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Lesson 1.1: Actors and the ActorSystem

Here we go! Welcome to lesson 1.

In this lesson, you will make your first actors and be introduced to the fundamentals of Akka.NET.

Key concepts / background

In this first lesson, you will learn the basics by creating a console app with your first actor system and simple actors within it.

We will be creating two actors, one to read from the console, and one to write to it after doing some basic processing.

What is an actor?

An "actor" is really just an analog for a human participant in a system. It's an entity, an object, that can do things and communicate.

We're going to assume that you're familiar with object-oriented programming (OOP). The actor model is very similar to object-oriented programming (OOP) - just like how everything is an object in OOP, in the actor model everything is an actor.

Repeat this train of thought to yourself: everything is an actor. Everything is an actor. Everything is an actor! Think of designing your system like a hierarchy of people, with tasks being split up and delegated until they become small enough to be handled concisely by one actor.

For now, we suggest you think of it like this: in OOP, you try to give every object a single, well-defined purpose, right? Well, the actor model is no different, except now the objects that you give a clear purpose to just happen to be actors.

Further reading: What is an Akka.NET Actor?

How do actors communicate?

Actors communicate with each other just as humans do, by exchanging messages. These messages are just plain old C# classes.

//this is a message!
public class SomeMessage{
	public int SomeValue {get; set}

We go into messages in detail in the next lesson, so don't worry about it for now. All you need to know is that you send messages by Tell()ing them to another actor.

//send a string to an actor
someActorRef.Tell("this is a message too!");

What can an actor do?

Anything you can code. Really :)

You code actors to handle messages they receive, and actors can do whatever you need them to in order to handle a message. Talk to a database, write to a file, change an internal variable, or anything else you might need.

In addition to processing a message it receives, an actor can:

  1. Create other actors
  2. Send messages to other actors (such as the Sender of the current message)
  3. Change its own behavior and process the next message it receives differently

Actors are inherently asynchronous (more on this in a future lesson), and there is nothing about the Actor Model that says which of the above an actor must do, or the order it has to do them in. It's up to you.

What kinds of actors are there?

All types of actors inherit from UntypedActor, but don't worry about that now. We'll cover different actor types later.

In Unit 1 all of your actors will inherit from UntypedActor.

How do you make an actor?

There are 2 key things to know about creating an actor:

  1. All actors are created within a certain context. That is, they are "actor of" a context.
  2. Actors need Props to be created. A Props object is just an object that encapsulates the formula for making a given kind of actor.

We'll be going into Props in depth in lesson 3, so for now don't worry about it much. We've provided the Props for you in the code, so you just have to figure out how to use Props to make an actor.

The hint we'll give you is that your first actors will be created within the context of your actor system itself. See the exercise instructions for more.

What is an ActorSystem?

An ActorSystem is a reference to the underlying system and Akka.NET framework. All actors live within the context of this actor system. You'll need to create your first actors from the context of this ActorSystem.

By the way, the ActorSystem is a heavy object: create only one per application.

Aaaaaaand... go! That's enough conceptual stuff for now, so dive right in and make your first actors.


Let's dive in!

Note: Within the sample code there are sections clearly marked "YOU NEED TO FILL IN HERE" - find those regions of code and begin filling them in with the appropriate functionality in order to complete your goals.

Launch the fill-in-the-blank sample

Go to the DoThis folder and open WinTail in Visual Studio. The solution consists of a simple console application and only one Visual Studio project file.

You will use this solution file through all of Unit 1.

Install the latest Akka.NET NuGet package

In the Package Manager Console, type the following command:

Install-Package Akka

This will install the latest Akka.NET binaries, which you will need in order to compile this sample.

Then you'll need to add the using namespace to the top of Program.cs:

// in Program.cs
using Akka.Actor;

Make your first ActorSystem

Go to Program.cs and add this to create your first actor system:

MyActorSystem = ActorSystem.Create("MyActorSystem");

NOTE: When creating Props, ActorSystem, or ActorRef you will very rarely see the new keyword. These objects must be created through the factory methods built into Akka.NET. If you're using new you might be making a mistake.

Make ConsoleReaderActor & ConsoleWriterActor

The actor classes themselves are already defined, but you will have to make your first actors.

Again, in Program.cs, add this just below where you made your ActorSystem:

var consoleWriterActor = MyActorSystem.ActorOf(Props.Create(() =>
new ConsoleWriterActor()));
var consoleReaderActor = MyActorSystem.ActorOf(Props.Create(() =>
new ConsoleReaderActor(consoleWriterActor)));

We will get into the details of Props and ActorRefs in lesson 3, so don't worry about them much for now. Just know that this is how you make an actor.

Have ConsoleReaderActor Send a Message to ConsoleWriterActor

Time to put your first actors to work!

You will need to do the following:

  1. ConsoleReaderActor is set up to read from the console. Have it send a message to ConsoleWriterActor containing the content that it just read.

    // in ConsoleReaderActor.cs
  2. Have ConsoleReaderActor send a message to itself after sending a message to ConsoleWriterActor. This is what keeps the read loop going.

    // in ConsoleReaderActor.cs
  3. Send an initial message to ConsoleReaderActor in order to get it to start reading from the console.

    // in Program.cs

Step 5: Build and Run!

Once you've made your edits, press F5 to compile and run the sample in Visual Studio.

You should see something like this, when it is working correctly: Petabridge Akka.NET Bootcamp Lesson 1.1 Correct Output

N.B. In Akka.NET 1.0.8 and later, you'll receive a warning about the JSON.NET serializer being deprecated in a future released of Akka.NET (1.5). This is true, the default Newtonsoft.Json serializer will be replaced in the favor of Hyperion. This is mainly meant to be a warning for Akka.NET users running Akka.Persistence or Akka.Remote, which both depend on the default serializer.

Once you're done

Compare your code to the code in the Completed folder to see what the instructors included in their samples.

Great job! Onto Lesson 2!

Awesome work! Well done on completing your first lesson.

Let's move onto Lesson 2 - Defining and Handling Different Types of Messages.

Any questions?

Come ask any questions you have, big or small, in this ongoing Bootcamp chat with the Petabridge & Akka.NET teams.

Problems with the code?

If there is a problem with the code running, or something else that needs to be fixed in this lesson, please create an issue and we'll get right on it. This will benefit everyone going through Bootcamp.

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