Antony Reynolds' Blog

  • December 21, 2005

BPEL Correlation

Antony Reynolds
Senior Director Integration Strategy

Where Did I Put That Process?

A BPEL process is initiated and makes a call to an ERP system to raise a purchase order, generating a purchase order number.  Later that purchase order causes another system to raise an invoice and send the invoice to the BPEL process.  How does the BPEL engine know which BPEL process should receive this invoice and process it.  This is dealt with a thing called correlation.

From e-mails and phone calls that I receive it appears a lot of people struggle with BPEL correlation.  It seems that the questions falls into two categories, why would I want it, and how do I do it?

What is Correlation?

Correlation is basicallly the process of matching an inbound message to the BPEL engine with a specific process.  Normally this matching is hidden from us.  Synchronous calls have no need of correlation because the conversation context is maintained on the stack or across a TCP connection.  Consenting BPEL processes will usually correlate messages using WS-Addressing headers to pass around magic tokens that act like the session cookies in a web application.

Why Do I Need Worry About It?

Well most of the time you don't!  As I mentioned before, calling another BPEL process or using a synchronous call will mean you don't have to think about it.  You do need to worry about it in the following situations amongst others.

  • When using an asynchronous service that doesn't support WS-Addressing

  • When receiving unsolicited messages from another system

  • When communicating via files

In these casess we need to be able to tell BPEL to look at some content of the message in order to select the correct process instance to receive the message.

How Do I Get the Right Process Instance?

BPEL provides a construct called a correlation set to allow for custom correlation.  A correlation set is a collection of properties used by the BPEL engine to identify the correct process to receive a message.  Each property in the correlation set may be mapped to an element in one or more message types through property aliases as shown below.

Things to Remember About Correlation

I see some common misunderstandings about custom correlation.  So lets knock them off now.

  • Only the process receiving the messsage needs to worry about correlation

    <BR/>As long as the sending service includes sufficient information in the message to be able to correlate it with previous activities there is no need for the sender to even be aware that correlation is occuring.

  • Correlation properties must be unique for the duration of the life of the BPEL process that set them.

    <BR/>Make sure that you can't have two processes working with the same correlation tokens, for example using social security numbers to correlate an expense claims process would be a bad idea if an individual could kick off two seperate instances of the process.

  • Properties can be made up values or actual business identifiers such as purchase orders or numbers.  They don't have to be strings, they can be any reasonable XML type.

A Quick Guide to Custom Correlation

Enough of the theory, how does it work in practice?  Consider a process A that call a process B that calls a process C that calls a process A.  This is one of the scenarios (113) in the BPEL samples distributed with Oracle BPEL PM.

So we have a cycle A->B->C->A.  Three different asynch calls.

Note only process A needs correlation because only A receives more than one call.

On the invoke from A to B we add a correlation in the correlation tab for the invoke using BPEL Designer.  In here we will create the correlation set and create a property to correlate the exchange.  We set this to initiate the correlation, meaning that it will associate this process with the given value.

On the receive from C to A we add the same correlation set with its property as we did for the invoke from A to B.  However this time we mark the receive as not to initiate the correlation, meaning that the BPEL PM will use this to select the right process instance.

We now go to the BPEL structure diagram in the BEL Designer and add the property alias.  We create two property aliases maping to appropriate elements in each message that will have the same value in message from A to B, as in the message from C to A.  Note that the elements can be different names and in different structures in the two messages, but they must contain the same value if correlation is to work.

At this point BPEL designer has done almost everything.  We need to manually edit the bpel.xml file and add the following XMl fragment to each partner link that will participate in the correlation.

<property name="correlation">correlationSet</property>

Note that "
correlationSet" is a fixed value.

I have uploaded a sample of this process.  Note deploying it may be tricky due to circular dependencies.  How to deploy it is left as an exercise to the reader, but if the worst comes to the worst deploy an empty version of the process B, then deploy process A, then process C and then the real process B.

Useful References

Here are some useful references on correlation.

Join the discussion

Comments ( 11 )
  • Debashis Wednesday, July 16, 2008
    Hi Antony
    I have been just inducted into the world of SOA and to Oracle Fusion stack in particular.
    This is just to say THANK U!
    Your blog is REAL help man!
    Keep up the good work.
    Glad you find it useful - love the idea of being "inducted into the world of SOA" - like any club it has its fair share of secret handshakes
  • guest Friday, May 20, 2011
    Hi ,
    I am reading your book oracle soa suite developer guide its really helpfull if you have other books which i can refer then please mail me
    the softcopy at yatin_jiet@hotmail.com
  • guest Saturday, September 10, 2011


    This is Harish I have some doughts plz clarify me i have a interview so plz send the ans as soon as possible

    1) how to we handle mediater faults in bpel processes

    2)which type of faults we get in mediater

    3)My current project is data integration project in this

    i have get data from one location and i can send that data in to some other location.

    in this what type of faults i have to get

    4)I have a one source (input) now i have to send this inputs to 3 destinations one is GOOGLE and AMEZAN and YAHOO how to i can send the data from source to this 3 destinations..without using mediater ?

    5)what is the main diff b/w oracle soa10g and 11g and which type of files will created in the composite panel.in 10g and 11g ?

    6)What is Component ?

  • guest Friday, December 16, 2011

    I could answer you for 5th question


    11g contains Service component Architecture where as 10g doesn't

    11g contains trigger file activity where as 10g doesn't

    11g has 5 components such as Bpel,mediator,humantask,business rules,springcontext where as 10g doesnt have any components.

    11g works on weblogic server where as 10g works on different application servers.

    11g has 31 activities and 10 has only 28 in which 5 activities are removed.

  • guest Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    this is kalyan i have one doughts please clarify and give the answer ASAP

    what is compensation and what is the use of compensation

  • guest Tuesday, January 24, 2012


    Compensation is not related to correlation.

    Correlation is the association of an incoming message with a pre-existing BPEL instance.

    Compensation is the application of reversing operations to undo work that needs to be undone as a result of failures in processing that occur after the work has occurred.


  • Saptarshi Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Hi Antony,

    It seems like your uploaded code is no longer available.



  • Chetan Monday, March 12, 2012

    Hi Antony,

    I could get the correlation concept from your blog. Thanks for this nice explanation.

    I wanted to understand that 10g example as well, but code is not available now, can you please share the example code, it would be great if you have 11g example for the same.



  • Antony Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    It looks like when Oracle migrated blogs they lost this one. I have had a look on my current computer and don't seem to have the original files so I can't re-upload. Sorry. I will try and do an 11g correlation example soon.

  • guest Friday, July 27, 2012

    Hi Antony,

    I am facing an issue while implementing the above mentioned scenario. I have 3 processes A,B,C where A calls B, B calls C and C inturn calls A. Here C is raising a Business Event which will be subscribed by the Process A in the midway. But the issue is when the Receive activity is not able to subscribe to the business Event instead a new instance is created. I tried adding Correlation Set and Property alias but for the receive activity which listens to business Event in process A I am not able to create property alias since there is no such message type of C declared in this process.

    Can you please provide me a solution for this issue

  • Vitaliy Friday, November 24, 2017
    Hi, Antony.

    Have you managed to create an 11g correlation example already? Can you please provide a link?
Please enter your name.Please provide a valid email address.Please enter a comment.CAPTCHA challenge response provided was incorrect. Please try again.