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atombeak

1.0.1 • Public • Published

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atombeak

Create asynchronous atomic functions!

The library has been written with Redux in mind (but can be used without it just fine).

Beautiful concurrency

What follows is adapted from Simon Peyton Jones' "Beautiful concurrency" which I warmly reccomend.

A simple example: bank accounts

Here is a simple programming task.

Transfer money from one bank account to another. Both accounts are stored in the Redux store.

This example is somewhat unrealistic, but its simplicity allows us to focus on what is new: transactional memory.

Let's start with the following store state:

export type StoreState = Readonly<{
  bankAccounts: BankAccount[]
}>

where

type BankAccount = Readonly<{
  accountNumber: string
  balance: number
}>

To update the bank accounts, we create the following action:

type UpdateBankAccount = Readonly<{
  type: 'UPDATE_BANK_ACCOUNT'
  accountNumber: string
  balance: number
}>
 
function updateBankAccount(accountNumber: string, balance: number): UpdateBankAccount {
  return {
    type: 'UPDATE_BANK_ACCOUNT',
    accountNumber,
    balance 
  }
}

The reducer for bankAccounts might look like this:

function bankAccountsReducer(bankAccounts: BankAccount[] = [], action: Action): BankAccount[] {
  switch (action.type) {
    case 'UPDATE_BANK_ACCOUNT':
      return bankAccounts.map(bankAccount => {
        if (bankAccount.accountNumber === action.accountNumber) {
          return {
            ...bankAccount,
            balance: action.balance
          }
        } else {
          return bankAccount
        }
      })
    default:
      return bankAccounts
  }
}

Here is how we might write the code for transfer (which might be a thunk):

// Helper function to get balance from a given bank account:
function getBalanceFrom(storeState: StoreState, accountNumber: string) {
  return storeState
    .bankAccounts
    .find(bankAccount => bankAccount.accountNumber === accountNumber)
    .balance
}
 
const transfer = (fromAccountNumber: string, toAccountNumber: string, amount: number) => (dispatch: Dispatch<StoreState>, getState: () => StoreState) => {
  const state = getState()
  const fromBalance = getBalanceFrom(state, fromAccountNumber)
  const toBalance = getBalanceTo(state, toAccountNumber)
  dispatch(updateBankAccount(fromAccountNumber, fromBalance - amount))
  dispatch(updateBankAccount(toAccountNumber, toBalance + amount))
}

Let's assume (for illustrative purposes) that we need to wait a while between withdrawing and depositing:

const transfer = (fromAccountNumber: string, toAccountNumber: string, amount: number) => (dispatch: Dispatch<StoreState>, getState: () => StoreState) => {
  const state = getState()
  const fromBalance = getBalanceFrom(state, fromAccountNumber)
  const toBalance = getBalanceTo(state, toAccountNumber)
  dispatch(updateBankAccount(fromAccountNumber, fromBalance - amount))
  setTimeout(() => {
    dispatch(updateBankAccount(toAccountNumber, toBalance + amount))
  }, 5000)
}

This code has a couple of flaws. Someone could observe an intermediate StoreState in which money left account fromAccountNumber but has not arrived in toAccountNumber yet. What's worse, the toBalance might have changed while waiting to dispatch an update to toAccountNumber. In a finance program, that might be unacceptable. How do we fix it?

Software transactional memory

Software transactional memory is a promising approach to the challenge of concurrency, as I will explain in this section.

We'll define a transactional variable TVar which contains knowledge about the balance of a given bank account and knows how to update that balance:

function balanceVar(accountNumber: string): {
  return new TVar<StoreState, number, Action>(
    // Get balance from `BankAccount`:
    storeState => getBalanceFrom(storeState, accountNumber), 
 
    // Id of the `TVar`, must be unique:
    'balance-of-' + accountNumber, 
 
    // `Action` to dispatch to change balance:
    (balance: number) => updateBankAccount(accountNumber, balance)
}

