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Building a PDES in Erlang(Part 3)

by Nikolaos Bezirgiannis on April 22, 2013

Tagged as: simulation, PDES, erlang.

In the previous section, we saw how the simulation application can be structured, together with an example, coded in our experimental Erlang PDES framework. This time, we’ll take a look where the heart of this simulation framework beats — called also the simulation executive or simulation engine — and particularly how its internals are defined.

OTP Behaviour guidelines

As we discussed earlier, OTP behaviours are similar to interfaces for the Erlang language; the user has to fill in code for a collection of callbacks. Instances of these behaviours provide implementation to these callbacks, gathered in a single Erlang module.

Besides the standard behaviours that Erlang/OTP comes bundled with, the user can write custom behaviours and distribute them together with usual Erlang code.

There are currently two ways (the old and the new method) to define OTP behaviours, based on the particular Erlang/OTP version you are using. There is no backwards compatibility, so users of newer Erlang versions (OTP>=R15B) should stick with the new method.

The old method in OTP<R15B

The old method was rather crude and did not state explicitly that the module written is actually an OTP behaviour; rather it relied on a ‘magic’ function, the behaviour_info, that should be exported by the behaviour module. This should be better illustrated with an example taken from the actual old implementation of the gen_server behaviour:


%% Usual API export
-export([start/3, start/4,
	 start_link/3, start_link/4,
	 call/2, call/3,
	 cast/2, reply/2,
	 abcast/2, abcast/3,
	 multi_call/2, multi_call/3, multi_call/4,
	 enter_loop/3, enter_loop/4, enter_loop/5]).

%% The involving 'magic' function 

%% and its definition

behaviour_info(callbacks) ->
behaviour_info(_Other) ->

As it is obvious, the behaviour_info function simply returns a list of callback functions, together with their arity, that the user of the behaviour has to implement in his/her behaviour instance.

The new method in OTP>=R15B

The new way to write custom behaviours relies on a brand-new compiler directive, intuitively called -callback. The user has to insert a single callback directive for every callback belonging to this behaviour. The example show how the method is applied for the sim_proc behaviour:

%% Usual API
-export([start/3, start/4,
         start_link/3, start_link/4,
         schedule/2, schedule/3, 
         print/1, print/2, 
         println/1, println/2,
         link_from/1, link_to/2

%%  Types and Callbacks
-callback init(Args :: term()) ->
    {ok, State :: term()} | {ok, State :: term(), timeout()} |
    {stop, Reason :: term()} | ignore.
-callback handle_event(Event :: term(), State :: term()) ->
    {ok, NewState :: term()} |
    {stop, Reason :: term(), NewState :: term()}.
-callback handle_info(Info :: timeout() | term(), State :: term()) ->
    {noreply, NewState :: term()} |
    {noreply, NewState :: term(), timeout() | hibernate} |
    {stop, Reason :: term(), NewState :: term()}.
-callback terminate(Reason :: (normal | shutdown | {shutdown, term()} |
                    State :: term()) ->
-callback code_change(OldVsn :: (term() | {down, term()}), State :: term(),
                      Extra :: term()) ->
    {ok, NewState :: term()} | {error, Reason :: term()}.

The -callback directive resembles that of -spec directive, because it also requires each function to be accompanied by an appropriate type signature. Of course, there is no type checking involved, but in this way, the documentation generated from these custom behaviours becomes much more concrete, since we know what these callbacks accept as arguments and what are their return values. You can check for example the documentation (erldoc) output for the standard gen_server behaviour.

Other exports

Besides specifying the callbacks, the custom behaviour must export any API functions that can be called by the behaviour instance and a bunch of system functions that generally apply to behaviours. The approach is the same when using both methods for specifying behaviours. For example, the exported functions taken from the sim_proc behaviour are:

%% API exports
-export([start/3, start/4,
         start_link/3, start_link/4,
         schedule/2, schedule/3, 
         print/1, print/2, 
         println/1, println/2,
         link_from/1, link_to/2

%% System exports

The generic exported functions that are applied to almost any behaviour are:

Exported function Role
start internal behaviour callback
start_link like start but also linking
format_status calls Mod:format_status, prints the status of process
init_it System export that calls Mod:init and then enters the loop of the process Behaviour:loop
system_continue Callback function for system messages
system_terminate Callback function for system messages
system_code_change Callback function for system messages

sim_proc behaviour

The sim_proc behaviour is actually the simulation executive of the system. It exports fundamental API functions that the simulation application of the user can call:

Exported function Role
schedule(Event, Time) schedules a new local Event with timestamp Time
schedule(LP, Event, Time) schedules a new remote event to the logical process LP
clock() Returns the current clock of the calling Logical Process
print() Wrapper to print
println() Utility function, wrapper to print
link_from(LP) Creates an incoming link from Logical Process LP
link_to(LP, Lookahead) Creates an outgoing link to Logical Process with the value of the lookahead passed to the function

The logical process instance is responsible for handling the local event list and any remote event queues. The process loop running follows these execution steps:

  1. looks for the smallest timestamp from the current events
  2. process the event by calling proper callbacks from the behaviour instance module
  3. advances the current clock to the processed event
  4. sends null messages to its ‘neighbours’ (outgoing-linked Logical Processes)
  5. go back to 1, or finish if there are no events to process or the simulation-end-time has been reached.

sim_cont behaviour

The sim_cont behaviour is an extra controller behaviour that is simply defined for convenience. It has a declarative style and simply exports a single callback init. The user has to fill in the function init, so as to inform the simulation executive which are the modules that the models reside in and which and how many are the participating Logical Processes, spawning an Erlang behaviour process for each.

The behaviour instance of sim_cont should be bundled together with the simulation application, because it is part of the model definition. An example behaviour instance, called sim_controller can be specified as:

-export([start_link/0, init/1]).

start_link() ->
    sim_cont:start_link({local, ?MODULE}, ?MODULE, [], []).

init(_Args) ->
    {ok, [
          %% { LocalOrRemote, Name, Module}
          {local, lax, lax},
          {local, ord, ord},
          {local, abd, abd}

The above controller says that there are 3 Logical Process sitting in the local network, named lax, ord and abd. Their model definitions are in the modules lax.erl , ord.erl and abd.erl respectively. By calling sim_controller:start_link(), a single behaviour process will be spawned for each declared Logical Process.

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