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NestJS

Part 3: Techniques for Application Integration with NestJS and NATS

John Biundo
I'm a member of the core team for NestJS. I'm interested in all things open source, web dev, SQL, and linux.
Updated on ・12 min read

John is a member of the NestJS core team

Part 3: Solving the Message Incompatibility Problem

In Part 2 of this series, we described the challenges of integrating Nest apps with non-Nest apps using NATS as an intermediary.

In this article, we explore solutions to that problem.

Get the Code

Reminder: all the code for these articles is available here, with complete instructions here.

Serialization and Deserialization

Serialization and deserialization are the steps Nest uses to translate between message formats. In other words, Nest receives inbound messages (from the broker), deserializes them (converts arbitrary message formats into Nest message formats), and then processes them. For outbound messages, the process is reversed: the last step before sending a message to the broker is to (optionally) serialize it (convert from Nest message format to some other format).

The nifty part is that while Nest does all this automatically, it also provides hooks where you can easily plug in your own serializers and deserializers to handle arbitrary message formats. Serializers and deserializers are simply classes that implement a defined interface.

Since requestors and responders perform their own unique roles (each with their own context) and each are both message senders and message receivers, there are four hooks where serialization/deserialization take place. These are examined in the recipes below. If there's one section of this article series that you should bookmark for future reference, this is it. Each recipe describes exactly where you should look to handle a serialization/deserialization task, including the full context you need to understand why and how to do it.

Serialization/Deserialization Hooks and Recipes

Let's examine the two different contexts (requestors and responders) in which we need to serialize/deserialize. For each, we'll examine handling inbound and outbound messages.

Nest as Requestor

Nest requestors live in the context of a ClientProxy instance. It follows that we customize serialization/deserialization behavior by modifying the ClientProxy behavior. For example:

// app.controller.ts
@Client({
  transport: Transport.NATS,
  options: {
    url: 'nats://localhost:4222',
    serializer: new OutboundRequestSerializer(),
    deserializer: new InboundResponseDeserializer(),
  }
})
client: ClientProxy;

In the code fragment above, OutboundRequestSerializer is the class that answers the question "how do does my Nest requestor format outgoing requests so that an external app can process them?", while InboundResponseDeserializer is the class that addresses "how does my requestor translate incoming external responses so that Nest can process them?".

Note: you can choose any name for these classes, but trust me, it's highly recommended that you choose a naming convention similar to the ones above to keep things straight!

Nest as Responder

Nest responders live in the context of a microservice instance. It follows that we customize serialization/deserialization behavior by modifying the microservice instance behavior. For example:

// main.ts
async function bootstrap() {
  const app = await NestFactory.createMicroservice(AppModule, {
    transport: Transport.NATS,
    options: {
      url: 'nats://localhost:4222',
      deserializer: new InboundMessageDeserializer(),
      serializer: new OutboundResponseSerializer(),
    },
  });
  app.listen(() => console.log('Microservice is listening...'));
}

So InboundMessageDeserializer is the class that answers the question "how does my responder translate incoming external messages so that Nest can process them?", while OutboundResponseSerializer is the class that handles "how does my responder format responses so that the external app can understand them?".

This feature results in the following diagrams — ones that remove all those ugly red X's in the last diagram!

Here's the diagram to keep in mind when writing serializers/deserializers for Nest responders.

Nest Responder (De)serialization

Figure 1: Nest Responder (De)serialization

In the above diagram, the Nest responder serializer and deserializer are configured in the NestFactory.creatMicroservice() call.

And here's the corresponding diagram for Nest requestors.

Nest Requestor (De)serialization

Figure 2: Nest Requestor (De)serialization

In the above diagram, the Nest requestor serializer and deserializer are configured in the ClientProxy configuration (decorator or injectable, depending on which method you use).

Implementing Serializers and Deserializers

Before we start writing serializer/deserializer classes, let's take a look at their interfaces.

