Using TCP
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Using TCP

Warning

The IO implementation is marked as “experimental” as of its introduction in Akka 2.2.0. We will continue to improve this API based on our users’ feedback, which implies that while we try to keep incompatible changes to a minimum the binary compatibility guarantee for maintenance releases does not apply to the contents of the akka.io package.

The code snippets through-out this section assume the following imports:

import akka.actor.{ Actor, ActorRef, Props }
import akka.io.{ IO, Tcp }
import akka.util.ByteString
import java.net.InetSocketAddress

All of the Akka I/O APIs are accessed through manager objects. When using an I/O API, the first step is to acquire a reference to the appropriate manager. The code below shows how to acquire a reference to the Tcp manager.

import akka.io.{ IO, Tcp }
import context.system // implicitly used by IO(Tcp)

val manager = IO(Tcp)

The manager is an actor that handles the underlying low level I/O resources (selectors, channels) and instantiates workers for specific tasks, such as listening to incoming connections.

Connecting

object Client {
  def props(remote: InetSocketAddress, replies: ActorRef) =
    Props(classOf[Client], remote, replies)
}

class Client(remote: InetSocketAddress, listener: ActorRef) extends Actor {

  import Tcp._
  import context.system

  IO(Tcp) ! Connect(remote)

  def receive = {
    case CommandFailed(_: Connect) 
      listener ! "failed"
      context stop self

    case c @ Connected(remote, local) 
      listener ! c
      val connection = sender
      connection ! Register(self)
      context become {
        case data: ByteString         connection ! Write(data)
        case CommandFailed(w: Write)  // O/S buffer was full
        case Received(data)           listener ! data
        case "close"                  connection ! Close
        case _: ConnectionClosed      context stop self
      }
  }
}

The first step of connecting to a remote address is sending a Connect message to the TCP manager; in addition to the simplest form shown above there is also the possibility to specify a local InetSocketAddress to bind to and a list of socket options to apply.

Note

The SO_NODELAY (TCP_NODELAY on Windows) socket option defaults to true in Akka, independently of the OS default settings. This setting disables Nagle's algorithm, considerably improving latency for most applications. This setting could be overridden by passing SO.TcpNoDelay(false) in the list of socket options of the Connect message.

The TCP manager will then reply either with a CommandFailed or it will spawn an internal actor representing the new connection. This new actor will then send a Connected message to the original sender of the Connect message.

In order to activate the new connection a Register message must be sent to the connection actor, informing that one about who shall receive data from the socket. Before this step is done the connection cannot be used, and there is an internal timeout after which the connection actor will shut itself down if no Register message is received.

The connection actor watches the registered handler and closes the connection when that one terminates, thereby cleaning up all internal resources associated with that connection.

The actor in the example above uses become to switch from unconnected to connected operation, demonstrating the commands and events which are observed in that state. For a discussion on CommandFailed see Throttling Reads and Writes below. ConnectionClosed is a trait, which marks the different connection close events. The last line handles all connection close events in the same way. It is possible to listen for more fine-grained connection close events, see Closing Connections below.

Accepting connections

class Server extends Actor {

  import Tcp._
  import context.system

  IO(Tcp) ! Bind(self, new InetSocketAddress("localhost", 0))

  def receive = {
    case b @ Bound(localAddress) 
      // do some logging or setup ...

    case CommandFailed(_: Bind)  context stop self

    case c @ Connected(remote, local) 
      val handler = context.actorOf(Props[SimplisticHandler])
      val connection = sender
      connection ! Register(handler)
  }

}

To create a TCP server and listen for inbound connections, a Bind command has to be sent to the TCP manager. This will instruct the TCP manager to listen for TCP connections on a particular InetSocketAddress; the port may be specified as 0 in order to bind to a random port.

The actor sending the Bind message will receive a Bound message signalling that the server is ready to accept incoming connections; this message also contains the InetSocketAddress to which the socket was actually bound (i.e. resolved IP address and correct port number).

From this point forward the process of handling connections is the same as for outgoing connections. The example demonstrates that handling the reads from a certain connection can be delegated to another actor by naming it as the handler when sending the Register message. Writes can be sent from any actor in the system to the connection actor (i.e. the actor which sent the Connected message). The simplistic handler is defined as:

class SimplisticHandler extends Actor {
  import Tcp._
  def receive = {
    case Received(data)  sender ! Write(data)
    case PeerClosed      context stop self
  }
}

For a more complete sample which also takes into account the possibility of failures when sending please see Throttling Reads and Writes below.

