Introduction to Zio Actors

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In this post I am going to do a quick introduction to using the ZIO Actors, a library that implements the Actor model using Scala and ZIO a library for asynchroneous and concurrent programming.

Before reading this post it is recommended that you read my two earlier posts Introduction to the Actor Model and Introduction to Akka Typed Using Scala as I have assumed the reader will be familiar with the concepts discussed in those posts. Some basic knowledge of ZIO is assumed.

I will be going through the same example as I covered in my Introduction to Akka post, only this time I am using ZIO Actors instead of Akka.

Problem to solve

To get start we are going to build a simple mailing list application where a persons name and email address are added to a datastore and we are able to retrieve their details and remove them from the datastore. As the scope of this example is to show how we can use zio actors to build an application, our data store will be a pretend one.

The diagram below illustrates the actors that we will need and the message flow between each actor.

ZIO Actor System Design Example

  • ZIO Actor System: Creates the actor system and spawns all the actors.
  • Validate Email Address Actor: Validates if the new message received has a valid email address
  • Datastore Actor: Decides which datastore Command (i.e. Add, Get or Remove) we are actioning and calls the relevant actor with the message.
  • Add Action Actor: Uses the message received to add the received subscriber to the database.
  • Get Subscriber Actor: Retrieves a subscriber from the database.
  • Remove Subscriber Actor: Removes a subscriber from the database.

Messages and Types

Lets start by defining the types of the messages our actors are going to be passing.

First our actors are going to be sending on of three types of commands to either add, remove or get a subscriber from the datastore:

1sealed trait Command
2final case object Add extends Command
3final case object Remove extends Command
4final case object Get extends Command

The message type to add a subscriber:

 1sealed trait Protocol[+A]
 3final case class Message(
 4    firstName: String,
 5    lastName: String,
 6    emailAddress: String,
 7    command: Command,
 8    db: ActorRef[Protocol],
 9    replyTo: ActorRef[Protocol]
10) extends Protocol[Unit] {
11  def isValid: UIO[Boolean] =
12    UIO(EmailValidator.getInstance().isValid(emailAddress))

The message type for sending a reply to the requester:

1final case class SubscribedMessage(subscriberId: Long, from: ActorRef[Protocol])
2    extends Protocol[Unit]

The exception type if an invalid message is sent to an actor:

1case class InvalidEmailException(msg: String) extends Throwable

The message type of message retrieved from the datastore when a Get command is received:

1final case class Customer(
2    firstName: String,
3    lastName: String,
4    emailAddress: String
5) extends Protocol[Unit]

Validate Email Address Actor

 1  val subscriber = new Stateful[Console, Unit, Protocol] {
 2    override def receive[A](
 3        state: Unit,
 4        protocol: Protocol[A],
 5        context: Context
 6    ): RIO[Console, (Unit, A)] =
 7      protocol match {
 8        case message: Message =>
 9          for {
10            _ <- putStrLn(
11              s"Validating ${message.firstName} ${message.lastName} with email ${message.emailAddress}!"
12            )
13            valid <- message.isValid
14            self <- context.self[Protocol]
15            _ <- message.replyTo ! SubscribedMessage(1L, self)
16            if (valid)
17            _ <- message.db ! message
18            if (valid)
19          } yield ((), ())
20        case _ =>"Failed"))
21      }
22  }

When creating actors we need to define how the actor reacts to messages and how they are processed. Looking at the above code you will see that we are creating a Stateful.

What is Stateful

Stateful is the data type we use to describe a behavior with zio-actors:

1Stateful[R, S, -F[+_]]

What do the type parameters represents:

  • R represents the environment type (similar to R in ZIO[R, E, A])
  • S represents the state of the actor that gets updated after every message.
  • F represents the message the actor will receive to process.

How Validate Email Address Actor Work

Looking at the code snippet above you will see a new Stateful is created, for the R (environment type) we are passing Console which is an Environment provided by ZIO which allows you to log messages to the console. The state of this actor does not change after each message is processed and hence it S type which represents state is set to Unit. Protocol is the types of messages our actor can process. We went through definition of this type earlier in the post.

By creating a new Stateful we override its receive method (similar to akka) that implements the actual behavior. Here we pattern match on the message received to make sure it is of type Message and if so we use a for comprehension to go through a few steps:

  • Call the message’s isValid method to verify it contains a valid email address. Only continue if valid.
  • Get the ActorRef for self, i.e. the current actor.
  • The message received contains an ActorRef to reply to. Send a message SubscribedMessage to this actor (this includes the ActorRef of self that was obtained in the last step).
  • send the message received onto the datastore actor

From the pattern matching you can see that if you do not receive a message of type Message, which is provided by ZIO is used to surface the failure.

The receive method returns RIO[Console, (Unit, A)] which is an alias for ZIO[Console, Throwable, (Unit, A)] which highlights that a tuple is returned for a success.

Datastore Actor

This actor is responsible for adding, removing and fetching a Customer from the datastore.

 1  val datastore = new Stateful[Console, Unit, Protocol] {
 2    override def receive[A](
 3        state: Unit,
 4        protocol: Protocol[A],
 5        context: Context
 6    ): RIO[Console, (Unit, A)] =
 7      protocol match {
 8        case message: Message =>
 9          for {
10            _ <- putStrLn(s"Processing Command")
11            _ <- message.command match {
12              case Add =>
13                putStrLn(s"Adding message with email: ${message.emailAddress}")
14              case Remove =>
15                putStrLn(
16                  s"Removing message with email: ${message.emailAddress}"
17                )
18              case Get =>
19                putStrLn(s"Getting message with email: ${message.emailAddress}")
20            }
21          } yield ((), ())
22        case _ =>"Failed"))
23      }
24  }

Similar to the Validate Email Address Actor, this actor creates a new stateful with same type parameters. Overrides receive to implement behavior. Pattern match the received message to make sure it is of type Message and if not does If correct message it does the following:

  • pattern match on the command field of the message to determine which command we have received.
  • For each command take the appropriate action. As this is a contrived example we just log what we are doing instead of an actual interaction with a database by calling another actor.

Creating the Actor System

 1  val program = for {
 2    actorSystemRoot <- ActorSystem("salarTestActorSystem")
 3    subscriberActor <- actorSystemRoot.make("subscriberActor", Supervisor.none, (), subscriber)
 4    datastoreActor  <- actorSystemRoot.make("datastoreActor", Supervisor.none, (), datastore)
 5    replyActor      <- actorSystemRoot.make("replyActor", Supervisor.none, (), reply)
 6    _               <- subscriberActor ! Message(
 7                "Salar",. 
 8                "Rahmanian",
 9                "",
10                Add,
11                datastoreActor,
12                replyActor
13              )
14    _               <- zio.clock.sleep(Duration.Infinity)
15  } yield ()

With ZIO Actors as everything is a ZIO effect we can use a for comprehension to create our system. Looking at the above code snippet you can see we start by creating an ActorSystem. We then use the .make property of our ActorSystem to create all the actors. Now we are ready to create our Message and start sending to the message to the subscriberActor we created. As you can see the ActorRef of the dataStoreActor and replyActor are included in the message so that the correct actor is used to store the message and the correct actor is used to send the reply.


In this post I have just tried to give you a feel for what its like to use zio-actors, how to think about your application in terms of Actors and message passing and to get started. As you can see zio-actors leverages ZIO as a library and functional programmming to the max leading to a very composable and readable solution.

zio-actors has many other features and patterns of use which I will be blogging in more details about in the future so follow my post as I try to share my learnings with everyone.

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