Elixir process timeout pitfall

If you taken a look at Elixir, you may have come across something like the below code

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defmodule HardWorker do
def work(id) do
Process.sleep(id * 900)
{:done, id}
end
end
defmodule Runner do
@total_timeout 1000
def run do
{us, _} = :timer.tc &work/0
IO.puts "ELAPSED_TIME: #{us/1000}"
end
def work do
tasks = Enum.map 1..10, fn id ->
Task.async(HardWorker, :work, [id])
end
Enum.map(tasks, fn task ->
Task.await(task, @total_timeout)
end)
end
end
Runner.run

Looks simple enough, we loop over and create 10 processes and then wait for them to finish. It also prints out a message ELAPSED_TIME: _ at the end where _ is the time taken for it to run all the processes.

Can you take a guess how long this runner will take in the worst case?

If you guessed 10 seconds, you are right! I didn’t guess 10 seconds when I first saw this kind of code. I expected it to exit after 1 second. However, the key here is that Task.await is called on 10 tasks and if the 10 tasks finish at the end of 1s, 2s, … 10s This code will run just fine.

This is a completely made up example but it should show you that running in parallel with timeouts is not just a Task.await away.

I have coded an example app with proper timeout handling and parallel processing at https://github.com/minhajuddin/parallel_elixir_workers Check it out.

Addendum

I posted this on the elixirforum and got some feedback about it.

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tasks = Enum.map 1..10, fn id ->
Task.async(HardWorker, :work, [id])
end
# at this point all tasks are running in parallel
Enum.map(tasks, fn task ->
Task.await(task, @total_timeout)
end)

Let us take another look at the relevant code. Now, let us say that this is spawning processes P1 to P10 in that order. Let’s say tasks T1 to T10 are created for these processes. Now all these tasks are running concurrently.

Now, in the second Enum.map, in the first iteration the task is set to T1, so T1 has to finish before 1 second otherwise this code will timeout. However, while T1 is running T2..T10 are also running. So, when this code runs for T2 and waits for 1 second, T2 had been running for 2s. So, effectively T1 would be given a time of 1 second, T2 a time of 2 seconds and T3 a time of 3 seconds and so on.

This may be what you want. However, if you want all the tasks to finish executing within 1 second. You shouldn’t use Task.await. You can use Task.yield_many which takes a list of tasks and allows you to specify a timeout after which it returns with the results of whatever processes finished. The documentation for Task.yield_many has a very good example on how to use it.

@benwilson512 has a good example on this

..suppose you wrote the following code:

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task = Task.async(fn -> Process.sleep(:infinity) end)
Process.sleep(5_000)
Task.await(task, 5_000)

How long before it times out? 10 seconds of course. But this is obvious and expected. This is exactly what you’re doing by making the Task.await calls consecutive. It’s just that instead of sleeping in the main process you’re waiting on a different task. Task.await is blocking, this is expected.


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