vigoo's software development blog

prox part 4 - simplified redesign

Posted on August 03, 2020

Blog post series


In Part 1 I described how the advanced type level programming techniques can be used to describe the execution of system processes. It was both a good playground to experiment with these and the result has been proven useful as we started to use it in more and more production systems and test environments at Prezi.

On the other hand as I mentioned at the end of the first post, there is a tradeoff. These techniques made the original version of prox very hard to maintain and improve, and the error messages library users got by small mistakes were really hard to understand.

Last December (in 2019) I redesigned the library to be simpler and easier to use by making some compromises. Let's discover how!

A single process

We start completely from scratch and try to design the library with the same functionality but with simplicity in mind. The code snippets shown here are not necessarily the final, current state of the traits and objects of the library, but some intermediate steps so we see the thought process.

First let's focus on defining a single process:

trait Process {
  val command: String
  val arguments: List[String]
  val workingDirectory: Option[Path]
  val environmentVariables: Map[String, String]
  val removedEnvironmentVariables: Set[String]    

Without deciding already how it will be implemented, we know we need these information to be able to launch the process alone. And how to execute it? Let's separate it completely:

trait ProcessResult {
  val exitCode: ExitCode

trait ProcessRunner {
  def start(process: Process): Resource[IO, Fiber[IO, ProcessResult]]

I decided that better integration with the IO library (cats-effect in this case) is also a goal of the redesign, so for starter modelled the running process as a cancellable fiber resulting in ProcessResult, where cancellation means terminating the process. At this stage of the redesign I worked directly with IO instead of the IO typeclasses and later replaced it like I described in the previous post.

Let's see how a simple runner implementation would look like:

import java.lang.{Process => JvmProcess}

class JVMProcessRunner(implicit contextShift: ContextShift[IO]) extends ProcessRunner {
  import JVMProcessRunner._

  override def start(process: Process): Resource[IO, Fiber[IO, ProcessResult]] = {
    val builder = withEnvironmentVariables(process,
        new ProcessBuilder((process.command :: process.arguments).asJava)))

    val start = IO.delay(new JVMRunningProcess(builder.start())).bracketCase { runningProcess =>
    } {
      case (_, Completed) =>
      case (_, Error(reason)) =>
      case (runningProcess, Canceled) =>
        runningProcess.terminate() >> IO.unit


Here withEnvironmentVariables and withWorkingDirectories are just helper functions around the JVM process builder. The more important part is the cancelation and that we expose it as a resource.

First we wrap the started JVM process in a JVMRunningProcess class which really just wraps some of it's operations in IO operations:

case class SimpleProcessResult(override val exitCode: ExitCode)
  extends ProcessResult

class JVMRunningProcess(val nativeProcess: JvmProcess) extends RunningProcess {
  override def isAlive: IO[Boolean] = IO.delay(nativeProcess.isAlive)
  override def kill(): IO[ProcessResult] = IO.delay(nativeProcess.destroyForcibly()) >> waitForExit()
  override def terminate(): IO[ProcessResult] = IO.delay(nativeProcess.destroy()) >> waitForExit()
  override def waitForExit(): IO[ProcessResult] =
    for {
      exitCode <- IO.delay(nativeProcess.waitFor())
    } yield SimpleProcessResult(ExitCode(exitCode))

Then we wrap the starting of the process with bracketCase, specifying the two cases:

This way the IO cancelation interface gets a simple way to wait for or terminate an executed process. By calling .start on this bracketed IO operation we move it to a concurrent fiber.

Finally we wrap it in a Resource, so if the user code starting the process got canceled, it releases the resource too that ends up terminating the process, leaving no process leaks. This is something that was missing from the earlier versions of the library.

To make starting processes more convenient we can create an extension method on the Process trait:

implicit class ProcessOps(private val process: Process) extends AnyVal {
  def start(implicit runner: ProcessRunner): Resource[IO, Fiber[IO, ProcessResult]] =


The next step was to implement input/output/error redirection. In the original prox library we had two important features, both implemented with type level techniques:

To keep the type signatures simpler I decided to work around these by sacrificing some genericity and terseness. Let's start by defining an interface for redirecting process output:

trait RedirectableOutput[+P[_] <: Process[_]] {
  def connectOutput[R <: OutputRedirection, O](target: R)(implicit outputRedirectionType: OutputRedirectionType.Aux[R, O]): P[O]
  // ...