Serializer Interface

A serializer class needs to implement the serialize() method, which takes a single argument — the outbound payload to be serialized — and returns the serialized payload.

export interface Serializer<TInput = any, TOutput = any> {
  serialize(value: TInput): TOutput;
}

We'll now implement an identity serializer for our Nest responder as an exercise. An identity serializer simply returns the same message it receives. In addition to exercising the interface, we can use it to "spy on" the otherwise silent serialization function that Nest always performs on our behalf.

Responder Identity Serializer Implementation

Here, we'll be working in the nestMicroservice project (i.e., nest-nats-sample/nestMicroservice directory). Take a look at the src/common/serializers/outbound-response-identity.serializer.ts file:

// src/common/serializers/outbount-response-identity.serializer.ts
import { Serializer, OutgoingResponse } from '@nestjs/microservices';
import { Logger } from '@nestjs/common';

export class OutboundResponseIdentitySerializer implements Serializer {
  private readonly logger = new Logger('OutboundResponseIdentitySerializer');
  serialize(value: any): OutgoingResponse {
    this.logger.debug(
      `-->> Serializing outbound response: \n${JSON.stringify(value)}`
    );
    return value;
  }
}

Now simply plug this serializer into the main.ts file for the Nest responder app. If you're following along with the github repository, the main.ts file will have all of this code (and more that we'll get to soon) in place, but commented out. Simply uncomment the line shown below.

// src/main.ts
const app = await NestFactory.createMicroservice(AppModule, {
  transport: Transport.NATS,
  options: {
    queue: 'customers',
    url: 'nats://localhost:4222',
    /**
      * Use the "Identity" (de)serializers for observing messages for
      * nest-only deployment.
      */
    serializer: new OutboundResponseIdentitySerializer(),
  },
});

If you now send some requests to the nestMicroservice app from the nestHttpApp (here's how), you'll see logging information that looks something like this, showing you the internal layout of the outbound message:

[Nest] 8786   - 02/04/2020, 10:19:04 AM   [OutboundResponseIdentitySerializer] -->> Serializing outbound response:
{"err":null,"response":[],"isDisposed":true,"id":"41da72e8-09d0-4720-9404-bd0977b034a0"}
Deserializer Interface

Now let's take a look at the required interface for a deserializer.

export interface Deserializer<TInput = any, TOutput = any> {
  deserialize(value: TInput, options?: Record<string, any>): TOutput;
}

A deserializer class needs to implement the deserialize() method, which takes a two arguments — the payload to be deserialized and an optional options object — and returns the deserialized payload.

The options object contains metadata about the incoming message. For NATS, the object contains the value of the replyTo message property, if one exists.

Let's implement a deserializer. To start with, we'll build an "identity deserializer" that just logs out the contents of any incoming message without doing any transformation on it.

Responder Identity Deserializer Implementation

We're still working on the Nest responder — the nestMicroservice project (i.e., nest-nats-sample/nestMicroservice directory). Take a look at the src/common/deserializers/inbound-message-identity.deserializer.ts file:

// src/common/serializers/inbound-message-identity.deserializer.ts
import { ConsumerDeserializer, IncomingRequest } from '@nestjs/microservices';
import { Logger } from '@nestjs/common';

export class InboundMessageIdentityDeserializer
  implements ConsumerDeserializer {
  private readonly logger = new Logger('InboundMessageIdentityDeserializer');

  deserialize(value: any, options?: Record<string, any>): IncomingRequest {
    this.logger.verbose(
      `<<-- deserializing inbound message:\n${JSON.stringify(
        value
      )}\n\twith options: ${JSON.stringify(options)}`
    );
    return value;
  }
}

Like our identity serializer, we can quickly plug in an identity deserializer to spy on the incoming messages from our requestor. Again, if you're following along using the github repository, simply comment out the lines so the active (de)serializers match those shown below.

