Improving performance in Apache Kafkaguide hero background, gray with some polygons

Kafka rebalancing

Apache Kafka® is a distributed messaging system that handles large data volumes efficiently and reliably. Producers publish data to topics, and consumers subscribe to these topics to consume the data. It also stores data across multiple brokers and partitions, allowing it to scale horizontally.

Nonetheless, Kafka is not immune to its own set of limitations. One of the key challenges is maintaining the balance of partitions across the available brokers and consumers.

This article explores the concept of Kafka rebalancing. We look at what triggers a rebalance and the side effects of rebalancing. We also discuss best practices to reduce rebalancing occurrences and alternative rebalancing approaches.

Summary of key concepts

Before we dive into Kafka rebalancing, we must understand some key concepts.




Servers that manage the storage and transfer of data within Kafka clusters.


A unit of parallelism in Kafka topic where each partition is an ordered, immutable sequence of records.

Consumer group

A group of consumers works together to consume data from one or more topics. Each consumer in a group is assigned one or more partitions to consume.


The process of redistributing partitions among consumer instances in a group.

Partition assignment strategy

The algorithm used by Kafka to assign partitions to consumers in a group. Kafka provides several partition assignment strategies, including round-robin, range, and sticky assignments.

What is rebalancing?

The concept of rebalancing is fundamental to Kafka's consumer group architecture. When a consumer group is created, the group coordinator assigns partitions to each consumer in the group. Each consumer is responsible for consuming data from its assigned partitions. However, as consumers join or leave the group or new partitions are added to a topic, the partition assignments become unbalanced. This is where rebalancing comes into play.

Kafka rebalancing is the process by which Kafka redistributes partitions across consumers to ensure that each consumer is processing an approximately equal number of partitions. This ensures that data processing is distributed evenly across consumers and that each consumer is processing data as efficiently as possible. As a result, Kafka can scale efficiently and effectively, preventing any single consumer from becoming overloaded or underused.

How rebalancing works

Kafka provides several partition assignment strategies to determine how partitions are assigned during a rebalance and is called an “assignor”. The default partition assignment strategy is round-robin, where Kafka assigns partitions to consumers one after another. However, Kafka also provides “range” and “cooperative sticky” assignment strategies, which may be more appropriate for specific use cases.

Stop-the-world rebalancing
Stop-the-world rebalancing

When a rebalance occurs:

  1. Kafka notifies each consumer in the group by sending a GroupCoordinator message.

  2. Each consumer then responds with a JoinGroup message, indicating its willingness to participate in the rebalance.

  3. Kafka then uses the selected partition assignment strategy to assign partitions to each consumer in the group.

During a rebalance, Kafka may need to pause data consumption temporarily. This is necessary to ensure all consumers have an up-to-date view of the partition assignments before re-consuming data.

When to choose Redpanda over Apache Kafka

Start streaming data like it's 2024.

What triggers Kafka rebalancing?

Here are some common scenarios that trigger a consumer rebalance in Kafka.

Consumer joins or leaves

When a new consumer joins or exits a group, Kafka must rebalance the partitions across the available consumers. It can happen during shutdown/restart or application scale-up/down. A heartbeat is a signal that indicates that the consumer is still alive and actively participating in the group. If a consumer fails to send a heartbeat within the specified interval, it is considered dead, and the group coordinator initiates a rebalance to reassign its partitions to other members.

Consumer Eviction From Group
Consumer Eviction From Group

Temporary consumer failure

When a consumer experiences a temporary failure or network interruption, Kafka may consider it a failed consumer and remove it from the group. This can trigger consumer rebalancing to redistribute the partitions across the remaining active consumers in the group. However, once the failed consumer is back online, it can rejoin the group and participate in the rebalancing process again.

Consumer idle for too long

When a consumer remains idle for too long, Kafka may consider it as a failed consumer and remove it from the group. This can trigger consumer rebalancing to redistribute the partitions across the remaining active consumers in the group.

Topic partitions added

If new partitions are added to a topic, Kafka initiates a rebalance to distribute the new partitions among the consumers in the group.

Side effects of Kafka rebalancing

While rebalancing helps ensure each consumer in a group receives an equal share of the workload, it can also have some side effects on the performance and reliability of the Kafka cluster. Some unintended consequences are given below.

