Tiny library allowing you to forego sync primitives in favor of object-oriented concurrent actors, executing independently from each other in parallel and receiving messages to react to - one at a time each.

Programming language: C++
License: MIT License

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Light Actor Framework

Concurrency is a breeze. Also a nightmare, if you ever used synchronization techniques. Mostly a nightmare, though. This tiny library allows you to forego sync primitives in favor of object-oriented concurrent actors, executing independently from each other in parallel and receiving messages to react to - one at a time each.

Take a listen.

Quick feature rundown

  • Quick and scalable concurrency
  • Memory-cheap actors for concurrent execution instead of heavy std::thread objects.
  • Cross-platform, C++20 compliant.
  • Hot-swap actors at any time to respond to messages differently.
  • Stash and discard messages using the special return type MaybeLater<A>.
  • Don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. Thrown exceptions are handled by parent actors up the chain.
  • Restart actors on failure seamlessly.
  • Synchronous access to any actor on demand, if your situation requires it.

Here is a short taste.

#include <iostream>
#include <Laugh/Actor.inl>
using namespace laugh;

struct Counter: Actor
    int i = 0;
    int Increment() { return ++i; }

struct User: Actor
    void PlayAround()
        auto counter = Self().Make<Counter>();
        for(int i = 0; i < 50; ++i)
            // Fifty concurrent messages!

        // How far has the counter come so far?
        Ask(counter, &Counter::Increment)
            ->AndThen([](ActorRef<Actor> self, int there)
            std::cout << "So far, he's at " << there
                      << std::endl;

int main()
    // Let a set of three OS threads do the message processing.
    ActorContext acts{3};
    // Just create an actor like this. Even with arguments,
    // if you want to. And if the constructor allows it.
    auto user = acts.Make<User>();

    // Done and done.

    std::cout << "Meanwhile, main thread sips coffee." << std::endl;

For more information on actors as concurrency units, you'll find plenty on the internet. A good place to get to know actors is Akka, which this project is trying to ape a bit (and fail horribly at it).

Build and requirements

You'll need a fairly compliant C++20 compiler and CMake. For generating the documentation, Doxygen will be necessary.

I have tested this on Clang 13.0.0 and g++-11 on an Apple macOS machine, but I'm confident that this project will compile without any hassle on the vc++ compiler as well, since this project only depends on the standard library and the concurrentqueue module, which is itself C++11 compliant.

Note that Apple Clang 13.0.0 will not compile this as of October 14, 2021, and neither will all Clang compilers of version 12 and lower; on a Macintosh I recommend getting a fresh Clang 13.0.0 build and doing:

# If you're using homebrew, great! Easy-peasy.
brew install llvm doxygen

To build the project and examples, do

# Clone the repo.
git clone https://github.com/tyckesak/laugh
cd laugh

# If you don't have a recent enough C++20 compiler in your $PATH, append
# the CMake flag '-DCMAKE_CXX_COMPILER=«Path to compiler»'
cmake .

# Then do
cmake --build .

For installing the library and the dependency headers, do

cmake --install .

To build the docs, do

cmake --build . --target docs

To re-download the concurrentqueue module, do

# Might need to do this if the compiler can't find the
# concurrentqueue headers.
cmake --build . --target concurrentqueue

The examples and documentation will tell you the rest.

Memory footprint

Whenever a foreign library owns your memory, it might be a good idea to ask how much memory it occupies and in what way. I am planning for allocator support some time in the future; in the meantime, I have taken to finding out how much memory each of the critical pieces of infrastructure use. The numbers below have been obtained by compiling the project and examples under a Macintosh x64 using the g++ 11 compiler - the results might change depending on the compiler, architecture and OS used to compile it on.

  • Actor's minimum footprint is 32 bytes plus x, depending on how many members your actor subclasses add.
  • One ActorRef<A> takes up 16 bytes of space.
  • The internal bookkeeping structure occupies 160 bytes, and its memory is separate from your own Actors.
  • One sent message is about ~50 bytes in size plus storage for each of your arguments passed alongside it.
  • If playing with the thought to be called back when the receiver responds, plan with an additional 144 bytes for the EventualResponse<A>.

Project structure

I try to keep a clean online repo with as few files as possible to make exploration easier - upon building the project on your local machine however, you'll see a couple more files and directories spring into existence inside the project root directory, including - but not limited to

  • Extern/ - external project dependencies are cloned there, i.e. concurrentqueue
  • Library/ - the directory containing the shared/static library after building
  • Doxygen/ - contains the Doxygen generated doc files
  • Makefiles for your platform
  • Documentation cache files created by Doxygen
  • CMakeFiles/ - intermediate object files

Why that name?

I thought I would do a quick sketch of what a code-light C++ actor framework would look like, and it started to become something quite usable. The contraction of "Light Actor Framework" would be LAF, spoken quickly it eventually turned into "laugh", which turned out to be fitting because this project is laughably small, and easy to grasp and use.


@cameron314 and contributors on making a concurrent queue that really stands out!