// src/main.ts
const app = await NestFactory.createMicroservice(AppModule, {
  transport: Transport.NATS,
  options: {
    queue: 'customers',
    url: 'nats://localhost:4222',
    /**
      * Use the "Identity" (de)serializers for observing messages for
      * nest-only deployment.
      */
    serializer: new OutboundResponseIdentitySerializer(),
    deserializer: new InboundMessageIdentityDeserializer(),
  },
});

If you again send some requests to the nestMicroservice app from the nestHttpApp (like this), you'll see logging information that looks something like this, showing you the layout of the inbound message:

[Nest] 8786   - 02/04/2020, 10:19:04 AM   [InboundMessageIdentityDeserializer] <<-- deserializing inbound message:
{"pattern":"get-customers","data":{},"id":"41da72e8-09d0-4720-9404-bd0977b034a0"}
        with options: {"channel":"get-customers","replyTo":"_INBOX.IDML09N4JB6W0MF4P6GBPB.IDML09N4JB6W0MF4P6GCX2"}

Notice the value for the replyTo field in the logging output. You can probably guess what that is. This is a detail that's going to come in handy down the line, so file that away for future reference.

Implementing the Integration Use Cases

We've nearly arrived at our final destination. With the understanding we've gained, we can specify what we need to complete our integration use cases from Figure 1 in Part 1.

Here are the requirements:

  1. The nestHttpApp, in its role as a requestor, must implement:

    • A) an outbound message external serializer that translates a Nest formatted request into a request understood by our external service. For example:
      • From Nest format
        • topic: 'get-customers'
        • reply topic: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {pattern: 'get-customers', data: {}, id: 'abc...'}
      • To external format
        • topic: 'get-customers'
        • reply topic: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {}
    • B) an inbound response external deserializer that translates an external response into a format understood by Nest. For example:
      • From external format
        • topic: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {customers: [{id: 1, name: 'nestjs.com'}]}
      • To Nest format
        • topic:'_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {err: undefined, response: {customers: [{id: 1, name: 'nestjs.com'}]}, isDisposed: true}
  2. The nestMicroservice app, in its role as a responder, must implement:

    • A) an inbound message external deserializer that translates an external request into a format understood by Nest. For example:
      • From external format
        • topic: 'get-customers'
        • reply: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {}
      • To Nest format
        • topic 'get-customers'
        • reply topic: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {pattern: 'get-customers', data: {}, id: 'abc...'}
    • B) an outbound response external serializer that translates a Nest formatted response into a response understood by our external service. For example:
      • From Nest format
        • topic: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {err: undefined, response: {customers: [{id: 1, name: 'nestjs.com'}]}, isDisposed: true}
      • To external format
        • topic: '_INBOX.XVRL...'
        • payload: {customers: [{id: 1, name: 'nestjs.com'}]}

With that in mind, let's get busy! The bolded descriptions above inform the names of our classes.

For requirement 1-A, we have src/common/serializers/outbound-message-external.serializer.ts in our nestHttpApp project. Here's the code. The comments explain its intent.

// src/common/serializers/outbound-message-external.serializer.ts
import { Logger } from '@nestjs/common';
import { Serializer } from '@nestjs/microservices';

export class OutboundMessageExternalSerializer implements Serializer {
  private readonly logger = new Logger('OutboundMessageExternalSerializer');
  serialize(value: any) {
    this.logger.debug(
      `-->> Serializing outbound message: \n${JSON.stringify(value)}`,
    );

    /**
     * Here, we are merely "unpacking" the request payload from the Nest
     * message structure and returning it as a "plain" top-level object.
     */
    return value.data;
  }
}

For requirement 1-B, we have src/common/deserializers/inbound-response-external.deserializer.ts in our nestHttpApp project. Here's the code. The comments explain its intent.

