Jef Claes

On software and life

03 Nov 2013

Event source all the things?

Having covered projections last week, I think I have come full circle in these posts that turned out to be a small preliminary series on event sourcing. Even though there are still a vast amount of nuances to discover, I think I’ve captured the gist of it. Even without running an event sourced system in production - I feel as if I somewhat have an idea of what event sourcing can bring to the table.

Event sourcing gives you a complete history of events that caused an aggregate to be in its current state. In some scenarios this will add an enormous amount of value, in other scenarios it will give you nothing - it might even steal time and effort.

The first thing you do - before even considering implementing event sourcing - is talking to your business. Do they feel as if events are a natural way to represent what’s going on in their domain? Event sourcing is a lot more than just a technical implementation detail, discovering and understanding all of what goes on in a domain is a big investment - from both sides. Is it worth the trouble?

In my first job I worked on software for fire departments. I just now realize in how many bits of our solution event sourcing could have helped us:

  • the life cycle of a vehicle assigned to an emergency: vehicle dispatched, vehicle left the station, vehicle en route, vehicle arrived on the scene, vehicle back in the station…
  • a person’s career: person was promoted, person was detached to another station, person learned a new skill…
  • a shift’s schedule: person attached to unit, person returned to person pool, unit dispatched…

This data had to be made available in a set of diverse read models. Getting the data out was complex at times, often even impossible. A lot of these changes had to be propagated to external systems; there was no way to get that info out in real-time, and external systems had no notion of what happened.

In one of the functionalities of a system I’m currently working on, users also wanted to know what happened in the past, but for completely different reasons. Being in a financial context, they wanted to know who was responsible for changing system settings. Here it’s not an event log they need, but a simple audit trail.

If it is just a passive log your business wants, you can get away with cheaper alternatives; a command journal, an audit trail and so on.


Event sourcing goes hand-in-hand with Domain Driven Design. Events are a great tool to go from a structural model to a behavioural model, helping you to capture the true essence of a domain model.

Building and maintaining an event store should be doable. It’s an append-only data model, storing serialized DTO’s with some meta data. This makes - compared to ORM’s and relational databases - tooling easier as well.

In traditional systems, you have to keep a lot of things in your head at once; how do I write my data, but also how do I query my data, and more importantly how do I get my data out in all these different use cases without making things too hard. In event sourced systems, separating writes from reads makes for more granular bits, easing the cognitive load.

Events can be projected into anything: a relational database, a document store, memory, files… This allows you to build a read model for each separate use case, while also giving you a lot of freedom in how you’re going to persist them.

You can replay projections, rebuilding a read model from scratch. Forget about difficult data migrations.

Testing feels consistent and very complete. A test will assert if all the expected events were raised, but will also implicitly assert that unexpected events were not raised. Testing projections is also straight-forward.

Events provide a natural way of integrating with other systems. Committed events can be published to external subscribers.

Troubleshooting becomes easier since a developer can copy an event stream from production, and replay it locally - reproducing the exact issue without jumping through hoops getting the system in a specific state.

Instead of patching corrupted production data directly, you can send a compensating event or fix the projection and replay everything. This way nothing gets lost, and consistency between code and outcome is guaranteed.


Defining events is hard. Defining good events takes a lot of practice and insight. If you’re forcing a structural model into a behavioural one, it might even be impossible. So don’t even consider turning CRUD into an event sourced model.

There are a few places you need to be on the look out for performance bottlenecks. Event streams of long lived aggregates might grow very big. Loading a giant event stream from a data store might take a while - snapshots can help here. Projecting giant event streams might get you into trouble too - how long will it take to rebuild your read model, will it even fit into memory? Making projections immediate consistent might become a problem if you do a lot of them. Parallelization or giving up on immediate consistency might bring solace.

Events don’t change, versioning might get awkward. Are you going to create a new event type for each change, or will you relax deserialization? Or maybe you want to implement event migrations?

Since you’re persisting multiple models; events and one or more read models, you’re going to consume more storage, which will cost you.

Adaptation in the wild

Although there are - from a a business and engineering perspective - some good arguments to be made for event sourcing, those arguments only apply to a modest percentage of projects. Even when there’s a strong case to be made for event sourcing, there are very few people with actual experience implementing an event sourced system and prescriptive frameworks that you can just drop into a project and feel good about, are lacking. Most won’t even care about event sourcing to start with, but even if they do, it’s a fight upstream; it introduces a risk most might not be comfortable with.

Having said that, there are some really good projects out there that are steadily gaining popularity and maturity. Pioneers in the field are sharing and documenting their experiences, lowering the barriers for others. Things are moving for sure.

As always, event sourcing is not a paradigm to blindly apply to each and every scenario, but definitely one worth considering.

Since I’m not running any of it in production, tell me what I’m missing, there must be more things that turn out to be harder than they sound at first right? If you’re not running it in production, but thinking about it, what are some of your concerns? What are your predictions for the future of event sourcing?