Browse or peek messages

Message browsing, or peeking, enables a Service Bus client to enumerate all messages in a queue or a subscription, for diagnostic and debugging purposes.

The Peek operation on a queue or a subscription returns at most the requested number of messages. The following table shows the types of messages that are returned by the Peek operation.

Type of messages Included?
Active messages Yes
Dead-lettered messages No
Locked messages Yes
Deferred messages Yes
Expired messages Might be (before they're dead-lettered)
Scheduled messages Yes for queues. No for subscriptions

Dead-lettered messages

To peek into Dead-lettered messages of a queue or subscription, the peek operation should be run on the dead letter queue associated with the queue or subscription. For more information, see accessing dead letter queues.

Expired messages

Expired messages might be included in the results returned from the Peek operation. Consumed and expired messages are cleaned up by an asynchronous "garbage collection" run. This step might not necessarily occur immediately after messages expire. That's why, a peek operation might return messages that have already expired. These messages will be removed or dead-lettered when a receive operation is invoked on the queue or subscription the next time. Keep this behavior in mind when attempting to recover deferred messages from the queue.

An expired message is no longer eligible for regular retrieval by any other means, even when it's being returned by Peek. Returning these messages is by design as Peek is a diagnostics tool reflecting the current state of the log.

Locked messages

Peek also returns messages that were locked and are currently being processed by other receivers. However, because Peek returns a disconnected snapshot, the lock state of a message can't be observed on peeked messages.

Deferred messages

Deferred messages remain in the main queue along with all other active messages (unlike dead-letter messages that live in a subqueue), but they can no longer be received using the regular receive operations. Deferred messages can be discovered via message browsing if an application loses track of them.

To retrieve a deferred message, its owner is responsible for remembering the sequence number as it defers it. Any receiver that knows the sequence number of a deferred message can later receive the message by using receive methods that take the sequence number as a parameter. For more information about sequence numbers, see Message sequencing and timestamps.

Peek APIs

Peek works on queues, subscriptions, and their dead-letter queues.

When called repeatedly, the peek operation enumerates all messages in the queue or subscription, in order, from the lowest available sequence number to the highest. It’s the order in which messages were enqueued, not the order in which messages might eventually be retrieved.

You can also pass a SequenceNumber to a peek operation. It's used to determine where to start peeking from. You can make subsequent calls to the peek operation without specifying the parameter to enumerate further.

Maximum number of messages

You can specify the maximum number of messages that you want the peek operation to return. But, there's no way to guarantee a minimum size for the batch. The number of returned messages depends on several factors of which the most impactful is how quickly the network can stream messages to the client. 

Here's an example snippet for peeking all messages with the Python Service Bus SDK. The sequence_number​ can be used to track the last peeked message and start browsing at the next message.

using Azure.Messaging.ServiceBus;

// Create a Service Bus client for your namespace
ServiceBusClient client = new ServiceBusClient("NAMESPACECONNECTIONSTRING");

// Create Service Bus receiver for your queue in the namespace
ServiceBusReceiver receiver = client.CreateReceiver("QUEUENAME");

// Peek operation with max count set to 5
var peekedMessages = await receiver.PeekMessagesAsync(maxMessages: 5);

// Keep receiving while there are messages in the queue
while (peekedMessages.Count > 0)
    int counter = 0; // To get the sequence number of the last peeked message
    int countPeekedMessages = peekedMessages.Count;

    if (countPeekedMessages > 0)
        // For each peeked message, print the message body
        foreach (ServiceBusReceivedMessage msg in peekedMessages)
        Console.WriteLine("Peek round complete");

    // Start receiving from the message after the last one
    var fromSeqNum = peekedMessages[counter-1].SequenceNumber + 1;
    peekedMessages = await receiver.PeekMessagesAsync(maxMessages: 5, fromSequenceNumber: fromSeqNum);

The following sample output is from peeking a queue with 13 messages in it.

Message 1
Message 2
Message 3
Message 4
Message 5
Peek round complete

Message 6
Message 7
Message 8
Message 9
Message 10
Peek round complete

Message 11
Message 12
Message 13
Peek round complete

Try the samples in the language of your choice to explore Azure Service Bus features.

Find samples for the older .NET and Java client libraries here:

On 30 September 2026, we'll retire the Azure Service Bus SDK libraries WindowsAzure.ServiceBus, Microsoft.Azure.ServiceBus, and, which don't conform to Azure SDK guidelines. We'll also end support of the SBMP protocol, so you'll no longer be able to use this protocol after 30 September 2026. Migrate to the latest Azure SDK libraries, which offer critical security updates and improved capabilities, before that date.

Although the older libraries can still be used beyond 30 September 2026, they'll no longer receive official support and updates from Microsoft. For more information, see the support retirement announcement.