How does this all work ?

Procrastinate is based on several things:

  • PostgreSQL’s top notch ability to manage locks, thanks to its ACID properties. This ensures that when a worker starts executing a job, it’s the only one. Procrastinate does this by executing a SELECT FOR UPDATE that will lock the impacted rows, and ensure no other process can edit the same row.

  • PostgreSQL’s LISTEN allows us to be notified whenever a task is available.

Why are you doing a task queue in PostgreSQL ?

Because while maintaining a large PostgreSQL database in good shape in our infrastructure is no small feat, also maintaining a RabbitMQ/Redis/… service is double the trouble. It introduces plenty of problems around backups, high availability, monitoring, etc. If you already have a stable robust database, and this database gives you all the tooling you need to build a message queue on top of it, then it’s always an option you have.

Another nice thing is the ability to easily browse (and possibly edit) jobs in the queue, because interacting with data in a standard database a lot easier than implementing a new specific protocol (say, AMQP).

This makes the building of tools around Procrastinate quite easier.

Finally, the idea that the core operations around tasks are handled by the database itself using stored procedures eases the possibility of porting Procrastinate to another language, while staying compatible with Python-based jobs.

There are 14 standards…

We are aware that Procrastinate is an addition to an already crowded market of Python task queues, and the aim is not to replace them all, but to provide an alternative that fits our need, as we could not find one we were completely satisfied with.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the impressive Open Source work accomplished by some projects that really stand out, to name a few:

  • Celery: Is really big and supports a whole variety of cases, but not using PostgreSQL as a message queue. We could have tried to add this, but it really feels like Celery is doing a lot already, and every addition to it is a lot of compromises, and would probably have been a lot harder.

  • Dramatiq + dramatiq-pg: Dramatiq is another very nice Python task queue that does things quite well, and it happens that there is a third party addition for using PostgreSQL as a backend. In fact, it was built around the same time as we started Procrastinate, and the paradigm it uses makes it hard to integrate a few of the feature we really wanted to use Procrastinate for, namely locks.

Defining your app at the top level of your program

It can be tempting to define your procrastinate app at the top level of your application, and in many cases, this will be the perfect place, but you need to be aware of several caveats:

  • Your app needs to know about your tasks. This either means that all the tasks must be defined in the same module as the app, or that you need to correctly submit the import_paths argument of App to point to all the modules that define a task (or that importing the module containing your app should, as a side effect, import all modules containing all of your tasks, but that last possibility is more error-prone).

  • If your procrastinate app is defined in the module (let’s call it that_module.py) in which __name__ == "__main__" (which means you launch your program with either python that_module.py or python -m that_module), AND if your tasks are defined in a different module which does import that_module, then you will end up with two distinct instances of your app (__main__.app and that_module.app) and you will likely run into problems. The best thing to do in this case is to create a dedicated module for your app (or to put everything in the same module, but this doesn’t scale well).

About locks

Let’s say we have a task that writes a character at the end of a file after waiting for a random amount of time. This represents a real world problem where jobs take an unforeseeable amount of time and share resources like a database.

We launch 4 jobs respectively writing a, b, c and d. We would expect the file to contain abcd, but it’s not the case, for example maybe it’s badc. The jobs were taken from the queue in order, but because we have several workers, the jobs were launched in parallel and because their duration is random, the final result pretty much is too.

We can solve this problem by using locks. Procrastinate gives us two guarantees:

  • Jobs are consumed in creation order. When a worker requests a job, it can receive a job with a lock, or a job without a lock. If there is a lock, then the received job will be the oldest one with that lock. If the oldest job awaiting execution is not available for this worker (either it’s on a queue that this worker doesn’t listen to, or it’s scheduled in the future), then jobs with this lock will not be considered.

  • If a group of jobs share the same lock, then only one can be executed at a time.

These two facts allow us to draw the following conclusion for our 4 letter jobs from above. If our 4 jobs share the same lock (for example, the name of the file we’re writing to):

  • The 4 jobs will be started in order;

  • A job will not start before the previous one is finished.

