Milton Mazzarri
Milton Mazzarri
18 min read


After working for years on different organizations, one common theme is scheduling background jobs. In this article, I’ll share my experience with Oban, an open-source job processing package for Elixir. I’ll also cover some features, like real-time monitoring with Oban Web and complex workflow management with Oban Pro.

This article is the first of a series; later we will explore other important topics such as:

Stay tuned!

Let’s begin with an overview of Oban.

Oban Overview

In this context, when we talk about Oban, I’m not referring to the town in Scotland. Instead, I will be talking about an Elixir library that offers a background job system built on top of PostgreSQL with the primary goals of reliability, consistency, and observability. One of the cool features of Oban, given that it’s built on top of PostgreSQL is that you can enqueue jobs and other database changes, ensuring that everything is committed or rolled back atomically.

I will also talk about Oban Pro, which, according to the official site:

Oban Pro is a collection of plugins, workers and extensions that improve Oban’s reliability and make difficult workflows possible.

You can see a comparison between the open-source and the paid version here.

Let’s start by examining the following configuration:

config :my_app, Oban,
  repo: MyApp.Repo,
  queues: [default: 5, uno: 3],
  engine: Oban.Pro.Queue.SmartEngine,
  plugins: ...

The repo option specifies the Ecto repository used to insert and retrieve jobs. The queues option is always, except when you use false as a value, a keyword list where the keys are the queue names, and its value specifies the concurrency limit. For our specific configuration, we define two queues, default with a local concurrency limit of 5 and the uno queue, which I will use later to explain how to schedule one-off jobs, the local concurrency limit for this queue is 3.

We can extend Oban functionality via plugins and callback modules as I already mentioned. Oban Pro takes advantage of this feature providing a collection of plugins, workers, and extensions.

One extension offered by Oban Pro is the Oban.Pro.Queue.SmartEngine. It is an alternate queue engine that enables true global concurrency and global rate limiting. The open-source package offers a limited basic engine, Oban.Queue.BasicEngine.

The following list of plugins is for an advanced configuration, and it uses plugins from both Oban and Oban Pro. Please adjust the following based on your scenarios:

  plugins: [
      mode: {:max_age, {1, :day}},
      limit: 25_000,
      queue_overrides: [
        uno: {:max_age, :infinity}
      state_overrides: [
        cancelled: {:max_age, {5, :days}},
        discarded: {:max_age, {5, :days}}
      crontab: [
        {"30 7 * * *", MyApp.MyWorker},
        {"@reboot", MyApp.Migrations.MyDataMigrationWorker}

You can see that we’re using some plugins, like Oban.Pro.Plugins.Lifeline, which offers a way to rescue orphaned jobs. Or the Oban.Pro.Plugins.Reprioritizer, which prevents queue starvation by automatically adjusting priorities to ensure all jobs are eventually processed; this plugin is handy when you’re using different priorities in your Oban.Worker, a classic example is given in the plugin documentation:

For example, a queue that processes jobs from various customers may prioritize customers that are in a higher tier or plan. All high priority (0) jobs are guaranteed to run before any with lower priority (1..3), which is wonderful for the higher tier customers but can lead to resource starvation. When there is a constant flow of high priority jobs the lower priority jobs will never get the chance to run.

The Reprioritizer plugin automatically adjusts lower job’s priorities so that all jobs are eventually processed.

In another section of this article, I will be giving more details about the Oban.Pro.Plugins.DynamicPruner plugin, so let’s skip that for now.

At the end of our plugin list, you can see that we’re using Oban.Pro.Plugins.DynamicCron, which is an advanced version of the Oban.Plugins.Cron plugin for cron scheduling. The pro version allows changing its configuration globally across your entire cluster at runtime.

For more details about Oban, visit the official site at or on HexDocs at

Now let’s review some of the features from Oban Web.

