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NATS JetStream Deduplication for LinuxForHealth Blockchain Smart Contract Messaging

Carole Corley — July 19, 2021

Deduplication of messages is a key NATS JetStream feature needed by the LinuxForHealth open source project to implement blockchain smart contract messaging. Messaging from a smart contract allows the contract to notify NATS subscribers of key contract-based decisions. This is especially helpful for blockchain client applications that may not utilize a full blockchain node and can enable message-driven smart contract workflows.

While messaging from a smart contract is desirable, every blockchain node runs the same smart contract and, as such, will publish the same NATS message. Thus, deduplication is a necessity. The remainder of this post explains the LinuxForHealth blockchain solution flow and the NATS JetStream configuration that enabled it.

Solution Data Flows

LinuxForHealth handles healthcare protocol validation, data syncronization and secure transmission of healthcare data to downstream servers and includes a blockchain client. An example deployment is shown below.

LinuxForHealth NATS Architecture

In this scenario, we send an X12 270 eligibility verification request and receive the eligibility result from the blockchain via the following steps:

  • The LinuxForHealth client converts the X12 270 to FHIR and sends the request to LinuxForHealth connect;
  • Connect stores the transaction down to the Kafka-based longitudinal patient record, then emits a NATS EVENTS.sync data synchronization message;
  • The blockchain client is listening for EVENTS.sync messages and sends the message payload via gRPC to a blockchain network node;
  • The smart contract validates the FHIR data, then performs a healthcare insurance eligibility verification check;
  • The smart contract’s NATS.js JetStream client publishes the eligibility result to the LinuxForHealth NATS JetStream server, using the caller-supplied unique transaction id as the value for the Nats-Msg-Id header;
  • The LinuxForHealth client receives the eligibility result by consuming from the JetStream consumer, via a subscription to the consumer’s target subject eligibility.EVENT and converts it to an X12 271 response.

In the steps above, it is the Nats-Msg-Id header that allows JetStream to deduplicate the messages so that only one message from all the smart contract copies running on all the blockchain nodes is delivered to NATS subscribers.

NATS JetStream Deduplication Configuration

The deduplication configuration consists of a JetStream stream, a stream consumer, a JetStream publisher and a NATS subscriber, each of which is shown below.

The JetStream Stream

The JetStream stream is defined via the command line. Note the –dupe-window is set to 30s, which may be adjusted as needed.

docker exec -it "${NATS_SERVICE_NAME}" \
              nats --server="${NATS_SERVICE_NAME}":"${NATS_CLIENT_PORT}" \
              --tlscert="${TLSCERT}" \
              --tlskey="${TLSKEY}" \
              --tlsca="${TLSCA}" \
              --nkey="${NKEY}" \
              str add EVENTS \
              --subjects EVENTS.* \
              --ack \
              --max-msgs=-1 \
              --max-bytes=-1 \
              --max-age=1y \
              --storage file \
              --retention limits \
              --max-msg-size=-1 \
              --discard old \
              --dupe-window=30s

The JetStream Consumer

The JetStream consumer is also defined via the command line. Note the –filter value is the original subject the eligibility result is published to, while the –target value is what the subscriber will use to consume messages from the consumer.

docker exec -it "${NATS_SERVICE_NAME}" \
              nats --server="${NATS_SERVICE_NAME}":"${NATS_CLIENT_PORT}" \
              --tlscert="${TLSCERT}" \
              --tlskey="${TLSKEY}" \
              --tlsca="${TLSCA}" \
              --nkey="${NKEY}" \
              con add EVENTS ELIGIBILITY \
              --ack none \
              --target eligibility.EVENTS \
              --deliver last \
              --replay instant \
              --filter EVENTS.eligibilityresponse

The JetStream Publisher

The JetStream publisher is written in Javascript as a part of the smart contract. The smart contract creates the NATS connection and JetStream client on the first message processed, specifying the URL of the NATS JetStream server running in a docker container, as well as the NKey used to secure connections and the CA cert for TLS:

async createNATSClient(): Promise<nats.JetStreamClient> {
        const nkey = fs.readFileSync(path.resolve(__dirname, '../conf/nats-server.nk'));
        let server: string = 'tls://nats-server:4222';
        
        let nc = await nats.connect({
            servers: server,
            authenticator: nats.nkeyAuthenticator(new TextEncoder().encode(nkey.toString())),
            tls: {
                caFile: path.resolve(__dirname, '../conf/lfh-root-ca.pem'),
            }
        });

        // create a jetstream client:
        const js = nc.jetstream();
        return js;
    }

The JetStream client publishes messages to the NATS JetStream server, with the "Nats-Msg-Id" header specified for deduplication within the window configured for the stream:

    async sendNATSMessage(subject: string, message: any) {
        if (!this.nats_client) {
            this.nats_client = await this.createNATSClient();
        }

        try {
            const headers = nats.headers();
            headers.append("Nats-Msg-Id", message.id);
            await this.nats_client.publish(subject, new TextEncoder().encode(JSON.stringify(message)), { headers });
        } catch (ex) {
            console.log(`Error publishing to JetStream stream: ${ex}`);
        }
    }

The NATS Subscriber

The subscriber is written in Python and uses the NATS client to subscribe, benefitting from server-side NATS JetStream deduplication. The subscriber is running on localhost, not in a docker container. Note the subscription to eligibility.EVENTS as indicated by the JetStream Consumer –target value:

   async def start_nats_coverage_eligibility_subscriber(self) -> None:
        ssl_context = ssl.create_default_context(ssl.Purpose.SERVER_AUTH)
        ssl_context.load_verify_locations(cafile="./lfh-root-ca.pem")
        self.nats_client = NatsClient()
        await self.nats_client.connect(
            servers="tls://localhost:4222",
            nkeys_seed="./nats-server.nk",
            loop=get_running_loop(),
            tls=ssl_context,
            allow_reconnect=True,
            max_reconnect_attempts=10,
        )
        # consume the NATS JetStream Consumer
        await self.nats_client.subscribe("eligibility.EVENTS", cb=self.nats_coverage_response_callback)

The subscribe call specifies a nats_coverage_response_callback method that receives the eligibility verification result messages:

    async def nats_coverage_response_callback(self, msg: Msg) -> None:
        subject = msg.subject
        reply = msg.reply
        data = msg.data.decode()
        print(f"Received a message on {subject} {reply}: {data}")

Testing

This configuration was tested using NATS JetStream v0.0.19 , LinuxForHealth connect 0.42.0 and Hyperledger Fabric 2.3 . Further details about testing with a Hyperledger Fabric test-network instance can be found in the LinuxForHealth connect Github repo .

This blockchain messaging approach using NATS JetStream can be used with Ethereum, R3, Daml and other blockchain technologies. Stay tuned for additional LinuxForHealth blockchain messaging implementations on https://linuxforhealth.github.io/docs/.

About the Author

Carole Corley is a Senior Technical Staff Member at IBM, focused on creating LinuxForHealth, a distributed, multi-platform Health OS.


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