Will vs Technology

Where I, William Rudenmalm, document my quixotic struggle against technology.

Building a Kafka based key-value store in Rust - Part 2: Implementation

In the previous installment of this series we came up with a design for a key-value stored backed by Kafka and sled. This time it is time to start coding. Let's start with the storage module, because it is at the core of what we're trying to build. If you haven't read it already I suggest you go read part 1 of the series, as it contains the context you need to understand the why of this service.

pub struct Storage {
    db: sled::Db,
    kvs: sled::Tree,

For our purposes we implement the storage moduleas a struct consisting of the Sled database itself and a subtree, which is its own separate keyspace, which is great if you're building more complicated applications. The database itself has a default subtree that you can use directly, but creating a dedicated subtree for storing our keys and values seems like a worthwhile investment in future extensibility. Finally it is worth noting that we are deriving Clone for our struct, this doesn't mean that cloning the storage module would clone the entire database, rather Sled itself is thread safe and sharing it between threads is no problem at all. Now lets look at how we instantiate the storage and setup sled itself.

impl Storage {
    pub fn new() -> Result<Storage, sled::Error> {
        let db = sled::Config::default()
        let s = Storage {
            db: db.clone(),
            kvs: db.open_tree("data")?,

This code, I think, shows how ergonomic a well designed API in Rust can be. Using the config struct we decide on a path for the database and we then open it. Then we open the subtree itself which is named "data". All the error handling is done using Rust's ? or try operator, which causes the function to return the error in the result value it operates on. In Go, each ? would have been repalced by three lines of boilerplate, which makes this a huge boon to readability.

impl Storage {
    pub fn get(&self, key: &[u8]) -> Result<Option<sled::IVec>, sled::Error> {
    pub fn insert(&self, key: &[u8], data: &[u8]) -> Result<(), sled::Error> {
        self.kvs.insert(key, data).map(|_| ())

Now lets implement the basic get and set operations operations. Getting is the simpler of the two operations and we essentially just forward the call to the underlying subtree. For inserts sled returns the previous value at the key if such a value exists. We have no need for this so we use map to transform our result, discarding the returned value and replacing it with (), the empty tuple. In Rust the empty tuple is a zero-size value, which means that the compiler will under some circumstances optimize away the value entirely. Now that we completed the storage layer lets move on to the service layer.

#[derive(Debug, Snafu)]
pub enum Error {
    SledError { source: sled::Error },

pub struct Service {
    storage: Storage,

For the service layer we define two types an Error type and a type for our service layer. For the error type we use a library called Snafu to quickly create our own error type which wraps the underlying errors that might occur in our application. For now the only errors our application might encounter are Sled errors. We only a single error type wrapping it is not neccessary, but as soon as we run into other errors we will be glad that we did.

A nice pattern to use with custom error types is defining a type alias for Results of your error type. For instance the Rust standard library does this for IO like this.

pub type Result<T> = result::Result<T, Error>;

This is very useful because it reduces the boilerplate in your code because everytime you write a Result type signature you now just have to include the Ok type and not the error. Ordinarily it is best practice to avoid potentially confusing type aliases, but this is an idiom of the language so we will make an exception.

type Result<T> = std::result::Result<T, Error>;

Now let's implement the operations on the service layer.

impl Service {
    pub async fn new() -> Result<Service> {
        Ok(Service {
            storage: Storage::new()?,

    pub async fn get(&self, key: &[u8]) -> Result<Option<sled::IVec>> {

    pub async fn insert(&self, key: &[u8], data: &[u8]) -> Result<()> {
        self.storage.insert(key, data)?;

The implementation for the service layer is very simple we just forward calls to the storage layer. One thing worth noting here is how the how the ?, try operator is able to translate between the sled errors returned by the storage layer and our errors returned by the service layer. The Snafu library creates conversions method between our Error type and all of its consitutent inner errors, in our case just sled::Error. The try operator then uses this conversion implicitly and the errors are transformed just like that.

Now with the service and storage layers done we're are ready to start working on the interfaces interacting with our service and storage layers. Lets start with Kafka since it will be the easiest.

The first thing to consider when using Kafka is what kafka library we want to use. There are two crates with kafka clients available, kafka and rdkafka. The difference between the two is that kafka is a pure rust implementation of the Kafka protocol while rdkafka is a wrapper around the C library librdkafka. Both libraries are of excellent quality and would both be great choices for a depenendcy. kafka has the advantage of being pure rust and not needing to manage any dependencies outside the rust ecosystem, while rdkafka has the advantage of relying on the first party, battle-tested library that is librdkafka. For this project I went with rdkafka because the risk of the C-interop seems marginally smaller than the risk of a complete protocol implementation.

pub struct Consumer {
    consumer: StreamConsumer,
    svc: Service,

impl Consumer {
    pub fn new(config: &Config, service: Service) -> KafkaResult<Consumer> {
        let consumer: StreamConsumer = ClientConfig::new()
            .set("group.id", "kvs")
            .set("bootstrap.servers", "hostname-for-your-kafka")
            .set("auto.offset.reset", "earliest")
            .set("enable.partition.eof", "false")
            .set("session.timeout.ms", "6000")
            .set("enable.auto.commit", "true")
        Ok(Consumer {
            svc: service,

We use rdkafkas StreamConsumer to provide an easy to use model for consuming data from it. The Consumer needs a service instance to make changes to and a consumer to get them from. Now lets see how can use these components to consume messages. To do this lets add another method.

impl Consumer {
    pub async fn run(&self) {
        let mut stream = self.consumer.stream();
        while let Some(r) = stream.next().await {
            if let Err(e) = r {
                eprintln!("Kafka error: {}", e);
            let m = r.unwrap();
            if m.key().is_none() {
            let k = m.key().unwrap();
            let p = m.payload().unwrap_or(&[0u8; 0]);

            if let Err(e) = self.svc.insert(k, p).await {
                println!("Error writing key {:?} {:}", k, e)

That looks like a lot of code but it isn't really doing all that much, first we call stream on our consumer to treat it as an async stream and then we use a while let loop to consume the stream as it arrives. When stream.next() produces a None value the while loop will terminate and our method return.

After getting the value from Kafka we receive a result, r which we first check for errors. If we get an error from kafka we print it and then use continue to poll the next value from the stream. If it is not an error we have received a kafka message which, among other things consists of a key and a payload. The key is what we will use as the key and the payload we will use as our value. If the key is not set we cannot do anything about it and have to skip it. If the payload is empty we treat it as an empty binary string. Now with our key and value as binary strings we can finally pass them on to our service object and await it's completion. If the operation fails we print the error to the terminal.

That's all there is to consuing messages from Kafka in Rust. We will now read our entire kafka topic, inserting data into our key value store based on the payloads and keys of the Kafka messages. Next time we will look at implementing the read side of the service, discussing what RPC framework to use and implementing it as well as introducing a main function and configuration.

A picture of William Rudenmalm

William Rudenmalm

Technologist at Sobel Software Research

William Rudenmalm is a european technologist passionate about the next big thing and the people building it. William is particularly interested in scaling engineering organizations and navigating trade offs of architecture and velocity. In the field of computer science, his expertise lies in distributed systems, scalability and machine learning. Among the technologies William is particularly excited about are Kubernetes, Rust, nats, Kafka and neo4j.