Thrift over TChannel

This document outlines how we intend to use Thrift over TChannel.

For Thrift requests sent over TChannel, the as (arg scheme) transport header must be set to thrift. Requests will be made using call req messages and responses will be sent using call res messages, with values for arg{1,2,3} as defined in Arguments.

For call req, the service name (service~1) should be set to the name of the TChannel service being called. This does not necessarily have to be the same as the Thrift service name. For example, the service being designed could be called blog but the Thrift service name could be BlogService.

For call res,

  • In case of success, the Response Code (code:1) must be set to 0x00.
  • In case of failure, the Response Code (code:1) must be set to 0x01.


For both, call req and call res,

  • arg1 must be the method name as defined by [arg1][]
  • arg2 must be the application headers in the format nh:2 (k~2 v~2){nh}
  • arg3 must be the Thrift payload as defined by [arg3][]


This must be a concatenation of the Thrift service name and the service method name separated by two colons (::). This is the same name that will be used to refer to the endpoint on the server-side.

For example, arg1 will be PingService::ping for the following service's ping method.

service PingService {
    void ping()

Note that the Thrift service name is not necessarily the same as the TChannel service name. That is, the value for service~1 in the call req/res may be different from the service name used in the Thrift IDL (and so, the endpoint name).


arg3 must contain a Thrift struct encoded using TBinaryProtocol.

For call req messages, it is a struct containing JUST the parameters of the method.

For call res messages,

  • In case of success, the response contains a struct with a single field with identifier 0 that contains the return value of the method. For methods with a void return type, the struct must be empty.

  • In case of failure, the response contains a struct with a single exception field identifier with the exception struct as the value.

For example,

service CommentService {
    list<Comment> getComments(
        1: EntityId id
        2: i32 offset
        3: i32 limit
    ) throws (
        1: InvalidParametersException invalidParameters
        2: EntityDoesNotExist doesNotExist

For getComments(1234, 10, 100), the arg3 for call req will contain the binary-encoded version of the following struct:

    1: 1234,
    2: 10,
    3: 100

If the call succeeds, the call res body contains the following binary-encoded struct:

    0: [
        { /* comment fields go here */ },
        { /* comment fields go here */ },
        // ...

If the call fails with an EntityDoesNotExist exception, the body contains the following binary-encoded struct:

    2: { /* EntityDoesNotExist fields go here */ }

Multiple Services

To avoid confusion, these definitions will be used in this section:

  • Service refers to individual services defined in the Thrift IDL.
  • System refers to the whole system being designed in the Thrift IDL. A system may consist of multiple services.

A Thrift IDL for a system may contain multiple Thrift services that partition the different concerns of the system. For example,

service UserService {
    UserId createUser(1: UserDetails details)
    void verifyEmailAddress(1: UserId userId, 2: VerificationToken token)

service PostService {
    PostId submitPost(1: UserId userId, 2: PostInfo post)

There are two ways to consume such a multi-service system:

  • Set up a separate server on a different port and/or a different machine for each service in the system. Consumers specify the different hosts/ports while constructing their clients.
  • Multiplex the different services behind the same server.

I'll focus on the second approach in this section because the first approach is not very different from having separate systems for each service.

As mentioned in [arg1][], each service method will be registered with the TChannel server in the format {serviceName}::{methodName}. For the example above, we'll have 3 endpoints: UserService::createUser, UserService::verifyEmailAddress, and PostService::submitPost.

Callers must use the full endpoint name when making requests. For example,

    service: "UserService",   // < This is the TChannel service name
    endpoint: "PostService::submitPost",
    // ...

For convenience, client implementations may allow omission of the {serviceName}:: prefix for the common case where the TChannel service name matches the Thrift service name. For example,

send({service: "UserService", endpoint: "createUser"})
// The implementation should translate this to,
send({service: "UserService", endpoint: "UserService::createUser"})

Service Inheritance

Thrift supports the concept of service inheritance. For example,

service BaseService {
    bool isHealthy()

service UserService extends BaseService {
    // ...

service PostService extends BaseService {
    // ...

In case of service inheritance, we don't want the "parent" service's methods to be registered under its name. In the example above, we don't want BaseService::isHealthy registered. Instead, UserService::isHealthy and PostService::isHealthy must be registered.

To do this, the server code responsible for registering endpoints must first denormalize the Thrift file into a set of "leaf" services that contain all methods -- including inherited ones.

Uncaught Exceptions

For uncaught server-side exceptions that are not defined in the Thrift IDL, server implementations should attempt to respond with a TChannel error message with error code (code:1) 0x05 (unexpected error).