libactor documentation


libactor is a simple C library that helps you build an application based on the Actor model. It is currently not supported on Windows. Any Linux/BSD should be fine, as long as it supports pthreads.

The library works great, but one caveat is that if one actor crashes – they all fall down. In a future release there will be sandboxing of each actor to provide better reliability.


Once you have installed libactor, you just have to link it to your application with the flag -lactor.

You must include <libactor/actor.h> in your project as well.

Data Types

typedef long actor_id
An integer that refers to a unique actor’s ID.

This structure contains information about a message. The following fields are available:

The actor_id of the actor who sent the message.
A void* to the message data.
The size of the data.


This macro should be used in your main file. fun should be a function declared with the ACTOR_FUNCTION. This actor will be executed when the application starts.
ACTOR_FUNCTION(name, args)
This macro is used to declare an actor. name is the name of the function, and args is any arguments passed to the actor as a void*

Actor Management

actor_id spawn_actor(ACTOR_FUNCTION_PTR(func), void *args)
This functions spawns a new actor, the first argument should be the name of an actor created with ACTOR_FUNCTION. The second argument is passed to the actor when it is spawned. The actor_id is returned to the caller.
actor_id actor_self()
Returns the current actor’s id.
void actor_trap_exit(int action)
By setting action to 1, trap exit is enabled. This means that when you spawn an actor, when it exits, you will receive a ACTOR_MSG_EXITED message. This is good if you want to monitor any actors that you have spawned.


When sending a message, the type should be greater than 100, (anything below that may be used by the library).

void actor_send_msg(actor_id aid, long type, void *data, size_t size)

Sends a message to an actor. type is a user defined value. data is a pointer to a block of data that will be sent to the actor.

Note: The data is copied before being sent to the actor. If you are passing a structure, make sure that it doesn’t contain any pointers to memory, as this can cause a crash. data should be a complete message, see Memory Management.

void actor_broadcast_msg(long type, void *data, size_t size)
Broadcasts a message to all actors.
void actor_reply_msg(actor_msg_t *a, long type, void *data, size_t size)
Reply to a received message.
actor_msg_t *actor_receive()
Receives a message from the actor’s mailbox.
actor_msg_t *actor_receive_timeout(long timeout)
Same as actor_receive(), but let’s you specify a timeout (in milliseconds).

Memory Management

libactor uses pthreads for concurrency. If you allocate memory with malloc() and pass a pointer or try to access the memory in a different actor, your application may crash. Therefore, if you plan to send a message to another actor, make sure that the message is complete(no pointers, only raw data). See Example.

libactor provides some convenience functions for managing memory. Please use these in your actors. Reference counting is used to manage memory. When an actor exits, any unfreed memory will be automatically freed. (But you should still release anything you are not using).

void *amalloc(size_t size)
Allocates a block of memory for an actor.
void arelease(void *block)
Call this function to release the memory. The reference count is decremented. When it reaches 0, the actual memory is freed.
void aretain(void *block)
Retains a block of memory. Use this to hold on to a block of memory. The reference count is incremented.


This is okay:

struct user {
        char *username;
        char *password;
        int status;

struct user usermsg;

// initialize usermsg here

actor_send_msg(5, 1, &usermsg, sizeof(struct user));

This is bad:

struct usr_login_info {
        char *username;
        char *password;

struct user {
        struct usr_login_info *info;
        int status;

struct user usermsg;

// initialize usermsg here

actor_send_msg(5, 1, &usermsg, sizeof(struct user));

In the bad example, the user struct will be copied, but the pointer to info may then be accessed by multiple actors.

Ping/Pong Actor Example

Below is a simple example of how to use the actor library. One actor will be spawned which will then spawn another actor, send it a ping message, and loop.


#include <stdio.h>
#include <libactor/actor.h>

ACTOR_FUNCTION(pong_func, args) {
        actor_msg_t *msg;

        while(1) {
                msg = actor_receive();
                if(msg->type == PING_MSG) {
                        printf("PING! ");
                        actor_reply_msg(msg, PONG_MSG, NULL, 0);

ACTOR_FUNCTION(ping_func, args) {
        actor_msg_t *msg;
        actor_id aid = spawn_actor(pong_func, NULL);
        while(1) {
                actor_send_msg(aid, PING_MSG, NULL, 0);
                msg = actor_receive();
                if(msg->type == PONG_MSG) printf("PONG!\n");

ACTOR_FUNCTION(main_func, args) {
        struct actor_main *main = (struct actor_main*)args;
        int x;

        /* Accessing the arguments passed to the application */
        printf("Number of arguments: %d\n", main->argc);
        for(x = 0; x < main->argc; x++) printf("Argument: %s\n", main->argv[x]);

        /* PING/PONG example */
        spawn_actor(ping_func, NULL);

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