Design: Netflix

Designing or architecting a system is a complex task. One needs to think of various aspects that can impact a system. At a high level, we bucket the requirements into two parts – Functional and Non-Functional. Functional requirements, in simple words, can be thought of as functionalities one needs to build. Non-functional requirements can be complex as they usually will not be called out explicitly and as an architect, you need to figure out after discussions with various stakeholders.


In this post, I would try to look at the system design for Netflix. Of course, it is a complex system and it is difficult to cover in one post, but I will try to touch upon important aspects.

Functional Requirements:

  • Account Management: Create Account/ Login/ Manage and Delete the Account
  • Subscription Management
  • Search
  • Watch a Video: View/ Download for offline viewing
  • Recommendations: User-based/ Generic/ Top trends/ Genre
  • Device Synchronization
  • Language Selection: Audio/ Video

Non-Functional Requirements:

  • Performance: Realtime streaming performance
  • Reliability
  • Availability
  • Scalability
  • Durability

Data needed:

  • number of users
  • daily active users
  • the average number of videos watched per day/ per user
  • the average size of the video
  • number of videos total/ uploaded per day

Let me borrow the high-level architecture image

Microservices-based architecture: Netflix is an early adapter of microservices and helped popularize the use of microservices. Microservices help Netflix manage its critical services by keeping them stateless, secured, scalable, available, and reliable.

CDN or Content Delivery Network: In the image above we see Open Connect, which is Netflix’s CDN. For any application which has consumers across multiple geographies, CDN is an important piece. This helps deliver content like images, videos, JavaScript, and other files from a location nearest to the user helping improve performance. In addition, Netflix provides Open Connect Appliances to ISPS free of cost, which helps ISPs save bandwidth and helps Netflix Cache content for better performance.

Transcoding: Any video getting uploaded to Netflix then gets converted to videos of various resolutions. The video gets uploaded to a queue from where it is taken up by transcoder workers who after converting the video upload them to AWS S3. When a user clicks on a video to be played, the best option is chosen based on the client and bandwidth.

API Gateway: ZUUL is the API gateway used by Netflix, which provides features for gateway like security, authentication, routing, decorating requests, Beta testing (based on routing), etc.

Resiliency: It is a resiliency library by Netflix. It handles scenarios like timeout handling, failing fast by rejecting requests when the thread pool is full, circuit breaker when the error rate is heavy, fallback to default response, etc.

Cache: Netflix uses EV cache to provide performance, reduced latency, better throughput, and reduced overall cost. EV cache is a custom implementation of Memcache, which is not dependent on RAM and can use SSD.

Database: Netflix uses MySQL for data that needs ACID properties, data like user data. Read replicas are used to improve query performances. Cassandra is used for NoSQL, to keep data like browsing and watching history. Older history data can be moved to the compressed cheaper data store.

Logs Management: All log data is sent to Chukwa through Kafka. You can view logs on the dashboard. Finally, logs can be sent to S3 for further retention and usage.

Search: Elastic Search is used for indexing and searching.

Recommendations: Spark is used for data analysis. it helps rank content based on user history as well as using data from users with similar tastes. For example, if two users have given similar ratings to a movie, their tastes might be similar. Also if a user watches comedy content mostly, the recommendation engine might suggest more comedy content.