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Implementation of a highly-scalable and ergonomic actor model for Rust
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Implementation of a highly-scalable and ergonomic actor model for Rust

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Axiom brings a highly-scalable actor model to the Rust language based on the many lessons learned over years of Actor model implementations in Akka and Erlang. Axiom is, however, not a direct re-implementation of either of the two aforementioned actor models but rather a new implementation deriving inspiration from the good parts of those projects.

What's New

  • 2019-09-27 0.1.0
    • A lot of breaking changes have been introduced in an effort to keep them all in one release so that the API can stabilize. Please see examples and other sources for help in integrating all of the changes listed below.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: ActorId has been renamed to Aid to facilitate communication and lower confusion between the uuid field in the Aid and the Aid itself.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: Status::Processed has been renamed to Status::Done.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: Status::Skipped has been renamed to Status::Skip.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: Status::ResetSkip has been renamed to Status::Reset.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: ActorError has been moved to top level and renamed to AxiomError.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: find_by_name and find_by_uuid have been removed from Aid as the mechanism for looking up actors doesn't make sense the way it was before.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: MessageContent was unintentionally public and is now private.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: Changed Processor to take a &Context rather than Aid.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: The send, send_new and send_after methods now return a result type that the user must manage.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: All actor processors now should return AxiomResult which will allow them to use the ? syntax for all functions that return AxiomError and return their own errors.
    • BREAKING CHANGE: Actors are now spawned with the builder pattern. This allows the configuration of an actor and leaves the door open for future flexibility. See documentation for more details.
    • Created a Context type that holds references to the Aid and ActorSystem.
    • Processor functions can get a reference to the Aid of the actor from Context.
    • Processor functions can get a reference to the ActorSystem from Context.
    • The methods find_aid_by_uuid and find_aid_by_name are added to the ActorSystem.
    • Calling system.init_current() is unneeded unless deserializing Aids outside a Processor.
    • Metrics methods like received() in Aid return Result instead of using panic!.
    • Changed internal maps to use crate dashmap which expands dependencies but increases performance.
    • New methods send_new and send_new_after are available to shorten boilerplate.
    • Added a named system actor, which is registered under the name System, that is started as the 1st actor in an ActorSystem.
    • Added a method system_actor_aid to easily look up the System actor.
    • Added additional configuration options to ActorSystemConfig.
    • System will warn if an actor takes longer than the configured warn_threshold to process a message.
    • Instead of processing one message per receive, the system will now process pending messages up until the configured time_slice, allowing optimized processing for quick messages.
    • The default message_channel_size for actors is now configurable for the actor system as a whole.
    • Instead of waiting forever on a send, the system will wait for the configured send_timeout before returning a timeout error to the caller.

Release Notes for All Versions

Getting Started

An actor model is an architectural asynchronous programming paradigm characterized by the use of actors for all processing activities.

Actors have the following characteristics:

  1. An actor can be interacted with only by means of messages.
  2. An actor processes only one message at a time.
  3. An actor will process a message only once.
  4. An actor can send a message to any other actor without knowledge of that actor's internals.
  5. Actors send only immutable data as messages, though they may have mutable internal state.
  6. Actors are location agnostic; they can be sent a message from anywhere in the cluster.

Note that within the language of Rust, rule five cannot be enforced by Rust but is a best practice which is important for developers creating actors based on Axiom. In Erlang and Elixir rule five cannot be violated because of the structure of the language but this also leads to performance limitations. It's better to allow internal mutable state and encourage the good practice of not sending mutable messages.

What is important to understand is that these rules combined together makes each actor operate like a micro-service in the memory space of the program using them. Since actor messages are immutable, actors can trade information safely and easily without copying large data structures.

Although programming in the actor model is quite an involved process you can get started with Axiom in only a few lines of code.

use axiom::*;
use std::sync::Arc;
use std::time::Duration;

let system = ActorSystem::create(ActorSystemConfig::default().thread_pool_size(2));

let aid = system
        0 as usize,
        |_state: &mut usize, _context: &Context, _message: &Message| Ok(Status::Done),


// It is worth noting that you probably wouldn't just unwrap in real code but deal with
// the result as a panic in Axiom will take down a dispatcher thread and potentially
// hang the system.

