Scalaz Stream is a relatively new concurrency and dataflow library for Scala. Near as I can tell, it's single-box use cases are the same as Akka's, provided you don't plan to build a distributed system. I've been struggling to learn the library, and figured I'd write down my thoughts in the hopes of making other people's learning experience easier.


The core object in Scalaz Stream is the Process[F[_], X]. A process can be thought of as a stream of values of type X together with an effect system of type F[_]. The typical case will take F[_] to be Task[_], but that is not fundamentally necessary. For those unfamiliar with Task, here is a great tutorial on it.

The idea of a Process is that you can run the Process via one of several run methods, and this will process the stream in the F[_] effect system. Lets look at some (oversimplified - look here for the real ones) type signatures:

trait Process[F[_], X] {
  def run(implicit m: Monad[F]): F[Unit]
  def runLast(implicit m: Monad[F]): F[X]
  def runLog(implicit m: Monad[F]): F[IndexedSeq[X]]

The run method runs the process but discards the result - the only reason to run the computation is for it's effects (which are captured by F). The runLast method runs the stream and captures it's last value, as well as it's effects. The runLog method runs the process, captures it's effects and captures a log of the entire stream. (Yes, runLog can use a LOT of memory.)

To start with, lets look at a Process[List,Int]. The effect of the List[_] monad is that a list of values is returned. In this example, Process.range(0,10) returns a Process which generates the numbers between 0 and 10.

scala> val p: Process[List,Int] = Process.range(0,10)

res5: List[Unit] = List(())

scala> p.runLast
res10: List[Option[Int]] = List(Some(9))

scala> p.runLog
res11: List[IndexedSeq[Int]] = List(Vector(0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9))

If one wanted to do more complex effects, one would replace List[_] with IO[_] or DatabaseTransaction[_], or whatever.

Starting a Process

In Scalaz Streaming, there are a variety of ways of creating a Process. The simplest, albeit most boring:

scala> import
scala> val p = Process(1,2,3,4,5)
p:[Nothing,Int] = Emit(WrappedArray(1, 2, 3, 4, 5))

Scalaz streaming provides a few analogues of standard scala methods:

val lns: Process[Task,String] = io.linesR("inputfile.txt")

This is exactly what it looks like - a stream comprised of the lines of an input file. The monad here is Task, which is Scalaz's version of Future - again, go read the tutorial.

Another way to create a process is via This is done as follows:


val q = async.unboundedQueue[String]

while (true) {
  val inputString = readFromTheNetwork()
  q.enqueueOne( inputString ).run


val stringsFromTheNetwork: Process[Task,String] = q.dequeue

This is how you write procedural code to interface with java/scala libraries (e.g. servlets, akka), and put it into Scalaz Stream. The stringsFromTheNetwork variable is the resulting stream. Other methods include:

val f: Task[A] = Task.async { ... } //Do something to create an object
val repeatedF: Process[Task,A] = Process.repeatEval(f) //Do it again and again

Another tool for creating Process[Task,A] objects is signals:


val signal = async.signal[Boolean]
val signalChanges: Process[Task,Boolean] = signal.discrete

//Thread 1
signal.set(true).run // Time = 1
signal.set(true).run // Time = 2
signal.set(false).run //Time = 3
//Thread 2 => {
  println("" + x + " -> " + System.currentTimeMillis)
// Will print:
// true -> 1
// false -> 3

Another useful method in realtime operations is Process.awakeEvery:

import scala.concurrent.duration._
val clock = Process.awakeEvery(1 seconds)

Every second, a new value will enter the clock process, namely 1 seconds, 2 seconds, 3 seconds, etc (the actual values may vary a little bit).

What's with

The astute reader might be wondering why I did Was it a typo? Did I intend to do (no)? The reason is this - we are invoking run first on the Process[Task,_] object, and second on the Task[_] object itself.

scala> process
res0: Process[Task,Boolean]

res1: Task[Unit]

res2: Unit

So the first invocation of run is, and results in a Task[Unit]. The second run is Another way to see it:

scala> process
res0: Process[Task,Boolean]

scala> process.runLast
res1: Task[Option[Int]]

res2: Option[Int]

Manipulating the process

So great. We've got a stream of values. What do we do with it?

As you might expect, all the standard Scala functional programming methods are supported:

val p: Process[Task,Int] = Process.range(0,10)

val mapResult = => "the value is " + x)
// Vector("the value is 0", "the value is 1", ...)

val filterResult = p.filter(x => x % 2 == 0)
Vector(0, 2, 4, 6, 8)

The flatmap method is a bit trickier, since it operates at the Process level:

p.flatMap(x => Process(x, x-1)).runLog
// Result: Vector(0, -1, 1, 0, 2, 1, 3, 2, 4, 3, 5, 4, 6, 5, 7, 6, 8, 7, 9, 8)

These are all interesting, but none actually allow us to run a real streaming computation. To do many interesting operations we need to be able to build a general causal function. A causal function is a function that depends on the past and present (i.e., earlier values in the stream) but not the future. This can be accomplished with the scan method:

val runningTotal = p.scan(0)( (state, newValue) => state + newValue)
// Vector(0, 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45)
// Vector(initialState, initialState + firstElement, initial state + firstElement + secondElement, etc)

So in principle, process.scan(initialState)( (state, input) => state) is the Streaming equivalent of building a stateful actor (e.g. Akka style) and having that actor process a stream of values.

