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AWS Flow Framework for Java
Developer Guide (API Version 2012-01-25)

Under the Hood

Task

The underlying primitive that the AWS Flow Framework for Java uses to manage the execution of asynchronous code is the Task class. An object of type Task represents work that has to be performed asynchronously. When you call an asynchronous method, the framework creates a Task to execute the code in that method and puts it in a list for execution at a later time. Similarly, when you invoke an Activity, a Task is created for it. The method call returns after this, usually returning a Promise<T> as the future result of the call.

The Task class is public and may be used directly. For example, we can rewrite the Hello World example to use a Task instead of an asynchronous method.

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@Override public void startHelloWorld(){ final Promise<String> greeting = client.getName(); new Task(greeting) { @Override protected void doExecute() throws Throwable { client.printGreeting("Hello " + greeting.get() +"!"); } }; }

The framework calls the doExecute() method when all the Promises passed to the constructor of the Task become ready. For more details about the Task class, see the AWS Java SDK documentation.

The framework also includes a class called Functor which represents a Task that is also a Promise<T>. The Functor object becomes ready when the Task completes. In the following example, a Functor is created to get the greeting message:

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Promise<String> greeting = new Functor<String>() { @Override protected Promise<String> doExecute() throws Throwable { return client.getGreeting(); } }; client.printGreeting(greeting);

Order of Execution

Tasks become eligible for execution only when all Promise<T> typed parameters, passed to the corresponding asynchronous method or activity, become ready. A Task that is ready for execution is logically moved to a ready queue. In other words, it is scheduled for execution. The worker class executes the task by invoking the code that you wrote in the body of the asynchronous method, or by scheduling an activity task in Amazon Simple Workflow Service (AWS) in case of an activity method.

As tasks execute and produce results, they cause other tasks to become ready and the execution of the program keeps moving forward. The way the framework executes tasks is important to understand the order in which your asynchronous code executes. Code that appears sequentially in your program may not actually execute in that order.

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Promise<String> name = getUserName(); printHelloName(name); printHelloWorld(); System.out.println("Hello, Amazon!"); @Asynchronous private Promise<String> getUserName(){ return Promise.asPromise("Bob"); } @Asynchronous private void printHelloName(Promise<String> name){ System.out.println("Hello, " + name.get() + "!"); } @Asynchronous private void printHelloWorld(){ System.out.println("Hello, World!"); }

The code in the listing above will print the following:

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Hello, Amazon! Hello, World! Hello, Bob

This may not be what you expected but can be easily explained by thinking through how the tasks for the asynchronous methods were executed:

  1. The call to getUserName creates a Task. Let's call it Task1. Since getUserName doesn't take any parameters, Task1 is immediately put in the ready queue.

  2. Next, the call to printHelloName creates a Task that needs to wait for the result of getUserName. Let's call it Task2. Since the requisite value isn't ready yet, Task2 is put in the wait list.

  3. Then a task for printHelloWorld is created and added to the ready queue. Let's call it Task3.

  4. The println statement then prints "Hello, Amazon!" to the console.

  5. At this point, Task1 and Task3 are in the ready queue and Task2 is in the wait list.

  6. The worker executes Task1, and its result makes Task2 ready. Task2 gets added to ready queue behind Task3.

  7. Task3 and Task2 are then executed in that order.

The execution of activities follows the same pattern. When you call a method on the activity client, it creates a Task that, upon execution, schedules an activity in Amazon SWF.

The framework relies on features like code generation and dynamic proxies to inject the logic for converting method calls to activity invocations and asynchronous tasks in your program.

Workflow Execution

The execution of the workflow implementation is also managed by the worker class. When you call a method on the workflow client, it calls Amazon SWF to create a workflow instance. The tasks in Amazon SWF should not be confused with the tasks in the framework. A task in Amazon SWF is either an activity task or a decision task. The execution of activity tasks is simple. The activity worker class receives activity tasks from Amazon SWF, invokes the appropriate activity method in your implementation, and returns the result to Amazon SWF.