Oban Web

The best place to check what Oban Web has to offer is the live Web dashboard demo, according to the authors:

[The Oban Web Dashboard Demo is] a playful combination of randomly generated workers using fake data and random failures makes the demo a chaotic simulation of a production workload. … The demo is a beautiful canary because it uses the latest OSS, Web, and Pro releases, utilizing all the plugins and most available features. With error monitoring, we receive notifications that help us diagnose and fix issues from a constantly running production instance, often (but not always) before any customers report a problem! It’s crowdsourcing and dogfooding rolled into one,

Let’s start reviewing a few parts from this live demo.



In this image, you can see the list of jobs that Oban is executing. On the sidebar, you see different sections, such as nodes, states, and queues.

Currently, they have two nodes acting as workers to run Oban Jobs in this demo.

Each node has six queues, one of them is analysis, and for this queue on each node, we have a local limit of 20, giving us a total of 40, which is what you see in the limit column. You can see that the mailers and the media queues have some symbols in the mode column. The chart line down character in the queues media and mailers means that those queues are rate limited, which is possible given that this demo uses the SmartEngine. Still, you can see another icon for the media queue, the globe icon, meaning that the media queue has a global limit in the cluster.

You can also see that the demo has already completed more than 359k jobs, and there is just one job available. One thing to notice here is that regardless of the number of jobs available, Oban will not process more jobs than is allowed on each queue at a given time, imposing a back-pressure mechanism, which is essential to avoid overloading our system.

Job details


In this image, you can see the job details in real-time; for example, in this capture, you can see the current state, the specific arguments for this job, which node is executing this job, schedule time, and so on. Note that you have a button on the upper right side that could allow you to cancel the job that’s being executed.


In this image, you can see that a specific job is completed without errors.


But in this image, you can appreciate that this job was discarded, meaning that we reached the maximum number of attempts, but on each try, we got errors, this traceback view increases the observability and could help you find an issue on your code, or, if you’re dealing with a flaky third-party service, you can hit the Retry button, for example.



If you press the Queues tab, you can see more details per queue, including nodes, how many jobs per queue are available, their local and global limit, if they are rate-limited, and so on. If you have the proper permissions, you can even stop or resume each queue on-demand from here. For example, in the previous screenshot, you can see that I stopped the analysis queue in one of the available nodes.

Smart Engine extension


Under the Queues tab, you will see an image similar to the previous one if you click on a queue name. Using the SmartEngine, you can set limits by rate, global, or both per queue.

One neat feature of the rate limit section is that you can go a bit further and apply partitioned rate-limiting by worker, args, or both within a queue. For example, in the media queue, you can see that there is a local limit of 10, a global limit of 25, but only 20 jobs are allowed per worker (Partition Field), every 60 seconds, across every instance of the media queue in this cluster.

Here you can see that the mailers queue is rate limited. We can define Oban Jobs or Workers that interact with external services, and we just set the rate limit at the queue level. There is no need to worry about rate limit implementation at the worker level.

Okay, I covered enough Oban Pro and Oban Web features with this section. But, if you want to know more details about the Oban Architecture, I recommend checking these slides The Architecture of Oban from Parker Selbert.

Now, let’s review some conventions that I tend to follow.


I will briefly examine some conventions I like to follow when using Oban in the following sub-sections.

Naming and file/directory organization

I tend to follow this code organization for Oban workers; adding subdirectories under the workers directory is valid.

├── lib
│   ├── my_app
│   │   └── workers
│   │       └── archive_account.ex
│   └── my_app.ex
├── mix.exs
└── test
    ├── my_app
    │   └── workers
    │       └── archive_account_test.ex
    ├── my_app_test.exs
    └── test_helper.exs

And the module naming is as follows:

  • MyApp.Workers.ArchiveAccount for the worker implementation
  • MyApp.Workers.ArchiveAccountTest for the unit tests associated with the previous worker implementation.

I’ve worked on some projects that follow the Phoenix style, meaning that the directory structure is very similar to the previous one, but the file names are a bit different:

├── lib
│   ├── my_app
│   │   └── workers
│   │       └── archive_account_worker.ex
│   └── my_app.ex
├── mix.exs
└── test
    ├── my_app
    │   └── workers
    │       └── archive_account_worker_test.ex
    ├── my_app_test.exs
    └── test_helper.exs

Also, the module names are a bit different:

  • MyApp.ArchiveAccountWorker for the worker implementation
  • MyApp.ArchiveAccountWorkerTest for the unit tests associated with the previous worker implementation.

