References on the Actor Programming Model

The actor programming model is a software development method that encourages the decomposition of applications into autonomous components which are self-contained and operate asynchronously and independently from one another. This model is well aligned with the nondeterministic nature of distributed systems, including mobile systems, interactive systems, and the internet.

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t invent it. I’m merely leveraging the information obtained from a number of sources and applying it in a way that I think makes it easier to build certain types of applications. Applications that can benefit from a highly concurrent actor-based programming model include reactive systems — ones that respond to nondeterministic external events. Since many applications can be described as “a program that responds to external events” it only makes sense that the actor programming model can be applied to many domains.

Here are some papers that I’ve read on the actor model, some of which have influenced me in how I think about concurrent programming and others that have merely provided background information or depicted ways in which concurrent programming should not be approached.

Actors, Rajesh K. Karmani, Gul Agha

Actors: A Model of Concurrent Computation In Distributed Systems, Gul A. Agha (out of print)

Actor Languages for Specification of Parallel Computations, Gul Agha, Wooyoung Kim, Rajendra Panwar

An Actor-Based Framework for Heterogeneous Computing Systems, Gul Agha, Rajendra Panwar

Actors that Unify Threads and Events, Philipp Haller, Martin Odersky

Lightweight Language Support for Type-Based, Concurrent Event Processing, Philipp Haller

Compilation of a Highly Parallel Actor-Based Language, WooYoung Kim, Gul Agha

These are some of the more involved works from which I’ve found many useful bits of information. I’ve got them permanently stored in GoodReader so I can keep looking back to them (and my associated annotations as well). Hopefully anyone looking to build systems using the actor model (and hopefully, using Stact if you’re on the .NET platform) can get a better understanding of the model by reviewing these papers.


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About Chris Patterson

Chris is a senior architect for RelayHealth, the connectivity business of the nation's leading healthcare services company. There he is responsible for the architecture and development of applications and services that accelerate care delivery by connecting patients, providers, pharmacies, and financial institutions. Previously, he led the development of a new content delivery platform for TV Guide, enabling the launch of a new entertainment network seen on thousands of cable television systems. In his spare time, Chris is an active open-source developer and a primary contributor to MassTransit, a distributed application framework for .NET. In 2009, he was awarded the Most Valuable Professional award by Microsoft for his technical community contributions.
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  • .Net Development

    Thanks for sharing this post about Actor Programming Model.

  • Jonathan Oliver

    You may be interested in another actor-like model that doesn’t suffer from some of the overhead incurred when using queues as a message passing structure between actors:

    Granted, the LMAX Disruptor is a Java-based solution, but the principles apply to any thread-based language such as .Net, C, C++, etc. (but not necessarily Ruby/Python which use a global interpreter lock).