Denormalization to diverse apps is the correct path forward for media companies

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

I am very pleased to see that the New York Times now has this cutting edge architecture, which almost certainly the right way forward at this time:

The denormalized log and Kafka’s Streams API

The Monolog is great for consumers that want a normalized view of the data. For some consumers that is not the case. For instance, in order to index data in Elasticsearch you need a denormalized view of the data, since Elasticsearch does not support many-to-many relationships between objects. If you want to be able to search for articles by matching image captions, those image captions will have to be represented inside the article object.

In order to support this kind of view of the data, we also have a denormalized log. In the denormalized log, all the components making up a top-level asset are published together. For the example above, when Article 1 is published, we write a message to the denormalized log, containing the article and all its dependencies along with it in a single message.

The Kafka consumer that feeds Elasticsearch can just pick this message off the log, reorganize the assets into the desired shape, and push to the index. When Article 2 is published, again all the dependencies are bundled, including the ones that were already published for Article 1:

If a dependency is updated, the whole asset is republished. For instance, if Image 2 is updated, all of Article 1 goes on the log again.

A component called the Denormalizer actually creates the denormalized log.

The Denormalizer is a Java application that uses Kafka’s Streams API. It consumes the Monolog, and maintains a local store of the latest version of every asset, along with the references to that asset. This store is continuously updated when assets are published. When a top-level asset is published, the Denormalizer collects all the dependencies for this asset from local storage, and writes it as a bundle to the denormalized log. If an asset referenced by a top-level asset is published, the Denormalizer republishes all the top-level assets that reference it as a dependency.

Since this log is denormalized, it no longer needs total ordering. We now only need to make sure that the different versions of the same top-level asset come in the correct order. This means that we can use a partitioned log, and have multiple clients consume the log in parallel. We do this using Kafka Streams, and the ability to scale up the number of application instances reading from the denormalized log allows us to do a very fast replay of our entire publication history — the next section will show an example of this.

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