Apache Flink - anatomy of a job

Versions: Apache Flink 1.17

Have you written your first successful Apache Flink job and are still wondering the high-level API translates into the executable details? I did and decided to answer the question in the new blog post.

An Apache Flink DataStream API job moves through several stages before it can be physically executed. In a nutshell, these stages are represented in the schema below:

1: Java code to Stream graph

The first conversion translates the code you write to a stream graph. Let's analyze how.

Whenever you call an operator, you add it to an internal list of transformations present in a StreamExecutionEnvironment class. Below an example of the method called under-the-hood by the high-level map function:

public class StreamExecutionEnvironment implements AutoCloseable {

  public void addOperator(Transformation<?> transformation) {
    Preconditions.checkNotNull(transformation, "transformation must not be null.");

All the transformations are converted into StreamNodes when you invoke the execute() function:

Internally, the StreamGraph stores the operator or their id in different structures:

public class StreamGraph implements Pipeline {
  private Map<Integer, StreamNode> streamNodes; 
  private Set<Integer> sources;
  private Set<Integer> sinks;
  private Map<Integer, Tuple2> virtualSideOutputNodes;
  private Map<Integer, Tuple3, StreamExchangeMode>>

public StreamNode getStreamNode(Integer vertexID) {
    return streamNodes.get(vertexID);

The sources and sinks are used in the JSON plan generator while two last maps are involved in the StreamGraph creation. The streamNodes is the mapping of ids and StreamNodes used later to generate the job graph.

2: Stream graph to Job graph

The next step consists of translating the StreamNodes and StreamGraph to, respectively, JobVertex and JobGraph classes. The JobGraph is a low-level dataflow representation accepted by the JobManager. If you're familiar with Apache Spark, this second step can be considered as the logical plan optimization because it improves the high-level StreamGraph with various operations, such as combining multiple operators into a single one.

The StreamNode-to-JobVertex conversion happens in the StreamingJobGraphGenerator#createJobVertex method and consists of various steps:

3: Job graph to Execution graph

So far we have only a logical optimized plan. In the next step Apache Flink transforms it into an execution graph which is the core data structure for the scheduling layer. What happens here?

The JobVertex instances get transformed into ExecutionVertex ones and the IntermediateDataSets into the IntermediateResultPartitions. Even though it looks familiar to the previous transformations, there is a major difference, the parallelism. The ExecutionGraph is a parallel version of the JobGraph. Put another way, the number of vertices is equal to the set parallelism. This structure is then a representation of what should physically run on the cluster.

The state of each ExecutionVertex is tracked by the Execution state class. Why is this needed? An ExecutionVertex can be executed multiple times, e.g. due to recovery, re-configuration, or re-computaion. The Execution state tracks all of these runtime contextes. Additionally, there is an ExecutionAttemptID associated with each Execution. This one provides a unique id for the task execution. Again, it can be retried or recovered.

At this step Apache Flink not only translates the JobGraph but also initializes other components involved in the stream processing, such as CheckpointCoordinator, CoordinatorStore, or yet KvStateLocationRegistry.

4: Execution graph to physical execution

In the final step the ExecutionGraph gets triggered on the cluster by JobManager. The physical unit representing so far presented nodes is Task. A quick look at the class members shows clearly this dependency:

public class Task {

  /** The vertex in the JobGraph whose code the task executes. */
  private final JobVertexID vertexId;

  /** The execution attempt of the parallel subtask. */
  private final ExecutionAttemptID executionId;

Task creation comes from the Executing class:

class Executing extends StateWithExecutionGraph implements ResourceConsumer {

  private void deploy() {
    for (ExecutionJobVertex executionJobVertex :
            getExecutionGraph().getVerticesTopologically()) {
        for (ExecutionVertex executionVertex : executionJobVertex.getTaskVertices()) {
            if (executionVertex.getExecutionState() == ExecutionState.CREATED
                    || executionVertex.getExecutionState() == ExecutionState.SCHEDULED) {

private void deploySafely(ExecutionVertex executionVertex) {
    try {
    } catch (JobException e) {
        handleDeploymentFailure(executionVertex, e);

Once created and submitted to the cluster, a Task can be physically executed. The class implements the Runnable interface, hence its physical execution is in the implemented run method, where several things happen:

After relatively high-level blog posts about Apache Flink and first code lines written, it was time for me to start understanding the internal mechanism and discovering internal classes. It always helps me discover new software engineering best practices and also understand any exception messages a bit better.