Zeebe defineses protocols for communication between clients and brokers. Zeebe supports two styles of interactions:

  • Command Protocol: A client sends a command to a broker and expects a response. Example: Completing a task.
  • Subscription Protocol: A broker streams data to a client. Example: Broker streams tasks to a client to work on.

Both protocols are binary on top of TCP/IP.


Zeebe protocols are non-blocking by design, including commands. Command and Reply are always separate, independent messages. A client can send multiple commands using the same TCP connection before receiving a reply.


The subscription protocol works in streaming mode: A broker pushes out tasks and events to the subscribers in a non-blocking way. To keep latency low, the broker pushes out tasks and events to the clients as soon as they become available.


The subscription protocol embeds a backpressure mechanism to prevent brokers from overwhelming clients with more tasks or events than they can handle. This mechanism is client-driven, i.e. clients submit a capacity of events they can safely receive at a time. A broker pushes events until this capacity is exhausted and the client replenishes the capacity whenever it completes processing of events.

The effect of backpressure is that the system automatically adjusts flow rates to the available resources. For example, a fast consumer running on a powerful machine can process tasks at a very high rate, while a slower consumer is automatically throttled. This works without additional user configuration.