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A messaging library for shuttling data from A to B (to A) as quickly and simply as possible.


Before you can install Shuttle with NPM, you need to have the development source for ZeroMQ 3.2.x installed locally. This will be a platform-dependent task, but most platforms have tools to make this easier:

brew install zeromq --devel
yum install zeromq-devel

After that's ready, npm can be used as normal to install Shuttle:

npm install shuttle


Shuttle officially supports and has been tested over the following transports:

  • IPC (ipc://)
  • TCP (tcp://)

While these have not been tested, Shuttle may also work over the following transports (as a result of ZeroMQ's support):

  • Intra-process (inproc://)
  • PGM (pgm://)
  • EPGM (epgm://)

In the remainder of the documentation, "port" refers to a single interface on a single transport, even if that interface is not TPC. If documentation mentions "two ports" and you intend to use IPC, for example, you will need two file descriptors, e.g. /tmp/a and /tmp/b.

Component Types

Shuttle is nothing more than a set of components that can be thought of as tools in your messaging toolbox. There are three types of messaging abstraction (Request, Broadcast, and Synchronization), each of which handles the sending and receipt of "events".


RequestEmitters emit events to connected RequestHandlers, which respond to those events through a provided callback. Request components guarantee that each message will be delivered, and to exactly one peer. If delivery fails, the callback will receive an error.

var emitter = shuttle.createRequestEmitter()
var handler = shuttle.createRequestHandler()
  url: SOME_URL
  url: SOME_URL
handler.on('echo', function (data, callback) {
  callback(null, data)
emitter.emit('echo', {
  test: true
}, function (err, response) {
  console.log(err) // null
  console.log(response) // { test: true }


BroadcastEmitters emit events to connected BroadcastHanders. Broadcast components do not guarantee delivery, nor do they restrict delivery; each message is sent to as many Handlers as possible.

var emitter = shuttle.createBroadcastEmitter()
var handler = shuttle.createBroadcastHandler()
  url: SOME_URL
  url: SOME_URL
handler.on('bcast', function (data) {
  console.log(data) // { test: true }
emitter.emit('bcast', {
  test: true


Synchronization components provide a simple example of how to combine Request and Broadcast components together to perform more intersting work. On top of being RequestEmitters and BroadcastHandlers, SynchronizationEmitters can get and set key:value pairs on their SynchronizationHandler counterparts; which, being RequestHandlers and BroadcastEmitters, store a shared state and update interested SynchronizationEmitters upon success. Additionally, SynchronizationHandlers are SynchronizationEmitters, and can be federated for scalability.

Please see the tests for examples of their usage. While they may be useful in applications, most non-trivial applications will want to roll their own solution using Request and Broadcast components.

Topological Considerations

Static Topology

The simplest topology is static; port locations are well-known, defined up-front, and never change. Handlers bind to these ports, and Emitters connect to them. Start-up is as fast as possible, but the rigidity is often undesirable.

Dynamic Topology

The most flexible topology is dynamic; port locations for the majority of Handlers are not well-known, and can change at any time. To facilitate this, N SynchronizationHandlers can be started at well-known locations, and both Handlers and Emitters connect to this (via their own SynchronizationEmitter) to locate one another through get and set calls.

"Reversed" Topologies

Ordinarily, Handlers bind and Emitters connect. However, this is not required! In some instances, it may be wiser for Emitters to bind and Handlers to connect. Some examples:

  • Dynamic Slaves with a Static Master - N RequestEmitters bind to ports, constantly making requests. RequestHandlers connect to the Emitter as they start, processing the requests as fast as possible.
  • Brokers - Although Shuttle is brokerless, simple Brokers can be built on top of Shuttle. In this case, the Broker contains N RequestEmitters and N RequestHandlers, all of which bind. The rest of the mesh connects.

Alternatives and Comparisons

It's hard to build a list of alternatives for Shuttle both because there are lots of messaging alternatives and because there are few alternatives that solve identical problems. For the reader's sake, however, here are a list of alternatives specifically for messaging and cluster synchronization:


A heartfelt thank-you to everyone who used Shuttle early-on, especially Adam Crabtree and mingrobo.

Extra thanks to kabriel for tempering the ideas in Shuttle with his own experiences.


Copyright (C) 2012-2013 Michael Schoonmaker (
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