24 Days of Hackage: acid-state

Earlier this month we looked at one way to add persistent state via the persistent library. This approach made use of existing technology and bridged the gap between Haskell types and persistent storage. Today, we’re going to look at an even more Haskell-orientated approach to persistent storage and explore David Himmelstrup’s acid-state library.

acid-state is a library that takes existing Haskell values and adds the ability to persist them so that state can be re-used across application invocations. However, acid-state is more than just a serialization method – as the name suggests, using acid-state you get the full set of ACID properties, which helps rule out a big class of errors.

For today’s example, I want to revisit an application where I used acid-state. At work we were using RabbitMQ as a standard worker queue to distribute work. If a job failed, a message would be added to a failures queue, with the intention that this would later be inspected by a human. Having people pull stuff out of RabbitMQ is messy, so I built a little web application to pull this queue out into a more queryable format. To make sure we didn’t actually lose any messages I needed persistent state, and I didn’t want to fuss around with external technology, so I decided to use acid-state as my storage layer.

The first thing you need to do when using acid-state is to define your entire database state. For this example, we need a way to uniquely identify failure messages, and we need a way to describe failures. An IntMap seems an appropriate structure for the former requirement, and we’ll write a new data type to describe each individual message. This gives us something like the following:

data Failure = Failure { failureReason :: String
                       , failureTime :: UTCTime
                       } deriving (Show, Typeable)

data FailureDb = FailureDb { allFailures :: IntMap Failure }
  deriving (Typeable)

The next step is to define some Haskell functions that operate on this database. At the very least, we’ll want the ability to query for all failures in the database in time order, and also to add new failures into the database. These functions are just Haskell functions that operate in the Query and Update monads, respectively. The Query monad is read-only, and is a lot like a Reader monad, while Update is a state monad. Starting with the query, we have:

failuresOverTime :: Query FailureDb [Failure]
failuresOverTime =
  sortBy (comparing failureTime) . IntMap.elems . allFailures <$> ask

We use the ask operation from the MonadReader type class (part of the mtl library) to query for the entire database, and then we fmap a pure transformation over this to convert our IntMap to a sorted list.

To add new failures to the database, we work in the Update monad by modifying the underlying state:

addFailure :: Failure -> Update FailureDb ()
addFailure failure = modify go
  go (FailureDb db) = FailureDb $
    case IntMap.maxViewWithKey db of
      Just ((max, _), _) -> IntMap.insert (max + 1) failure db
      Nothing            -> IntMap.singleton 1 failure

A little more involved, but still nothing out of the ordinary. We use modify from MonadState (again, from the mtl library) and modify our FailureDb IntMap accordingly. If it’s empty we use a singleton IntMap, otherwise we add a new Failure with a increased key.

We still haven’t seen any acid-state specific code yet, other than operating in the acid-state monads. The only acid-state specific work we need to do is promote the combination of our FailureDb type and these functions into acid-state queries. We can easily do this with a few lines of template Haskell:

deriveSafeCopy 0 'base ''Failure
deriveSafeCopy 0 'base ''FailureDb
makeAcidic ''FailureDb ['failuresOverTime, 'addFailure]

(Don’t worry about the deriveSafeCopy stuff, though we will touch on that at the end of this article).

Now we’re ready to start persisting some data! We need to do a little initial configuration to get things going, and we have a few options on where the data gets persisted. We can use an in-memory representation which is useful for testing, a local file, or even a remote acid-state server. We’ll do as little as possible to solve the problem, and use local storage. Below is an example of how we could query this database:

main :: IO ()
main = do
  state <- openLocalState (FailureDb IntMap.empty)

  -- Record a new failure
  now <- getCurrentTime
  update state (AddFailure $ Failure "ENOMISSLES" now)

  -- Query for all failures
  allFailures <- query state FailuresOverTime
  mapM_ print allFailures

Now we can run this multiple times, and observe the changing output:

$ for i in `seq 1 10`
do echo "Run $i:"; ./2013-12-14-acid-state ; echo ""; sleep 5;

Run 1:
Failure {failureReason = "ENOMISSLES", failureTime = 2013-12-14 17:42:07.82243 UTC}

Run 2:
Failure {failureReason = "ENOMISSLES", failureTime = 2013-12-14 17:42:07.82243 UTC}
Failure {failureReason = "ENOMISSLES", failureTime = 2013-12-14 17:42:12.83426 UTC}

Run 3:
Failure {failureReason = "ENOMISSLES", failureTime = 2013-12-14 17:42:07.82243 UTC}
Failure {failureReason = "ENOMISSLES", failureTime = 2013-12-14 17:42:12.83426 UTC}
Failure {failureReason = "ENOMISSLES", failureTime = 2013-12-14 17:42:17.846783 UTC}

We can cleary see that each successive run shows the previous modifications, and appends its own modification.


If you have a look at today’s code, you can see the majority of the code we had to write was interesting and essential code to our application. We had to define our state and some appropriate functions operating on that state, and then we handed it all over to acid-state to do the heavy lifting. This is perfect when it comes to prototyping – we don’t have to constrain ourselves to restrictions imposed by a certain query language or database model, we can just dive straight in to solving problems.

acid-state need not be restricted to only modeling prototypes. With safecopy, acid-state is able to keep up with changing data types transparently. safecopy lets you specify migrations between versions of data types, and it will automatically deal with migrating data as it needs to.

If you want to learn more about acid-state, check out the acid-state wiki, and also some other examples.

You can contact me via email at ollie@ocharles.org.uk or tweet to me @acid2. I share almost all of my work at GitHub. This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.