Apache Flume is a distributed, reliable, and available system for efficiently collecting, aggregating and moving large amounts of log data from many different sources to a centralized data store.

The use of Apache Flume is not only restricted to log data aggregation. Since data sources are customizable, Flume can be used to transport massive quantities of event data including but not limited to network traffic data, social-media-generated data, email messages and pretty much any data source possible.


Data flow model

A Flume event is defined as a unit of data flow having a byte payload and an optional set of string attributes. A Flume agent is a (JVM) process that hosts the components through which events flow from an external source to the next destination (hop).

Agent component diagram

A Flume source consumes events delivered to it by an external source like a web server. The external source sends events to Flume in a format that is recognized by the target Flume source. For example, an Avro Flume source can be used to receive Avro events from Avro clients or other Flume agents in the flow that send events from an Avro sink. A similar flow can be defined using a Thrift Flume Source to receive events from a Thrift Sink or a Flume Thrift Rpc Client or Thrift clients written in any language generated from the Flume thrift protocol.When a Flume source receives an event, it stores it into one or more channels. The channel is a passive store that keeps the event until it’s consumed by a Flume sink. The file channel is one example – it is backed by the local filesystem. The sink removes the event from the channel and puts it into an external repository like HDFS (via Flume HDFS sink) or forwards it to the Flume source of the next Flume agent (next hop) in the flow. The source and sink within the given agent run asynchronously with the events staged in the channel.

Complex flows

Flume allows a user to build multi-hop flows where events travel through multiple agents before reaching the final destination. It also allows fan-in and fan-out flows, contextual routing and backup routes (fail-over) for failed hops.


The events are staged in a channel on each agent. The events are then delivered to the next agent or terminal repository (like HDFS) in the flow. The events are removed from a channel only after they are stored in the channel of next agent or in the terminal repository. This is a how the single-hop message delivery semantics in Flume provide end-to-end reliability of the flow.

Flume uses a transactional approach to guarantee the reliable delivery of the events. The sources and sinks encapsulate in a transaction the storage/retrieval, respectively, of the events placed in or provided by a transaction provided by the channel. This ensures that the set of events are reliably passed from point to point in the flow. In the case of a multi-hop flow, the sink from the previous hop and the source from the next hop both have their transactions running to ensure that the data is safely stored in the channel of the next hop.


The events are staged in the channel, which manages recovery from failure. Flume supports a durable file channel which is backed by the local file system. There’s also a memory channel which simply stores the events in an in-memory queue, which is faster but any events still left in the memory channel when an agent process dies can’t be recovered.


Setting up an agent

Flume agent configuration is stored in a local configuration file. This is a text file that follows the Java properties file format. Configurations for one or more agents can be specified in the same configuration file. The configuration file includes properties of each source, sink and channel in an agent and how they are wired together to form data flows.

Configuring individual components

Each component (source, sink or channel) in the flow has a name, type, and set of properties that are specific to the type and instantiation. For example, an Avro source needs a hostname (or IP address) and a port number to receive data from. A memory channel can have max queue size (“capacity”), and an HDFS sink needs to know the file system URI, path to create files, frequency of file rotation (“hdfs.rollInterval”) etc. All such attributes of a component needs to be set in the properties file of the hosting Flume agent.

Wiring the pieces together

The agent needs to know what individual components to load and how they are connected in order to constitute the flow. This is done by listing the names of each of the sources, sinks and channels in the agent, and then specifying the connecting channel for each sink and source. For example, an agent flows events from an Avro source called avroWeb to HDFS sink hdfs-cluster1 via a file channel called file-channel. The configuration file will contain names of these components and file-channel as a shared channel for both avroWeb source and hdfs-cluster1 sink.

Starting an agent

An agent is started using a shell script called flume-ng which is located in the bin directory of the Flume distribution. You need to specify the agent name, the config directory, and the config file on the command line:

$ bin/flume-ng agent -n $agent_name -c conf -f conf/flume-conf.properties.template

Now the agent will start running source and sinks configured in the given properties file

A simple example

Here, we give an example configuration file, describing a single-node Flume deployment. This configuration lets a user generate events and subsequently logs them to the console.

# example.conf: A single-node Flume configuration

# Name the components on this agent
a1.sources = r1
a1.sinks = k1
a1.channels = c1

# Describe/configure the source
a1.sources.r1.type = netcat
a1.sources.r1.bind = localhost
a1.sources.r1.port = 44444

# Describe the sink
a1.sinks.k1.type = logger

# Use a channel which buffers events in memory
a1.channels.c1.type = memory
a1.channels.c1.capacity = 1000
a1.channels.c1.transactionCapacity = 100

# Bind the source and sink to the channel
a1.sources.r1.channels = c1
a1.sinks.k1.channel = c1

This configuration defines a single agent named a1. a1 has a source that listens for data on port 44444, a channel that buffers event data in memory, and a sink that logs event data to the console. The configuration file names the various components, then describes their types and configuration parameters. A given configuration file might define several named agents; when a given Flume process is launched a flag is passed telling it which named agent to manifest.

Given this configuration file, we can start Flume as follows:

$ bin/flume-ng agent --conf conf --conf-file example.conf --name a1 -Dflume.root.logger=INFO,console

Note that in a full deployment we would typically include one more option: --conf=<conf-dir>. The <conf-dir> directory would include a shell script flume-env.sh and potentially a log4j properties file. In this example, we pass a Java option to force Flume to log to the console and we go without a custom environment script.

From a separate terminal, we can then telnet port 44444 and send Flume an event:

$ telnet localhost 44444
Connected to localhost.localdomain (
Escape character is '^]'.
Hello world! <ENTER>

The original Flume terminal will output the event in a log message.

12/06/19 15:32:19 INFO source.NetcatSource: Source starting
12/06/19 15:32:19 INFO source.NetcatSource: Created serverSocket:sun.nio.ch.ServerSocketChannelImpl[/]
12/06/19 15:32:34 INFO sink.LoggerSink: Event: { headers:{} body: 48 65 6C 6C 6F 20 77 6F 72 6C 64 21 0D          Hello world!. }

Congratulations – you’ve successfully configured and deployed a Flume agent! Subsequent sections cover agent configuration in much more detail.

Source: Flume 1.8.0 User Guide — Apache Flume

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