye client API directly. This will help us make sure we understand the Faye client API, and give us a convenient test bench.

As covered in the previous article series, one of the challenges the Nest microservices package deals with is to layer a request/response message style on top of publish/subscribe semantics. In other words, Nest requestors need to be able to run code like this, which issues a request and returns a response from a remote microservice:

  @Get('customers')
  getCustomers(): Observable<any> {
    this.logger.log('client#send -> topic: "get-customers"');
    // the following request returns a response as an Observable
    return this.client.send('/get-customers', {});
  }

Supporting Request/Response

Since Faye (as well as most brokers) only supports publish/subscribe, we need to follow a simple recipe to provide request/response semantics. Here's a recap of the generic pattern for how this is often done.

Let's say component A wishes to "get customers" from component B, which has access to a customer DB. Component A can publish a '/get-customers' message, and (assuming it has subscribed to that topic) component B receives it, queries the customer DB for a list of customers, and sends a response message which is delivered back to A. Handling the response message is where the magic happens. In order for B to respond to A, they both must do a few things, agreed upon by convention:

  • A chooses a response topic (sometimes called a reply subject)
  • A subscribes to the response topic
  • A publishes a request, passing the response topic as part of the message
  • B publishes a response, using the response topic as the topic of its message

💡 We've seen this subscribe-to-the-response-then-send-the-request pattern a few times now, and we'll see it again. It's a vital pattern, and worth permanently etching into your synapses. To that end, let's invent a simple mnemonic. That way we can mentally conjure this pattern quickly whenever we need it. I'll refer to it as STRPTQ. The letters come from "Subscribe To the Response, then Publish The ReQuest". I use Q to make it easier to remember reQuest (vs. Response), in the proper order.

As we'll see in developing our Faye transporter, Nest makes this a bit easier by automatically choosing the response topic name for you. In fact, Nest builds two topics from each pattern you declare. For example, assume you define a Nest microservice responder message pattern like this:

@MessagePattern('/get-customers')

(Note: Nest uses the term channel as a generic internal name for topics (also called subjects and channels by some brokers), and to help disambiguate them from the user-land concept of a pattern, from which they are derived.)

Internally, Nest builds two channels from the above pattern:

  • '/get-customers_ack' - this is the physical channel name we'll use in the Faye transporter to publish/subscribe to request messages on the topic '/get-customers'
  • '/get-customers_res' - this is the physical channel name we'll use in the Faye transporter to publish/subscribe to response messages resulting from '/get-customers' requests

Let's build those native apps we mentioned. Note: later we'll want to use these native apps to test our Nest transporter, so to make them interact seamlessly with Nest, we'll utilize the Nest channel names described above. We'll start with the responder app.

Native Responder App (customerService)

This is the app that responds to inbound messages (requests) and generates responses. Assuming you're following along on the part1 branch, open the file customerService/src/service.ts.

Here's the implementation of the getCustomers Faye subscription handler. This is the code we register to run when our app receives an inbound message on the '/get-customers_ack' channel (see the subscribe() call lower in the file):

// customerService/src/service.ts
function getCustomers(packet): void {
  const message = parsePacket(packet);
  console.log(
    `\n========== <<< 'get-customers' message >>> ==========\n${JSON.stringify(
      message,
    )}\n=============================================\n`,
  );

  // filter customers list if there's a `customerId` param
  const customers =
    message.data && message.data.customerId
      ? customerList.filter(
          cust => cust.id === parseInt(message.data.customerId, 10),
        )
      : customerList;

  client.publish('/get-customers_res', getPayload({ customers }, message.id));
}

The logic should be easy to understand. Refer to the full listing and make sure you see how we are using the '/get-customers_ack' and '/get-customers_res' channels here. We'll be seeing a lot of that pattern, so make sure it makes sense to you.

One detail to point out is the call to getPayload(). Let's discuss that. As mentioned, we're building these native apps to conform to Nest protocols. This includes using the Nest-standard channel names, as well as matching the internal Nest message format (message format is covered extensively in the NestJS Microservices in Action series). Because we take this approach, the apps provide a convenient test bench for the Nest transporter Server and ClientProxy we're building in this article series. The message format requirement means we need to wrap responses in a standard object we can depict like this:

   {
     /**
      *  Request error message, if any
      */
     err: any,
     /**
      *  The response message payload (return value of a
      *  message pattern handler)
      */
     response: any
     /**
      *  Status of an Observable response. `true` once the final
      *  stream value has been retrieved.
      */
     isDisposed: boolean
     /**
      *  Unique identifier, corresponding to the id field received
      *  from the initial request
      */
     id: string
   }

So getPayload() is a helper that wraps payloads in this standard Nest message structure. If you're paying close attention, you'll notice that getPayload() (not shown here — look at the service.ts source code to see it) copies the message.id field from the inbound request to the outbound message. We haven't discussed these id fields yet, but they'll become very important when we dive into the "client side" of our transporter starting in Part 5.

Native Requestor App (customerApp)

This is the user-facing app that makes outbound requests. The requestor is in customerApp/src/customer-app.ts. Below is the implementation of the getCustomers() function from that app.

