Understanding Persistent Sessions and Clean Sessions – MQTT Essentials: Part 7

Understanding Persistent Sessions and Clean Sessions – MQTT Essentials: Part 7

author HiveMQ Team

Written by HiveMQ Team

Category: MQTT Essentials MQTT

Published: February 23, 2015

Updated: June 27, 2023

Persistent sessions in MQTT allow a client to maintain its subscription and message state across multiple connections. When a client establishes a persistent session with an MQTT broker, the broker stores the client’s subscription information and any undelivered messages intended for the client. This way, if the client disconnects and reconnects later, it can resume communication seamlessly. Here’s Part 7 of MQTT Essentials, a ten-part blog series on the core features and concepts of the MQTT protocol, where we explore the topics of persistent sessions, clean sessions and message queueing in detail. We will dive deep into how persistent sessions in MQTT enhance QoS by enabling reliable message delivery, providing QoS level guarantees, and facilitating efficient reconnection for clients, even in the presence of intermittent connectivity or client disconnections.

Table of Contents

If you are new to MQTT Quality of Service (QoS) 0,1, & 2, check out Part 6 of this series. Else, let’s dive in.

What are Persistent Sessions?

To receive messages from an MQTT broker, a client establishes a connection and creates subscriptions to the desired topics. In a non-persistent session, if the connection between the client and broker is interrupted, the client loses its subscriptions and needs to re-subscribe upon reconnection. This can be burdensome for resource-constrained clients. To address this issue, clients can request a persistent session when connecting to the broker.

Persistent sessions store all relevant client information on the broker, ensuring that subscriptions and messages are retained even when the client is offline. The session is identified by the clientId provided by the client during the connection establishment process. To learn more, read our article MQTT Client, MQTT Broker, and MQTT Server Connection Establishment Explained.

What’s Stored in a Persistent Session?

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In a persistent session, the broker stores the following information (even if the client is offline). This information becomes immediately available to the client upon reconnection:

  • Session existence (even if there are no subscriptions): The broker retains information about the existence of the session, allowing the client to resume its previous state upon reconnection.
  • All client’s subscriptions: The broker stores the list of topics to which the client has subscribed. This ensures the client does not need to re-subscribe to the same topics every time it reconnects, saving valuable time and resources.
  • Flow of all messages in a Quality of Service (QoS) 1 or 2 where the client has not yet confirmed: The broker keeps track of unacknowledged messages sent to the client at QoS 1 or QoS 2 levels. These messages are stored in the broker’s message queue and will be delivered to the client upon reconnection, ensuring reliable message delivery.
  • All new QoS 1 or 2 messages that the client missed while offline: If the client was offline when QoS 1 or QoS 2 messages were published to subscribed topics, the broker stores these missed messages. Once the client reconnects, it receives the queued messages, preventing any loss of important information.
  • All QoS 2 messages received from the client that are awaiting complete acknowledgement: For QoS 2 messages sent by the client, the broker keeps track of their acknowledgment status. If any of these messages are not fully acknowledged, the broker holds them until the acknowledgment is complete.

What are Clean Sessions in MQTT and How to Use Them to Start or End a Persistent Session?

When establishing a connection to the broker, clients can enable or disable a persistent session by setting the value of the cleanSession flag. Here’s how it works: When the cleanSession flag is set to true, the client explicitly requests a non-persistent session. In this scenario, if the client disconnects from the broker, all queued information and messages from the previous persistent session are discarded. The client starts with a clean slate upon reconnection.

On the other hand, when the cleanSession flag is set to false, the broker creates a persistent session for the client. This means that the broker preserves all relevant information and messages even if the client goes offline. The session remains intact until the client explicitly requests a clean session. If the cleanSession flag is set to false and the broker already has a session available for the client, it will utilize the existing session and deliver any previously queued messages to the client upon reconnection.

For more detailed information on establishing a connection between the client and broker, refer to our article, MQTT Client, MQTT Broker, and MQTT Server Connection Establishment Explained.

Core features and concepts of the MQTT protocol, including persistent sessions and message queueing, explained.

How Does A Client Know if a Session is Already Stored?

In MQTT version 3.1.1 and beyond, the CONNACK message sent by the broker in response to the client’s connection request includes a session present flag. This flag serves as an indicator for the client, informing it whether a previously established session is still available on the broker. By examining the session present flag, the client can determine whether to establish a new session or reconnect to an existing one. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the connection establishment process, we recommend referring to MQTT Essentials Part 3.

Persistent Session on the Client Side: Ensuring Local Message Persistence and Acknowledgment

In addition to the broker storing a persistent session, each MQTT client also plays a role in maintaining session continuity. When a client requests the server to retain session data, it assumes the responsibility and must store the following information:

  • Flow of all messages in a QoS 1 or 2 where the broker has not yet confirmed: The client keeps track of messages it has sent to the broker at QoS 1 or QoS 2 levels. These messages are stored locally until the broker acknowledges their receipt or completion. By maintaining these unconfirmed messages, the client ensures that it can retransmit any messages if necessary and achieve the desired level of reliability.
  • All QoS 2 messages received from the broker awaiting complete acknowledgment: When the broker sends QoS 2 messages to the client, they are received and processed by the client. However, until the client acknowledges the successful processing of these messages, the client stores them locally. This ensures that the client can handle any interruptions or disconnections while maintaining the reliability and integrity of message delivery.
  • By storing these message-related details on the client side, MQTT clients can actively maintain session persistence and ensure the successful processing of messages even in challenging network conditions.

