Serializers

Event stores need a way to serialize the event to prepare it for storage. By default, Axon uses the XStreamSerializer, which uses XStream to serialize events into XML. XStream is reasonably fast and is more flexible than Java Serialization. Furthermore, the result of XStream serialization is human readable. Quite useful for logging and debugging purposes.

The XStreamSerializer can be configured. You can define aliases it should use for certain packages, classes or even fields. Besides being a nice way to shorten potentially long names, aliases can also be used when class definitions of events change. For more information about aliases, visit the XStream website.

Alternatively, Axon also provides the JacksonSerializer, which uses Jackson to serialize events into JSON. While it produces a more compact serialized form, it does require that classes stick to the conventions (or configuration) required by Jackson.

You may also implement your own serializer, simply by creating a class that implements Serializer, and configuring the event store to use that implementation instead of the default.

Serializer Implementations

Serializers come in several flavors in the Axon Framework and are used for a variety of subjects. Currently you can choose between the XStreamSerializer, JacksonSerializer and JavaSerializer to serialize the messages (commands/queries/events), tokens, snapshots and sagas in an Axon application.

As there are several objects to be serialized, it is typically desired to tune which serializer handles which. To that end, the Configuration API allows you to define a default, message and event serializer, which lead to the following object-serialization break down:

  1. The Event Serializer is in charge of de-/serializing event messages.

    Events are typically stored in an event store for a long period of time.

    This is the main driver for choosing the event serializer implementation.

  2. The Message Serializer is in charge of de-/serializing the command and query messages

    (used in a distributed application set up).

    Messages are shared between nodes and typically need to be interoperable and/or compact.

    Take this into account when choosing the message serializer.

  3. The default Serializer is in charge of de-/serializing the remainder, being the tokens, snapshots and sagas.

    These objects are generally not shared between different applications,

    and most of these classes aren't expected to have some of the getters and setters that are, for example,

    typically required by Jackson based serializers.

    A flexible, general purpose serializer like XStream is quite suited for this purpose.

By default all three Serializer flavors are set to use the XStreamSerializer, which internally uses XStream to serialize objects to an XML format. XML is a verbose format to serialize to, but XStream has the major benefit of being able to serialize virtually anything. This verbosity is typically fine when storing tokens, sagas or snapshots, but for messages (and specifically events) XML might prove to cost too much due to its serialized size. Thus for optimization reasons you can configure different serializers for your messages. Another very valid reason for customizing Serializers is to achieve interoperability between different (Axon) applications, where the receiving end potentially enforces a specific serialized format.

There is an implicit ordering between the configurable serializer. If no Event Serializer is configured, the Event de-/serialization will be performed by the Message Serializer. In turn, if no Message Serializer is configured, the default Serializer will take that role.

See the following example on how to configure each serializer specifically, were we use XStreamSerializer as the default and JacksonSerializer for all our messages:

Axon Configuration API
Spring Boot AutoConfiguration - Properties file
Spring Boot AutoConfiguration - YML file
public class SerializerConfiguration {
public void serializerConfiguration(Configurer configurer) {
// Per default we want the XStreamSerializer
XStreamSerializer defaultSerializer = new XStreamSerializer();
// But for all our messages we'd prefer the JacksonSerializer due to JSON its smaller format
JacksonSerializer messageSerializer = new JacksonSerializer();
configurer.configureSerializer(configuration -> defaultSerializer)
.configureMessageSerializer(configuration -> messageSerializer)
.configureEventSerializer(configuration -> messageSerializer);
}
}
# Possible values for these keys are `default`, `xstream`, `java`, and `jackson`.
axon.serializer.general
axon.serializer.events
axon.serializer.messages
# Possible values for these keys are `default`, `xstream`, `java`, and `jackson`.
axon:
serializer:
general:
events:
messages:

Serializing events vs 'the rest'

It is possible to use a different serializer for the storage of events, than all other objects that Axon needs to serializer (such as commands, snapshots, sagas, etc). While the XStreamSerializer's capability to serialize virtually anything makes it a very decent default, its output is not always a form that makes it nice to share with other applications. The JacksonSerializer creates much nicer output, but requires a certain structure in the objects to serialize. This structure is typically present in events, making it a very suitable event serializer.