The only difference to outgoing connections is that the internal actor managing the listen port—the sender of the Bound message—watches the actor which was named as the recipient for Connected messages in the Bind message. When that actor terminates the listen port will be closed and all resources associated with it will be released; existing connections will not be terminated at this point.

Closing connections

A connection can be closed by sending one of the commands Close, ConfirmedClose or Abort to the connection actor.

Close will close the connection by sending a FIN message, but without waiting for confirmation from the remote endpoint. Pending writes will be flushed. If the close is successful, the listener will be notified with Closed.

ConfirmedClose will close the sending direction of the connection by sending a FIN message, but data will continue to be received until the remote endpoint closes the connection, too. Pending writes will be flushed. If the close is successful, the listener will be notified with ConfirmedClosed.

Abort will immediately terminate the connection by sending a RST message to the remote endpoint. Pending writes will be not flushed. If the close is successful, the listener will be notified with Aborted.

PeerClosed will be sent to the listener if the connection has been closed by the remote endpoint. Per default, the connection will then automatically be closed from this endpoint as well. To support half-closed connections set the keepOpenOnPeerClosed member of the Register message to true in which case the connection stays open until it receives one of the above close commands.

ErrorClosed will be sent to the listener whenever an error happened that forced the connection to be closed.

All close notifications are sub-types of ConnectionClosed so listeners who do not need fine-grained close events may handle all close events in the same way.

Throttling Reads and Writes

The basic model of the TCP connection actor is that it has no internal buffering (i.e. it can only process one write at a time, meaning it can buffer one write until it has been passed on to the O/S kernel in full). Congestion needs to be handled at the user level, for which there are three modes of operation:

  • ACK-based: every Write command carries an arbitrary object, and if this object is not Tcp.NoAck then it will be returned to the sender of the Write upon successfully writing all contained data to the socket. If no other write is initiated before having received this acknowledgement then no failures can happen due to buffer overrun.
  • NACK-based: every write which arrives while a previous write is not yet completed will be replied to with a CommandFailed message containing the failed write. Just relying on this mechanism requires the implemented protocol to tolerate skipping writes (e.g. if each write is a valid message on its own and it is not required that all are delivered). This mode is enabled by setting the useResumeWriting flag to false within the Register message during connection activation.
  • NACK-based with write suspending: this mode is very similar to the NACK-based one, but once a single write has failed no further writes will succeed until a ResumeWriting message is received. This message will be answered with a WritingResumed message once the last accepted write has completed. If the actor driving the connection implements buffering and resends the NACK’ed messages after having awaited the WritingResumed signal then every message is delivered exactly once to the network socket.

These models (with the exception of the second which is rather specialised) are demonstrated in complete examples below. The full and contiguous source is available on github.

Note

It should be obvious that all these flow control schemes only work between one writer and one connection actor; as soon as multiple actors send write commands to a single connection no consistent result can be achieved.

ACK-Based Back-Pressure

For proper function of the following example it is important to configure the connection to remain half-open when the remote side closed its writing end: this allows the example EchoHandler to write all outstanding data back to the client before fully closing the connection. This is enabled using a flag upon connection activation (observe the Register message):

case Connected(remote, local) 
  log.info("received connection from {}", remote)
  val handler = context.actorOf(Props(handlerClass, sender, remote))
  sender ! Register(handler, keepOpenOnPeerClosed = true)

With this preparation let us dive into the handler itself:

  // storage omitted ...
class SimpleEchoHandler(connection: ActorRef, remote: InetSocketAddress)
  extends Actor with ActorLogging {

  import Tcp._

  // sign death pact: this actor terminates when connection breaks
  context watch connection

  case object Ack extends Event

  def receive = {
    case Received(data) 
      buffer(data)
      connection ! Write(data, Ack)

      context.become({
        case Received(data)  buffer(data)
        case Ack             acknowledge()
        case PeerClosed      closing = true
      }, discardOld = false)

    case PeerClosed  context stop self
  }

  // storage omitted ...
}

The principle is simple: when having written a chunk always wait for the Ack to come back before sending the next chunk. While waiting we switch behavior such that new incoming data are buffered. The helper functions used are a bit lengthy but not complicated:

private def buffer(data: ByteString): Unit = {
  storage :+= data
  stored += data.size

  if (stored > maxStored) {
    log.warning(s"drop connection to [$remote] (buffer overrun)")
    context stop self

