Controlling concurrency

Some tasks need to be run with very strict concurrency rules to ensure they don't collide with each other. Common examples for needing concurrency control are deployments, app releases and infrastructure tasks.

To help you control concurrency, Buildkite provides two primitives: concurrency limits and concurrency groups. While these two primitives are closely linked and interdependent, they operate at different levels.

Concurrency limits

Concurrency limits define the number of jobs that are allowed to run at any one time. These limits are set per-step and only apply to jobs that are based on that step.

Setting a concurrency limit of 1 on a step in your pipeline will ensure that no two jobs created from that step will run at the same time, even if there are agents available.

You can add concurrency limits to steps either through Buildkite, or your pipeline.yml file by adding concurrency attributes with limit values to these steps. When adding a concurrency limit, you'll also need the concurrency_group attribute so that steps in other pipelines can use it as well.

I'm seeing an error about a missing concurrency_group_id when I run my pipeline upload

This error is caused by a missing concurrency_group attribute. Add this attribute to the same step where you defined the concurrency attribute.

Concurrency groups

Concurrency groups are labels that group together Buildkite jobs when applying concurrency limits. When you add a group label to a step the label becomes available to all Pipelines in that organization. These group labels are checked at job runtime to determine which jobs are allowed to run in parallel. Although concurrency groups are created on individual steps, they represent concurrent access to shared resources and can be used by other pipelines.

A concurrency group works like a queue; it returns jobs in the order they entered the queue (oldest to newest). The concurrency group only cares about jobs in "active" states, and the group becomes "locked" when the concurrency limit for jobs in these states is reached. Once a job moves from an active state to a terminal state (finished or canceled), the job is removed from the queue, opening up a spot for another job to enter. If a job's state is limited, it is waiting for another job ahead of it in the same concurrency group to finish.

The full list of "active" job states is limiting, limited, scheduled, waiting, assigned, accepted, running, canceling, timing out.

The following is an example command step that ensures deployments run one at a time. If multiple builds are created with this step, each deployment job will be queued up and run one after the other in the order they were created.

- command: ''
  label: ':rocket: Deploy production'
  branches: 'main'
    deploy: true
  concurrency: 1
  concurrency_group: 'our-payment-gateway/deploy'

Make sure your concurrency_group names are unique, unless they're accessing a shared resource like a deployment target.

For example, if you have two pipelines that each deploy to a different target but you give them both the concurrency_group label deploy, they will be part of the same concurrency group and will not be able to run at the same time, even though they're accessing separate deployment targets. Unique concurrency group names such as our-payment-gateway/deployment, terraform/update-state, or my-mobile-app/app-store-release, will ensure that each one is part of its own concurrency group.

Concurrency groups guarantee that jobs will be run in the order that they were created in. Jobs inherit the creation time of their parent. Parents of jobs can be either a build or a pipeline upload job. As pipeline uploads add more jobs to the build after it has started, the jobs that they add will inherit the creation time of the pipeline upload rather than the build.

Troubleshooting and using concurrency_group with block / input steps

When a build is blocked by a concurrency group, you can check which jobs are in the queue and their state using the getConcurrency GraphQL query.

Be aware that both the block and input steps cause these steps to be uploaded and scheduled at the same time, which breaks concurrency groups. These two steps block jobs being added to the concurrency group, but do not affect the jobs' ordering once unblocked. The concurrency group won't be added to the queue until the block or input step is unblocked, and once it is, the timestamp will be from the pipeline upload step.

Concurrency and parallelism

Sometimes you need strict concurrency while also having jobs that would benefit from parallelism. In these situations, you can use concurrency gates to control which jobs run in parallel and which jobs run one at a time. Concurrency gates come in pairs, so when you open a gate, you have to close it. You can't use input or block steps inside concurrency gates.

In the following setup, only one build at a time can enter the concurrency gate, but within that gate up to three e2e tests can run in parallel, subject to Agent availability. Putting the stage-deploy section in the gate as well ensures that every time there is a deployment made to the staging environment, the e2e tests are carried out on that deployment:

  - command: echo "Running unit tests"
    key: unit-tests

  - command: echo "--> Start of concurrency gate"
    concurrency_group: gate
    concurrency: 1
    key: start-gate
    depends_on: unit-tests

  - wait

  - command: echo "Running deployment to staging environment"
    key: stage-deploy
    depends_on: start-gate

  - command: echo "Running e2e tests after the deployment"
    parallelism: 3
    depends_on: [stage-deploy]
    key: e2e

  - wait

  - command: echo "End of concurrency gate <--"
    concurrency_group: gate
    concurrency: 1
    key: end-gate

  - command: echo "This and subsequent steps run independently"
    depends_on: end-gate

Controlling command order

By default, steps that belong to the same concurrency group are run in the order that they are added to the pipeline.

For example, if you have two steps:

  • Step A in concurrency group X with a concurrency of 1 at time 0
  • Step B with the same concurrency group X and also a concurrency of 1 at time 1

Step A will always run before step B. This is the default behavior (ordered), and most helpful for deployments.

However, in some cases concurrency groups are used to restrict access to a limited resource, such as a SaaS service like Sauce Labs. In that case, the default ordering of the jobs can work against you, as one step waits for the next before taking up another concurrency slot.

If your resource usage time is very different, for example if tests in pipeline A take 1 minute to run and tests in pipeline B take 10 minutes to run, the default ordering is not helpful because it means that the limited resource you're controlling concurrency for is not fully utilized.

In that case, setting the concurrency method to eager, removes the ordering condition for that resource.

  - command: echo "Using a limited resource, only 10 at a time, but we don't care about order"
    concurrency_group: saucelabs
    concurrency: 10
    concurrency_method: eager

Concurrency and prioritization

If you're using eager concurrency and job prioritization, higher priority jobs will always take precedence when a concurrency slot becomes available.