This says we can safely expect the file to contain abcd.

Note that Procrastinate will use PostgreSQL to search the jobs table for suitable jobs. Even if the database contains a high proportion of locked jobs, this will barely affect Procrastinate’s capacity to quickly find the free jobs.

A good string identifier for the lock is a string identifier of the shared resource, UUIDs are well suited for this. If multiple resources are implicated, a combination of their identifiers could be used (there’s no hard limit on the length of a lock string, but stay reasonable).

A job can only take a single lock so there’s no dead-lock scenario possible where two running jobs are waiting for one another. If a worker is killed without ending its job, following jobs with the same lock will not run until the interrupted job is either manually set to “failed” or “succeeded”. If a job simply fails, following jobs with the same locks may run.

For a more practical approach, see Ensure jobs run sequentially and in order.

Asynchronous operations & concurrency

Here, asynchronous (or async) means “using the Python async/await keywords, to make I/Os run in parallel”. Asynchronous work can be tricky in Python because once you start having something asynchronous, you soon realize everything needs to be asynchronous for it to work.

Procrastinate aims at being compatible with both sync and async codebases.

There are two distinct parts in procrastinate that are relevant for asynchronous work: deferring a job, and executing it.

If you have, for example, an async web application, you will need to defer jobs asynchronously. It might prove problematic to block the whole event loop while you connect to the database and send your job.

There are mainly two use-cases where you may want to _execute_ your jobs asynchronously. Either they do long I/O calls that you would like to run in parallel, or you plan to reuse parts of your codebase written with the asynchronous interface (say, an async ORM) and you don’t want to have to maintain their equivalent using a synchronous interface.

Procrastinate supports asynchronous job deferring, and asynchronous job execution, either serial or parallel (see Launch a job and/or execute it asynchronously, Execute multiple jobs at the same time).

Synchronous deferring

Procrastinate gets to be called in two very different contexts:

  • When deferring a task, in your process, where Procrastinate is being used as a library

  • When running a worker, where Procrastinate itself controls the process.

Workers will always be asynchronous, and will support both synchronous and asynchronous jobs.

When deferring a task, on the other hand, Procrastinate needs to play nice with your program. This is where there are choices to make.

Procrastinate supports two ways of doing synchronous I/O:

  • “classic” synchronous I/O (using synchronous database drivers such as Psycopg2). This mode is necessary in multi-threaded cases.

  • “mixed” I/O (synchronously launching an event loop, and have asynchronous coroutine run under the hood). This mode is adapted for synchronously deferring jobs from other jobs, from within the workers.

If you use an AiopgConnector, then you will use the “mixed” mode. You can have the classic mode by using a Psycopg2Connector (or an SQLAlchemyPsycopg2Connector from the contrib.sqlalchemy module) as your App’s connector. In that case, you will be restricted to a few operations, including deferring tasks and applying the schema. This is recommended for synchronous multi-threaded apps only that defer jobs.

See Control the way synchronous calls to defer are handled.

Don’t mix sync and async

Asynchronous concurrency brings nothing to CPU-bound programs. Also, asynchronous code uses cooperative multitasking: it’s the task’s job to give control back to the main loop by using the await keyword (I/O that doesn’t call await is said to be “blocking”).

Failure to regularly await an IO in your task will block all other jobs running on the worker. Note that it won’t crash or anything, and it probably won’t even be worse than if everything was blocking. It’s just that you won’t achieve the speeding potential you would hope for.

If you have blocking I/O or CPU-bound tasks, make sure to use a separate queue, and have distinct sync workers and async workers. Of course, if your program is not that time-sensitive and you have sufficiently few blocking tasks, it’s perfectly OK not to care.

Mind the size of your PostgreSQL pool

You can size the PostgreSQL pool using the maxsize argument of AiopgConnector. Procrastinate will use use one connection to listen to server-side NOTIFY calls (see How does this all work ?). The rest of the pool is used for sub-workers.