I’ve worked fine with both approaches; once your team has made the decision, you should stick with it; that’s the most important thing for me to be honest.

So, before starting coding, take some time and define what code organization and naming convention you and your team want to follow.

I will follow the “Phoenix” way of doing things in the following code samples.

Keep calls to Oban.insert or Oban.insert_all contained in your worker

I highly recommend keeping the knowledge about how to enqueue an Oban job in their Oban.Worker implementation. Following this approach, you also avoid polluting your controllers, resolvers, or contexts with a sequence of calls like the following:

|> Oban.insert()

Instead, you can create a enqueue/1 function like this:

defmodule MyApp.MyWorker do
  use Oban.Worker,
    queue: :things,
    max_attempts: 5,
    unique: [period: _period_in_seconds = round(:timer.hours(1) / 1000)]

  alias MyApp.Thing

  @doc """
  Enqueues an Oban job to do something with the given thing
  @spec enqueue(Thing.t()) :: {:ok, Job.t()} | {:error, Job.changeset()} | {:error, term()}
  def enqueue(%Thing{id: thing_id}) do
    %{thing_id: thing_id}
    |> new()
    |> Oban.insert()

  @impl Oban.Worker
  def perform(%Job{args: %{"thing_id" => _thing_id}} = _job) do

Remember that your enqueue function doesn’t need to have an arity of one; adjust the number of arguments depending on what your worker expects.

Even for more complex workers, you can apply the same convention, for example:

defmodule MyApp.TranscodeWorker do
  use Oban.Pro.Workers.Workflow

  alias MyApp.IndexingWorker
  alias MyApp.NotifyWorker
  alias MyApp.RecognizeWorker
  alias MyApp.SentimentWorker
  alias MyApp.TopicsWorker
  alias MyApp.TranscribeWorker

  def process_video(video_id) do
    args = %{id: video_id}

    |> add(:transcode, new(args))
    |> add(:transcribe,, deps: [:transcode])
    |> add(:indexing,, deps: [:transcode])
    |> add(:recognize,, deps: [:transcode])
    |> add(:sentiment,, deps: [:transcribe])
    |> add(:topics,, deps: [:transcribe])
    |> add(:notify,, deps: [:indexing, :recognize, :sentiment])
    |> Oban.insert_all()

  # ...

NOTE: The previous example was borrowed and slightly modified from the _Workflow Example_ available in the Composing Jobs With Oban Pro post by Shannon and Parker.

One-off jobs

The easiest way to run one-off functions is via bin/RELEASE_NAME remote (or remote_console if you use distillery to create your release) on production nodes, but that’s not always available. In these cases, you can use Oban to run your one-off jobs.

If you plan to do a data migration, for example, consider wrapping this process into an Oban job doing the following.

Add a new file under lib/my_app/workers/migrations/, leaving the suffix _worker.ex, for example: lib/my_app/workers/migrations/my_data_migration_worker.ex, your new worker module should be something similar to the following:

defmodule MyApp.Migrations.MyDataMigrationWorker do
  use Oban.Worker,
    queue: :uno,
    max_attempts: 5,
    unique: [period: :infinity, states: Oban.Job.states()]

  @impl Oban.Worker
  def perform(%Job{} = job) do
    # TODO: data migration
    # should return a valid value
    # See:

From the previous code snippet, notice that you must use the uno queue and define a unique: [period: :infinity, states: Oban.Job.states()] to indicate that any attempt to enqueue a subsequent job will be considered a duplicate as long as jobs are retained in the database, and for the specific case of the uno queue, we keep those jobs indefinitely. You can adjust the number of max_attempts based on your scenario.

You can test your data migration adding a new file under test/my_app/workers/migrations/my_data_migration_worker_test.exs.

Once you have unit tested your worker following the suggestions that I will offer in the Testing your Workers and Configuration article, proceed to add an entry in your configuration file:

config :my_app, Oban,
  # ..
  plugins: [
    # ...
      crontab: [
        # ...
        {"@reboot", MyApp.Migrations.MyDataMigrationWorker},
        # ...

