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Spring, Reactor and ElasticSearch: from callbacks to reactive streams

Bieszczady mountains
Spring 5 (and Boot 2, when it arrives in a couple of weeks) is a revolution. Not the "annotations over XML" or "Java classes over annotations" type of revolution. It's truly a revolutionary framework that enables writing a brand new class of applications. Over the recent years, I became a little bit intimidated by this framework. "Spring Cloud being framework that simplifies the usage of Spring Boot, being a framework that simplifies the usage of Spring, being a framework, that simplifies enterprise development." (also known as "start... dot spring... dot I... O") lists 120 different modules (!) that you can add to your service. Spring these days became an enormous umbrella project and I can imagine why some people (still!) prefer Java EE (or whatever it's called these days).

But Spring 5 brings the reactive revolution. It's no longer only a wrapper around blocking servlet API and various web frameworks. Spring 5, on top of Project Reactor allows writing high-performance, extremely fast and scalable servers, avoiding the servlet stack altogether. Damn, there is no Jetty or even servlet API on the CLASSPATH! At the heart of Spring 5 web-flux we will find Netty, a low-level framework for writing asynchronous clients and servers. Finally, Spring becomes first-class citizen in the family of reactive frameworks. Java developers can implement fast services without leaving their comfort zone and going for or Spring 5 is a fully reactive, modern tool for building highly-scalable and resilient applications. Nevertheless, the underlying principles like controllers, beans, dependency injection are all the same. Moreover, upgrade path is smooth and we can gradually add features, rather than learning brand new, alien framework. Enough of talking, let's write some code.

In this article, we will write a simple headless application that indexes documents in ElasticSearch in large volume. We aim for thousands of concurrent connections with just a handful of threads, even when the server becomes slow. However, unlike e.g. Spring Data MongoDB, Spring Data ElasticSearch does not natively support non-blocking repositories. Well, the latter doesn't even seem to be maintained anymore, with current version being 3 years old. Many articles target Spring 5 + MongoDB with its repositories returning non-blocking streams (Flux or Flowable from RxJava). This one will be a little bit more advanced.

The ElasticSearch 6 Java API uses RESTful interface and is implemented using non-blocking HTTP client. Unfortunately, it uses callbacks rather than something sane like CompletableFuture. So let's build the client adapter ourselves.

ElasticSearch client using Fluxes and Monos

Source code for this article is available at on reactive-elastic-search branch.

We would like to build an ElasticSearch Java client that supports Project Reactor by returning Flux or Mono. Of course, we get the greatest benefit if the underlying stream is fully asynchronous and does not consume threads. Luckily the Java API is just like that. First, let's setup ElasticSearch's client as a Spring bean:

import org.apache.http.HttpHost;
import org.elasticsearch.client.RestClient;
import org.elasticsearch.client.RestHighLevelClient;

RestHighLevelClient restHighLevelClient() {
    return new RestHighLevelClient(
                    .builder(new HttpHost("localhost", 9200))
                    .setRequestConfigCallback(config -> config
In real life, we would obviously parametrize most of this stuff. We will be indexing simple JSON documents, for the time being, their contents is not important:

class Doc {
    private final String username;
    private final String json;
The code we will write wraps RestHighLevelClient and makes it even more high-level by returning Mono<IndexResponse>. Mono is pretty much like CompletableFuture but with two exceptions:

  • it's lazy - as long as you don't subscribe, no computation is started
  • unlike CompletableFuture, Mono can complete normally without emitting any value
The second difference was always a bit misleading to me. In RxJava 2.x there are two distinct types: Single (always completes with value or error) and Maybe (like Mono). Too bad Reactor doesn't make this distinction. Nevermind, how the adapter layer looks like? The plain Elastic's API looks as follows:

client.indexAsync(indexRequest, new ActionListener<IndexResponse>() {
    public void onResponse(IndexResponse indexResponse) {
        //got response

    public void onFailure(Exception e) {
        //got error
You can see where this is going: callback hell. Rather than exposing custom ActionListener as an argument to this logic, let's wrap it in Mono:

import org.elasticsearch.action.ActionListener;
import org.elasticsearch.action.index.IndexRequest;
import org.elasticsearch.action.index.IndexResponse;
import org.elasticsearch.client.RestHighLevelClient;
import org.elasticsearch.common.xcontent.XContentType;

import reactor.core.publisher.Mono;
import reactor.core.publisher.MonoSink;

private Mono<IndexResponse> indexDoc(Doc doc) {
    return Mono.create(sink -> {
        IndexRequest indexRequest = new IndexRequest("people", "person", doc.getUsername());
        indexRequest.source(doc.getJson(), XContentType.JSON);
        client.indexAsync(indexRequest, new ActionListener<IndexResponse>() {
            public void onResponse(IndexResponse indexResponse) {

            public void onFailure(Exception e) {
We must create IndexRequest wrapping JSON document and send it over RESTful API. But that's not the point. We are using Mono.create() method, it has some drawbacks, but more on that later. Mono is lazy, so barely calling indexDoc() doesn't suffice, no HTTP request was made to ElasticSearch. However every time someone subscribes to this one-element source, the logic inside create() will be executed. Crucial lines are sink.success() and sink.error(). They propagate results from ElasticSearch (coming from the background, asynchronous thread) into the stream. How to use such method in practice? It's very simple!

Doc doc = //...
                indexResponse ->"Got response")
Of course the true power of reactive stream processing comes from composing multiple streams. But we made our first steps: transforming callback-based asynchronous API into a generic stream. If you are (un)lucky to use MongoDB, it has built-in support for reactive types like Mono or Flux right in the repositories. The same goes for Cassandra and Redis. In the next article, we will learn how to generate some fake data and index it concurrently.


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