Crate genserver

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genserver: generate a server

This is a neat little create for building async actor-based applications, inspired by Elixir’s GenServer, powered by Tokio.

This crate is currently nightly-only, and requires unstable features (#![feature(type_alias_impl_trait, impl_trait_in_assoc_type)]).


Erlang’s OTP has reached legend amongst computer people for its rock solid reliability, super cool concurrency, failure handling, hot code reloading, and web scale innovation. This excellent documentary film provides a good overview of some of the coolness of Erlang.

This crate has nothing to do Erlang, but it takes inspiration from Elixir (Erlang’s younger, ever more hip successor) and its GenServer. Here we provide a method and interface for creating very simple actors which can call other actors and reply to messages.

Due to some quirks of the current Rust async implementation, this crate has to do a few janky things to make everything work nice, however the end result is a nice little API for building legendary actor-based systems. For example, Rust doesn’t yet support async methods in traits, but we can provide similar behaviour by enabling a few unstable features.

Underneath the hood, Tokio is leveraged for its sweet concurrency primitives. You can generate as many servers as you’d like, and each is spawned into its own async context (like a thread, but not exactly).

We can build some really cool stuff using this very simple abstraction. And since it all runs within an async context, we can build super fast web scale technology in no time. Plus we get all the benefits of Rust, especially the bragging rights.

For more usage examples (aside from what’s in the docs), check out the tests in tests/ within this crate.


To get started, you’ll need to do 3 things:

  • Define one or more servers, which respond to calls and casts, and implement the GenServer trait.
  • Define a registry with make_registry, which starts and managers the servers you define
  • Enable the type_alias_impl_trait features at the crate level.

When we make a call, the call will block until it returns a result from the server. When we make a cast, the cast returns immediately after it’s dispatched to the server.

We need to start our registry within an async context. Refer

Here is a minimal code example showing a server, MyServer, which implements GenServer. We then create a registry and start it.

// this feature must be enabled at the crate level
#![feature(type_alias_impl_trait, impl_trait_in_assoc_type)]

use std::future::Future;

use genserver::{make_registry, GenServer};

struct MyServer {
    // Any state your server needs can go right
    // in here. We keep a registry around in case
    // we want to call any other servers from our
    // server.
    registry: MyRegistry,

impl GenServer for MyServer {
    // Message type for this server.
    type Message = String;
    // The type of the registry defined by the `make_registry` attribute macro.
    type Registry = MyRegistry;
    // The response type for calls.
    type Response = String;

    // The call response type, a future, which returns Self::Response.
    type CallResponse<'a> = impl Future<Output = Self::Response> + 'a;
    // The cast response type, also a future, which returns unit.
    type CastResponse<'a> = impl Future<Output = ()> + 'a;

    fn new(registry: Self::Registry) -> Self {
        // When are server is started, the registry passes a copy
        // of itself here. We keep it around so we can call
        // other servers from this one.
        Self { registry }

    // Calls to handle_call will block until our `Response` is returned.
    // Because they return a future, we can return an async block here.
    fn handle_call(&mut self, message: Self::Message) -> Self::CallResponse<'_> {
        println!("handle_call received {}", message);
        std::future::ready("returned from handle_call".into())

    // Casts always return (), because they do not block callers and return
    // immediately.
    fn handle_cast(&mut self, message: Self::Message) -> Self::CastResponse<'_> {
        println!("handle_cast received {}", message);

    myserver: MyServer
struct MyRegistry;

tokio_test::block_on(async {
    let registry = MyRegistry::start().await;

    let response = registry
        .call_myserver("calling myserver".into())
        .cast_myserver("casting to myserver".into())

Note that in the code above, MyServer::handle_call and MyServer::handle_cast return futures. That means you can include an async block within the function and return it. Refer to GenServer for more details.

Supplying initialization data to your server

With Elixir’s GenServer, you can initialize state with the init() method. However, in Rust this is a bit tricky due to the type rules, and it makes the implementation much more complicated.

The GenServer trait lets you control the initialization of your server with the new() method. However, there’s no way to pass additional parameters to new(). Instead, you have 2 options:

  1. You can simply create a message with initial parameters, and send that message to your server immediately after launching. This is the best option, though it has some drawbacks such as needing to make most fields optional.
  2. You could add fields to your Registry. This is the least preferred option, as the registry should be immutable and easy to make many copies of.

Handling state within servers

Each server instance you create is essentially an ordinary struct, but it’s owned and created by the registry. Moving state into your struct can be accomplished by sending it messages with state (Pro Tip: use enums for messages). Your server struct can contain any arbitrary state you want.

For example, you can create a server like this:

use std::collections::HashMap;

pub struct MyStatefulServer {
    map: HashMap<String, String>,

And in your new() implementation for GenServer::new(), you can initialize map with an empty hashmap using map: HashMap::new(). You can also use Option to wrap fields which require state initialization after your server is started, and send a message to your server to initialize that state.

Changing channel queue size

We use bounded queues, which provide backpressure when queues are full. This is probably not something you’ll need to worry much about, but if (for some reason) you want to change the channel queue length, it can be done so by implementing the GenServer::channel_queue_size() method for your server.

Scaling to lots of things

Each GenServer is spawned with tokio::task::spawn() into its own main loop, but within each loop all tasks are executed within a local thread. Thus, each individual server instance is thread-bound. In order to increase parallelism, you need to split up your service into more GenServer instances.

Creating new servers is relatively cheap, and making calls between them is also cheap. The more separate servers you introduce, the higher a level of parallelism you can achieve. For a processing pipeline that needs to be highly parallelized, simply create a new server for each step or stage of your pipeline and have each stage hand off to the next.


  • Internal JoinSet implementation. This API is subject to change.



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