[erlang-questions] Understanding supervisor / start_link behaviour

Frédéric Trottier-Hébert fred.hebert@REDACTED
Thu Jun 2 16:10:53 CEST 2011

There are disadvantages to *not* putting workers under the supervision tree, though. Namely, you'll be losing the ability to have the release handlers walk down the supervision trees to find which processes to suspend/update, and you'll then need to find a different way of doing things.

This is a serious point to consider if you ever plan on going the way of releases/appups if the workers you use are to be long-lived (you don't want them to be killed during a purge). I'm not saying you didn't know this, but I felt I should point it out for the sake of having the arguments clear on the mailing list. 

Fred Hébert

On 2011-06-02, at 05:53 AM, Mazen Harake wrote:

> Steve,
> I wouldn't say that you are wrong. I think that you are reasoning good
> about not putting the gen_event module under a supervisor because
> *that is what links are for*. Just because you have a supervisor
> doesn't mean the you shove everything underneath there! If the
> gen_server and the gen_event are truly linked (meaning: gen_server
> doesn't act as a "supervisor" keeping track of its gen_event process
> and restarts it all the time but rather that they really are linked
> and they crash together) then your approach, in my opinion, is good.
> There are great benefits in doing it in that way. Many will claim that
> it is best practice to put *everything* under a supervisor but this is
> simply not true. 90% of cases it *is* the best thing to do and many
> times it is more about how you designed your application rather than
> where to put the supervisors and their children but doing it the way
> you did is not necessarily wrong.
> The only problem I see with your approach is that you have registered
> the gen_event process which clearly isn't useful (since only the
> gen_server should know about it, after all, it started it). Other than
> that, this approach is extremely helpful and a nice way to clean up
> things after they die/shutdown (Again: assuming truly linked).
> There is a big misconception in the community that everything
> should/must look like the supervisor-tree model which shows how
> gen_servers are put under supervisors and more supervisors under the
> "top" supervisor but that is not enforced and the design principles
> doesn't take many cases into account where this setup actually brings
> more headache to the table than to just exit and clean up using linked
> processes (because they do exist).
> /M
> On 1 June 2011 21:26, Steve Strong <steve@REDACTED> wrote:
>> Hi,
>> I've got some strange behaviour with gen_event within a supervision tree
>> which I don't fully understand.  Consider the following supervisor
>> (completely standard, feel free to skip over):
>> <snip>
>> -module(sup).
>> -behaviour(supervisor).
>> -export([start_link/0, init/1]).
>> -define(SERVER, ?MODULE).
>> start_link() ->
>>     supervisor:start_link({local, ?SERVER}, ?MODULE, []).
>> init([]) ->
>>     Child1 = {child, {child, start_link, []}, permanent, 2000, worker,
>> [child]},
>>     {ok, {{one_for_all, 1000, 3600}, [Child1]}}.
>> </snip>
>> and corresponding gen_server (interesting code in bold):
>> <snip>
>> -module(child).
>> -behaviour(gen_server).
>> -export([start_link/0, init/1, handle_call/3, handle_cast/2,
>> handle_info/2, terminate/2, code_change/3]).
>> start_link() ->
>>     gen_server:start_link({local, child}, child, [], []).
>> init([]) ->
>>     io:format("about to start gen_event~n"),
>>     X = gen_event:start_link({local, my_gen_event}),
>>     io:format("gen_event started with ~p~n", [X]),
>>     {ok, _Pid} = X,
>>     {ok, {}, 2000}.
>> handle_call(_Request, _From, State) ->
>>     {reply, ok, State}.
>> handle_cast(_Msg, State) ->
>>     {noreply, State}.
>> handle_info(_Info, State) ->
>>     io:format("about to crash...~n"),
>>     1 = 2,
>>     {noreply, State}.
>> terminate(_Reason, _State) ->
>>     ok.
>> code_change(_OldVsn, State, _Extra) ->
>>     {ok, State}.
>> </snip>
>> If I run this from an erl shell like this:
>> <snip>
>> --> erl
>> Erlang R14B01 (erts-5.8.2) [source] [64-bit] [smp:2:2] [rq:2]
>> [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]
>> Eshell V5.8.2  (abort with ^G)
>> 1> application:start(sasl), supervisor:start_link(sup, []).
>> </snip>
>> Then the supervisor & server start as expected.  After 2 seconds the server
>> gets a timeout message and crashes itself; the supervisor obviously spots
>> this and restarts it.  Within the init of the gen_server, it also does a
>> start_link on a gen_event process.  By my understanding, whenever the
>> gen_server process exits, the gen_event will also be terminated.
>> However, every now and then I see the following output (a ton of sasl trace
>> omitted for clarity!):
>> <snip>
>> about to crash...
>> about to start gen_event
>> gen_event started with {error,{already_started,<0.79.0>}}
>> about to start gen_event
>> gen_event started with {error,{already_started,<0.79.0>}}
>> about to start gen_event
>> </snip>
>> What is happening is that the gen_server is crashing but on its restart the
>> gen_event process is still running - hence the gen_server fails in its init
>> and gets restarted again.  Sometimes this loop clears after a few
>> iterations, other times it can continue until the parent supervisor gives
>> up, packs its bags and goes home.
>> So, my question is whether this is expected behaviour or not.  I assume that
>> the termination of the linked child is happening asynchronously, and that
>> the supervisor is hence restarting its children before things have cleaned
>> up correctly - is that correct?
>> I can fix this particular scenario by trapping exits within the gen_server,
>> and then calling gen_event:stop within the terminate.  Is this type of
>> processing necessary whenever a process is start_link'ed within a supervisor
>> tree, or is what I'm doing considered bad practice?
>> Thanks for your time,
>> Steve
>> --
>> Steve Strong, Director, id3as
>> twitter.com/srstrong
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