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1. Introduction

In this article we’ll focus on integrating Akka with the Spring Framework – to allow injection of Spring-based services into Akka actors.

Before reading this article, a prior knowledge of Akka’s basics is recommended.

Further reading:

Introduction to Akka Actors in Java

Learn how to build concurrent and distributed applications using Akka Actors in Java.

Read more

Guide to Akka Streams

A quick and practical guide to data stream transformations in Java using the Akka Streams library.

Read more

Spring Boot and Kotlin

Learn how to use Kotlin together with Spring Boot 2.x.

Read more

2. Dependency Injection in Akka

Akka is a powerful application framework based on the Actor concurrency model. The framework is written in Scala which of course makes it fully usable in a Java-based applications as well. And so it’s very often we will want to integrate Akka with an existing Spring-based application or simply use Spring for wiring beans into actors.

The problem with Spring/Akka integration lies in the difference between the management of beans in Spring and the management of actors in Akka: actors have a specific lifecycle that differs from typical Spring bean lifecycle.

Moreover, actors are split into an actor itself (which is an internal implementation detail and cannot be managed by Spring) and an actor reference, which is accessible by a client code, as well as serializable and portable between different Akka runtimes.

Luckily, Akka provides a mechanism, namely Akka extensions, that makes using external dependency injection frameworks a fairly easy task.

3. Maven Dependencies

To demonstrate the usage of Akka in our Spring project, we’ll need a bare minimum Spring dependency — the spring-context library, and also the akka-actor library. The library versions can be extracted to the <properties> section of the pom:

<properties>
    <spring.version>4.3.1.RELEASE</spring.version>
    <akka.version>2.4.8</akka.version>
</properties>

<dependencies>
    <dependency>
        <groupId>org.springframework</groupId>
        <artifactId>spring-context</artifactId>
        <version>${spring.version}</version>
    </dependency>

    <dependency>
        <groupId>com.typesafe.akka</groupId>
        <artifactId>akka-actor_2.11</artifactId>
        <version>${akka.version}</version>
    </dependency>

</dependencies>

Make sure to check Maven Central for the latest versions of spring-context and akka-actor dependencies.

And notice how, that the akka-actor dependency has a _2.11 postfix in its name, which signifies that this version of Akka framework was built against the Scala version 2.11. The corresponding version of Scala library will be transitively included in your build.

4. Injecting Spring Beans into Akka Actors

Let’s create a simple Spring/Akka application consisting of a single actor that can answer to a person’s name by issuing a greeting to this person. The logic of greeting will be extracted to a separate service. We will want to autowire this service to an actor instance. Spring integration will help us in this task.

4.1. Defining an Actor and a Service

To demonstrate injection of a service into an actor, we’ll create a simple class GreetingActor defined as an untyped actor (extending the Akka’s UntypedActor base class). The main method of every Akka actor is the onReceive method which receives a message and processes it according to some specified logic.

In our case, the GreetingActor implementation checks if the message is of a predefined type Greet, then takes the name of the person from the Greet instance, then uses the GreetingService to receive a greeting for this person and answers sender with the received greeting string. If the message is of some other unknown type, it is passed to the actor’s predefined unhandled method.

Let’s have a look:

@Component
@Scope(ConfigurableBeanFactory.SCOPE_PROTOTYPE)
public class GreetingActor extends UntypedActor {

    private GreetingService greetingService;

    // constructor

    @Override
    public void onReceive(Object message) throws Throwable {
        if (message instanceof Greet) {
            String name = ((Greet) message).getName();
            getSender().tell(greetingService.greet(name), getSelf());
        } else {
            unhandled(message);
        }
    }

    public static class Greet {

        private String name;

        // standard constructors/getters

    }
}

Notice that the Greet message type is defined as a static inner class inside this actor, which is considered a good practice. Accepted message types should be defined as close to an actor as possible to avoid confusion on which message types this actor can process.

Also notice the Spring annotations @Component and @Scope – these define the class as a Spring-managed bean with the prototype scope.

The scope is very important, because every bean retrieval request should result in a newly created instance, as this behavior matches Akka’s actor lifecycle. If you implement this bean with some other scope, the typical case of restarting actors in Akka will most likely function incorrectly.

Finally, notice that we didn’t have to explicitly @Autowire the GreetingService instance — this is possible due to the new feature of Spring 4.3 called Implicit Constructor Injection.

The implementation of GreeterService is pretty straightforward, notice that we defined it as a Spring-managed bean by adding the @Component annotation to it (with default singleton scope):

@Component
public class GreetingService {

    public String greet(String name) {
        return "Hello, " + name;
    }
}

4.2. Adding Spring Support via Akka Extension

The easiest way to integrate Spring with Akka is through an Akka extension.

An extension is a singleton instance created per actor system. It consists of an extension class itself, which implements the marker interface Extension, and an extension id class which usually inherits AbstractExtensionId.

