Documentation

§Integrating with Akka

Akka uses the Actor Model to raise the abstraction level and provide a better platform to build correct concurrent and scalable applications. For fault-tolerance it adopts the ‘Let it crash’ model, which has been used with great success in the telecoms industry to build applications that self-heal - systems that never stop. Actors also provide the abstraction for transparent distribution and the basis for truly scalable and fault-tolerant applications.

§The application actor system

Akka can work with several containers called actor systems. An actor system manages the resources it is configured to use in order to run the actors which it contains.

A Play application defines a special actor system to be used by the application. This actor system follows the application life-cycle and restarts automatically when the application restarts.

§Writing actors

To start using Akka, you need to write an actor. Below is a simple actor that simply says hello to whoever asks it to.

import akka.actor._

object HelloActor {
  def props = Props[HelloActor]
  
  case class SayHello(name: String)
}

class HelloActor extends Actor {
  import HelloActor._
  
  def receive = {
    case SayHello(name: String) =>
      sender() ! "Hello, " + name
  }
}

This actor follows a few Akka conventions:

§Creating and using actors

To create and/or use an actor, you need an ActorSystem. This can be obtained by declaring a dependency on an ActorSystem, like so:

import play.api.mvc._
import akka.actor._
import javax.inject._
  
import actors.HelloActor

@Singleton
class Application @Inject() (system: ActorSystem) extends Controller {

  val helloActor = system.actorOf(HelloActor.props, "hello-actor")

  //...
}

The actorOf method is used to create a new actor. Notice that we’ve declared this controller to be a singleton. This is necessary since we are creating the actor and storing a reference to it, if the controller was not scoped as singleton, this would mean a new actor would be created every time the controller was created, which would ultimate throw an exception because you can’t have two actors in the same system with the same name.

§Asking things of actors

The most basic thing that you can do with an actor is send it a message. When you send a message to an actor, there is no response, it’s fire and forget. This is also known as the tell pattern.

In a web application however, the tell pattern is often not useful, since HTTP is a protocol that has requests and responses. In this case, it is much more likely that you will want to use the ask pattern. The ask pattern returns a Future, which you can then map to your own result type.

Below is an example of using our HelloActor with the ask pattern:

import play.api.libs.concurrent.Execution.Implicits.defaultContext
import scala.concurrent.duration._
import akka.pattern.ask
implicit val timeout: Timeout = 5.seconds

def sayHello(name: String) = Action.async {
  (helloActor ? SayHello(name)).mapTo[String].map { message =>
    Ok(message)
  }
}

A few things to notice:

§Dependency injecting actors

If you prefer, you can have Guice instantiate your actors and bind actor refs to them for your controllers and components to depend on.

For example, if you wanted to have an actor that depended on the Play configuration, you might do this:

import akka.actor._
import javax.inject._
import play.api.Configuration

object ConfiguredActor {
  case object GetConfig
}

class ConfiguredActor @Inject() (configuration: Configuration) extends Actor {
  import ConfiguredActor._

  val config = configuration.getString("my.config").getOrElse("none")

  def receive = {
    case GetConfig =>
      sender() ! config
  }
}

Play provides some helpers to help providing actor bindings. These allow the actor itself to be dependency injected, and allows the actor ref for the actor to be injected into other components. To bind an actor using these helpers, create a module as described in the dependency injection documentation, then mix in the AkkaGuiceSupport trait and use the bindActor method to bind the actor:

import com.google.inject.AbstractModule
import play.api.libs.concurrent.AkkaGuiceSupport

import actors.ConfiguredActor

class MyModule extends AbstractModule with AkkaGuiceSupport {
  def configure = {
    bindActor[ConfiguredActor]("configured-actor")
  }
}

This actor will both be named configured-actor, and will also be qualified with the configured-actor name for injection. You can now depend on the actor in your controllers and other components:

import play.api.mvc._
import akka.actor._
import akka.pattern.ask
import akka.util.Timeout
import javax.inject._
import actors.ConfiguredActor._
import scala.concurrent.ExecutionContext
import scala.concurrent.duration._

@Singleton
class Application @Inject() (@Named("configured-actor") configuredActor: ActorRef)
                            (implicit ec: ExecutionContext) extends Controller {

  implicit val timeout: Timeout = 5.seconds

  def getConfig = Action.async {
    (configuredActor ? GetConfig).mapTo[String].map { message =>
      Ok(message)
    }
  }
}

§Dependency injecting child actors

The above is good for injecting root actors, but many of the actors you create will be child actors that are not bound to the lifecycle of the Play app, and may have additional state passed to them.

