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AspectJ with Akka and Scala

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AspectJ with Akka and Scala

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Learn how to troubleshoot and diagnose some of the most common performance issues in Java today. Brought to you in partnership with AppDynamics.

Imagine that you need to find out how your actors are performing, but without using the Typesafe Console. (You don’t actually want to use this code in production, but it is an interesting project to learn.) What we are interested in is intercepting the receiveMessage call of the ActorCell class.

A Short Introduction to AOP

We could roll our own build of Akka, but that is not a good idea. Instead, we would like to somehow modify the bytecode of the existing Akka JARs to include our instrumentation code. It turns out that we can use aspect oriented programming to implement cross-cutting concerns in our code.

Cross-cutting concerns are pieces of code that cut across the object hierarchy; in other words, we inject the same functionality to different levels of our class structure. In OOP, the only way to share functionality is with inheritance. I will explain the simplest case here, but the same rules apply to mix-in inheritance. If I have:

class A {
  def foo: Int = 42
class B {
  def bar: Int = 42
class AA extends A
class BB extends B

Then the only way to share the implementation of foo is to extend A; the only way to share the implementation of bar is to extend B. Suppose we now want to measure how many times we call foo on all subtypes of A and bar, but only in subtypes of BB. This now turns out to be rather clumsy. Even if all we do is println("Executing foo") or println("Executing bar"), we have a lot of duplication on our hands.

Instead, we would like to write something like this:

before executing A.foo {
  println("Executing foo")

before executing BB.bar {
  println("Executing bar")	

And have some machinery apply this to the classes that make up our system. Importantly, we would like this logic to be applied to every subtype of A and every subtype of BB, even if we only have their compiled forms in a JAR.

Enter AspectJ

And this is exactly what AspectJ does. It allows us to define these cross-cutting concerns and to weave them into our classes. The weaving can be done at compile time, or even at class load time. In other words, the AspectJ weaver can modify the classes with our cross-cutting concerns as the JVM loads them.

The technical details now involve translating our before executing pseudo-syntax into the syntax that AspectJ can use. We are going to be particularly lazy and use AspectJ’s Java syntax.

package monitor;

import org.aspectj.lang.JoinPoint;
import org.aspectj.lang.annotation.Aspect;
import org.aspectj.lang.annotation.Before;
import org.aspectj.lang.annotation.Pointcut;

import javax.management.InstanceAlreadyExistsException;
import javax.management.MBeanRegistrationException;
import javax.management.MalformedObjectNameException;
import javax.management.NotCompliantMBeanException;

public class MonitorAspect {

    value = "execution (* akka.actor.ActorCell.receiveMessage(..))" +
            "&& args(msg)", 
    argNames = "msg")
  public void receiveMessagePointcut(Object msg) {}

  @Before(value = "receiveMessagePointcut(msg)", 
          argNames = "jp,msg")
  public void message(JoinPoint jp, Object msg) {
    // log the message
    System.out.println("Message " + msg);

The annotations come from the AspectJ dependencies, which, in SBT syntax are just:

"org.aspectj" % "aspectjweaver" % "1.7.2",
"org.aspectj" % "aspectjrt"     % "1.7.2"

Excellent. We have defined a pointcut, which you can imagine as a target in the structure of our system. In this particular case, the pointcut says on execution of the receiveMessage method in akka.actor...ActorCell class, with any parameters of any type (..), returning any type * as long as the argument is called msg and inferred to be of the type Object. Without an advice though, a pointcut would be useless–just like having a method that is never called. An advice applies our logic at the point identified by the pointcut. Here, we have the message advice, which runs on execution of the methods matched by the receiveMssagePointcut. At the moment, it does nothing of importance.

To see this in action, we need to tell the JVM to use the AspectJ weaver. We do so by specifying the Java agent, which registers a Java Instrumentation implementation, which performs the class file transformation. However, this transformation is costly. Imagine if we had to re-compile every class as it is loaded. To restrict the scope of the transformations, the AspectJ load-time weaver loads an XML file (boo, hiss, I know) from META-INF/aop.xml, which includes its settings.


    <aspect name="monitor.MonitorAspect"/>

  <weaver options="-XnoInline">
    <include within="monitor.*"/>
    <include within="akka.actor.*"/>


Now, to get it all running all you need to do is include javaagent:~/path-to/aspectjweaver.jar when we start the JVM.