Increased latency

The rebalancing process involves moving partitions from one broker or consumer to another, which can result in some data being temporarily unavailable or delayed. In addition, depending on the size of the Kafka cluster and the volume of data being processed, rebalancing can take several minutes or even hours, increasing the latency consumers experience.

Reduced throughput

Kafka rebalancing causes some brokers or consumers to become overloaded or underutilized, leading to slower data processing. However, once the rebalancing process is complete, the performance of the Kafka cluster returns to normal.

Increased resource usage

Kafka uses additional resources, such as CPU, memory, and network bandwidth, to move partitions between brokers or consumers. As a result, rebalancing increases resource usage for the Kafka cluster and can adversely impact the performance of other applications running on the same infrastructure.

Potential data duplication and loss

Kafka rebalancing may result in significant data duplication (40% or more in some cases) adding to throughput and cost issues. In rare cases, Kafka rebalancing leads to data loss if improperly handled. For example, a consumer leaves a consumer group while it still has unprocessed messages. Those messages may be lost once the rebalancing process begins. To prevent data loss, it is essential to ensure messages are properly committed to Kafka and that all consumers regularly participate in rebalancing.

Increased complexity

Kafka rebalancing adds complexity to the overall architecture of a Kafka cluster. For example, rebalancing involves coordinating multiple brokers or consumers, which can be challenging to manage and debug. It may also impact other applications or processes that rely on Kafka for data processing. As a result, you may find it more difficult to ensure the overall reliability and availability of the system.

Redpanda: a powerful Kafka alternative

Fully Kafka API compatible. 6x faster. 100% easier to use.

Measures to reduce rebalancing

There are measures you can take to reduce rebalancing events. However, rebalancing is necessary and must occur occasionally to maintain reasonably-reliable consumption.

Increase session timeout

The session timeout is the maximum time for a Kafka consumer to send a heartbeat to the broker. Increasing the session timeout increases the time a broker waits before marking a consumer as inactive. You can increase the session timeout by setting the parameter to a higher value in the Kafka client configuration. However, keep in mind that setting this parameter too high leads to longer periods of consumer inactivity.

Reduce partitions per topic

Having too many partitions per topic increases the frequency of rebalancing. When creating a topic, you can reduce the partition number by setting the num.partitions parameter to a lower value. However, remember that reducing the number of partitions also reduces the parallelism and throughput of your Kafka cluster.

Increase poll interval time

Sometimes messages take longer to process due to multiple network or I/O calls involved in processing failures and retries. In such cases, the consumer may be removed from the group frequently. The consumer configuration specifies the maximum time the consumer can be idle before it is considered inactive and removed from the group is Increasing the value in the consumer config helps avoid frequent consumer group changes.

What is incremental cooperative rebalance?

Incremental cooperative rebalance protocol was introduced in Kafka 2.4 to minimize the disruption caused by Kafka rebalancing. In a traditional rebalance, all consumers in the group stop consuming data while the rebalance is in progress, commonly called a “stop the world effect”. This causes delays and interruptions in data processing.

The incremental cooperative rebalance protocol splits rebalancing into smaller sub-tasks, and consumers continue consuming data while these sub-tasks are completed. As a result, rebalancing occurs more quickly and with less interruption to data processing.

The protocol also provides more fine-grained control over the rebalancing process. For example, it allows consumers to negotiate the specific set of partitions they will consume based on their current load and capacity. This prevents the overloading of individual consumers and ensures that partitions are assigned in a more balanced way.

What is static group membership in Kafka rebalancing?

Static group membership is a method of assigning Kafka partitions to consumers in a consumer group in a fixed and deterministic way without relying on automatic partition assignment. In this approach, the developer defines the partition assignment explicitly instead of letting the Kafka broker manage it dynamically.

With static group membership, consumers in a consumer group explicitly request the Kafka broker to assign them specific partitions by specifying the partition IDs in their configuration. Each consumer only consumes messages from a specific subset of partitions, and the partition assignment remains fixed until explicitly changed by the consumer.

However, it's important to note that static group membership leads to uneven workload distribution among consumers and may only be suitable for some use cases.

How to create a consumer with static membership

To use static group membership in Kafka, consumers must use the assign() method instead of the subscribe() method to specify the partition assignments. The assign() procedure takes a list of TopicPartition objects, identifying the topic and partition for assignment.

