Event Categories and Turtles

Published on Nov 30, 2020

Often in the past I had the discussion with colleagues about the question: When should one choose a business event over a data change event? I was not able to tell the difference in a sentence. So I tried to write it down.


Nakadi defines – besides an undefined category – two different categories of event types: business events and data change events. If one fits better than the other defines the context. I will focus on one in this article.

In an event-driven architecture microservices communicate by exchanging events. When archived those events produce a change log which is important for analytical use cases.

Differences between Event Categories

Content of Information

The business event contains all information representing the triggering event. It is possible to design business event types in a scarce way because every single business event represents a change. Every byte we persist is relevant.

In contrast data change events always contain all data for all attributes of the business object, no matter if the field has been touched by the triggering event or not. This means on the other hand data change events carry information which is irrelevant for the triggering event. That said, it means per byte it contains less information.

Above paragraphs reveal a problem with our language: there are different notions behind the term “event”. First there is the event which describes what happens when a user interacts with the system (e.g. a customer places an order). Second it describes the data structure holding information about that event.

The data change event category misses the information about the triggering event while it is present in the name of the event type for business events. This has some consequences.

Evolving the System

I understand the event driven architecture in a way that systems exchange messages (events) and the specific type of the event allows interested parties (consumers) to react in a specific and appropriate manner. Given an event type “object has changed” which specific action will it allow the consumer to derive from? Imagine you want to send the customer a notification that his payment was received. It would be quite difficult to enable this use case if only an order_has_changed data change event is emitted.

While with business events it is possible to have separate services for every single event it is not possible for the data change event. If a single microservice S emits business event types (E1 and E2) it can be cut into several services without need to redesign the event types. Subsequently S’ could emit E1 and S’' could emit E2. This implies that the architectural change can be done without impact on the consumers of those events. The same is not as simple for data change events.


A data change event has one advantage. The consumer can reconstruct the latest state by processing only the last message and discarding all others. This is already part of the problem: discarding means wasted resources and is a consequence of the reduced content of information.

In the context of business analytics we often deal with questions in regard to events (in the notion of “interaction with the system”). Retrieving that information requires to search for when a certain field was changed. This is a quite complex computation on that data model compared to business events.

Business events require more design effort and understanding of the business case. But every piece in it is relevant. This is simple from the system point of view. It is also efficient from the operational point of view.


In an event-driven architecture you have only event producers and consumers exchanging messages which we call “events”. In this model there aren’t databases. Data change events make sense, if we want to replicate databases or tables. But calling them “events” will lead the reader to the assumption both are different kind of turtles. But they aren’t.

Using the event broker and its event transport system moves the statement level logging of a RDBMS up to level of communication of components within a distributed system (therefore the data_op field is required). Having both categories in the very same event broker and calling both “events” could lead to the notion they can be used interchangeably. Doing so would add severe limitations on the options to evolve the system in which the microservice is a component. As Jessica Kerr pointed it out so nicely: “It’s never turtles all the way down".