Be careful not setting maxsize to 0: apart from disabling the maximum this will likely trigger bugs. Setting it to 1 will work, but the LISTEN/NOTIFY feature will be disabled. Disabling this feature independently of your pool size is possible with listen_notify=False, see Limit the number of opened connections.

The relative sizing of your pool and your sub-workers all depends on the average length of your jobs, and especially compared to the time it takes to fetch jobs and register job completion.

The shorter your average job execution time, the more your pool will need to contain as many connections as your concurrency (plus one). And vice versa: the longer your job time, the smaller your pool may be.

Having sub-workers wait for an available connection in the pool is suboptimal. Your resources will be better used with fewer sub-workers or a larger pool, but there are many factors to take into account when sizing your pool.

Mind the worker_timeout

Even when the database doesn’t notify workers regarding newly deferred jobs, idle workers still poll the database every now and then, just in case. There could be previously locked jobs that are now free, or scheduled jobs that have reached the ETA. worker_timeout is the App.run_worker parameter (or the equivalent CLI flag) that sizes this “every now and then”.

On a non-concurrent idle worker, a database poll is run every <worker_timeout> seconds. On a concurrent worker, sub-workers poll the database every <worker_timeout>*<concurrency> seconds. This ensures that, on average, the time between each database poll is still <worker_timeout> seconds.

The initial timeout for the first loop of each sub-worker is modified so that the workers are initially spread across all the total length of the timeout, but the randomness in job duration could create a situation where there is a long gap between polls. If you find this to happen in reality, please open an issue, and lower your worker_timeout.

Note that as long as jobs are regularly deferred, or there are enqueued jobs, sub-workers will not wait and this will not be an issue. This is only about idle workers taking time to notice that a previously unavailable job has become available.

Procrastinate’s usage of PostgreSQL functions and procedures

For critical requests, we tend to using PostgreSQL procedures where we could do the same thing directly with queries. This is so that the database is solely responsible for consistency, and would allow us to have the same behavior if someone were to write a procrastinate compatible client, in Python or in another language altogether.

Why is Procrastinate asynchronous at core?

There are several ways to write a program that can be called from both a synchronous and an asynchronous code:

  • Duplicate the codebase. It’s not a fantastic idea. There’s a high probability that this will lead to awkward bugs, you’ll have twice the work in maintenance etc. The good thing is that it will force you to extract as much as the logic in a common module, and have the I/Os very decoupled.

  • Have the project be synchronous, and provide top level asynchronous wrappers that run the synchronous code in a thread. This can be a possibility, but then you enter a whole new circle of thread safety hell.

  • Have the project be asynchronous, and provide top level synchronous wrappers that will synchronously launch coroutines in the event loop and wait for them to be completed. This is virtually the best solution we could find, and thus it’s what we decided to do.

We’ve even cheated a bit: instead of implementing our synchronous wrappers manually, we’ve been using a trick that automatically generates a synchronous API based on our asynchronous API. This way, we have less code to unit-test, and we can guarantee that the 2 APIs will stay synchronized in the future no matter what. Want to know more about this? Here are a few resources:

That being said, synchronous defers (see Synchronous deferring) rely on a few specific methods that have been written identically twice (one async and one sync version) and have to be maintained in parallel.

How stable is Procrastinate?

More and more stable. We’ve started mentioning the project around, and it’s now used in production in real projects.

That being said, we’d like to develop real monitoring tools before we call this really ready for production.

We’d love if you were to try out Procrastinate in a project of yours and provide us with feedback.

Wasn’t this project named “Cabbage” ?

Yes, in early development, we planned to call this “cabbage” in reference to celery, but even if the name was available on PyPI, by the time we stopped procrastinating and wanted to register it, it had been taken. Given this project is all about “launching jobs in an undetermined moment in the future”, the new name felt quite adapted too. Also, now you know why the project is named this way.

Thanks PeopleDoc / UKG

This project was largely created by PeopleDoc employees on their working time. Let’s take this opportunity to thank PeopleDoc for funding Open Source projects like this!