Given such a TVar, we're going to define withdraw as an Operation<StoreState, number, Action>, where the second type parameter (number) indicates the result of the operation:

function withdraw(balanceVar: TVar<StoreState, number, Action>, amount: number): Operation<StoreState, number, Action> {
  return balanceVar
    .read()
    .flatMap(balance => {
      return balanceVar.write(balance - amount)
    })
}

The deposit operation is easily defined as:

function deposit(balanceVar: TVar<StoreState, number, Action>, amount: number): Operation<StoreState, number, Action> {
  return withdraw(balanceVar, -amount)
}

We can build big operations by combining smaller ones. We can combine withdraw and deposit to arrive at the following definition of transfer:

function transfer(
  fromBalanceVar: TVar<StoreState, number, Action>,
  toBalanceVar: TVar<StoreState, number, Action>,
  amount: number): Operation<StoreState, number, Action> {
  return withdraw(fromBalanceVar, amount)
    .flatMap(() => Operation.timeout(5000))
    .flatMap(() => deposit(toBalanceVar, amount))
}

The middleware provided by this library let's you dispatch such an Operation. It makes two guarantees:

  • Atomicity: the effects of the operation become visible all at once. This ensures that no intermediate states can be observed (a state in which money has been withdrawn from one account bus hasn't been deposited in the other account yet).

  • Isolation: while executing an operation, the operation is completely unaffected by changes to the store state. It is as if the operation takes a snapshot of the world when it begins running, and then executes against that snapshot.

Implementing software transactional memory

The guarantees of atomicity and isolation that I described earlier should be all that a programmer needs in order to use this library. Even so, I often find it helpful to have a reasonable implementation model to guide my intuitions, and I will sketch the implementation in this section.

One particularly attractive way to implement transactions is well established in the database world, namely optimistic execution. When an operation is performed, a transaction log is created. While performing the operation, each call to write writes the id of the TVar and its new value into the log; it does not write to the StoreState itself. Each call to read first searches the log (in case the TVar was written by an earlier call to write); if no such record is found, the value is read from the StoreState itself, and the TVar and value read are recorded in the log. In the meantime, other Actions may be dispatched, reading and writing from the store state like crazy.

When the operation is finished, the implementation first validates the log and, if validation is successful, commits the log. The validation step examines each read recorded in the log, and checks that the value in the log matches the value currently in the real store state. If so, validation succeeds, and the commit step takes all the writes recorded in the log and writes them to the store state by dispatching all the associated actions.

What if validation fails? Then the transaction has had an inconsistent view of the store state. So we abort the transaction, re-initialise the log, and run the operation all over again. This process is called re-execution. Since none of the operations writes have been committed to the store state, it is perfectly safe to run it again. However, notice that it is crucial that the operation contains no code that may not be repeated. Fetching from a web server may or may not be acceptable.

Blocking and choice

Atomic operations as we have introduced them so far are utterly inadequate to coordinate concurrent programs. They lack a key facility: blocking. In this section I’ll describe how the basic description of software transactional memory is elaborated to include them in a fully-modular way.

Suppose that a operation should block if it attempts to overdraw an account (i.e. withdraw more than the current balance). We achieve this in this library by adding the single operation RetryOperation. Here is a modified version of withdraw that blocks if the balance would go negative:

function limitedWithdraw(balanceVar: TVar<StoreState, number, Action>, amount: number): Operation<StoreState, number, Action> {
  return balanceVar
    .read()
    .flatMap(balance => {
      if (amount > 0 && amount > balance) {
        return Operation.retry<StoreState, number, Action>()
      } else {
        return balanceVar.write(balance - amount)
      }
    })
}

The semantics of Operation.retry() are simple: if a retry action is performed, the current transaction is abandoned and retried at some later time. It would be correct to retry the transaction immediately, but it would also be inefficient: the state of the account will probably be unchanged, so the transaction will again hit the retry. This library will instead wait until some other piece of code writes to to the balance of the given account. How does the implementation know to wait on the balance of that particular account? Because the transaction read balanceVar on the way to the retry, and that fact is conveniently recorded in the transaction log.

Example: dining philosophers

A fully annoted implementation of the dining philosophers problem is included in the Examples folder.

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version

1.0.1

license

MIT

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