Event Time

In this section you will learn about writing time-aware Flink programs. Please take a look at Timely Stream Processing to learn about the concepts behind timely stream processing.

For information about how to use time in Flink programs refer to windowing and ProcessFunction.

Setting a Time Characteristic

The first part of a Flink DataStream program usually sets the base time characteristic. That setting defines how data stream sources behave (for example, whether they will assign timestamps), and what notion of time should be used by window operations like KeyedStream.timeWindow(Time.seconds(30)).

The following example shows a Flink program that aggregates events in hourly time windows. The behavior of the windows adapts with the time characteristic.

final StreamExecutionEnvironment env = StreamExecutionEnvironment.getExecutionEnvironment();


// alternatively:
// env.setStreamTimeCharacteristic(TimeCharacteristic.IngestionTime);
// env.setStreamTimeCharacteristic(TimeCharacteristic.EventTime);

DataStream<MyEvent> stream = env.addSource(new FlinkKafkaConsumer010<MyEvent>(topic, schema, props));

    .keyBy( (event) -> event.getUser() )
    .reduce( (a, b) -> a.add(b) )
val env = StreamExecutionEnvironment.getExecutionEnvironment


// alternatively:
// env.setStreamTimeCharacteristic(TimeCharacteristic.IngestionTime)
// env.setStreamTimeCharacteristic(TimeCharacteristic.EventTime)

val stream: DataStream[MyEvent] = env.addSource(new FlinkKafkaConsumer010[MyEvent](topic, schema, props))

    .keyBy( _.getUser )
    .reduce( (a, b) => a.add(b) )
env = StreamExecutionEnvironment.get_execution_environment()


# alternatively:
# env.set_stream_time_characteristic(TimeCharacteristic.IngestionTime)
# env.set_stream_time_characteristic(TimeCharacteristic.EventTime)

Note that in order to run this example in event time, the program needs to either use sources that directly define event time for the data and emit watermarks themselves, or the program must inject a Timestamp Assigner & Watermark Generator after the sources. Those functions describe how to access the event timestamps, and what degree of out-of-orderness the event stream exhibits.

The section below describes the general mechanism behind timestamps and watermarks. For a guide on how to use timestamp assignment and watermark generation in the Flink DataStream API, please refer to Generating Timestamps / Watermarks.

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Idling sources

Currently, with pure event time watermarks generators, watermarks can not progress if there are no elements to be processed. That means in case of gap in the incoming data, event time will not progress and for example the window operator will not be triggered and thus existing windows will not be able to produce any output data.

To circumvent this one can use periodic watermark assigners that don’t only assign based on element timestamps. An example solution could be an assigner that switches to using current processing time as the time basis after not observing new events for a while.

Sources can be marked as idle using SourceFunction.SourceContext#markAsTemporarilyIdle. For details please refer to the Javadoc of this method as well as StreamStatus.

Debugging Watermarks

Please refer to the Debugging Windows & Event Time section for debugging watermarks at runtime.

How operators are processing watermarks

As a general rule, operators are required to completely process a given watermark before forwarding it downstream. For example, WindowOperator will first evaluate which windows should be fired, and only after producing all of the output triggered by the watermark will the watermark itself be sent downstream. In other words, all elements produced due to occurrence of a watermark will be emitted before the watermark.

The same rule applies to TwoInputStreamOperator. However, in this case the current watermark of the operator is defined as the minimum of both of its inputs.

The details of this behavior are defined by the implementations of the OneInputStreamOperator#processWatermark, TwoInputStreamOperator#processWatermark1 and TwoInputStreamOperator#processWatermark2 methods.

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