#asynchronous #holo #holochain #actor


A simple, ergonomic, idiomatic, macro for generating the boilerplate to use rust futures tasks in a concurrent actor style

51 releases

0.2.1 Aug 13, 2020
0.2.0 Jul 1, 2020
0.2.0-alpha.12 Jun 26, 2020
0.0.42 Mar 10, 2020
0.0.22 Nov 13, 2019

#22 in Asynchronous

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A simple, ergonomic, idiomatic, macro for generating the boilerplate to use rust futures tasks in a concurrent actor style.

Hello World Example

// Most of the GhostActor magic happens in this macro.
// Sender and Handler traits will be generated here.
ghost_chan! {
    pub chan HelloWorldApi<GhostError> {
        fn hello_world() -> String;

// ... We'll skip implementing a handler for now ...

async fn main() -> Result<(), GhostError> {
    // spawn our actor, getting the actor sender.
    let sender = spawn_hello_world().await?;

    // we can make async calls on the sender
    assert_eq!("hello world!", &sender.hello_world().await?);
    println!("{}", sender.hello_world().await?);


What's going on Here?

  • The ghost_chan! macro writes some types and boilerplate for us.
  • We'll dig into implementing actor handlers below.
  • We are able to spawn an actor that runs as a futures task.
  • We can make async requests on that actor, and get results inline.

The ghost_chan! Macro

ghost_chan! {
    pub chan HelloWorldApi<GhostError> {
        fn hello_world() -> String;

The ghost_chan! macro takes care of writing the boilerplate for using async functions to communicate with an "actor" running as a futures task. The tests/examples here use tokio for the task executor, but the GhostActorBuilder returns a driver future for the actor task that you can manage any way you'd like.

The ghost_chan! macro generates some important types, many of which are derived by pasting words on to the end of your actor name. We'll use the actor name HelloWorldApi from above as an example:

  • HelloWorldApiSender - The "Sender" trait generated for your actor allows users with a GhostSender<HelloWorldApi> instance to make async calls. Basically, this "Sender" trait provides the API that makes the whole actor system work.
  • HelloWorldApiHandler - This "Handler" trait is what allows you to implement an actor task that can respond to requests sent by the "Sender".
  • HelloWorldApi - You may have noticed above, the "Sender" instance that users of your api will receive is typed as GhostSender<HelloWorldApi>. The item that receives the name of your actor without having anything pasted on to it is actually a GhostEvent enum designed for carrying messages from your "Sender" to your "Handler", and then delivering the result back to your API user.

Implementing an Actor Handler

/// We need a struct to implement our handler upon.
struct HelloWorldImpl;

/// All handlers must implement GhostControlHandler.
/// This provides a default no-op handle_ghost_actor_shutdown impl.
impl GhostControlHandler for HelloWorldImpl {}

/// Implement GhostHandler for your specific GhostEvent type.
/// Don't worry, the compiler will let you know if you forget this : )
impl GhostHandler<HelloWorldApi> for HelloWorldImpl {}

/// Now implement your actual handler -
/// auto generated by the `ghost_chan!` macro.
impl HelloWorldApiHandler for HelloWorldImpl {
    fn handle_hello_world(&mut self) -> HelloWorldApiHandlerResult<String> {
        Ok(must_future::MustBoxFuture::new(async move {
            // return our results
            Ok("hello world!".to_string())

Pretty straight forward. We implement a couple required traits, then our "Handler" trait that actually defines the logic of our actor. Then, we're ready to spawn it!

Spawning an Actor

/// Use the GhostActorBuilder to construct the actor task.
pub async fn spawn_hello_world(
) -> Result<GhostSender<HelloWorldApi>, GhostError> {
    // first we need a builder
    let builder = actor_builder::GhostActorBuilder::new();

    // now let's register an event channel with this actor.
    let sender = builder

    // actually spawn the actor driver task
    // providing our implementation

    // return the sender that controls the actor

Note how we actually get access to the cheaply-clonable "Sender" before we have to construct our actor "Handler" item. This means you can create channels that will be able to message the actor, and include those senders in your handler struct. More on this later.

The Complete Hello World Example

Custom Errors

A single ghost channel / actor api will use a single error / result type. You can use the provided ghost_actor::GhostError type - or you can specify a custom error type.

Your custom error type must support From<GhostError>.

#[derive(Debug, thiserror::Error)]
pub enum MyError {
    /// Custom error types MUST implement `From<GhostError>`
    GhostError(#[from] GhostError),

    /// Of course, you can also have your own variants as well
    #[error("My Error Type")]

ghost_chan! {
    /// The error type for actor apis is specified in the macro
    /// as the single generic following the actor name:
    pub chan MyActor<MyError> {
        fn my_fn() -> ();

Efficiency! - Ghost Actor's Synchronous Handler Blocks

GhostActor handler traits are carefully costructed to allow &'a mut self access to the handler item, but return a 'static future. That 'static means references to the handler item cannot be captured in any async code.

This can be frustrating for new users, but serves a specific purpose!

We are being good rust futures authors and working around any blocking code in the manner our executor frameworks recommend, so our actor handler can process messages at lightning speed!

Our actor doesn't have to context switch, because it has all its mutable internal state right here in this thread handling all these messages. And, when it's done with one message, it moves right onto the next without interuption. When the message queue is drained it schedules a wakeup for when there is more data to process.

In writing our code to support this pattern, we find that our code natually tends toward patterns that support parallel work being done to make better use of modern multi-core processors.

See especially the "Internal Sender Pattern" in the next section below.

Advanced Patterns for Working with Ghost Actors


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