As these two classes are tightly coupled, it makes sense to implement the Extension class nested within the ExtensionId class:

public class SpringExtension 
  extends AbstractExtensionId<SpringExtension.SpringExt> {

    public static final SpringExtension SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER 
      = new SpringExtension();

    @Override
    public SpringExt createExtension(ExtendedActorSystem system) {
        return new SpringExt();
    }

    public static class SpringExt implements Extension {
        private volatile ApplicationContext applicationContext;

        public void initialize(ApplicationContext applicationContext) {
            this.applicationContext = applicationContext;
        }

        public Props props(String actorBeanName) {
            return Props.create(
              SpringActorProducer.class, applicationContext, actorBeanName);
        }
    }
}

FirstSpringExtension implements a single createExtension method from the AbstractExtensionId class – which accounts for creation of an extension instance, the SpringExt object.

The SpringExtension class also has a static field SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER which holds a reference to its only instance. It often makes sense to add a private constructor to explicitly state that SpringExtention is supposed to be a singleton class, but we’ll omit it for clarity.

Secondly, the static inner class SpringExt is the extension itself. As Extension is simply a marker interface, we may define the contents of this class as we see fit.

In our case, we’re going to need the initialize method for keeping a Spring ApplicationContext instance — this method will be called only once per extension’s initialization.

Also we’ll require the props method for creating a Props object. Props instance is a blueprint for an actor, and in our case the Props.create method receives a SpringActorProducer class and constructor arguments for this class. These are the arguments that this class’ constructor will be called with.

The props method will be executed every time we’ll need a Spring-managed actor reference.

The third and last piece of the puzzle is the SpringActorProducer class. It implements Akka’s IndirectActorProducer interface which allows overriding the instantiation process for an actor by implementing the produce and actorClass methods.

As you probably already have guessed, instead of direct instantiation, it will always retrieve an actor instance from the Spring’s ApplicationContext. As we’ve made the actor a prototype-scoped bean, every call to the produce method will return a new instance of the actor:

public class SpringActorProducer implements IndirectActorProducer {

    private ApplicationContext applicationContext;

    private String beanActorName;

    public SpringActorProducer(ApplicationContext applicationContext, 
      String beanActorName) {
        this.applicationContext = applicationContext;
        this.beanActorName = beanActorName;
    }

    @Override
    public Actor produce() {
        return (Actor) applicationContext.getBean(beanActorName);
    }

    @Override
    public Class<? extends Actor> actorClass() {
        return (Class<? extends Actor>) applicationContext
          .getType(beanActorName);
    }
}

4.3. Putting It All Together

The only thing that’s left to do is to create a Spring configuration class (marked with @Configuration annotation) which will tell Spring to scan the current package together with all nested packages (this is ensured by the @ComponentScan annotation) and create a Spring container.

We only need to add a single additional bean — the ActorSystem instance — and initialize the Spring extension on this ActorSystem:

@Configuration
@ComponentScan
public class AppConfiguration {

    @Autowired
    private ApplicationContext applicationContext;

    @Bean
    public ActorSystem actorSystem() {
        ActorSystem system = ActorSystem.create("akka-spring-demo");
        SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER.get(system)
          .initialize(applicationContext);
        return system;
    }
}

4.4. Retrieving Spring-Wired Actors

To test that everything works correctly, we may inject the ActorSystem instance into our code (either some Spring-managed application code, or a Spring-based test), create a Props object for an actor using our extension, retrieve a reference to an actor via Props object and try to greet somebody:

ActorRef greeter = system.actorOf(SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER.get(system)
  .props("greetingActor"), "greeter");

FiniteDuration duration = FiniteDuration.create(1, TimeUnit.SECONDS);
Timeout timeout = Timeout.durationToTimeout(duration);

Future<Object> result = ask(greeter, new Greet("John"), timeout);

Assert.assertEquals("Hello, John", Await.result(result, duration));

Here we use the typical akka.pattern.Patterns.ask pattern that returns a Scala’s Future instance. Once the computation is completed, the Future is resolved with a value that we returned in our GreetingActor.onMessasge method.

We may either wait for the result by applying the Scala’s Await.result method to the Future, or, more preferably, build the entire application with asynchronous patterns.

5. Conclusion

In this article we’ve showed how to integrate Spring Framework with Akka and autowire beans into actors.

The source code for the article is available on GitHub.

I just announced the new Spring Boot 2 material, coming in REST With Spring:

>> CHECK OUT THE LESSONS

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rpiotrow
Guest
rpiotrow

Fix the link to GitHub project, please.

Eugen Paraschiv
Guest

Fixed 🙂 Thanks for the heads-up.

Anatoly Antonov
Guest
Anatoly Antonov

I have identical configuration but running into issues on startup (described here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/39567893/akka-actors-fails-to-initialize).
Do you had similar issue with your configuration?

Eugen Paraschiv
Guest

Hey Anatoly,
I’m reasonably sure the answer is no, but of course – especially if the config is identical – give it a try and run the module associated with the article. If you run into the same problem there, open up an issue on Github and I’d be happy to have a look.
Cheers,
Eugen.

Ramen Sayami
Guest
Ramen Sayami

It gives me error SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER cannot be resolved…
is the code supposed to be: SpringExtension.SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER.get(system) ??
This is the only logical solution i came up with, but im a newbie into spring and akka , so i could be wrong.
Can you verify it? I am blindly using this tutorial tho…
Thanks

Grzegorz Piwowarek
Guest
Grzegorz Piwowarek

Can you post the exact exception here? In order to be able to use it, you need to initialize it first. Here you can have a look at all usages: https://github.com/eugenp/tutorials/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=SPRING_EXTENSION_PROVIDER