Importance of dead lettering in Azure Service Bus

Not sure we have a word called “dead lettering”. But in the below post I have used it to repetitively.Smile

In every messaging/queuing technology, there is a provision for poison queue or a mechanism to deal with bad messages. Idea is – once you are done with the message if the processing still faulters, move the message(s) aside and deal with them later. With Microsoft Azure Service Bus topics and subscriptions there is a solid provision to move such poison messages aside, so that the next set of message(s) can be picked up for processing. In Azure Service Bus world, it’s called as dead lettering the messages.

When and how should we dead letter the message?

There are many scenarios in which message are moved to dead letter implicitly and in some scenarios it’s wise to move the message to dead letter explicitly.

As for all other Azure managed services, Service Bus also throttles as it needs to protects itself from denial of service (DoS) attack. As a developer, it’s your responsibility to have retry mechanism and retry policy in place (Recommended : exponential backoff retry interval policy). One of the ways to implement it is by using Delivery Count attribute on the message itself. Delivery count on the message gets incremented every time it reads/de-queues the message off top of a subscription. Max Delivery Count can be set on subscription to make sure the retry is not happening indefinitely. Once the Max Delivery Count is reached the retry attempts can be assumed to be exhausted and message can moved to dead letter. Following screenshot shows Max Delivery Count property config for subscription.


In some cases we should not retry multiple times. E.g : the message itself is bad. Required attributes are missing or message is not getting serialized correctly, in such non-transient cases even if you retry multiple times the processing is going to fail every time. In scenarios like this, we can explicitly dead letter the message and save some CPU cycles.

This is how you can move messages to dead letter explicitly.

   1: if (message != null)

   2: {

   3:     message.BrokeredMessage.DeadLetter(string.Format("DeadLetter Reason {0} Error 

   4:     message {1} ", "SerializationException", ex.Message), ex.StackTrace);

   5: }

Important things to remember while dead-lettering the message

As shown in the above snippet make sure you are specifying the dead letter reason and dead letter exception details etc. which helps in obvious debugging.

Also make sure following two properties are enabled for the subscription. This would make sure the messages are dead lettered implicitly if the filter evaluation goes wrong or the message gets expired.


Remember, dead letter messages would not be processed until something is not done to them. The recommended practice here is to fix the messages (fix the missing attributes etc.) and move them back to the subscription. How to do that? That’s for another blog post.Smile