This is not very much different than the output redirection operator in the previous prox versions:

def >[F[_], To, NewOut, NewOutResult, Result <: ProcessNode[_, _, _, Redirected, _]]
    (to: To)
     contextOf: ContextOf.Aux[PN, F],
     target: CanBeProcessOutputTarget.Aux[F, To, NewOut, NewOutResult],
     redirectOutput: RedirectOutput.Aux[F, PN, To, NewOut, NewOutResult, Result])

One of the primary differences is that we don't allow arbitrary targets just by requiring a CanBeProcessOutput type class. Instead we can only connect the output to a value of OutputRedirection which is an ADT:

sealed trait OutputRedirection
case object StdOut extends OutputRedirection
case class OutputFile(path: Path, append: Boolean) extends OutputRedirection
case class OutputStream[O, +OR](pipe: Pipe[IO, Byte, O], runner: Stream[IO, O] => IO[OR], chunkSize: Int = 8192) extends OutputRedirection

We still need a type level calculation to extract the result type of the OutputStream case (which is the OR type parameter). This extracted by the following trait with the help of the Aux pattern:

trait OutputRedirectionType[R] {
  type Out
  def runner(of: R)(nativeProcess: JvmProcess, blocker: Blocker, contextShift: ContextShift[IO]): IO[Out]

The important difference from earlier versions of the library is that this remains completely an implementation detail. OutputRedirectionType is implemented for all three cases of the OutputRedirection type and connectOutput is not even used in the default use cases, only when implementing redirection for something custom.

Instead the RedirectableOutput trait itself defines a set of operators and named function versions for redirecting to different targets. With this we loose a general-purpose, type class managed way to redirect to anything but improve a lot on the usability of the library. All these functions are easily discoverable from the IDE and there would not be any weird implicit resolution errors.

Let's see some examples of these functions:

trait RedirectableOutput[+P[_] <: Process[_]] {
  // ...
  def >(sink: Pipe[IO, Byte, Unit]): P[Unit] = toSink(sink)
  def toSink(sink: Pipe[F, Byte, Unit]): P[Unit] = 
    connectOutput(OutputStream(sink, (s: Stream[F, Unit]) => s.compile.drain))
  def >#[O: Monoid](pipe: Pipe[F, Byte, O]): P[O] = toFoldMonoid(pipe)
  def toFoldMonoid[O: Monoid](pipe: Pipe[F, Byte, O]): P[O] =
    connectOutput(OutputStream(pipe, (s: Stream[F, O]) => s.compile.foldMonoid))
  def >>(path: Path): P[Unit] = appendToFile(path)
  def appendToFile(path: Path): P[Unit] =
    connectOutput(OutputFile[F](path, append = true))    
  // ...

All of them are just using the connectOutput function so implementations of the RedirectableOutput trait need to define that single function to get this capability.

Note that connectOutput has a return type of P[O] instead of being just Process. This is important for multiple reasons.

First, in order to actually execute the output streams, we need to store it somehow in the Process data type itself. For this reason we add a type parameter to the Process trait representing the output type and store the output stream runner function itself in it:

trait Process[O] {
  // ...
  val outputRedirection: OutputRedirection
  val runOutputStream: (JvmProcess, Blocker, ContextShift[IO]) => IO[O]

Note that runOutputStream is actually the OutputRedirectiontype.runner function, got from the "hidden" type level operation and stored in the process data structure. With this, the process runner can be extended to pass the started JVM process to this function that sets up the redirection, and then store the result of type O in ProcessResult[O]:

override def start[O](process: Process[O], blocker: Blocker): Resource[IO, Fiber[IO, ProcessResult[O]]] = {
  // ... process builder
  val outputRedirect = process.outputRedirection match {
    case StdOut => ProcessBuilder.Redirect.INHERIT
    case OutputFile(path) =>
    case OutputStream(_, _, _) => ProcessBuilder.Redirect.PIPE

  val startProcess = for {
    nativeProcess <- IO.delay(builder.start())
    runningOutput <- process.runOutputStream(nativeProcess, blocker, contextShift).start
  } yield new JVMRunningProcess(nativeProcess, runningOutput)  
  // ... bracketCase, start, Resource.make

It is also important that this RedirectableOutput trait is not something all process has: it is a capability, and only processes with unbound output should implement it. This is the new encoding of fixing the three channels of a process. Instead of having three type parameters with phantom types, now we have a combination of capability traits mixed with the Process trait, constraining what kind of redirections we can do. As this is not something unbounded and have relatively small number of cases, I chose to implement the combinations by hand, designing it in a way to minimize the redundancy in these implementation classes. This means, in total 8 classes representing the combinations of bound input, output and error.

