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An example Akka/Scala application on Heroku, created by Typesafe
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Web Words, an example Akka/Scala application ready to run on Heroku.

Created by Typesafe,

See it live!

A live demo of the Web Words app may be running at

If it's down, try again later, or deploy the app yourself! (See below for instructions.)


There's a related article Scaling out with Scala and Akka over on Heroku's Dev Center. The article is a guided tour of the Web Words code.


Unlike the usual "Hello, World" this example shows off quite a few different features of the Akka and Heroku platforms. There's a fair amount of code here, but of course you can zoom in and look at the part you care about.

The "point" of the app (if you can call it that) is to do a shallow spider of a web site and compute some information about it, namely word counts and a list of links found on the site.

The app shows:

  • how to use Akka to write a highly parallel application in functional style, as an alternative to java.util.concurrent
  • how to deploy it on Heroku including how to use addons and multiple processes

You can run the app using free price tiers from Heroku, MongoHQ, and RabbitMQ. You can also run it locally, of course.

Slow down: what is this stuff?

The major technologies in the app, in brief:

  • Scala is an alternative to Java for writing Java Virtual Machine (JVM) applications. It's pragmatic to the core, including interoperability with existing Java libraries, and support for both object-oriented and functional programming.
  • Akka implements the actor model with Scala and Java APIs. It's a middleware that simplifies scaling out. Typesafe provides a commercially-supported Typesafe Stack which includes both Akka and Scala.
  • RabbitMQ implements Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), a way to send messages between Heroku processes. RabbitMQ is also a division of SpringSource and VMWare offering an official Heroku addon, used in this application.
  • MongoDB is a so-called "NoSQL" data store that stores Binary JSON aka BSON documents. On Heroku, one way to use it is with the MongoHQ addon.


If you want to understand this app and/or try running it, here's what you'll need.

Prerequisites in your brain

  • you should be a JVM developer: you know how to create and run a program on the JVM in some language, probably Java. You have no trouble with terms such as "class," "jar," "thread," etc.
  • you should know how to write a web application in some language and understand HTTP.
  • some familiarity with Scala; recommended book: Programming in Scala
  • ability to use git and GitHub, see

Prerequisites on your computer

These need to be installed manually:

Once you install those, SBT will automatically download the other dependencies including Scala and Akka.

Optional tools

Running the application

How to run the test suite

How to run it locally

  • Clone the webwords repository, cd into the resulting directory, and checkout the heroku-devcenter tag
  • Run sbt stage to stage the app (sbt must be sbt 0.11, not 0.7)
  • Install and start up MongoDB
  • Install and start up RabbitMQ Server
  • Launch the app as specified in Procfile if you have Heroku tools installed
    • run foreman start --port 8080
  • OR launch the app manually
    • run indexer/target/start to run the indexer process
    • in another terminal, run web/target/start to run the web process
  • Now open http://localhost:8080 in a browser

How to run it on Heroku

In brief:

  • Install the Heroku tools; be sure heroku is on your path
  • Type these commands inside the application's git clone:
    • heroku create --stack cedar
    • heroku addons:add mongohq
    • heroku addons:add rabbitmq
    • git push heroku master
    • heroku scale web=1 indexer=1
    • heroku restart
    • heroku open

Here's what each step does.

heroku create --stack cedar creates a new Heroku application, using Heroku's latest stack called Cedar. Scala and SBT are only supported on Cedar. You should see output like this:

$ heroku create --stack cedar
Creating hollow-night-3476... done, stack is cedar |
Git remote heroku added

The application name hollow-night-3476 is randomized and will vary.

Next, you'll want to enable addons for MongoDB and RabbitMQ. Note that the MongoDB addon is called mongohq (after the company providing it), not mongodb. These addons have free pricing tiers (at least as of this writing).

$ heroku addons:add mongohq
-----> Adding mongohq to hollow-night-3476... done, v3 (free)

$ heroku addons:add rabbitmq
-----> Adding rabbitmq to hollow-night-3476... done, v4 (free)

Once you enable the addons, you can optionally type heroku config to see the environment variables your application will use to access them:

$ heroku config
MONGOHQ_URL  => mongodb://
RABBITMQ_URL => amqp://

These environment variables are visible to your app when it's running on Heroku. See WebWordsConfig.scala for the Scala code to access them.

Now, you're ready to push the application to Heroku. This can take a couple minutes, it's slower the first time since it has to download the Internet. Type git push heroku master and you should see:

$ git push heroku master
Counting objects: 1220, done.
Delta compression using up to 4 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (636/636), done.
Writing objects: 100% (1220/1220), 164.40 KiB, done.
Total 1220 (delta 284), reused 0 (delta 0)

-----> Heroku receiving push
-----> Scala app detected
-----> Building app with sbt v0.11.0
-----> Running: sbt clean compile stage

... lots of output here related to updating and compiling ...

-----> Discovering process types
       Procfile declares types -> indexer, web
-----> Compiled slug size is 52.4MB
-----> Launching... done, v7 deployed to Heroku

 * [new branch]      master -> master

The application won't work yet because the indexer process is not running. You can verify this with heroku ps which will show only a web process; worker processes don't run by default.

To start up the worker process, use:

$ heroku scale web=1 indexer=1
Scaling web processes... done, now running 1
Scaling indexer processes... done, now running 1

Heroku processes are defined in a Procfile, where the process name web is special. The web process runs an instance by default and gets a PORT environment variable.

At this point, you may see an issue - but it happens to be an opportunity to learn about Heroku process management!

The web process waits for the indexer to exist before it listens on its port. But if the web process takes too long to start listening, Heroku will kill it off. Then the web process will be shown as crashed in heroku ps, like this:

$ heroku ps
Process       State               Command
------------  ------------------  ------------------------------
web.1         crashed for 14s     web/target/start

If you didn't type heroku scale web=1 indexer=1 quickly enough, the web process didn't connect to its port in time and shows as crashed.

To fix this, be sure you've done heroku scale web=1 indexer=1, and restart everything.

$ heroku ps
Process       State               Command
------------  ------------------  ------------------------------
indexer.1     starting for 2s     indexer/target/start
web.1         crashed for 1m      web/target/start
$ heroku restart
Restarting processes... done
$ heroku ps
Process       State               Command
------------  ------------------  ------------------------------
indexer.1     starting for 3s     indexer/target/start
web.1         starting for 4s     web/target/start

The heroku ps commands are optional, but they let you see what's going on. By the way: when restarting processes, you can also give a process name to restart only one process, for example heroku restart web.

And now Web Words should be live.

View the application with heroku open or by typing into a browser.

If anything goes wrong, you can check the application's logs with heroku logs; use heroku logs --num 10000 to get 10000 lines of logs if you need more than the default log size.


Learn more about the Scala and Akka stack at !

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