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Version: 3.13

Classic Queues Support Priorities

What is a Priority Queue

RabbitMQ supports adding "priorities" to classic queues. Classic queues with the "priority" feature turned on are commonly referred to as "priority queues". Priorities between 1 and 255 are supported, however, values between 1 and 5 are highly recommended. It is important to know that higher priority values require more CPU and memory resources, since RabbitMQ needs to internally maintain a sub-queue for each priority from 1, up to the maximum value configured for a given queue.

A classic queue can become a priority queue by using client-provided optional arguments.

Declaring a classic queue as a priority queue using policies is not supported by design. For the reasons why, refer to Why Policy Definition is not Supported for Priority Queues.

Using Client-provided Optional Arguments

To declare a priority queue, use the x-max-priority optional queue argument. This argument should be a positive integer between 1 and 255, indicating the maximum priority the queue should support. For example, using the Java client:

Channel ch = ...;
Map<String, Object> args = new HashMap<String, Object>();
args.put("x-max-priority", 10);
ch.queueDeclare("my-priority-queue", true, false, false, args);

Publishers can then publish prioritised messages using the priority field of Larger numbers indicate higher priority.

Priority Queue Behaviour

The AMQP 0-9-1 spec is a little vague about how priorities are expected to work. It states that all queues MUST support at least 2 priorities, and MAY support up to 10. It does not define how messages without a priority property are treated.

By default, RabbitMQ classic queues do not support priorities. When creating priority queues, a maximum priority can be chosen as you see fit. When choosing a priority value, the following factors need to be considered:

  • There is some in-memory and on-disk cost per priority level per queue. There is also an additional CPU cost, especially when consuming, so you may not wish to create huge numbers of levels.

  • The message priority field is defined as an unsigned byte, so in practice priorities should be between 0 and 255.

  • Messages without a priority property are treated as if their priority were 0. Messages with a priority which is higher than the queue's maximum are treated as if they were published with the maximum priority.

Maximum Number of Priorities and Resource Usage

If priority queues are what you want, this information previously stated values between 1 and 5 are highly recommended. If you must go higher than 5, values between 1 and 10 are sufficient (keep it to a single digit number) because currently using more priorities consumes more CPU resources by using more Erlang processes. Runtime scheduling would also be affected.

How Priority Queues Work with Consumers

If a consumer connects to an empty priority queue to which messages are subsequently published, the messages may not spend any time waiting in the priority queue before the consumer accepts these messages (all the messages are accepted immediately). In this scenario, the priority queue does not get any opportunity to prioritise the messages, priority is not needed.

However, in most cases, the previous situation is not the norm, therefore you should use the basic.qos (prefetch) method in manual acknowledgement mode on your consumers to limit the number of messages that can be out for delivery at any time and allow messages to be prioritised. basic.qos is a value a consumer sets when connecting to a queue. It indicates how many messages the consumer can handle at one time.

The following example attempts to explain how consumers work with priority queues in more detail and also to highlight that sometimes when priority queues work with consumers, higher prioritised messages may in practice need to wait for lower priority messages to be processed first.


  • A new consumer connects to an empty classic (non-prioritised) queue with a consumer prefetch (basic.qos) of 10.

  • A message is published and immediately sent to the consumer for processing.

  • 5 more messages are then published quickly and sent to the consumer immediately, because, the consumer has only 1 in-flight (unacknowledged) message out of 10 declared as qos (prefetch).

  • Next, 10 more messages are published quickly and sent to the consumer, only 4 out of the 10 messages are sent to the consumer (because the original basic.qos (consumer prefetch) value of 10 is now full), the remaining 6 messages must wait in the queue (ready messages).

  • The consumer now acknowledges 5 messages so now 5 out of the 6 messages waiting above are then sent to the consumer.

Now Add Priorities

  • As in the example above, a consumer connects with a basic.qos (consumer prefetch) value of 10.

  • 10 low priority messages are published and immediately sent to the consumer (basic.qos (consumer prefetch) has now reached its limit)

  • A top-priority message is published, but the prefetch is exceeded now so the top-priority message needs to wait for the messages with lower priority to be processed first.

Interaction with Other Features

In general, priority queues have all the features of standard RabbitMQ queues: they support persistence, paging, mirroring, and so on. There are a couple of interactions that developers should be aware of.

Messages which should expire still only expire from the head of the queue. This means that unlike with normal queues, even per-queue TTL can lead to expired lower-priority messages getting stuck behind non-expired higher priority ones. These messages will never be delivered, but they will appear in queue statistics.

Queues which have a max-length set drop messages as usual from the head of the queue to enforce the limit. This means that higher priority messages might be dropped to make way for lower priority ones, which might not be what you would expect.

Why Policy Definition is not Supported for Priority Queues

The most convenient way to define optional arguments for a queue is using policies. Policies are the recommended way to configure TTL, queue length limits, and other optional queue arguments.

However, policies cannot be used to configure priorities because policies are dynamic and can be changed after a queue has been declared. Priority queues can never change the number of priorities they support after queue declaration, so policies would not be a safe option to use.