The @reboot string is a “non-standard syntax” that allows executing the given job at boot time in one single node in the cluster.


Now, I think it’s time to examine a few challenges that you could find while working with Oban.

Inserting Oban jobs in bulk

Sometimes you need to enqueue many Oban Jobs at once or in bulk.

Please, don’t do this:

|>{asset_id: &}) # <- use the arguments you really need for your worker

This will produce a lot of roundtrips to the database, instead, you should use Oban.insert_all/4:

|>{asset_id: &}))
|> Oban.insert_all()

While the previous approach avoids doing many roundtrips to the database, you can have problems depending on the number of jobs you’re trying to insert at once. Keep in mind that PostgreSQL’s binary protocol has a limit of 65,535 parameters that you may send in a single call. That presents an upper limit on the number of rows you may insert at one time and, therefore, the number of jobs you may insert in all at once.

So, it’s safer to split the previous stream into chunks:

timeouts = 
  |>{asset_id: &})
  |> Stream.chunk_every(chunk_size)
  |> Task.async_stream(&Oban.insert_all/1, ordered: false, timeout: timeout_ms, on_timeout: :kill_task)
  |> Stream.filter(& &1 == {:exit, :timeout})
  |> Enum.count()

# TODO: handle timeouts 

Here we’re using our beloved Task.async_stream/3, that will return a stream that runs the given function, Oban.insert_all/1, concurrently over each chunk in the enumerable.

Adjust the chunk_size accordingly to handle your specific scenarios.

One important thing to keep in mind when you use Oban.insert_all/2,4 is that you can insert duplicate jobs, even if your worker defines unique options like:

defmodule MyApp.MyWorker do
  use Oban.Worker,
    unique: [period: _period_in_seconds = round(:timer.hours(1) / 1000)]

  # ...

As noted in the documentation:

[Oban.insert_all/2] insertion respects prefix and log settings, but it does not use per-job unique configuration. You must use insert/2,4 or insert!/2 for per-job unique support.

But, sometimes, using Oban.insert/2,4 is too costly. You might want to insert hundreds or thousands of unique jobs as fast as possible; in these cases, you have two possibilities, at least that I’m aware of so far.

The first one is to guarantee the uniqueness in the stream pipeline, but, this could be risky because you are discarding the possibility of introducing a duplicate job that’s already in the oban_jobs table. In these cases, it’s safer to set up a partial unique index in PostgreSQL, you can set up a migration to create your partial unique index as follows:

defmodule MyApp.Repo.Migrations.CreateUniqueIndexForMyWorker do
   use Ecto.Migration

   @disable_ddl_transaction true
   @disable_migration_lock true

   @index_name "oban_jobs_unique_my_worker_index"
   @worker_name "MyApp.MyWorker"

   def up do
     CREATE UNIQUE INDEX CONCURRENTLY #{@index_name} ON oban_jobs (worker, args) WHERE worker = '#{@worker_name}'

   def down do
     execute("DROP INDEX IF EXISTS #{@index_name}")

You can include more conditions to your partial unique index, adjust this settings based on your specific case.

But you may be wondering why this would work at all. It happens that Oban.insert_all/2,4 it’s a wrapper around Repo.insert_all/4 and it sets the on_conflict option to :nothing. Better, you can test this behavior, once you have run the previous migration yourself by creating s unit test similar to this one:

refute payload
       |> MyBatchWorker.new_batch(batch_id:
       |> Oban.insert_all()
       |> Enum.any?(& &1.conflict?)

# second time all the jobs must create a conflict, but not an insertion
assert payload
       |> MyBatchWorker.new_batch(batch_id:
       |> Oban.insert_all()
       |> Enum.all?(& &1.conflict?)

In this unit test, we use the key :conflict? to detect the job uniqueness. From the Oban README, we have:

When unique settings match an existing job, the return value of Oban.insert/2 is still {:ok, job}. However, you can detect a unique conflict by checking the jobs’ :conflict? field. If there was an existing job, the field is true; otherwise it is false.

