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Apache Kafka is an open-source stream-processing software platform developed by the Apache Software Foundation, written in Scala and Java. The project aims to provide a unified, high-throughput, low-latency platform for handling real-time data feeds. Kafka can connect to external systems (for data import/export) via Kafka Connect and provides Kafka Streams, a Java stream processing library. Kafka uses a binary TCP-based protocol that is optimized for efficiency and relies on a "message set" abstraction that naturally groups messages together to reduce the overhead of the network roundtrip. This "leads to larger network packets, larger sequential disk operations, contiguous memory blocks [...] which allows Kafka to turn a bursty stream of random message writes into linear writes.

Kafka stores key-value messages that come from arbitrarily many processes called producers. The data can be partitioned into different "partitions" within different "topics". Within a partition, messages are strictly ordered by their offsets (the position of a message within a partition), and indexed and stored together with a timestamp. Other processes called "consumers" can read messages from partitions. For stream processing, Kafka offers the Streams API that allows writing Java applications that consume data from Kafka and write results back to Kafka. Apache Kafka also works with external stream processing systems such as Apache Apex, Apache Flink, Apache Spark, Apache Storm and Apache NiFi.

Kafka runs on a cluster of one or more servers (called brokers), and the partitions of all topics are distributed across the cluster nodes. Additionally, partitions are replicated to multiple brokers. This architecture allows Kafka to deliver massive streams of messages in a fault-tolerant fashion and has allowed it to replace some of the conventional messaging systems like Java Message Service (JMS), Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), etc. Since the release, Kafka offers transactional writes, which provide exactly-once stream processing using the Streams API.

Kafka supports two types of topics: Regular and compacted. Regular topics can be configured with a retention time or a space bound. If there are records that are older than the specified retention time or if the space bound is exceeded for a partition, Kafka is allowed to delete old data to free storage space. By default, topics are configured with a retention time of 7 days, but it's also possible to store data indefinitely. For compacted topics, records don't expire based on time or space bounds. Instead, Kafka treats later messages as updates to older message with the same key and guarantees never to delete the latest message per key. Users can delete messages entirely by writing a so-called tombstone message with null-value for a specific key.

There are five major APIs in Kafka:

  • Producer API – Permits an application to publish streams of records.
  • Consumer API – Permits an application to subscribe to topics and processes streams of records.
  • Connector API – Executes the reusable producer and consumer APIs that can link the topics to the existing applications.
  • Streams API – This API converts the input streams to output and produces the result.
  • Admin API – used to manage Kafka topics,brokers and other Kafka objects.

Apache Kafka has been used in the oGaTe and IIX Gateway (Insurance oGaTe).