  } else if (stored > highWatermark) {
    log.debug(s"suspending reading")
    connection ! SuspendReading
    suspended = true
  }
}

private def acknowledge(): Unit = {
  require(storage.nonEmpty, "storage was empty")

  val size = storage(0).size
  stored -= size
  transferred += size

  storage = storage drop 1

  if (suspended && stored < lowWatermark) {
    log.debug("resuming reading")
    connection ! ResumeReading
    suspended = false
  }

  if (storage.isEmpty) {
    if (closing) context stop self
    else context.unbecome()
  } else connection ! Write(storage(0), Ack)
}

The most interesting part is probably the last: an Ack removes the oldest data chunk from the buffer, and if that was the last chunk then we either close the connection (if the peer closed its half already) or return to the idle behavior; otherwise we just send the next buffered chunk and stay waiting for the next Ack.

Back-pressure can be propagated also across the reading side back to the writer on the other end of the connection by sending the SuspendReading command to the connection actor. This will lead to no data being read from the socket anymore (although this does happen after a delay because it takes some time until the connection actor processes this command, hence appropriate head-room in the buffer should be present), which in turn will lead to the O/S kernel buffer filling up on our end, then the TCP window mechanism will stop the remote side from writing, filling up its write buffer, until finally the writer on the other side cannot push any data into the socket anymore. This is how end-to-end back-pressure is realized across a TCP connection.

NACK-Based Back-Pressure with Write Suspending

class EchoHandler(connection: ActorRef, remote: InetSocketAddress)
  extends Actor with ActorLogging {

  import Tcp._

  case class Ack(offset: Int) extends Event

  // sign death pact: this actor terminates when connection breaks
  context watch connection

  // start out in optimistic write-through mode
  def receive = writing

  def writing: Receive = {
    case Received(data) 
      connection ! Write(data, Ack(currentOffset))
      buffer(data)

    case Ack(ack) 
      acknowledge(ack)

    case CommandFailed(Write(_, Ack(ack))) 
      connection ! ResumeWriting
      context become buffering(ack)

    case PeerClosed 
      if (storage.isEmpty) context stop self
      else context become closing
  }

  // buffering ...

  // closing ...

  override def postStop(): Unit = {
    log.info(s"transferred $transferred bytes from/to [$remote]")
  }

  // storage omitted ...
}
  // storage omitted ...

The principle here is to keep writing until a CommandFailed is received, using acknowledgements only to prune the resend buffer. When a such a failure was received, transition into a different state for handling and handle resending of all queued data:

def buffering(nack: Int): Receive = {
  var toAck = 10
  var peerClosed = false

  {
    case Received(data)          buffer(data)
    case WritingResumed          writeFirst()
    case PeerClosed              peerClosed = true
    case Ack(ack) if ack < nack  acknowledge(ack)
    case Ack(ack) 
      acknowledge(ack)
      if (storage.nonEmpty) {
        if (toAck > 0) {
          // stay in ACK-based mode for a while
          writeFirst()
          toAck -= 1
        } else {
          // then return to NACK-based again
          writeAll()
          context become (if (peerClosed) closing else writing)
        }
      } else if (peerClosed) context stop self
      else context become writing
  }
}

It should be noted that all writes which are currently buffered have also been sent to the connection actor upon entering this state, which means that the ResumeWriting message is enqueued after those writes, leading to the reception of all outstanding CommandFailed messages (which are ignored in this state) before receiving the WritingResumed signal. That latter message is sent by the connection actor only once the internally queued write has been fully completed, meaning that a subsequent write will not fail. This is exploited by the EchoHandler to switch to an ACK-based approach for the first ten writes after a failure before resuming the optimistic write-through behavior.

def closing: Receive = {
  case CommandFailed(_: Write) 
    connection ! ResumeWriting
    context.become({

      case WritingResumed 
        writeAll()
        context.unbecome()

      case ack: Int  acknowledge(ack)

    }, discardOld = false)

  case Ack(ack) 
    acknowledge(ack)
    if (storage.isEmpty) context stop self
}

Closing the connection while still sending all data is a bit more involved than in the ACK-based approach: the idea is to always send all outstanding messages and acknowledge all successful writes, and if a failure happens then switch behavior to await the WritingResumed event and start over.

