Software ICs

“Complexity must be grown from simple systems that already work.” —Kevin Kelly

Occasionally it is necessary in a design for two receiver processes to exchange messages. The courier construct illustrated below is a good way to accommodate this requirement.

Figure 6. Courier

A typical example would involve a user-interface process. Typically user interfaces, be they simple text-based interaction or GUIs, want to be receiver-type processes. It is not often that you would want the user interface to block on a send. Very often in these designs the user interface (UI) requires information from another receiver process. If you went ahead and coded a blocking send into the UI then you could potentially have a place in the operation of the UI where the interface would freeze while the request was being serviced. This may not be the desired behavior.

The courier construct takes advantage of the delayed reply concept illustrated in the agency construct above. In our discussion we will assume that the UI process is “receiver1” and the recipient process is “receiver2”. When the courier process is started the first thing it does is locate the UI process it is designated to service. Once located, the courier will send a registration-type message to that process indicating that it is ready for action. The UI process will simply note that the courier is available and not reply, thereby leaving the courier reply blocked. At the point in the UI where the asynchronous request to the receiver2 process needs to be accomplished, a message is composed and sent (replied) via the courier. The courier is now unblocked and proceeds to locate and forward the message to the receiver2 process using a blocking send. At this point the courier is reply blocked on receiver2 and the UI is completely free to do other things as permitted by its logic. When receiver2 replies to the courier, the courier simply forwards that reply on to the UI process using a blocking send and once again becomes reply blocked on the UI. The UI receives this message in the normal manner, notes that it came via the courier, marks that the courier is once again available and processes the message in accordance with the logic coded.

This simple courier described above is a single request version. If a second UI request intended for the receiver2 process is generated within the UI before the courier returns its first response that request will be refused, siting the “busy courier”. A simple enhancement to this single request logic is to have a single-message-queuing capability in the UI. The “busy courier” response then would only come if a third UI request is attempted before the original response is received. In most UI processes this single message queue is more than adequate. A larger queue depth algorithm could be constructed readily, but the need for this is often indicative of a poor UI design elsewhere.

Another variation on the courier model is to have a parent process fork the couriers on demand. In some cases this capability is more desirable than having the courier prestarted along with the GUI process. The web applet type GUI applications are examples where this courier spawning technique is desirable.

Especially in user-interface designs, the courier construct is a very useful SIMPL building block indeed.


There are times in a design where there is a need for a one-to-many sender/receiver relationship. For simple cases, one can simply have the sender locate all the intended recipients and loop through sending to each. In more sophisticated designs the broadcaster construct illustrated below is very powerful.

Figure 7. Broadcaster

The broadcaster actually consists of two parts: a receiver and a sender. We call the sender part the broadcaster. The receiver is typically a message queue as we shall see shortly. It works in the following manner: and the queue looks after message queuing and sequencing. The broadcaster maintains a list of processes to send to.

A typical sequence may start with a receiver (say receiver1) deciding that it wishes to receive broadcast messages. As part of that sequence it sends a registration-type message to the broadcaster's queue process. The queue will then place a REGISTRATION-type message onto its internal queue. Meanwhile the broadcaster returns from one of its broadcast sequences by sending a message down to the queue process asking whether there are any new messages queued. In this example the REGISTRATION message for receiver1 is delivered as a reply to the broadcaster. When the broadcaster process detects that the message is a new REGISTRATION, it does a nameLocate on that the recipient (receiver1 in this example) and stores the ID in its internal broadcast list. It sends a confirmation message back to the queue process, which then proceeds to reply and unblock the original receiver (receiver1—who was temporarily a sender). If there were no more messages on the internal queue, the broadcaster would simply be left reply blocked at this stage. At this point the sender may send a message to the broadcaster's queue process that is intended for broadcast. Typically the queue would queue the message and reply immediately to the sender, but one could do a blocking send scheme similar to that of the registration process. If the queue detects that the broadcaster is reply blocked it immediately forwards the message via a reply to the broadcaster. Once the broadcaster gets the message it notes that this is not a registration and therefore is a message to be sent to all the registered recipients in its broadcast list. Once this series of sends is complete the broadcaster will send back to the queue for the next message and the process repeats.

When a recipient wishes to cancel its registration with the broadcaster, it simply repeats the registration process with a DEREGISTER message to the queue. It is typical that the queue would simply queue and acknowledge this request.

If a recipient “forgets” to deregister and simply vanishes, the next broadcast attempt will detect that condition and the broadcaster would proceed to remove that ID from its internal broadcast list.

The broadcaster construct is a very powerful SIMPL tool. A typical example of its use would be to synchronize multiple instances of a GUI applet with the same information.



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