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JIRA: here

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Some algorithms are best expressed recursively, which would involve piping the output of a pipeline back to an earlier point in the same pipeline. An example of this is graph/tree-traversal, where it can be useful to recursively traverse up a tree as new leaf nodes arrive.

This document introduces the concept of streaming recursion, a new DSL operator to succinctly express it, and optimizations that Kafka Streams can make to recursive algorithms that aren't currently possible.

Public Interfaces

The following new method will be introduced:

interface KStream<K, V> {
	KStream<K, V> recursively(UnaryOperator<KStream<K, V>> op);

Note: UnaryOperator is java.util.function.UnaryOperator

Proposed Changes

The new recursively method enables users to express recursive algorithms. Consider an example where we count all descendants of each node in a graph:

// <NodeId, ParentId>
KStream<String, String> nodes ="nodes");

// <NodeId, ParentId>
KTable<String, String> parents = nodes.toTable();

// count descendants by recursively producing parent records
// 1L is used as a dummy value below, since we will be discarding values when we count the records by key
KTable<String, Long> descendants = nodes
	.map((child, parent) -> { KeyValue(parent, 1L) }   // emit "update" for parent of new node
	.recursively((updates) -> {                        // recursively emit "updates" for each ancestor of the parent
		// emit a new update for the parent of this node
	 	// the root node has no parent, so recursion terminates at the root node
			.join(parents, (count, parent) -> { parent })
			.map((child, parent) -> { KeyValue(parent, 1L) })

Note: for simplicity, this example assumes that graph nodes arrive and are processed in-order; i.e. parent nodes are always processed before children.

The recursively method applies input records to its op argument. The results are then both emitted as a result of recursively and also fed back in to the op KStream.


  • op cannot be UnaryOperator.identity, or an equivalent function that simply returns its argument unmodified - this would produce an infinite recursive loop, since there's no opportunity refine the output to break out of the loop.
  • op MUST "terminate"; that is, it must have some condition which eventually prevents further recursion of a record. In our example here, the terminating condition is the join, since the root node of our graph will have no parent, so the join will produce no output for the root node.
    • We can attempt to detect "definitely non-terminating" arguments by failing to detect operations that can cause the stream to terminate (e.g. filter, join, flatMap, etc.) in the process graph produced by the function.
    • We cannot guarantee that a function that includes terminating operations (filter, join, flatMap, etc.) actually terminates.


In KStreamImpl, implementation is fairly simple:

  1. We call op, passing our current KStream as its argument. This produces our output KStream.
  2. We wire up the graphNode  from the output KStream  as a parent of the current KStream. This takes care of the recursion.
  3. Finally, we return the output  KStream. This enables users to operate on the records that are being recursively produced, as above.

Compatibility, Deprecation, and Migration Plan

  • No backwards incompatible changes are introduced.

Test Plan

The following tests will be added:

  • Counting descendants of graph nodes arriving in-order (as above)
  • Counting descendants of graph nodes arriving in any order

Rejected Alternatives

It's currently possible to implement streaming recursion via explicit topics, albeit with a number of disadvantages:

  1. The explicit topic is entirely internal to the Topology, yet it has to be managed explicitly by the user.
    1. This is functionally a repartition  topic, however, because it's explicitly managed, Streams can't automatically delete consumed records.
    2. Consequently, to prevent the topic growing unbounded, users would need to set retention criteria, which risks possible data loss.
  2. In scenarios where repartitioning is not required, the explicit recursive topic adds overhead.
  3. It also adds some complexity to the user's program, making it more difficult to reason about than it needs to be.

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