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

AWS Flow Framework Basic Concepts: Data Exchange Between Activities and Workflows

When you call an asynchronous activity client method, it immediately returns a Promise (also known as a Future) object, which represents the activity method's return value. Initially, the Promise is in an unready state and the return value is undefined. After the activity method completes its task and returns, the framework marshals the return value across the network to the workflow worker, which assigns a value to the Promise and puts the object in a ready state.

Even if an activity method has no return value, you can still use the Promise for managing workflow execution. If you pass a returned Promise to an activity client method or an asynchronous workflow method, it defers execution until the object is ready.

If you pass one or more Promises to an activity client method, the framework queues the task but defers scheduling it until all the objects are ready. It then extracts the data from each Promise and marshals it across the internet to the activity worker, which passes it to the activity method as a standard type.


If you need to transfer large amounts of data between workflow and activity workers, the preferred approach is to store the data in a convenient location and just pass the retrieval information. For example, you can store the data in an Amazon S3 bucket and pass the associated URL.

The Promise<T> Type

The Promise<T> type is similar in some ways to the Java Future<T> type. Both types represent values returned by asynchronous methods and are initially undefined. You access an object's value by calling its get method. Beyond that, the two types behave quite differently.

  • Future<T> is a synchronization construct that allows an application to wait on an asynchronous method's completion. If you call get and the object isn't ready, it blocks until the object is ready.

  • With Promise<T>, synchronization is handled by the framework. If you call get and the object isn't ready, get throws an exception.

The primary purpose of Promise<T> is to manage data flow from one activity to another. It ensures that an activity doesn't execute until the input data is valid. In many cases, workflow workers don't need to access Promise<T> objects directly; they simply pass the objects from one activity to another and let the framework and the activity workers handle the details. To access a Promise<T> object's value in a workflow worker, you must be certain that the object is ready before calling its get method.

  • The preferred approach is to pass the Promise<T> object to an asynchronous workflow method and process the values there. An asynchronous method defers execution until all of its input Promise<T> objects are ready, which guarantees that you can safely access their values.

  • Promise<T> exposes an isReady method that returns true if the object is ready. Using isReady to poll a Promise<T> object isn't recommended, but isReady is useful in certain circumstances. For an example, see AWS Flow Framework Recipes.

The AWS Flow Framework for Java also includes a Settable<T> type, which is derived from Promise<T> and has similar behavior. The difference is that the framework usually sets the value of a Promise<T> object and the workflow worker is responsible for setting the value of a Settable<T> For an example, see AWS Flow Framework Recipes

There are some circumstance where a workflow worker needs to create a Promise<T> object and set its value. For example, an asynchronous method that returns a Promise<T> object needs to create a return value.

  • To create an object that represents a typed value, call the static Promise.asPromise method, which creates a Promise<T> object of the appropriate type, sets its value, and puts it in the ready state.

  • To create a Promise<Void> object, call the static Promise.Void method.


Promise<T> can represent any valid type. However, if the data must be marshaled across the internet, the type must be compatible with the data converter. See the next section for details.

Data Converters and Marshaling

The AWS Flow Framework marshals data across the internet by using a data converter. By default, the framework uses a data converter that is based on the Jackson JSON processor. However, this converter has some limitations. For example, it can't marshal maps that don't use strings as keys. If the default converter isn't sufficient for your application, you can implement a custom data converter. For details, see DataConverters.