Here’s a sample code in Java to create a consumer with static membership.

import org.apache.kafka.clients.consumer.ConsumerConfig;
import org.apache.kafka.clients.consumer.ConsumerRecord;
import org.apache.kafka.clients.consumer.ConsumerRecords;
import org.apache.kafka.clients.consumer.KafkaConsumer;
import org.apache.kafka.common.TopicPartition;
import java.util.Arrays;
import java.util.Collections;
import java.util.Properties;

public class StaticPartitionConsumer {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // Set up Kafka consumer configuration
        Properties props = new Properties();
        props.setProperty(ConsumerConfig.BOOTSTRAP_SERVERS_CONFIG, "localhost:9092");
        props.setProperty(ConsumerConfig.GROUP_ID_CONFIG, "static-group");
        props.setProperty(ConsumerConfig.ENABLE_AUTO_COMMIT_CONFIG, "false");
        props.setProperty(ConsumerConfig.AUTO_OFFSET_RESET_CONFIG, "earliest");

        // Set up Kafka consumer with statically assigned partitions
        KafkaConsumer<String, String> consumer = new KafkaConsumer<>(props);
        TopicPartition partition0 = new TopicPartition("my-topic", 0);
        TopicPartition partition1 = new TopicPartition("my-topic", 1);
        consumer.assign(Arrays.asList(partition0, partition1));

        // Start consuming messages from assigned partitions
        try {
            while (true) {
                ConsumerRecords<String, String> records = consumer.poll(1000);
                for (ConsumerRecord<String, String> record : records) {
                    System.out.printf("partition = %d, offset = %d, key = %s, value = %s\n",
                            record.partition(), record.offset(), record.key(), record.value());
        } finally {

In this example:

  • KafkaConsumer is configured with the property set to static-group

  • Two partitions (partition0 and partition1) of my-topic are explicitly assigned to the consumer using the assign() method.

  • The consumer polls for new messages from the assigned partitions using the poll() method and commits the offsets using the commitSync() method.

Have questions about Kafka or streaming data?

Join a global community and chat with the experts on Slack.


Kafka rebalancing is an important feature that allows consumers in a Kafka cluster to dynamically redistribute the load when new consumers are added, or existing ones leave. It ensures all consumers receive an equal share of the work and helps prevent the overloading of any one consumer. However, excessive rebalancing results in reduced performance and increased latency and may even lead to duplicates and/or data loss in some cases.

So, it's essential to configure Kafka consumers properly and follow best practices to minimize the frequency and impact of rebalancing. By understanding how Kafka rebalancing works and implementing the right strategies, developers and administrators can ensure a smooth and efficient Kafka cluster that delivers reliable and scalable data processing.

Redpanda Serverless: from zero to streaming in 5 seconds

Just sign up, spin up, and start streaming data!


Four factors affecting Kafka performance

Learn how to optimize Kafka performance with producer, consumer, broker, and message configurations.

Kafka Burrow partition lag

Learn how to use the Kafka Burrow monitoring tool to monitor Kafka cluster performance, consumer groups, and partition lag.

Kafka consumer lag

Learn how to optimize Apache Kafka for maximum performance and scalability with tuning tips and best practices.

Kafka monitoring

Learn how to monitor Apache Kafka for performance and behavior with metrics, tools, and best practices.

Kafka latency

Learn how to reduce Kafka latency, understand common causes, and explore key performance metrics to optimize real-time applications.

Kafka optimization

Learn how to optimize Apache Kafka performance by adjusting partitions and consumer groups, cluster size, producer, and consumer parameters.

Kafka performance tuning

Learn how to optimize Apache Kafka® for maximum performance and scalability with tuning tips and best practices.

Kafka log compaction

Learn how to optimize Kafka-based systems' stability, efficiency, and longevity with log compaction.

Kafka rebalancing

Learn Kafka rebalancing, the process of redistributing partitions across consumers to ensure efficient data processing.

Kafka logs

Learn how Kafka's log structure facilitates its reliable architecture and parameters related to Kafka logs that affect its performance.

Kafka lag

Learn how to diagnose and reduce Kafka lag to optimize performance of real-time streaming applications.

Kafka monitoring tools

Learn how to monitor Kafka performance metrics and the best monitoring tools to maximize Kakfa performance.