Asynchronous Musings

Recently at work I’ve been working on our first section of code that is purely asynchronous. It’s pretty exciting! As I’ve discussed before, we’re using IO::Async, which has first class support for Futures. Futures are sorta kinda a way to express callbacks. They aren’t quite as powerful, but they can do nearly everything callbacks can do. (Specifically Futures represent a single action, not a stream of actions like callbacks can.)

Anyway, with a Future you have to either put the object somewhere, or do a weird self closure thing. This post is about avoiding the latter, so I won’t discuss self closing here.

If you are willing to always store your futures, preferably in the same place, some interesting possibilities open up. Here’s the API that I use at work for kicking off a Future based async task:

 sub store_f_with_timeout ($self, $future, $timeout) {
    $self->store_named_f_with_timeout("$future", $future, $timeout)

 sub store_named_f_with_timeout ($self, $name, $future, $timeout) {
    my $f = IO::Async::Future->wait_any(
       my $ripcord = Future->new,
       $self->_loop->timeout_future( after => $timeout ),

    if (my $f = $self->_ripcords->{$name}) {
       $f->fail("This event was already running!  It probably should have timed out before this ($name)", 'overlap')
    $self->in_flight->{$name} = $f;
    $self->_ripcords->{$name} = $ripcord;

                      log_debug { ' started ' . $f->label };
    $f->on_done(sub { log_debug { 'finished ' . $f->label } });
    $f->on_fail(sub {  log_warn { '  failed ' . $f->label . " (@_)" } @_ });

    $f->on_ready(sub {
       delete $self->in_flight->{$name};
       delete $self->_ripcords->{$name};

So basically, we have two entrypoints. The first is the anonymous one, that maybe doesn’t even need any discussion. The second one is named. The name comes into place in the second block of the second function; if you have a named task and you schedule that task such that two of the same task are running at once, the older one fails. I could have gone newer, and might still, but the point is that it is a neat side effect that you can only achieve by storing your futures. I’ve already had this solve problems.

A little bit more could be said about what I call ripcords. We store a secondary future that allows us to effectively cancel the async event and fail the outer event.

Thanks to the fact that all the futures are stored by a given name, I have a Net::Async::HTTP::Server based web server that has access to this hash. In the web server I have an endpoint that will:

  • count the outstanding futures
  • list the outstanding futures, showing their labels and how long they have been outstanding
  • let the user cancel a future by name

Also note in the third block of the main function the logging. The logging shown is, as far as I know, all the code that needs to be written to give plenty of logging to debug the system. It’s pretty handy!

At some point I might add an entrypoint that has no timeout, but that seems pretty sketchy. A timeout, even a really really high one like 24 hours, gives your software a way to avoid a huge class of byzantine failures.

Next, I hope to write about code that is optionally concurrent!

Posted Thu, Jan 22, 2015

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