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This is some work on Donovan Preston's python-actors [1] so that it works with gevent.

Since the dawn of concurrency research, there have been two camps: shared everything, and shared nothing. Most modern applications use threads for concurrency, a shared everything architecture.

Actors, however, use a shared nothing architecture where lightweight processes communicate with each other using message passing. Actors can change their state, create a new Actor, send a message to any Actor it has the Address of, and wait for a specific kind of message to arrive in it's mailbox.



  • gevent 0.13
  • simplejson
  • a large dose of patience

What Is an Actor?

  • An actor is a process
  • An actor can change it's own state
  • An actor can create another actor and get it's address
  • An actor can send a message to any addresses it knows
  • An actor can wait for a specific message to arrive in it's mailbox

Why Use Actors?

  • Only an actor can change it's own state
  • Each actor is a process, simplifying control flow
  • Message passing is easy to distribute
  • Most exceptional conditions occur when waiting for a message
  • Isolates error handling code
  • Makes it easier to build fault tolerant distributed systems

How Are Actors Implemented in python-actors?

gevent and greenlet threads are used to implement the actor processes. This doesn't provide real isolation: but python doesn't provide private either.

When messages are sent between actors they are serialized to json and copied. This provides isolation and makes the messages network safe.

Problem: Imported modules leak state between actors

  • Possibility: Keep a unique copy of sys.modules for every actor
  • Possibility: Seal modules in wrapper object preventing modification
  • Reality: Just write code that doesn't abuse global module state

How To Use python-actors

Most stuff lives in the pyact package and in the actor module:

  • is an actor.

Create an actor.

from pyact import actor
address = actor.spawn(fn)

fn is a function that receives a receive funcion as the first argument.

There are two ways to create an actor: either by subclassing Actor or by just passing a function to spawn. Arguments passed to spawn are forwarded to the actor:

def forward(receive, address):
    pat, data = receive()
    address | data

def build(receive, n):
    ring = []
    for i in range(n):
        if not ring:
            node = actor.spawn(forward, actor.curaddr())
            node = actor.spawn(forward, ring[-1])

    ring[-1] | {'text': 'hello around the ring'}
    pat, data = receive()
    return data

addr = actor.spawn(build, 10000)
print addr.wait()

This passes 10000 as n to the actor function build. This creates 10,000 sub-actors, where actor N will forward any received message to actor N+1 and then die. When all actors has been created a message is sent through the ring.

Worth noting is the curaddr() function that returns the address of the current actor. Another neat function is the node.wait function that waits for a local actor to finish and returns the result.

Receiving Messages

python-actors has just like Erlang selective receive. This means that if messages in the mailbox will be left there if the call to receive do not provide a matching pattern.

Patterns are python objects that can contain "wildcard types". A simple example is the following dictionary pattern: {"name": int}. This will match {"name": 1} but not {"name": "data"}. The type object will match anything.

DATA = ('data', str)
EVENT = {'event': str, 'data': object}

pat, msg = receive(DATA, EVENT)
if pat is DATA:
   print "we got some data", msg[1]
if pat is EVENT:
   print "wow, an event", msg['event'], msg['data']

Note that tuples must match is length. This is not true for lists, which is used to match arrays. The first element in an array match is a type: [str] will match ['a', 'b'] but not [1, 'b'].


  • Proper linking and monitoring
  • Create basic constructs such as supervisors and routers