Subject: Re: [boost] Is there any interest in a library for actor programming? [preliminary submission]
From: Matthias Vallentin (vallentin_at_[hidden])
Date: 2014-05-20 15:51:18
> However, I believe the actor model is not the *best* possible approach
> to message passing. The model is rather intricate, with monitors,
> links, handles, timeouts, priorities, groups, and so on. To me it
> seems a bit like the OO of concurrency: well-designed and insightful,
> but needlessly complicated compared to a more general and powerful
> paradigm such as generic programming.
In my eyes, the well-defined failure semantics with links/monitors do
not convolute the design, but rather make the important aspect of error
handling explicit. Moreover, priorities, links, monitors are all
*opt-in* and concepts orthogonal to each other. A user can ignore them
if desired. To stick with your analogy, it sounds to me that this
modular behavior is what you'd expect from "concurrent generic
> I think the *right* design would be a concurrent equivalent of
> generic programming, where the only fundamental building blocks
> should be a well-designed statically typed SPSC queue, move
> semantics, a low-level thread launching utility (such as
> boost::thread) and a concise generic EDSL for the linking of nodes
> with queues.
The notion of *right* is very subjective, in my eyes. For example, I
personally don't want threads to be the concurrency building block in my
application. I would like to run as many threads as I have cores on my
machine, and a scheduler that maps logical tasks to a thread pool.
Today, a thread is what C++ programmers choose as concurrency primitive.
But it's a hardware abstraction and does not scale. (You cannot spawn
millions of threads efficiently.) Your application may offer a much
higher degree of logical parallelism, for whatever notion of task you
We have to start appreciating that other languages have had tremendous
success with the actor model. Skala/Akka, Clojure, Erlang, all show that
the this is an industrial-strength abstraction of not only concurrency
but also network transparency. (When programming for cloud/cluster
applications, one has to consider the latter; see below.)
> start(readfile(input) | runlengthenc | huffmanenc | writefile(output));
You describe a classic pipes-and-filters notion of concurrency here,
where presumably you'd expect your data to flow asynchronously through
the filters. Effectively, this is just syntactic sugar for message
passing, where nodes represent actors taking one type of message,
transforming it, and spitting out another (except for the sink).
Such an EDSL is orthogonal to the underlying mechanism for message
> I dislike the option to throw out static typing but I realise that's a
> matter of taste.
Yeah, I agree with you. Static typing is what makes C++ powerful. We
have to understand though, that from the perspective of a single actor,
message handling is *always* type-safe. It's only when you build larger
systems and want to test whether the protocol match. And libcppa offers
that, it's just more boilerplate. For rapid prototyping, I can
understand that one may want a weaker notion of protocol compatibility,
> I'm a bit skeptical about the necessity and usefulness of built-in
> network transparency, but you might be able to convince me that it
> needs to be there.
I feel quite the opposite: network transparency is an essential aspect
of any message passing abstraction. When developing cluster-scale
applications, I would like to write my application logic once and
consider deployment an orthogonal problem. Wiring components without
needing to touch the implementation is a *huge* advantage. It enables
implementing complex and dynamic behaviors of distributed systems, for
example spawn new nodes if the system sense a compute bottleneck.
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