Now that we have our monitor.MonitoringAspect and META-INF/aop.xml ready, all we need to do is implement the logic that records the messages and prints out their per-second averages. I will leave it to the curious reader to come up with a much better approach, but here is one that works, albeit in a very naive way:

package monitor;

import java.util.HashMap;
import java.util.Map;

class ActorSystemMessages {
    private final Map<Long, Integer> messages = new HashMap<>();

    void recordMessage() {
        long second = System.currentTimeMillis() / 1000;
        int count = 0;
        if (messages.containsKey(second)) {
            count = messages.get(second);
        messages.put(second, ++count);

    float average() {
        if (messages.isEmpty()) return 0;
        int total = 0;
        for (Integer i : messages.values()) {
            total += i;

        return total / messages.size();

We can now use it in our MonitorAspect:

public class MonitorAspect {
    private ActorSystemMessages asm = new ActorSystemMessages();

        value = "execution (* akka.actor.ActorCell.receiveMessage(..)) " +
                "&& args(msg)", 
        argNames = "msg")
    public void receiveMessagePointcut(Object msg) {}

    @Before(value = "receiveMessagePointcut(msg)", argNames = "jp,msg")
    public void message(JoinPoint jp, Object msg) {
        System.out.println("Average throughput " + asm.average());

Bringing in an Actor

Let's see it all run. We will make a simple actor. This time, we will use the Actor DSL. We are not interested that much in its behavior, but we want to see messages being sent around. So, we construct a simple App subclass with two actors. One that sends the messages around and one that prints any message it receives.

import akka.actor.{ActorRef, ActorSystem}

object Main extends App {
  import akka.actor.ActorDSL._
  import Commands._

  implicit val system = ActorSystem()

  val chatter = actor(new Act {
    become {
      case i: Int =>
        self ! (sender, i)
      case (sender: ActorRef, i: Int) =>
        if (i > 0)
          self ! (sender, i - 1)
          sender ! "zero"
  implicit val _ = actor(new Act {
    become {
      case x => println(">>> " + x)

  def commandLoop(): Unit = {
    readLine() match {
      case CountdownCommand(count) => chatter ! count.toInt

      case QuitCommand             => return




object Commands {
  val CountdownCommand = """(\d+)""".r
  val QuitCommand      = "quit"

The chatter actor, as you can see, receives the number of messages to be crunched. It then sends a message to itself as a tuple containing the original sender and the number of messages, which will continue to decrease until we hit 0, when we send the "zero"String back to the original sender.

As an interesting aside, we have the tail-recursive commandLoop() function that deals with the input that the users type in.

Running the Example

If you run the example without specifying the -javaagent JVM parameter, the aspect will not be weaved in; consequently, no bytecode will be modified and our logging will not work. Because your IDEs are different, the only reliable way is to run it in SBT. And so, execute sbt run, enter the number of messages and see them displayed.

Note that I’m setting the javaOptions, fork and connectInput. The javaOptions is obvious since that’s how I specify the -javaagent parameter and fork makes SBT fork the java process so that the javaOptions takes effect. Finally, the connectInput parameter connects the System.in to the console’s STDIN. (We must do this because we use readLine() in our app.)


Now, I don’t like println in the best of the times, and System.out.println is even worse. So, the last modification is to add JMX exporter and to expose the ActorSystemPerformance MBean. The rather baroque JMX code is:

public interface ActorSystemPerformanceMXBean {

    float getMessagesPerSecond();


public class ActorSystemPerformanceMXBeanImpl 
    implements ActorSystemPerformanceMXBean{
    private ActorSystemMessages messages;

    ActorSystemPerformanceMXBeanImpl(ActorSystemMessages messages) {
        this.messages = messages;

    public float getMessagesPerSecond() {

        return this.messages.average();


public class JMXEndpoint {
    public static void start(ActorSystemMessages messages) throws ... {
        MBeanServer mbs = ManagementFactory.getPlatformMBeanServer();
        ObjectName name = new ObjectName("monitor:type=Performance");
        ActorSystemPerformanceMXBeanImpl mbean = 
          new ActorSystemPerformanceMXBeanImpl(messages);
        mbs.registerMBean(mbean, name);

With this in place, we can remove the System.out.println and call the JMXEndpoint.start) method in the aspect’s constructor, giving us:

public class MonitorAspect {
    final ActorSystemMessages messages;

    public MonitorAspect() throws ... {
        this.messages = new ActorSystemMessages();

    public void receiveMessagePointcut(Object msg) {}

    public void message(JoinPoint jp, Object msg) {

Run the application using sbt run again, connect to the JMX MBean using jconsole and see the wonders:



This article is a simple exploration of AOP (as implemented in AspectJ) and its use in Scala and Akka. The implementation is very simplistic. If you use it in production, I will endorse you for Enterprise PHP on LinkedIn. However, it is an interesting exercise and really shows how Scala fits well into even the slightly more esoteric Java libraries. The source code for your compiling pleasure is at https//github.com/eigengo/activator-akka-aspectj.

Understand the needs and benefits around implementing the right monitoring solution for a growing containerized market. Brought to you in partnership with AppDynamics.


Published at DZone with permission of Jan Machacek, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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