State aware Elixir functions without spawning processes
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Pond is an Elixir library for creating state handling functions without spawning processes.



Pond functions are same-process, referentially transparent functions, that let you implement Finite State Machines, Generators, (push/pull) Reactive Streams.

Pond functions don't require you to spawn a new process ala GenServer, GenStage, etc. However a pond function can easily be part of them when needed just like any other function.

Wait, arent processes the nice thing about the BEAM?

Spawning a new process just to keep state is not always a good idea.

Dont get me wrong, one of the best power features of the BEAM is that it's very cheap to create tons of processes and supervise them.

However abusing spawn, just because you want to keep state, well, that's certainly not the smartest thing. If you created zillions of tiny processes all data between them would actually be duplicated on each message pass, since processes prefer to share nothing, messages get copied between them when sent.

Use spawn, GenServer and friends when you want to do async/concurrent jobs, or provide services that can handle many clients at the same time and orchestrate communication between them.

Some useful resources:

To spawn, or not to spawn?


python generators thread on EF

import Pond

A pond is created by combining an initial state and a hanler function.

pond/2 returns a function that can be invoked without explicitly giving a state to it. If you are curious about how it's done, Pond's core is just a simple closure


The most basic example would be a function that when called just returns it's initial state.

iex> f = pond(:hello, fn 
...>   _, state -> state
...> end)
...> f.()

The previous example however, is not really interesting as it's not doing much with the state, except returning it at first invocation.

Hello World

Let's create another function that can alter it's own internal state.

iex> f = pond(:hello, fn 
...>   pond, state = :hello ->
...>     {state, pond.(:world)}
...>   pond, state ->
...>     {state, pond.(state)}
...> end)
...> assert {:hello, f} = f.()
...> assert {:world, f} = f.()
...> elem(f.(), 0)

A couple of things we have to mention about the previous example:

Since Elixir is a functional language, you can see that calling f.() will return a tuple with the current state and the next function to be called (a pond with updated state).

Updating the state is done inside the handler function by calling the current pond with a new state. In our example, when state = :hello, the next function is built by changing the state to :world, in pond.(:world).

The last line of our example shows that once we are in the :world state, it wont change anymore.

If you look closely, our handler function is actually just a single-function finite state machine.

As you can see, our functions are pure, it's just that we are getting an updated function to call the next time. Exactly the same as when you Map.put something and get a new map. The nice thing about this is, the state is managed internally by the pond itself and it's abstracted away for the user.

Elixir Generators

Let's create a function that cycles a list of ints but on every cycle increments the number of decimal positions.

def growing(ints) do
  pond({ints, 1}, fn
    pond, {[n], m}  ->
      { n * m, pond.({ints, m * 10}) }
    pond, {[n | rest], m}  ->
      { n * m, pond.({rest, m}) }

The result of calling growing/1 is a Generator function that will produce values each time it's called.

iex> f = growing([1, 2, 3])
...> assert {1, f} = f.()
...> assert {2, f} = f.()
...> assert {3, f} = f.()
...> assert {10, f} = f.()
...> assert {20, f} = f.()
...> assert {30, f} = f.()
...> assert {100, f} = f.()
...> f.() |> elem(0)

Piping Functions

So, basically a pond is a function that is already capturing it's state and is just waiting to be called with some other arguments from the user.

Up to now, if you notice our previous examples, all of them yield a function with zero arity f.(). However, you can create a pond that takes any number of arguments.

Our next example, reduce, yields a function that will take a single argument. Either the :halt atom to extract the current state or any other value to produce the next state from calling reducer.(acc, value).

def reduce(reducer, acc) do
  pond(acc, fn
    _, acc, :halt ->
    pond, acc, value ->
      pond.(reducer.(acc, value))

The Pond.Next module provides next. A convenience that simply takes a function as first argument and invokes it with all remaining arguments.