// src/common/deserializers/inbound-response-external.deserializer.ts
import { WritePacket, Deserializer } from '@nestjs/microservices';
import { Logger } from '@nestjs/common';

export class InboundResponseExternalDeserializer implements Deserializer {
  private readonly logger = new Logger('InboundResponseExternalDeserializer');

  deserialize(value: any): WritePacket {
    this.logger.verbose(
      `<<-- deserializing inbound response:\n${JSON.stringify(value)}`,
    );

    /**
     * Here, we wrap the external payload received in a standard Nest
     * response message.  Note that we have omitted the `id` field, as it
     * does not have any meaning from an external responder.  Because of this,
     * we have to also:
     *   1) implement the `Deserializer` interface instead of the
     *      `ProducerDeserializer` interface used in the identity deserializer
     *   2) return an object with the `WritePacket` interface, rather than
     *      the`IncomingResponse` interface used in the identity deserializer.
     */
    return {
      err: undefined,
      response: value,
      isDisposed: true,
    };
  }
}

For requirement 2-A, we have src/common/deserializers/inbound-message-external.deserializer.ts in our nestMicroservice project. Here's the code. The comments explain its intent.

// src/common/serializers/inbound-message-external.deserializer.ts
import { Logger } from '@nestjs/common';
import * as uuid from 'uuid/v4';
import { ConsumerDeserializer } from '@nestjs/microservices';

export class InboundMessageExternalDeserializer
  implements ConsumerDeserializer {
  private readonly logger = new Logger('InboundMessageExternalDeserializer');
  deserialize(value: any, options?: Record<string, any>) {
    this.logger.verbose(
      `<<-- deserializing inbound external message:\n${JSON.stringify(
        value,
      )}\n\twith options: ${JSON.stringify(options)}`,
    );

    /**
     * Here, we merely wrap our inbound message payload in the standard Nest
     * message structure.
     */
    return {
      pattern: undefined,
      data: value,
      id: uuid(),
    };
  }
}

For requirement 2-B, we have src/common/serializers/outbound-response-external.serializer.ts in our nestMicroservice project. Here's the code. The comments explain its intent.

// src/common/serializers/outbound-response-external.serializer.ts
import { Serializer, OutgoingResponse } from '@nestjs/microservices';
import { Logger } from '@nestjs/common';

export class OutboundResponseExternalSerializer implements Serializer {
  private readonly logger = new Logger('OutboundResponseExternalSerializer');
  serialize(value: any): OutgoingResponse {
    this.logger.debug(
      `-->> Serializing outbound response: \n${JSON.stringify(value)}`,
    );

    /**
     * Here, we are merely "unpacking" the response payload from the Nest
     * message structure, and returning it as a "plain" top-level object.
     */

    return value.response;
  }
}

Enabling the External (De)serializers

The last step is to plug in these (de)serializers in at the appropriate "hook points". We've seen this before. For the nestHttpApp, this is done wherever you configure the ClientProxy. In our case, for ease of code organization, we've done this with the @Client() decorator in the src/app.controller.ts file. To enable the external (de)serializers, update that file to look like this:

// src/app.controller.ts
  @Client({
    transport: Transport.NATS,
    options: {
      url: 'nats://localhost:4222',
      /**
       * Use the "Identity" (de)serializers for observing messages for
       * nest-only deployment.
       */
      // serializer: new OutboundMessageIdentitySerializer(),
      // deserializer: new InboundResponseIdentityDeserializer(),

      /**
       * Use the "External" (de)serializers for transforming messages to/from
       * (only) an external responder
       */
      serializer: new OutboundMessageExternalSerializer(),
      deserializer: new InboundResponseExternalDeserializer(),
    },
  })
  custClient: ClientProxy;

For the nestMicroservice, this is done in the src/main.ts file. To enable the external (de)serializers, update that file to look like this:

// src/main.ts
  const app = await NestFactory.createMicroservice(AppModule, {
    transport: Transport.NATS,
    options: {
      queue: 'customers',
      url: 'nats://localhost:4222',
      /**
       * Use the "Identity" (de)serializers for observing messages for
       * nest-only deployment.
       */
      // serializer: new OutboundResponseIdentitySerializer(),
      // deserializer: new InboundMessageIdentityDeserializer(),