There's a little bit of boilerplate, but the main logic should be easy to see. It implements the requestor side of that STRPTQ request/response protocol we walked through a couple of minutes ago.

// customerApp/src/customer-app.ts
async function getCustomers(customerId) {
  // build Nest-shaped message
  const payload = getPayload('/get-customers', { customerId }, uuid());

  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    // subscribe to the response message
    const subscription = client.subscribe('/get-customers_res', result => {
      console.log(
        `==> Receiving 'get-customers' reply: \n${JSON.stringify(
          result.response,
          null,
          2,
        )}\n`,
      );
    });

    // once response is subscribed, publish the request
    subscription.then(() => {
      console.log(
        `<== Sending 'get-customers' request with payload:\n${JSON.stringify(
          payload,
        )}\n`,
      );
      const pub = client.publish('/get-customers_ack', payload);
      pub.then(() => {
        // wait .5 second to ensure subscription handler executes
        // then unsubscribe and resolve
        setTimeout(() => {
          subscription.cancel();
          resolve();
        }, 500);
      });
    });
  });
}

We first subscribe to '/get-customers_res' (the response channel). We pass it a simple Faye subscription handler that prints out the result when a message on this channel comes back. This output becomes the "final response" to an end-user command (request) that's been issued from the command line (received by way of the basic command line processing logic at the bottom of the file).

Then we publish the request on '/get-customers_ack'. Note that the call to subscribe() returned a subscription which is a Promise that resolves once the Faye server acknowledges that the subscribe operation has completed.

Because we're running this as a standalone Node.js command line program, and thus want to exit after sending a request (which let's us use it as a command processor to conveniently send requests), we wait 500ms after publishing the request, then cancel the subscription and exit. Cancelling the subscription is important hygiene — if we don't, subscriptions hang around (though Faye will eventually detect them and clean them up). This is a bit brute force, and we'll want to do more sophisticated subscription management in our transporter client, but suffices for now.

Finally, you'll notice that much like the customerService responder app, we have a helper getPayload() utility to wrap requests in the Nest message protocol. You'll also notice that we are generating the id field — the same id field we are handling on our responder app above. For now, just think of the id field as something we need to have in order to speak native Nest message protocol. Later, we'll dive into this in more detail.

For completeness, let's take a very quick look at how we run the Faye server. Though you can treat it as a black box, it's worth a moment to look at how it runs, and appreciate its native node.js-ness and simplicity. Open up faye-server/server.js. The code is shown below. You can read more about running the Faye server here, but we're basically just starting it up, and for instrumentation purposes, listening for various events that we can log to the console to make it easy to trace the handshaking and message exchange. You shouldn't have to mess with this at all, but if you do, it's pretty basic stuff.

// faye-server/server.js
const http = require('http');
const faye = require('faye');

const mountPath = '/faye';
const port = 8000;

const server = http.createServer();
const bayeux = new faye.NodeAdapter({ mount: mountPath, timeout: 45 });

bayeux.attach(server);
server.listen(port, () => {
  console.log(
    `listening on http://localhost:${port}${mountPath}\n========================================`,
  );
});

bayeux.on('handshake', clientId =>
  console.log('^^ client connect (#', clientId.substring(0, 4), ')'),
);

bayeux.on('disconnect', clientId =>
  console.log('vv client disconnect (#', clientId.substring(0, 4), ')'),
);

bayeux.on('publish', (clientId, channel, data) => {
  console.log(
    `<== New message from ${clientId.substring(0, 4)} on channel ${channel}`,
    `\n    ** Payload: ${JSON.stringify(data)}`,
  );
});

bayeux.on('subscribe', (clientId, channel) => {
  console.log(
    `++ New subscription from ${clientId.substring(0, 4)} on ${JSON.stringify(
      channel,
    )}`,
  );
});

bayeux.on('unsubscribe', (clientId, channel) => {
  console.log(
    `-- Unsubscribe by ${clientId.substring(0, 4)} on ${JSON.stringify(
      channel,
    )}`,
  );
});

Testing the Apps

We've now completed our requestor and responder, and can test them out. While I only reviewed the '/get-customers' message flow above, the code in this branch also implements the '/add-customer' message. Take a minute to run the code now by following these simple instructions. Here's what it looks like. In this video loop, the Faye broker is running in the top pane, the customerService app is running in the middle pane, and the customerApp app is running in the lower pane (and if you're curious, this is running in the tmux virtual terminal; you can get my setup here if you're interested).

Native App Demo

Screen Capture: Native App Demo

What's Next

In Part 2, we'll write and test a basic version of the Faye transporter's server component. This is the component that runs in the context of a microservice listener to enable apps to function as Nest responders (these terms and concepts are discussed extensively in the NestJS Microservices in Action series). We'll test this server component by using it in a simple Nest responder (microservice) app. That Nest microservice app will replace the native customerApp we just built, and we'll make sure it responds to the exact same customer-related messages.

Feel free to ask questions, make comments or suggestions, or just say hello in the comments below. And join us at Discord for more happy discussions about NestJS. I post there as Y Prospect.

Discussion (1)

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kdi1 profile image
kdi-1

Awesome articles as always! Thanks
One typo - part 5 link in Article Series Overview section points to Part 4 article.