For example, next/2 is:

def next(fun, arg), do: fun.(arg)

This allows us to nicely pipe stateful functions as they are being produced from previous steps.

iex> import Pond.Next
...> (&Kernel.+/2)
...> |> reduce(0)
...> |> next(10)
...> |> next(3)
...> |> next(200)
...> |> next(:halt)

Piping with State Accumulators

In our last example, calling the reduce pond will return another function, except when called with :halt. That's why we could pipe every function using Pond.Next.

However other functions can return not only the next function but also the current state, like for example our previous growing generator. It will return tuples like {value, next_fun}.

For example, let's pipe only two calls to our growing generator and accumulate its values into a list.

iex> alias Pond.Acc
...> f = growing([1, 2, 3])
...> f
...> |> Acc.into(Acc.list())
...> |> next()
...> |> next()
...> |> Acc.value()
[1, 2]

Before calling next, we combine our generator with an state accumulator, in this case Acc.list(). Calling Acc.value() at the end will extract the current value from the state accumulator.

The Pond.Acc.into/2 function creates a tuple {acc_fun, next_fun}, that implements the Pond.Applicative protocol. Any data structure implementing Pond.Applicative is able to be piped naturally using Pond.Next functions.

Elixir Callbags

Callbag is a specification for creating fast pull/push streams on JavaScript land.

Callbags are simple functions that following a communication protocol between them can implement the so-called, reactive programming paradigm.

Callbags are also being ported to other languages, since callbags have no core-library, and let you achieve the same reactivity without requiring full libraries like Rx and friends.

Ok, enought about JS, let's get back to Elixir.

First, let's define foo, a source, in Callbag parlance, a function that generates data (like GenStage's producer).

The foo pond starts with an initial :idle state. Awaiting to be called with (0, sink). This, in Callbag, is known as the handshake part of the protocol, the source must then greet (0) back the sink.

In our pond, upon being greeted by a sink, we update the state source.(sink) to save a reference to the sink that is greeting us, and then just greet back sink.(0, source).

Once the handshake is complete, the sink can demand (1) data from us when it feels like. We say foo is a pullable source stream.

Sometimes, a pullable stream can take (1, data), where data can be things like the amount of data desired by the sink (like GenStage's demand). In our example, we just ignore this.

Finally, after being asked for data, we send (1) some :hello, :world thingies back to the sink, and tell it we are done (2, nil) without error, and that there wont any more data coming from us.

def foo() do
  pond(:idle, fn
    source, :idle, 0, sink ->
      source = source.(sink)
      sink.(0, source)

    _source, sink, 1, _data ->
      |> next(1, :hello)
      |> next(1, :world)
      |> next(2, nil)

Now let's implement bar, a sink.

Just like in our previous code, bar also starts with an :idle state. Expecting a greeting from a source, once received, we update the sink internal status sink.([]) with an empty list where we will accumulate messages from the source.

When the source greets us back, our state already is [], so we receive bound, that is, the sink subscribed to the source, each callbag with it's state ready to exchange data. In our example, we simply return this as our test bellow is the one that starts the demand for data.

Once we are receiving data from the source, we simply collect it and update the sink state sink.([data | acc]).

Once the source tell us that it is done, we simply reverse our accumulator and return that.

def bar() do
  pond(:idle, fn
    sink, :idle, 0, source ->
      sink = sink.([])
      source.(0, sink)
    _sink, [], 0, bound ->
    sink, acc, 1, data ->
      sink.([data | acc])
    _sink, acc, 2, nil ->
      acc |> Enum.reverse

And now, let's wire foo and bar to work together.

iex> source = foo()
...> sink = bar()
...> bound = sink.(0, source) # bar meets foo
...> bound.(1, nil) # demand data
[:hello, :world]

This way you could use Pond to create Elixir reactive streams. Just implement functions that follow the Callbag spec. And by using Pond they dont necessarily need to spawn a new process for each combinator.


def deps do
    {:pond, "~> 0.2"}

Documentation can be found at