      /**
       * Use the "External" (de)serializers for transforming messages to/from
       * an external requestor
       */
      serializer: new OutboundResponseExternalSerializer(),
      deserializer: new InboundMessageExternalDeserializer(),
    },
  });

At this point, you should be able to send and receive requests between any combination of apps. For example, from nestHttpApp to customerService, from customerApp to nestMicroservice, and all other combinations. I highly recommend you do so now, using the instructions from here and here to run all components at the same time*. Pay close attention to the log outputs which show how (de)serialization is happening at each step.

*We haven't described the use of queues, but when you start running the full mixed configuration (Nest and non-Nest components), one thing you'll notice is that requests will be randomly routed between the nestMicroservice app and the customerService app. This is because they are members of a NATS queue. If you want to send a request to a particular responder, you'll need to shut down the other one to guarantee the message is sent there. I'll discuss NATS queues in more detail the final article of this series.

Here's a nice surprise! We've magically handled Figure 1 Case D along the way. If you think carefully about it, this is both not a surprise, and has a somewhat strict limitation. The reason this works is that we're now serializing and deserializing to and from a canonical external format. So all requests look like they come from an external requestor, and all responses look like they come from an external responder. With this in place, our serializers and deserializers work in all combinations. We've created a "lingua franca" message protocol. The limitation with this approach is perhaps a subtle one, and is something we'll address later (see bullet point #2 in What's Next? below).

Conclusion 🚀

We've covered a lot of ground. Hopefully you've got both a conceptual framework for how to think about integrating external applications with Nest apps using tools like Nest microservices and the NATS message broker, and some boilerplate code you can work with. Some of these concepts also translate directly to other Nest microservice transporters, but as you can imagine, the details are different. Holler in the comments if you'd like me to cover other transporters in this fashion in another series, and I'll see if I can do so.

What's next? ❓

There are a few remaining subtle topics to cover, which I'll do in the next installment of this series. As a teaser, these include:

  1. Can we run both the nestMicroservice app and the external customerService app at the same time, and load balance requests across them? Spoiler: yes! In fact, we already did so, as mentioned above. This is simple to do with NATS distributed queues, which we'll cover briefly in the next article.
  2. We covered the case where we're running our modified nestHttpApp in this hybrid (Nest and non-Nest) environment. What happens if we have a mixture of Nest apps that are unmodified — that is, they are deployed apps that we don't want to touch to implement our "lingua franca" message protocol (i.e., they're running out-of-the-box standard de(serializers))? Can they be made to play nicely in this hybrid environment? Spoiler: yes!
  3. What about events? We've covered what seems to be the trickier case here with request/response style messaging, but how about plain old events? In fact, you may have noticed we've built a feature for adding a customer (see the 'add-customer' messages and handlers sprinkled through our code). Go ahead and try them now. You'll see you have mixed results. Can we make events cooperate in this hybrid environment? Spoiler: yes!

Stay tuned for the answers to these and other exciting questions in our next installment! 😃

Feel free to ask questions, make comments or suggestions, or just say hello in the comments below. And join us at Discord for more happy discussions about NestJS. I post there as Y Prospect.

Discussion (9)

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John Biundo Author

Thanks! I'm working on some more advanced stuff. Stay tuned! I hope to have some more articles in the next week or so.

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John Biundo Author

Awesome! Glad it helped you out! Feel free to share any of your additional learnings as you work on this. I think there's a ton of potential for building NATS services in Nest.

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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John Biundo Author

Easiest is to build a simple example and publish a repo.

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John

Thanks for taking the time to write these articles. They're really well written and provide not only Nest-specific implementations, but also information applicable to any architecture.
Looking forward to Part 4!

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Pavel Voronin

Very nice content! Thanks a lot! Looking forward to Part 4 too )

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Farhad Eyvazli

You rock. Please continue to write :) I've learn and understood a lot since yesterday.