June 12, 2014

There is no Fork: an Abstraction for Efficient, Concurrent, and Concise Data Access

ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Functional Programming (ICFP)

By: Simon Marlow, Louis Brandy, Jon Coens, Jon Purdy

Abstract

We describe a new programming idiom for concurrency, based on Applicative Functors, where concurrency is implicit in the Applicative <*> operator. The result is that concurrent programs can be written in a natural applicative style, and they retain a high degree of clarity and modularity while executing with maximal concurrency. This idiom is particularly useful for programming against external data sources, where the application code is written without the use of explicit concurrency constructs, while the implementation is able to batch together multiple requests for data from the same source, and fetch data from multiple sources concurrently. Our abstraction uses a cache to ensure that multiple requests for the same data return the same result, which frees the programmer from having to arrange to fetch data only once, which in turn leads to greater modularity.

While it is generally applicable, our technique was designed with a particular application in mind: an internal service at Facebook that identifies particular types of content and takes actions based on it. Our application has a large body of business logic that fetches data from several different external sources. The framework described in this paper enables the business logic to execute efficiently by automatically fetching data concurrently; we present some preliminary results.