The helper functions are very similar to the ACK-based case:

private def buffer(data: ByteString): Unit = {
  storage :+= data
  stored += data.size

  if (stored > maxStored) {
    log.warning(s"drop connection to [$remote] (buffer overrun)")
    context stop self

  } else if (stored > highWatermark) {
    log.debug(s"suspending reading at $currentOffset")
    connection ! SuspendReading
    suspended = true
  }
}

private def acknowledge(ack: Int): Unit = {
  require(ack == storageOffset, s"received ack $ack at $storageOffset")
  require(storage.nonEmpty, s"storage was empty at ack $ack")

  val size = storage(0).size
  stored -= size
  transferred += size

  storageOffset += 1
  storage = storage drop 1

  if (suspended && stored < lowWatermark) {
    log.debug("resuming reading")
    connection ! ResumeReading
    suspended = false
  }
}

Usage Example: TcpPipelineHandler and SSL

This example shows the different parts described above working together:

class AkkaSslServer(local: InetSocketAddress) extends Actor with ActorLogging {

  import Tcp._

  implicit def system = context.system
  IO(Tcp) ! Bind(self, local)

  def receive: Receive = {
    case _: Bound 
      context.become(bound(sender))
  }

  def bound(listener: ActorRef): Receive = {
    case Connected(remote, _) 
      val init = TcpPipelineHandler.withLogger(log,
        new StringByteStringAdapter("utf-8") >>
          new DelimiterFraming(maxSize = 1024, delimiter = ByteString('\n'),
            includeDelimiter = true) >>
          new TcpReadWriteAdapter >>
          new SslTlsSupport(sslEngine(remote, client = false)) >>
          new BackpressureBuffer(lowBytes = 100, highBytes = 1000, maxBytes = 1000000))

      val connection = sender
      val handler = context.actorOf(Props(new AkkaSslHandler(init)).withDeploy(Deploy.local))
      val pipeline = context.actorOf(TcpPipelineHandler.props(
        init, connection, handler).withDeploy(Deploy.local))

      connection ! Tcp.Register(pipeline)
  }
}

The actor above binds to a local port and registers itself as the handler for new connections. When a new connection comes in it will create a javax.net.ssl.SSLEngine (details not shown here since they vary widely for different setups, please refer to the JDK documentation) and wrap that in an SslTlsSupport pipeline stage (which is included in akka-actor).

This sample demonstrates a few more things: below the SSL pipeline stage we have inserted a backpressure buffer which will generate a HighWatermarkReached event to tell the upper stages to suspend writing and a LowWatermarkReached when they can resume writing. The implementation is very similar to the NACK-based backpressure approach presented above, please refer to the API docs for details on its usage. Above the SSL stage comes an adapter which extracts only the payload data from the TCP commands and events, i.e. it speaks ByteString above. The resulting byte streams are broken into frames by a DelimiterFraming stage which chops them up on newline characters. The top-most stage then converts between String and UTF-8 encoded ByteString.

As a result the pipeline will accept simple String commands, encode them using UTF-8, delimit them with newlines (which are expected to be already present in the sending direction), transform them into TCP commands and events, encrypt them and send them off to the connection actor while buffering writes.

This pipeline is driven by a TcpPipelineHandler actor which is also included in akka-actor. In order to capture the generic command and event types consumed and emitted by that actor we need to create a wrapper—the nested Init class—which also provides the the pipeline context needed by the supplied pipeline; in this case we use the withLogger convenience method which supplies a context that implements HasLogger and HasActorContext and should be sufficient for typical pipelines. With those things bundled up all that remains is creating a TcpPipelineHandler and registering that one as the recipient of inbound traffic from the TCP connection. The pipeline handler is instructed to send the decrypted payload data to the following actor:

class AkkaSslHandler(init: Init[WithinActorContext, String, String])
  extends Actor with ActorLogging {

  def receive = {
    case init.Event(data) 
      val input = data.dropRight(1)
      log.debug("akka-io Server received {} from {}", input, sender)
      val response = serverResponse(input)
      sender ! init.Command(response)
      log.debug("akka-io Server sent: {}", response.dropRight(1))
    case _: Tcp.ConnectionClosed  context.stop(self)
  }
}

This actor computes a response and replies by sending back a String. It should be noted that communication with the TcpPipelineHandler wraps commands and events in the inner types of the init object in order to keep things well separated.

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