SQL Server Service Broker – Conversation Architecture

Original post by Colleen M. Morrow found here.

This post is part of a series on this blog that will explore SQL Server Service Broker, a native messaging and queueing technology built into the SQL Server Database Engine.

Previous posts:

See all posts in the series here.

In this installment, we introduce Service Broker’s conversation architecture.


Conversations are part of everyday life. We have them with our partner, our coworkers, our friends, even total strangers. They can be short:

“Is anyone sitting here?”


Or they can be very, very long. But they all have some things in common. One participant starts the dialog, and they involve at least 2 people. Conversations are bi-directional, and messages are received in the order in which they are sent.

Like real-life conversations, Service Broker conversations are a reliable-bidirectional stream of messages exchanged between two participating services. A Service Broker conversation can be short-lived, a simple exchange of 2 messages, or it can span days, weeks, even years. There are two key elements of a Service Broker conversation that are important to note, however. The first is that messages are guaranteed to be delivered in order, and only once. Service Broker uses sequencing and acknowledgement mechanisms to ensure this. The second key is that conversations are persistent. Persistent across network interruptions. Across server restarts. In fact, conversations persist until they are explicitly ended.

In the world of Service Broker, you’ll sometimes see the term “conversation” used. Sometimes it’s “dialog”. Sometimes it’s even “dialog conversation”. Although “conversation” and “dialog” are distinct concepts in the greater world of messaging services, in the context of Service Broker they are interchangeable.

Initiators and Targets

Last week I introduced the Service Broker contract. Here’s the syntax again:

[sourcecode language="sql"]
CREATE CONTRACT [//SBDemo/Taxes/TaxContract]
[//SBDemo/Taxes/TaxFormMessage] SENT BY INITIATOR,
[//SBDemo/Taxes/TreasuryCheckMessage] SENT BY TARGET,
[//SBDemo/Taxes/AuditNotificationMessage] SENT BY TARGET

You may have noticed something about the syntax, specifically the references to INITIATOR and TARGET. In a Service Broker conversation, the initiator is the service that begins a dialog. The target is the service that accepts the dialog started by the initiator. It can be easy to take the roles of target and initiator and apply them to specific servers or instances. However, it’s important to understand that these roles are specific to a conversation, and may change for other conversations. Think about it this way, I can start a conversation with you in the morning. In that conversation I’m the initiator and you’re the target. But later in the day, you might approach me and start a conversation. In that conversation, you’re the initiator.

The same is true for Service Broker. Which service acts as the initiator and which is the target will depend on how you design your solution. It may well be that a service on ServerA always initiates conversations with a service on ServerB. But you may deploy a solution that works in a more bi-directional manner. Therefore you need to keep this in mind when defining contracts and assigning message types to each role.

Starting a dialog

Before we can send a message between services, we need to create a dialog. Creating a dialog establishes the two participants in the dialog, what contract will be used (and therefore what message types are acceptable), and whether encryption will be used for extra security. We create a dialog using the BEGIN DIALOG command.

[sourcecode language="sql"]
FROM SERVICE [//SBDemo/Taxes/TaxpayerService]
TO SERVICE N'//SBDemo/Taxes/IRSService'
ON CONTRACT [//SBDemo/Taxes/TaxContract]

There are two keys to the CREATE DIALOG command that are important. The first is that it requires a UNIQUEIDENTIFIER variable. When a dialog is created, it’s assigned a GUID called a conversation handle. That conversation handle is then used to tell SQL Server which messages are related as part of a single conversation. So we use that variable to grab the conversation handle. The other part of the command worth noting is how each service is referenced. The FROM service (initiator) is always going to be in the current database, however the TO service (target) may be in the current database or it might reside in a separate instance altogether. For that reason, we specify the TO service as a string literal.

Conclusion on Conversation Architecture

This has been a basic introduction to the conversation architecture. There are more complex aspects of conversations, like grouping and creating timers, which we’ll cover in future posts. Next time, however, we’ll walk through sending and receiving messages through Service Broker, as well as how to process incoming messages automatically.

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