Amazon Simple Queue Service
Developer Guide

Using Amazon SQS Dead-Letter Queues

Amazon SQS supports dead-letter queues. A dead-letter queue is a queue that other (source) queues can target for messages that can't be processed (consumed) successfully. You can set aside and isolate these messages in the dead-letter queue to determine why their processing doesn't succeed.

How Do Dead-Letter Queues Work?

Sometimes, messages can’t be processed because of a variety of possible issues, such as erroneous conditions within the producer or consumer application. For example, if a user places an order within a certain number of minutes of creating an account, the producer might pass a message with an empty string instead of a customer identifier.

Occasionally, producers and consumers might fail to interpret aspects of the protocol that they use to communicate, causing message corruption or loss. Also, the consumer’s hardware errors might corrupt message payload.

The redrive policy specifies the source queue, the dead-letter queue, and the conditions under which Amazon SQS moves messages from the former to the latter if the consumer of the source queue fails to process a message a specified number of times. For example, if the source queue has a redrive policy with maxReceiveCount set to 5, and the consumer of the source queue receives a message 5 times without ever processing and deleting it, Amazon SQS moves the message to the dead-letter queue.

To specify a dead-letter queue, you can use the AWS Management Console or an API action. You must do this for each queue that sends messages to a dead-letter queue. Multiple queues can target a single dead-letter queue. For more information, see Configuring an Amazon SQS Dead-Letter Queue and the RedrivePolicy attribute of the CreateQueue or SetQueueAttributes API action.


The dead-letter queue of a FIFO queue must also be a FIFO queue. Similarly, the dead-letter queue of a standard queue must also be a standard queue.

You must use the same AWS account to create the dead-letter queue and the other queues that send messages to the dead-letter queue. Also, dead-letter queues must reside in the same region as the other queues that use the dead-letter queue. For example, if you create a queue in the US East (Ohio) region and you want to use a dead-letter queue with that queue, the second queue must also be in the US East (Ohio) region.

What are the Benefits of Dead-Letter Queues?

The main task of a dead-letter queue is handling message failure. A dead-letter queue lets you set aside and isolate messages that can’t be processed correctly to determine why their processing didn’t succeed. Setting up a dead-letter queue allows you to do the following:

  • Configure an alarm for any messages delivered to a dead-letter queue.

  • Examine logs for exceptions that might have caused messages to be delivered to a dead-letter queue.

  • Analyze the contents of messages delivered to a dead-letter queue to diagnose software or the producer’s or consumer’s hardware issues.

  • Determine whether you have given your consumer sufficient time to process messages.

How Do Different Queue Types Handle Message Failure?

Standard Queues

Standard queues keep processing messages until the expiration of the retention period. This ensures continuous processing of messages, which minimizes the chances of your queue being blocked by messages that can’t be processed. It also ensures fast recovery for your queue.

In a system that processes thousands of messages, having a large number of messages that the consumer repeatedly fails to acknowledge and delete might increase costs and place extra load on the hardware. Instead of trying to process failing messages until they expire, it is better to move them to a dead-letter queue after a few processing attempts.


Standard queues allow a high number of in-flight messages. If the majority of your messages can’t be consumed and aren’t sent to a dead-letter queue, your rate of processing valid messages can slow down. Thus, to maintain the efficiency of your queue, you must ensure that your application handles message processing correctly.

FIFO Queues

FIFO queues ensure exactly-once processing by consuming messages in sequence from a message group. Thus, although the consumer can continue to retrieve ordered messages from another message group, the first message group remains unavailable until the message blocking the queue is processed successfully.


FIFO queues allow a lower number of in-flight messages. Thus, to ensure that your FIFO queue doesn’t get blocked by a message, you must ensure that your application handles message processing correctly.

When Should I Use a Dead-Letter Queue?

Do use dead-letter queues with standard queues. You should always take advantage of dead-letter queues when your applications don’t depend on ordering. Dead-letter queues can help you troubleshoot incorrect message transmission operations.


Even when you use dead-letter queues, you should continue to monitor your queues and retry sending messages that fail for transient reasons.

Do use dead-letter queues to decrease the number of messages and to reduce the possibility of exposing your system to poison-pill messages (messages that can be received but can’t be processed).

Don’t use a dead-letter queue with standard queues when you want to be able to keep retrying the transmission of a message indefinitely. For example, don’t use a dead-letter queue if your program must wait for a dependent process to become active or available.

Don’t use a dead-letter queue with a FIFO queue if you don’t want to break the exact order of messages or operations. For example, don’t use a dead-letter queue with instructions in an Edit Decision List (EDL) for a video editing suite, where changing the order of edits changes the context of subsequent edits.

Getting Started with Dead-Letter Queues

For information about how to create a dead-letter queue using the AWS Management Console or using the query API action, see the Configuring an Amazon SQS Dead-Letter Queue tutorial.

You can configure an Amazon SQS queue as a dead-letter queue using the following API actions.

Task API Action
Configure a dead-letter queue for a new queue. CreateQueue
Configure a dead-letter queue for an existing queue. SetQueueAttributes
Determine whether a queue uses a dead-letter queue. GetQueueAttributes

Troubleshooting Dead-Letter Queues

In some cases, Amazon SQS dead-letter queues might not always behave as expected. This section gives an overview of common issues and shows how to resolve them.

Viewing Messages using the AWS Management Console Might Cause Messages to be Moved to a Dead-Letter Queue

Amazon SQS counts viewing a message in the AWS Management Console against the corresponding queue's redrive policy. Thus, if you view a message in the AWS Management Console the number of times specified in the corresponding queue's redrive policy, the message is moved to the corresponding queue's dead-letter queue.

To adjust this behavior, you can do one of the following:

  • Increase the Maximum Receives setting for the corresponding queue's redrive policy.

  • Avoid viewing the corresponding queue's messages in the AWS Management Console.

The NumberOfMessagesSent and NumberOfMessagesReceived for a Dead-Letter Queue Don't Match

If you send a message to a dead-letter queue manually, it is captured by the NumberOfMessagesSent metric. However, a message is sent to a dead-letter queue as a result of a failed processing attempt, it isn't captured by this metric. Thus, it is possible for the values of NumberOfMessagesSent and NumberOfMessagesReceived to be different.