[erlang-questions] Futures/promises and ability to "call" abstract modules

Gleb Peregud <>
Mon Nov 19 11:48:12 CET 2012


Sverker Eriksson wrote the following in [1]:

> But even if the resource terms look alike, they are unique and there is
> no bug leaking NIF resources (that I know of). A resource is released
> (and destructor called) when the last reference is garbage collected.
> The shell can fool you however, as it keeps a command history that can
> retain terms even though you think the variables are forgotten. Test NIF
> resource cleanup by running a test module and call
> erlang:garbage_collect to force destructors to be called.

This seems to mean that they are "shared" and garbage collected just once.

1: http://erlang.org/pipermail/erlang-questions/2011-January/055524.html

On Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 11:46 AM, Vlad Dumitrescu <> wrote:
> I have no idea, that's why I asked :-)
> /Vlad
>
>
> On Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 11:44 AM, Gleb Peregud <> wrote:
>>
>> I assumed that NIF-generated resources are shared between processes (the
>> same way as large binaries are), and I haven't done any tests on this. Are
>> you sure it is garbate collected multiple times (once per referencing
>> process)?
>>
>>
>>
>> On Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 11:41 AM, Vlad Dumitrescu <>
>> wrote:
>>>
>>> Hi Gleb,
>>>
>>> just a quick observation about garbage collecting futures: would the
>>> NIF-generated resource keep track of usage across processes? I fI send a
>>> future as a message, it may be referenced by multiple processes which have
>>> their own heap and garbage collection...
>>>
>>> regards,
>>> Vlad
>>>
>>>
>>> On Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 11:32 AM, Gleb Peregud <>
>>> wrote:
>>>>
>>>> Hello
>>>>
>>>> Last evening I was trying to implement futures/promise mechanism in
>>>> Erlang (mostly for fun, since I am still unsure if it is useful). I got
>>>> inspired with the presentation [1], which mentioned using futures as a
>>>> foundation of building services, where things like timeouts, tracing,
>>>> authentication, etc. is built by composing futures (see slide 41).
>>>>
>>>> Do you think that such composition of futures could be useful as a tool
>>>> to improve code reuse of communication patterns in Erlang (as described in
>>>> the presentation)?
>>>>
>>>> I've implemented futures using processes and message passing and
>>>> stumbled upon two issues:
>>>> 1) garbage collection of futures
>>>> 2) slightly too much code when using them
>>>>
>>>> Example of the first problem is here:
>>>>
>>>> 1> F = future:new(fun() -> timer:sleep(10000), 10 end).
>>>> {future,<0.36.0>,#Ref<0.0.0.1736>,undefined}
>>>> 2> F:get(). %% it hangs for 10 seconds
>>>> 10
>>>>
>>>> Since future F is represented as a process <0.36.0> it will stay running
>>>> forever till it's timed out (which is not a good solution, since someone may
>>>> still have a reference to this future) or F:done() manually called.
>>>>
>>>> My idea is to insert into 'future' tuple a NIF-generated resource, which
>>>> will have a destructor attached (called upon garbage collection of the
>>>> resource) which will call F:done(). Will it work?
>>>>
>>>> The second issue is illustrated here:
>>>>
>>>> 7> F = future:new().
>>>> {future,<0.47.0>,#Ref<0.0.0.27235>,undefined}
>>>> 8> spawn(fun() -> timer:sleep(10000), F:set(42) end).
>>>> <0.49.0>
>>>> 9> F:get().
>>>> 42
>>>>
>>>> In ideal world it should be enough to just write "F" (without :get()) to
>>>> fetch future's value, but it seems too far fetched for Erlang. Slightly
>>>> better solution would be to allow calling future with "F()".
>>>>
>>>> This can be done by extending concept of "abstract modules" with
>>>> "default call". Currently abstract modules allow the following:
>>>>
>>>> {future, Pid, Ref, undefined}:get() which is translated to
>>>> future:get({future, Pid, Ref, undefined})
>>>>
>>>> With a simple change in beam_emu.c in call_fun function (which would
>>>> replace obsolete fun tuples) we can allow for the following:
>>>>
>>>> {future, Pid, Ref, undefined}() which COULD be translated to
>>>> future:call({future, Pid, Ref, undefined})
>>>>
>>>> hence allowing to use just "F()" to read a value of the future. This
>>>> will also extend "metaprogramming" capabilities of Erlang for some other
>>>> quirky use, which may or may not be a Good Thing(tm).
>>>>
>>>> Thoughts?
>>>>
>>>> Cheers,
>>>> Gleb Peregud
>>>>
>>>> 1: http://monkey.org/~marius/talks/twittersystems/
>>>>
>>>> _______________________________________________
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>>>> 
>>>> http://erlang.org/mailman/listinfo/erlang-questions
>>>>
>>>
>>
>



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