Using the Configuration API, you can simply register an event serializer as follows:

Configurer configurer = ... // initialize
configurer.configureEventSerializer(conf -> /* create serializer here*/);

If no explicit eventSerializer is configured, Events are serialized using the main serializer that has been configured (which in turn defaults to the XStreamSerializer).

ContentTypeConverters

An upcaster works on a given content type (e.g. dom4j Document). To provide extra flexibility between upcasters, content types between chained upcasters may vary. Axon will try to convert between the content types automatically by using ContentTypeConverters. It will search for the shortest path from type x to type y, perform the conversion and pass the converted value into the requested upcaster. For performance reasons, conversion will only be performed if the canUpcast method on the receiving upcaster yields true.

The ContentTypeConverters may depend on the type of serializer used. Attempting to convert a byte[] to a dom4j Document will not make any sense unless a Serializer was used that writes an event as XML. To make sure the UpcasterChain has access to the serializer-specific ContentTypeConverters, you can pass a reference to the serializer to the constructor of the UpcasterChain.

Tip

To achieve the best performance, ensure that all upcasters in the same chain (where one's output is another's input) work on the same content type.

If the content type conversion that you need is not provided by Axon you can always write one yourself using the ContentTypeConverter interface.

The XStreamSerializer supports dom4j as well as XOM as XML document representations. The JacksonSerializer supports Jackson's JsonNode.

Serializer Tuning

Several things might be considered when the serialization process proofs to not be up to par with the expectations.

XStreamSerializer

XStream is very configurable and extensible. If you just use a plain XStreamSerializer, there are some quick wins ready to pick up. XStream allows you to configure aliases for package names and event class names. Aliases are typically much shorter (especially if you have long package names), making the serialized form of an event smaller. And since we're talking XML, each character removed from XML is twice the profit (one for the start tag, and one for the end tag).

A more advanced topic in XStream is creating custom converters. The default reflection based converters are simple, but do not generate the most compact XML. Always look carefully at the generated XML and see if all the information there is really needed to reconstruct the original instance.

Avoid the use of upcasters when possible. XStream allows aliases to be used for fields, when they have changed name. Imagine revision 0 of an event, that used a field called "clientId". The business prefers the term "customer", so revision 1 was created with a field called "customerId". This can be configured completely in XStream, using field aliases. You need to configure two aliases, in the following order: alias "customerId" to "clientId" and then alias "customerId" to "customerId". This will tell XStream that if it encounters a field called "customerId", it will call the corresponding XML element "customerId" (the second alias overrides the first). But if XStream encounters an XML element called "clientId", it is a known alias and will be resolved to field name "customerId". Check out the XStream documentation for more information.

For ultimate performance, you're probably better off without reflection based mechanisms altogether. In that case, it is probably wisest to create a custom serialization mechanism. The DataInputStream and DataOutputStream allow you to easily write the contents of the events to an output stream. The ByteArrayOutputStream and ByteArrayInputStream allow writing to and reading from byte arrays.

Preventing duplicate serialization

Especially in distributed systems, event messages need to be serialized on multiple occasions. Axon's components are aware of this and have support for SerializationAware messages. If a SerializationAware message is detected, its methods are used to serialize an object, instead of simply passing the payload to a serializer. This allows for performance optimizations.

When you serialize messages yourself, and want to benefit from the SerializationAware optimization, use the MessageSerializer class to serialize the payload and metadata of messages. All optimization logic is implemented in that class. See the JavaDoc of the MessageSerializer for more details.

Different serializer for Events

When using event sourcing, serialized events can stick around for a long time. Therefore, consider the format to which they are serializer carefully. Consider configuring a separate serializer for events, carefully optimizing for the way they are stored. The JSON format generated by Jackson is generally more suitable for the long term than XStream's XML format. For more information on how to configure yourEventSerializer to something different, check out the documentation about Serializers.