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varpool: Erlang Process Pools as a Local Variable

"Let messages ride together to minimize computational costs"


There are two main approaches to process pooling in Erlang:

  1. Treat the pool as shared data to operate on the pool in ways commonly used with imperative programming languages: A process is removed from the pool, the process is used and the process is added back to the same pool (interacting with the pool as mutable data).
  2. Use the pool with Flow-Based-Programming (FBP) to use Erlang in a simpler way: The pool returns a process without modifying the pool and a message is sent to the process to utilize the process. Either an asynchronous or synchronous message is used with the process based on the requirements of the process and the effect of the request rate on the process message queue.

The #1 approach is unfortunately very common in Erlang source code and is normally (erroneously) regarded as the correct approach when writing Erlang source code. A major negative aspect of the #1 approach is the impact on fault-tolerance. How is the process fault-tolerance handled when the process is removed from the pool (to be used)? If the process is still linked to the pool in a way where the pool will restart the process if it crashes while not being within the pool, it is impossible to isolate the cause of the crash in the implementation. The crash could have occurred due to the external usage of the process or it could have occurred due to an internal error within the pool source code. While you can easily argue that a stacktrace will show you the cause of the error, you will be unable to easily determine if the stacktrace occurred during or after the error on one side or the other. The ambiguity and complexity in the #1 approach makes it error-prone.

A second major negative aspect of the #1 approach is the scalability impact when constantly mutating data to get a process from a pool. As the request rate increases, the latency associated with altering the pool becomes more significant. The extra latency helps to put artifical limits on any source code that depends on pooling with the #1 approach.

The #2 approach is a more natural fit to the fault-tolerance and concurrency Erlang provides (the pool handles the process fault-tolerance and relying on the process message queue utilizes Erlang process concurrency). The pool does not become a scalability bottleneck while it remains immutable data. An additional benefit is that the implementation is simpler and easier to understand.

The most common example of the #1 approach is probably poolboy. The varpool library provides the #2 approach as local variable data (for efficient access).


rebar compile


rebar eunit


Michael Truog (mjtruog at protonmail dot com)


MIT License


Erlang Process Pools as a Local Variable





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