The execution of decision tasks is more involved. The workflow worker receives decision tasks from Amazon SWF. A decision task is effectively a request asking the workflow logic what to do next. The first decision task is generated for a workflow instance when it is started through the workflow client. Upon receiving this decision task, the framework starts executing the code in the workflow method annotated with @Execute. This method executes the coordination logic that schedules activities. When the state of the workflow instance changes—for example, when an activity completes—further decision tasks get scheduled. At this point, the workflow logic can decide to take an action based on the result of the activity; for example, it may decide to schedule another activity.

The framework hides all these details from the developer by seamlessly translating decision tasks to the workflow logic. From a developer's point of view, the code looks just like a regular program. Under the covers, the framework maps it to calls to Amazon SWF and decision tasks using the history maintained by Amazon SWF. When a decision task arrives, the framework replays the program execution plugging in the results of the activities completed so far. Asynchronous methods and activities that were waiting for these results get unblocked, and the program execution moves forward.

The execution of the example image processing workflow and the corresponding history is shown in the following table.

Execution of thumbnail workflow

Workflow program execution History maintained by Amazon SWF
Initial execution
  1. Dispatch loop

  2. getImageUrls

  3. downloadImage

  4. createThumbnail (task in wait queue)

  5. uploadImage (task in wait queue)

  6. <next iteration of the loop>

  1. Workflow instance started, id="1"

  2. downloadImage scheduled

Replay
  1. Dispatch loop

  2. getImageUrls

  3. downloadImage image path="foo"

  4. createThumbnail

  5. uploadImage (task in wait queue)

  6. <next iteration of the loop>

  1. Workflow instance started, id="1"

  2. downloadImage scheduled

  3. downloadImage completed, return="foo"

  4. createThumbnail scheduled

Replay
  1. Dispatch loop

  2. getImageUrls

  3. downloadImage image path="foo"

  4. createThumbnail thumbnail path="bar"

  5. uploadImage

  6. <next iteration of the loop>

  1. Workflow instance started, id="1"

  2. downloadImage scheduled

  3. downloadImage completed, return="foo"

  4. createThumbnail scheduled

  5. createThumbnail completed, return="bar"

  6. uploadImage scheduled

Replay
  1. Dispatch loop

  2. getImageUrls

  3. downloadImage image path="foo"

  4. createThumbnail thumbnail path="bar"

  5. uploadImage

  6. <next iteration of the loop>

  1. Workflow instance started, id="1"

  2. downloadImage scheduled

  3. downloadImage completed, return="foo"

  4. createThumbnail scheduled

  5. createThumbnail completed, return="bar"

  6. uploadImage scheduled

  7. uploadImage completed

    ...

When a call to processImage is made, the framework creates a new workflow instance in Amazon SWF. This is a durable record of the workflow instance being started. The program executes until the call to the downloadImage activity, which asks Amazon SWF to schedule an activity. The workflow executes further and creates tasks for subsequent activities, but they can't be executed until the downloadImage activity completes; hence, this episode of replay ends. Amazon SWF dispatches the task for downloadImage activity for execution, and once it is completed, a record is made in the history along with the result. The workflow is now ready to move forward and a decision task is generated by Amazon SWF. The framework receives the decision task and replays the workflow plugging in the result of the downloaded image as recorded in the history. This unblocks the task for createThumbnail, and the execution of the program continues farther by scheduling the createThumbnail activity task in Amazon SWF. The same process repeats for uploadImage. The execution of the program continues this way until the workflow has processed all images and there are no pending tasks. Since no execution state is stored locally, each decision task may be potentially executed on a different machine. This allows you to easily write programs that are fault tolerant and easily scalable.

Nondeterminism

Since the framework relies on replay, it is important that the orchestration code (all workflow code with the exception of activity implementations) be deterministic. For example, the control flow in your program should not depend on a random number or the current time. Since these things will change between invocations, the replay may not follow the same path through the orchestration logic. This will lead to unexpected results or errors. The framework provides a WorkflowClock that you can use to get the current time in a deterministic way. See the section on Execution Context for more details.

Note

Incorrect Spring wiring of workflow implementation objects can also lead to nondeterminism. Workflow implementation beans as well as beans that they depend on must be in the workflow scope (WorkflowScope). For example, wiring a workflow implementation bean to a bean that keeps state and is in the global context will result in unexpected behavior. See the Spring Integration section for more details.