Comment on fibers and async library interfaces

Nils Henrik Lorentzen nils.lorentzen at
Fri May 24 06:47:12 UTC 2019


I am a longtime Java developer just becoming aware of project Loom and its
lightweight threads. It seems like an idea well worth implementing in the
core JVM/libraries for easier making scalable server applications.

>From reading the proposal at, I do have a
few concerns though, if I have understood fibers correctly.

Not subscribed to the list so sending this as food for thought.

These are mainly related to that there probably will be corner cases where
one has to write async code, and fibers just will not suffice. These cases
might be not be known yet but will surface in the future.

What is of concern is the statement "In addition to making concurrent
applications simpler and/or more scalable, this will make life easier for
library authors, as there will no longer be a need to provide both
synchronous and asynchronous APIs for a different simplicity/performance

I understand this is written with the best intentions, who wouldn't want to
make life easier for library writers, and I have no intention to criticise
the author on this.

What I am wary of here is that this might discourage providing async APIs,
even at the low level, which will then make it way more difficult to write
pure async servers if need be. Or one just prefers that way of programming
(better logs solve much of the no-proper-stacktrace issues, and better log
capabilities are also a plus in prodution deployed systems)

Consider JDBC as an example, one is now at long last working on providing
async JDBC drivers that can be useful for high throughput processing and
reactive/async apps.

When it comes to network communication, similarily to what the proposal
states that async/await can be easily implemented by continuations, so can
a synchronous network driver API easily be made on top of an asynchronous
driver. The opposite requires threads to be spawned and that defeats the
purpose of async for scalability/throughput.

Keep in mind that even for request/response protocols, the base
communication is always async by nature. There is no blocking operation on
an ethernet card :) Thus async operation on top of a sync driver means
async network => sync API => thread to simulate asynchronousity => async
application, which is a long chain for something that was asynchronous in
the first place.

I would argue that for essential drivers (especially proprietary ones like
JDBC), one should always implement an async API at the base using NIO and
then just have a generic sync wrapper on top.

Async driver at the core does imply either spawning a thread in the driver
for its own select() mainloop or an API for integrating NIO Selectors into
another mainloop (eg. of an application server) but should be manageable.

An example of this architecture is Erlang. From what I can tell, socket
communication is non-blocking and done via message passing between
processes. The trick (and elegance) of Erlang is that it has a "selective
receive for messages" and from what I can tell, 'receive' is pretty much
the only place in all of Erlang that it would suspend lightweight threads
(probably a setjmp()/longjmp() libc call at that place in its VM).

For an async network driver in Java would be the blocking API doing
Object.wait()/notify() for threads. For suspend in fibers, the underlying
sync/async wrapper implementation could continue the fiber when there is
input (or on writeability for writes).

Just raising a flag here a bit because even if it is not such now, it could
become a classic case of group think where async becomes discouraged, and
then at some point one figures one needs it anyways. Except that all APIs
have adopted synchronous functioning and it would be even more difficult to
convince someone provide async network drivers as they would argue that
fibers should solve it, so no need for it.

Lightweight threads have a bright future but hopefully not at the expense
of tried and proven patterns for high throughput servers :)

Kind regards,

Nils Henrik Lorentzen

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