Why you should get to know Monix
In this short blog post – in just 10 minutes or less – I’m going to attempt to present what Monix library is and try to convince you why you really need to get to know it.
Formerly known as Monifu, Monix is a library for asynchronous programming in Scala and Scala.js
It contains several useful abstractions and sometimes can be found superior to its vanilla Scala or Akka counterparts. But this post is definitely not going to be about knocking the use of Akka actors or streams. Rather, it’s about another tool in the Scala programmer’s box. I am going to be presenting some of the abstractions that Monix gives and conclude why they are invaluable.
Task vs Future
Monix comes with
Task abstraction that can be seen as a replacement for
Future. However, there are some major differences.
Future was designed for ongoing computation which is possibly finished,
Task is a description of the computation.
So when using
Task as a drop in replacement for
Future, one has to trigger its execution to start the computation. This means that the following code will not print anything:
To start execution, you have to do two things:
- get an instance of
- call one of
foreachto execute the computation.
Scheduler is an
ExecutionContext which in addition allows scheduling of single or periodical execution of
CancelableFuture allows the programmer to attempt the cancellation of some of the computation before it ends, when it’s needed to be stopped. This is the second major difference I’ve noticed and it’s a really nice improvement in my opinion.
Monix allows a high level of control over
Task execution. You can choose:
- whether the task body is executed on each invocation of
- whether the result should be memoized (
- whether the execution should always execute in a separate thread (
On top of that,
Taskhas an API to choose the scheduler to run on.
A short example
Let me show you just one, contrived example, which illustrates some of the error handling and scheduler choice. The code below gets
Picture and should perform an analysis which will tell if a given picture was painted by Picasso or not.
Firstly, it runs an analysis locally, but if the local algorithm cannot decide, a remote analysis service is used. Finally, the original picture and analysis results are stored in a database. Of course, the services are just mocks, so the results are hardcoded for sake of simplicity.
I’ve already mentioned that
Schedulers are like
ExecutionContext with an ability to schedule the execution on them. But there is one more important trait a
Scheduler has. It’s the
ExecutionModel which describes:
- whether tasks should be executed in separate logical threads or
- if a trampoline should be used, or
- if a batch of tasks should be executed synchronously and then a new thread should be used.
Just a few more words about
It comes with plenty of combinators and constructors, counterparts for both
Future and Scalaz
Task combinators. I will mention just a few that grabbed my attention:
onErrorRestart– restart until completes successfully
restartUntil– restart until result fulfills predicate
timeout– adds timeout to existing
Task, Monix gives you also
FutureUtils.timeoutto timeout Scala
To recap: Monix
Task gives users a huge dose of control over asynchronous computation execution using a rich set of builders and combinators, the ability to tune schedulers and execution models and also by out-of-the-box possibilities to timeout or cancel computations. In my opinion, these are huge plusses.
There are two artifacts available:
monix-scalaz72 with a code that turns
Task into an instance of
Monad from Cats or Scalaz
Coeval is synchronous counterpart for
Task. It gives you control over evaluation, side effects and error handling. All at once, but for synchronous computations.
Task it doesn’t run when defined but only when
run is called. You can define
Coeval to execute on each
value call with
to memoize result (like
This level of control allows you to remove stack overflows caused by tail recursion. OK,
@tailrec can do that also but only for simple tail recursion that involve one function.
Coeval has many builders, combinators (
restartUntil, error handing and others) and transformers (from/to
Again, a bit of a made-up example, but this time the user will be prompted to enter a number. The user enters an invalid line 3 times, another prompt will be used and in the case of any error program, it will fall back to 42.
Cats and Scalaz integrations contain
Monad instances of
Coeval (and the other tools previously mentioned here).
Before I write a really short part about
MVar: I have never written “real” code that used this or analogical abstraction.
The thread can
take something from
MVar but both operations asynchronously block, what is expressed in return types of
Task[A] respectively. When the thread
takes something from empty
MVar it gets
Task[A] that will complete when some thread
puts a value to it.
putbehaves similarly, returns the
Task which completes only after
MVar put has been executed (which requires access to the empty
Here’s the obligatory example, this time a dummy producer-consumer problem.
Here is a more verbose version with some
printlns to show the lazy behaviour of
Task as well.
MVar is inspired by Haskell’s MVar but original blocks thread instead of returning asynchronous computation abstraction (
Task). That’s because threads in Haskell are not so scarce.
The last part of the library I would like to mention in this article is Monix’s take on reactive streams.
I will describe it briefly, and only from the perspective of a user, not an implementer of new
Observableis equivalent to
Consumer, which specifies how to consume an
Observable has a wealth of combinators: for grouping, filtering, mapping, taking, sliding, giving control when the upstream or downstream are slow, attaching callbacks for upstream events such as stream end, error handling and more. I’m not going to enumerate these but I can assure you that the library author has put an extraordinary amount of effort into those matters!
Provided set of
Consumers was sufficient, I was able to find a replacement for each Sink that I have used in a real project based on akka-streams.
Next, I will reveal what unfolded when I took an akka-stream used in a recent project I was working on and rewrote it using
Monix. I have changed the actual business details to dummy ones
First of all, a natural language description of the processing, then the
akka-streams implementation and lastly will be the Monix implementation.
- The starting point is the equivalent of a reactive streams publisher of Kafka “committable messages” (a combination of payload and the means to commit offset).
- The message is matched and acted upon. This part is very abstract in the following code.
- To avoid excessive offsets commits (which are expensive I/O), offsets are committed only once per 100 messages or 1 second, when traffic is lower.
- The stream then goes through an injectable trigger which can be used to cancel processing.
- There is no element or statistic about the stream that we are interested in, so we ignore what comes through the cancel switch.
A Full example s available in the GH repo. The API looks similar to some extent. The main difference is that Monix streams are run on
Scheduler while akka-streams requires
Materializer, which most probably is
ActorMaterializer, which in turn requires
Scheduler is much more lightweight than
I have also written and ran some JMH benchmarks for totally made-up set of operations although I will not summarize them as a comparison to avoid possibly false conclusions. The Monix streams are undoubtedly very efficient.
Coeval there is a glue library that provides Cats or Scalaz Monads instances for
So why should you get to know Monix?
Simply because it gives you a very good set of tools for asynchronous programming. There’s
Task as an alternative to
Future, along with a lot of combinators and helpers to help write your asynchronous code.
It provides a well-engineered and efficient implementation of reactive streams. MVar type could also sometimes be the simplest solution for synchronization problems.
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