MQTT Session Management Best Practices: Enhancing Message Delivery and Resource Efficiency

When working with MQTT, it’s essential to consider the best practices for session management to optimize your implementation. Here are some guidelines to help you determine when to use a persistent session or a clean session:

Best Practices for MQTT Persistent Sessions

  • Ensure Message Reliability: If your client needs to receive all messages from a specific topic, even when they are offline, a persistent session is the way to go. This ensures that the broker queues the messages for the client and delivers them promptly when the client reconnects.
  • Resource Optimization: If your client has limited resources, leveraging a persistent session is beneficial. Storing the client’s subscription information on the broker facilitates a quick restoration of interrupted communication, reducing the burden on constrained clients.
  • Resume Publishes: A persistent session is necessary if your client needs to resume publishing Quality of Service (QoS) 1 and 2 messages after reconnecting. The broker retains these messages until the client returns online, ensuring their reliable delivery.

Best Practices for MQTT Clean Session

  • Publish-Only Clients: A clean session is suitable if your client only needs to publish messages and does not require subscriptions to topics. In such cases, the broker does not need to store session information or attempt to transmit QoS 1 and 2 messages, simplifying the session management process.
  • Avoid Offline Message Retrieval: A clean session suffices if your client does not need to receive missed messages while offline. It eliminates the overhead of storing and delivering messages that the client did not subscribe to during its offline period.

MQTT Message Storage Duration: How long does the MQTT broker store messages?

People often ask how long the broker stores session information and messages. The answer depends on various factors and considerations:

  • Memory Limit Constraint: Typically, the primary constraint on message storage is the memory limit of the operating system hosting the broker. Monitoring and allocating sufficient resources to handle the expected message volume is crucial.
  • Use Case Specifics: The appropriate solution for managing message storage duration varies based on your use case. Consider factors such as the importance of retaining messages, message expiration policies, and regulatory or compliance requirements.

By following these best practices and considering the above-mentioned factors, you can effectively manage MQTT sessions, optimize message persistence, and ensure reliable communication in your MQTT-based solutions.

Remember to incorporate these guidelines into your implementation based on your unique requirements and application needs.


To summarize, understanding and effectively utilizing persistent sessions, queuing mechanisms, and proper session management practices, we can harness the full potential of MQTT and build robust, scalable, and reliable IoT and messaging applications.

In Part 8 of our MQTT Essentials series, we’ll dive deeper into the concept of retained messages and how they work in MQTT.

Are you enjoying our content? Then sign up for our newsletter below. If you prefer RSS, you can subscribe to our RSS feed here. Do check out MQTT Glossary to know all the key MQTT terminologies. Watch the video below that complements the concepts discussed in this article.

FAQs on MQTT Persistent Sessions and Clean Sessions

A persistent session in MQTT allows the client to maintain its session state, including subscriptions and undelivered messages, across disconnections. This ensures message delivery and preserves the client's state. A non-persistent session, or clean session, discards session state upon disconnection, requiring the client to reestablish subscriptions and potentially miss messages published during the disconnection. The choice between persistent and non-persistent sessions depends on the application's requirements for session continuity and message persistence.

Using a persistent session in MQTT offers several benefits. It enhances the reliability, state preservation, and reconnection efficiency of clients. It provides uninterrupted message delivery, eliminates the need for repetitive setup tasks, and ensures consistent message ordering, thereby improving the overall quality and robustness of the MQTT communication.

In a persistent session in MQTT, messages sent during periods of client disconnection are stored by the MQTT broker and delivered to the client upon reconnection.

If the client disconnects and then reconnects to the broker with the "clean session" flag set to false and the same ClientID, the session is resumed. The broker will deliver any messages it has stored, and the client can continue with any outgoing messages that have not been confirmed. The client does not need to subscribe to the topics again since the broker has maintained the subscriptions.

MQTT provides three Quality of Service (QoS) levels for message delivery, QoS 0 (At most Once), QoS 1( At least Once), QoS 2 (Exactly Once) delivery guarantees. In case of network failures, MQTT provides a mechanism to store session information and recover from interruptions through persistent session.

Specific MQTT brokers might implement their own strategies for session expiration, which can extend beyond the standard MQTT protocol. For example, some brokers may allow you to configure a session expiration interval during which the session will be maintained even if the client is disconnected.

If a second client connects to the broker with the same Client ID as a client that is already connected, the broker must disconnect the client which was connected first. The new client will then take over the Client ID and its associated session. However, If a client connects to the broker with the same Client ID as a client that was previously connected but is not currently connected, the new client will take over the session associated with that Client ID, provided that the session was a persistent one.

The specific behavior when a message queue limit is reached depends on the particular MQTT broker's implementation and its configured policies. For example, the broker could discard old messages, discard new messages, or disconnect the client.

Yes, the MQTT broker typically allows configuration of certain parameters related to message queuing, though this can vary between different broker implementations. Some of the configurable parameters could be Maximum Queue Size, Message Retention Policy, Session Expiry Intervals, maximum Packet Size, and Maximum QoS level.

In an MQTT broker, each client's message queue (for persistent sessions) is stored in the broker's memory. This memory is used to hold messages that are not yet delivered to the clients or are retained for future delivery due to their QoS level. Therefore, the size of these message queues directly impacts the broker's memory usage.

MQTT handles oversized messages in the message queue by using a configurable parameter called the Maximum Packet Size.

author HiveMQ Team

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