Processes can be zipped together:

val lettersAndNumbers = (Process.emitAll(List(1,2,3)) zip (Process.emitAll(List("a", "b", "c"))
// Process contains (1,a), (2,b), (3,c)

Combining streams

Streams can be combined in a variety of ways. One tool is the Wye (named after the Wye rail). A wye is a tool for merging streams. For example, one method it has is dynamic. This method takes two functions, one function of the left stream, the other of the irght stream, and it uses these functions to determine which stream to receive from next. A simple example which alternates between streams:

val l = Process.emitAll(List(1,2,3,4,5))
val r = Process.emitAll(List("a", "b", "c", "d", "e"))

val w = wye.dynamic((x:Int) => wye.Request.R, (y:String) => wye.Request.L)

// Result is Vector(ReceiveL(1), ReceiveR(a), ReceiveL(2), ReceiveR(b), ReceiveL(3), ReceiveR(c), ReceiveL(4), ReceiveR(d), ReceiveL(5), ReceiveR(e))

Another version - this one only requests from the right stream whenever the left element is divisible by three:

val w = wye.dynamic((x:Int) => if (x % 3 == 0) { wye.Request.R } else { wye.Request.L }, (y:String) => wye.Request.L)

/// Result is Vector(ReceiveL(1), ReceiveL(2), ReceiveL(3), ReceiveR(a), ReceiveL(4), ReceiveL(5))

Putting the pieces together: an example

Lets now consider the following situation. We receive an incoming stream of true/false events. We want to keep a rolling total of both the number of events, and the number which were true. Separately, we have a stream of incoming requests, and for each request we want to return the current value of (allEvents, trueEvents).

So consider the first stream as input data, and the second stream as a monitoring process.

To begin we have our source:

val input: Process[Task,Boolean] = Process.awakeEvery(300 milliseconds)(Strategy.DefaultStrategy, Strategy.DefaultTimeoutScheduler).map(_ => (math.random < 0.3))

We will use the scan method to keep track of the current counts:

val counter = input.scan( (0L,0L) )( (count, event) => ( count._1+1, count._2 + (if (event) { 1L } else { 0L }) ) )

We will then want to generate a Signal which is always set to the current value of the counts:


val sig = async.signal[(Long,Long)]
val snk = sig.sink
val counterToSignal = counter
        .map( x => async.mutable.Signal.Set( x ) : async.mutable.Signal.Msg[(Long,Long)] )

Task.fork( ).runAsync( _ => () ) //Run this in a separate thread

The async.mutable.Signal.Set(x) is a message which, when received by a signal.sink, will set the signal to x. Ok, we are now tracking statistics.

The other side of the process, which takes requests and returns responses, is a bit trickier. First consider the stream of requests:

val requestSignal = Process.awakeEvery(1000 milliseconds)(Strategy.DefaultStrategy, Strategy.DefaultTimeoutScheduler)

To combine the request stream and the statistics signal, we use a Wye:

val w = wye.dynamic( (_:Any) => wye.Request.R, (_:Any) => wye.Request.L)

val responseStream = requestSignal.wye(stateSignal)(w).filter( _.isR ).map(_ match {
      case ReceiveY.ReceiveR(x) => x
      case _ => ???
    }).map(x => println("Response " + x))

The responseStream will now a output a response whenever a request is received. Typical output:

Response (3,2)
Response (6,3)
Response (9,4)
Response (13,5)
Response (16,6)
Response (19,7)
Response (23,8)
Response (26,8)
Response (29,11)
Response (33,13)


This is where the story becomes less than pretty. Here is a fairly straightforward benchmark, comparing Scalaz Stream to it's closest competitor - Akka. I build a wrapper class case class Wrapper(x: Long, y: Long) with a + method that behaves in the obvious way and compute a rolling sum of 1024*1024 wrappers. In stream, it's done as follows (full code):

q.dequeue.scan(Wrapper(0,0))( (state, w) => (state + w) ).scan(0L)( (count, w) => {
  if (count == finishCount) {
    finishTime = System.currentTimeMillis
    count + 1

In Akka the code is considerably longer, but more or less similar - just using Actors to handle the state. In Akka the whole process takes about 10 seconds. In Scalaz Stream, the process takes 42 seconds. I'm not sure if this is due to Scalaz Stream or perhaps just my current inability to write performant code in it. However, stream can definitely be sped up - a little playing around gave me this pull request which makes about 10x faster than before.

Browsing the source code, it appears that Scalaz Stream certainly does a lot of object creation (some of it appears unnecessary), probably more than Akka. On the other hand it hits thread pools less. In principle (perhaps by polluting the innards of Scalaz Stream with some imperative code) it should be possible to improve performance.

See also

You must read Task: The Missing Documentation.

Paul Chiusano (author of Scalaz-Stream) has a useful slideshow on it, albeit one or two versions out of date.

Scalaz Stream - Reactive in Reverse is also worth reading. This slideshow emphasizes how Scalaz Stream is pull rather than push.

I also wrote about Agents - a purely functional alternative to actors, which is a thin library on top of Scalaz Stream.

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