// This will wrap the value `17` in a Message for you!

// We can also create and send separately using just `send`, not `send_new`.
let message = Message::new(19);

// Another neat capability is to send a message after some time has elapsed.
aid.send_after(Message::new(7), Duration::from_millis(10)).unwrap();
aid.send_new_after(7, Duration::from_millis(10)).unwrap();

This code creates an actor system, fetches a builder for an actor via the spawn() method, spawns an actor and finally sends the actor a message. Creating an Axiom actor is literally that easy but there is a lot more functionality available as well.

If you want to create an actor with a struct that is simple as well. Let's create one that handles a couple of different message types:

use axiom::*;
use std::sync::Arc;

let system = ActorSystem::create(ActorSystemConfig::default().thread_pool_size(2));

struct Data {
    value: i32,

impl Data {
    fn handle_bool(&mut self, message: &bool) -> AxiomResult {
        if *message {
            self.value += 1;
        } else {
            self.value -= 1;

    fn handle_i32(&mut self, message: &i32) -> AxiomResult {
        self.value += *message;

    fn handle(&mut self, _context: &Context, message: &Message) -> AxiomResult {
        if let Some(msg) = message.content_as::<bool>() {
        } else if let Some(msg) = message.content_as::<i32>() {
        } else {
            panic!("Failed to dispatch properly");

let data = Data { value: 0 };
let aid = system.spawn().name("Fred").with(data, Data::handle).unwrap();


This code creates a named actor out of an arbitrary struct. Since the only requirement to make an actor is to have a function that is compliant with the [axiom::actors::Processor] trait, anything can be an actor. If this struct had been declared somewhere outside of your control you could use it in an actor as state by declaring your own handler function and making the calls to the 3rd party structure.

It's important to keep in mind that the starting state is moved into the actor and you will not have external access to it afterwards. This is by design and although you could conceivably use a [Arc] or [Mutex] enclosing a structure as state, that would definitely be a bad idea as it would break the rules we laid out for actors.

There is a lot more to learn and explore and your best resource is the test code for Axiom. The developers have a belief that test code should be well architected and well commented to act as a set of examples for users of Axiom.

Detailed Examples

  • Hello World: The obligatory introduction to any computer system.
  • Dining Philosophers: An example of using Axiom to solve a classic Finite State Machine problem in computer science.
  • Monte Carlo: An example of how to use Axiom for parallel computation.

Design Principals of Axiom

Based on previous experience with other actor models I wanted to design Axiom around some core principles:

  1. At its core an actor is just an function that processes messages. The simplest actor is a function that takes a message and simply ignores it. The benefit to the functional approach over the Akka model is that it allows the user to create actors easily and simply. This is the notion of micro module programming; the notion of building a complex system from the smallest components. Software based on the actor model can get complicated; keeping it simple at the core is fundamental to solid architecture.
  2. Actors can be a Finite State Machine (FSM). Actors receive and process messages nominally in the order received. However, there are certain circumstances where an actor has to change to another state and process other messages, skipping certain messages to be processed later.
  3. When skipping messages, the messages must not move. Akka allows the skipping of messages by stashing the message in another data structure and then restoring this stash later. This process has many inherent flaws. Instead Axiom allows an actor to skip messages in its channel but leave them where they are, increasing performance and avoiding many problems.
  4. Actors use a bounded capacity channel. In Axiom the message capacity for the actor's channel is bounded, resulting in greater simplicity and an emphasis on good actor design.
  5. Axiom should be kept as small as possible. Axiom is the core of the actor model and should not be expanded to include everything possible for actors. That should be the job of libraries that extend Axiom. Axiom itself should be an example of micro module programming.
  6. The tests are the best place for examples. The tests of Axiom will be extensive and well maintained and should be a resource for those wanting to use Axiom. They should not be a dumping ground for copy-paste or throwaway code. The best tests will look like architected code.
  7. A huge emphasis is put on crate user ergonomics. Axiom should be easy to use.
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