In order to assist in dependency injecting child actors, Play utilises Guice’s AssistedInject support.

Let’s say you have the following actor, which depends configuration to be injected, plus a key:

import akka.actor._
import javax.inject._
import com.google.inject.assistedinject.Assisted
import play.api.Configuration

object ConfiguredChildActor {
  case object GetConfig

  trait Factory {
    def apply(key: String): Actor
  }
}

class ConfiguredChildActor @Inject() (configuration: Configuration,
    @Assisted key: String) extends Actor {
  import ConfiguredChildActor._

  val config = configuration.getString(key).getOrElse("none")

  def receive = {
    case GetConfig =>
      sender() ! config
  }
}

Note that the key parameter is declared to be @Assisted, this tells that it’s going to be manually provided.

We’ve also defined a Factory trait, this takes the key, and returns an Actor. We won’t implement this, Guice will do that for us, providing an implementation that not only passes our key parameter, but also locates the Configuration dependency and injects that. Since the trait just returns an Actor, when testing this actor we can inject a factory that returns any actor, for example this allows us to inject a mocked child actor, instead of the actual one.

Now, the actor that depends on this can extend InjectedActorSupport, and it can depend on the factory we created:

import akka.actor._
import javax.inject._
import play.api.libs.concurrent.InjectedActorSupport

object ParentActor {
  case class GetChild(key: String)
}

class ParentActor @Inject() (
    childFactory: ConfiguredChildActor.Factory
) extends Actor with InjectedActorSupport {
  import ParentActor._

  def receive = {
    case GetChild(key: String) =>
      val child: ActorRef = injectedChild(childFactory(key), key)
      sender() ! child
  }
}

It uses the injectedChild to create and get a reference to the child actor, passing in the key. The second parameter (key in this example) will be used as the child actor’s name.

Finally, we need to bind our actors. In our module, we use the bindActorFactory method to bind the parent actor, and also bind the child factory to the child implementation:

import com.google.inject.AbstractModule
import play.api.libs.concurrent.AkkaGuiceSupport

import actors._

class MyModule extends AbstractModule with AkkaGuiceSupport {
  def configure = {
    bindActor[ParentActor]("parent-actor")
    bindActorFactory[ConfiguredChildActor, ConfiguredChildActor.Factory]
  }
}

This will get Guice to automatically bind an instance of ConfiguredChildActor.Factory, which will provide an instance of Configuration to ConfiguredChildActor when it’s instantiated.

§Configuration

The default actor system configuration is read from the Play application configuration file. For example, to configure the default dispatcher of the application actor system, add these lines to the conf/application.conf file:

akka.actor.default-dispatcher.fork-join-executor.parallelism-max = 64
akka.actor.debug.receive = on

For Akka logging configuration, see configuring logging.

§Changing configuration prefix

In case you want to use the akka.* settings for another Akka actor system, you can tell Play to load its Akka settings from another location.

play.akka.config = "my-akka"

Now settings will be read from the my-akka prefix instead of the akka prefix.

my-akka.actor.default-dispatcher.fork-join-executor.pool-size-max = 64
my-akka.actor.debug.receive = on

§Built-in actor system name

By default the name of the Play actor system is application. You can change this via an entry in the conf/application.conf:

play.akka.actor-system = "custom-name"

Note: This feature is useful if you want to put your play application ActorSystem in an Akka cluster.

§Scheduling asynchronous tasks

You can schedule sending messages to actors and executing tasks (functions or Runnable). You will get a Cancellable back that you can call cancel on to cancel the execution of the scheduled operation.

For example, to send a message to the testActor every 300 microseconds:

import scala.concurrent.duration._

val cancellable = system.scheduler.schedule(
  0.microseconds, 300.microseconds, testActor, "tick")

Note: This example uses implicit conversions defined in scala.concurrent.duration to convert numbers to Duration objects with various time units.

Similarly, to run a block of code 10 milliseconds from now:

import play.api.libs.concurrent.Execution.Implicits.defaultContext
system.scheduler.scheduleOnce(10.milliseconds) {
  file.delete()
}

§Using your own Actor system

While we recommend you use the built in actor system, as it sets up everything such as the correct classloader, lifecycle hooks, etc, there is nothing stopping you from using your own actor system. It is important however to ensure you do the following:

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