So, in the first pass, we check that the Oban Jobs doesn’t have any entry like: %Oban.Job{conflict?: true}. We check that all the entries have %Oban.Job{conflict?: true} in the second pass.

Nice, huh?

Complex workers

I won’t explain in detail the Workers offered by Oban.Pro, not because I think they don’t deserve a space here, but because Shannon and Parker already did a fantastic job in their post Composing Jobs With Oban Pro, they will take you on a tour of the workers included in Pro and explore some real-world use-cases where each one shines.


If you have reached this point, you undoubtedly noticed that I have enjoyed working with Oban so far, and at this point, I could be biased, so I want to take a step back to add some balance and mention some of Oban’s limitations.

  • Oban is “job processing in Elixir, backed by modern PostgreSQL”. I don’t see this as a limitation, but you can’t use Oban if you don’t use PostgreSQL in your stack. Thankfully that’s not my case for many years :)
  • If you use PostgreSQL, but you have an overloaded database currently, I don’t recommend adding more pressure with Oban. You have a bigger problem that you need to solve as soon as possible—you need to figure out what’s overloading your database and fix it!
  • If you still want to use Oban, but you’re thinking of adding a new PostgreSQL database just for the Oban workers, keep in mind that you will lose one of the most relevant features from Oban, which is the built-in transactional control.
  • If you want good performance in Oban Web, you should keep your oban_jobs table lean. I’ve noted some delays in the UI at around ten million records.
  • If you’re trying to ingest high throughput event streams, Oban probably isn’t the solution you need. You can process more than 15K jobs per second with Oban on a single node; of course, that number will highly depend on what your worker does. But you should increase that throughput significantly if you use the Batch Worker behaviour. Still, sometimes that’s not enough, and you should use a message broker, like rabbitmq in conjunction with Broadway or GenStage. Still, the initial learning curve of the latter tools could be higher, and you also need to make other considerations, like considering the state of your processes while you deploy.


In the same vein as the previous section, there are a few things that I would like to see in Oban:

  • Autoload regulation, suppose that your deployment in production shares the API server with your Oban Workers; these processes will compete with each other for resources. With a regulation framework built-in, your queues could be constrained a bit more if the load in your nodes is too high. If you don’t have a rate limit in your queue, you could automatically increase the concurrency limit if the load in the node is low. An excellent reference to this topic can be found in the paper Generic Load Regulation Framework for Erlang by Ulf Wiger. As far as I can tell, this feature is already in the roadmap.
  • A callback in the {Fixed,Dynamic}Pruner plugins; that way, before proceeding with the deletion, you can store or transfer those records into cold storage or somewhere else. I recently opened an issue about this feature.

Do you have things that you would like to see in Oban? If that’s the case, and you want to share those wishes with me, you can reach me at @milmazz on Twitter, or you can find me in the #oban channel on the Elixir Slack.


You can connect with the Oban authors, contributors, and other Oban users through any of these channels:

  • #oban channel on the Elixir Slack. Here you can see new announcements about new Oban releases.
  • Follow @sorentwo on Twitter for tips, announcements, and news about Oban
  • If you want to contribute to the OSS project, feel free to do it at You might start with the issues list. I’ve been able to contribute more than a dozen times, but on each occasion that I had a doubt, the authors were welcoming and offered good references, which is my general experience in the Elixir community, so don’t be shy and join the team :)


Oban is a solid solution to handle your background jobs in Elixir. It keeps true to what they offer in the README, like fewer dependencies, isolated queues, transactional control, unique, scheduled, and recurrent jobs, telemetry integration, and much more.

After all this, I think it’s clear that if you or your company need a background job system in Elixir, I recommend buying the Oban Web+Pro license, keep in mind that when you buy the license, you’re helping Shannon and Parker, to keep investing their time building more features for the open-source release of Oban.

If you have any pattern that you follow when you use Oban and you want to share that with me, you can reach me at @milmazz on Twitter, or you can find me in the #oban channel on the Elixir Slack.

That’s all folks! Thanks for reading.


Thank you Parker Selbert for reviewing drafts of this post.