Kafka Vs. ActiveMQ – Comparing Top 10 Key Differences & Use Cases

A comparative analysis of Kafka and ActiveMQ features to help you choose which OS messaging project will best fit your needs.

IT Consulting/Digital TransformationUPDATED ON December 6, 2021

John Adam K&C head of marketing


Big data and AI consulting and development services 2

Kafka and ActiveMQ are among the most popular open source (OS) messaging projects. They both address the problem of how to handle streaming data, such as application logs and metrics, but in different ways. Kafka is a low-latency publish-subscribe messaging system that allows you to efficiently move large amounts of streaming data between systems for use in data pipelines and real-time analysis. ActiveMQ is a message broker that focuses on performance and support for small devices using industry standard protocols like JMS and AMQP. There are several differences between the two, one of which is the client library .i.e Kafka stream which is better than ActiveMQ libraries.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast features of Kafka and ActiveMQ to help you choose which project will work best for your needs.

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Kafka Vs. ActiveMQ: Introduction

As with most technology choices, there are positive and negative aspects to each of the messaging systems that you should consider when choosing which system will work best for you. Kafka was created in early 2011 by LinkedIn, while ActiveMQ has been around in one form or another since 2004. Both systems are open source, but Kafka is part of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), whereas ActiveMQ is an independent project. ActiveMQ also boasts more downloads than Kafka according to SitePoint. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the key differences between the two systems.

Kafka Vs. ActiveMQ: Compatibility – Support

One major difference between Kafka and ActiveMQ is that Kafka supports a wider range of messaging protocols than ActiveMQ. As we’ll see later, this can have a significant impact on how you use the two systems. Kafka currently supports three messaging protocols:

  • Publish/Subscribe (aka message queues)
  • Point-to-Point (aka request/reply)
  • Ordering Guaranteed (aka transactions)

ActiveMQ only supports two: Publish/Subscribe and Point-to-Point. This means that if you need to use a different type of messaging protocol, such as Transactional Messaging or Asynchronous Messaging, you will need to use Kafka instead. It is worth noting that ActiveMQ does plan to add support for both of these protocols in a future version, but currently they are not supported.

You also need to consider the fact that Kafka is developed by an open source foundation, while ActiveMQ is developed by a single vendor (iMatix). This means that if there is a bug in ActiveMQ then it may be fixed quickly once it’s reported to iMatix engineers. If Kafka had a similar issue, it would likely take longer for the developers at the ASF to resolve given their current workload and limited resources. Conversely, if you discover an issue with ActiveMQ you can fix it yourself and send a pull request to the ActiveMQ team.

ActiveMQ Vs Kafka: Messaging Protocol – Differences

There are many differences between the messaging protocols supported by Kafka vs ActiveMQ, so we’ll cover each of them one-by-one. We will begin with Publish/Subscribe (message queues). Both systems support this protocol and it allows you to “offload work from your application servers into a message queue where it can be processed at a later time.”

One key difference is that Kafka allows you to find messages based on their offset (similar to consuming records from a database), whereas ActiveMQ does not. Kafka also supports more advanced features such as access control using ACLs and compression using compression codecs.

The next messaging protocol is Point-to-Point (request/reply). This protocol is used when you need to send a message to a specific destination. Kafka supports this type of messaging, but it’s worth noting that the messages are not guaranteed to be delivered in the order they were sent. ActiveMQ does support ordering guarantees for messages sent using this protocol.

Finally, we’ll look at Ordering Guaranteed (transactions). As the name suggests, this protocol guarantees that messages will be delivered in the order they were sent. Both Kafka and ActiveMQ support this type of messaging, but Kafka only supports it for Publish/Subscribe messages while ActiveMQ also supports it for Point–Point messages.

ActiveMQ Vs Kafka: Advanced Features – Advantages of Kafka

As we’ve seen, both the Publish/Subscribe and Point-to-Point messaging protocols support a range of advanced features in both Kafka and ActiveMQ. However, only Kafka supports all of these features for both types of messages. The list includes:

  • Dynamic topics
  • ACLs (Access Control Lists)
  • Compression Codecs
  • Retention Policies that can be based on time or size of data stored

In general, it would seem that if you need certain advanced features then you should use Kafka instead. If not, then you can use either system as they are fairly similar in regards to performance metrics. As an example, in this benchmark Kafka was able to process 1.3 million messages per hour while ActiveMQ was only able to process 900,000 messages per hour.

We hope we’ve found this comparative analysis of Kafka vs ActiveMQ useful. If you could benefit from outsourced IT specialists to help you realise your next software development project, please do get in touch. We’d be delighted to talk!

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