I will demonstrate this with a single example. The Process constructor now returns a type with everything unbound, represented by having all the redirection capability traits:

object Process {
  def apply(command: String, arguments: List[String] = List.empty): ProcessImpl =
      workingDirectory = None,
      environmentVariables = Map.empty,
      removedEnvironmentVariables = Set.empty,
      outputRedirection = StdOut,
      runOutputStream = (_, _, _) => IO.unit,
      errorRedirection = StdOut,
      runErrorStream = (_, _, _) => IO.unit,
      inputRedirection = StdIn
  case class ProcessImpl(override val command: String,
                         override val arguments: List[String],
                         override val workingDirectory: Option[Path],
                         override val environmentVariables: Map[String, String],
                         override val removedEnvironmentVariables: Set[String],
                         override val outputRedirection: OutputRedirection[F],
                         override val runOutputStream: (, Blocker, ContextShift[F]) => F[Unit],
                         override val errorRedirection: OutputRedirection[F],
                         override val runErrorStream: (, Blocker, ContextShift[F]) => F[Unit],
                         override val inputRedirection: InputRedirection[F])
    extends Process[Unit, Unit]
      with RedirectableOutput[ProcessImplO[*]]
      with RedirectableError[ProcessImplE[*]]
      with RedirectableInput[ProcessImplI]] {
    // ...
    def connectOutput[R <: OutputRedirection, RO](target: R)(implicit outputRedirectionType: OutputRedirectionType.Aux[R, RO]): ProcessImplO[RO] =
        // ...
        // ...
  case class ProcessImplO[O](// ...
                             override val runOutputStream: (, Blocker, ContextShift[F]) => F[O],
                             // ...
    extends Process[O, Unit]
      with RedirectableError[ProcessImplOE[O, *]]
      with RedirectableInput[ProcessImplIO[O]] {    
      // ...

Each implementation class only has the necessary subset of type parameters O and E (E is the error output type), and the I O and E postfixes in the class names represent which channels are bound. Each redirection leads to a different implementation class with less and less redirection capabilities. ProcessImplIOE is the fully bound process.

This makes all the redirection operators completely type inferable and very pleasant to use for building up concrete process definitions. And we don't loose the ability to create generic function either. We can do it by requiring redirection capabilities:

def withInput[O, E, P <: Process[O, E]](s: String)(process: Process[O, E] with RedirectableInput[P]): P = {
  val input = Stream("This is a test string").through(text.utf8Encode)
  process < input

Here we know we want to have a Process with the RedirectableInput capability. We also know that by binding the input we get a something without that trait, so we know the result is a process P but know nothing else about its further capabilities. This is where this solution gets a bit inconvenient, if we want to chain these wrapper functions. To help with it, the library contains type aliases for the whole redirection capability chain that can be used in these functions. For example:

/** Process with unbound input, output and error streams */
type UnboundProcess = Process[Unit, Unit]
  with RedirectableInput[UnboundOEProcess]
  with RedirectableOutput[UnboundIEProcess[*]]
  with RedirectableError[UnboundIOProcess[*]]

Process piping

The other major feature beside redirection that prox had is piping processes together, meaning the first process' output gets redirected to the second process' input. Now that we have redesigned processes and redirection capabilities, we can try to implement this on top of them.

The idea is that when we construct a process group from a list of Process instances with the necessary redirection capabilities, this construction could set up the redirection and store the modified processes instead, then running them together. And it can reuse the RedirectableOutput and RedirectableInput capabilities to bind the first/last process!

Let's again start by defining what we need for the process group:

trait ProcessGroup[O, E] extends ProcessLike {
  val firstProcess: Process[Stream[IO, Byte], E]
  val innerProcesses: List[Process.UnboundIProcess[Stream[IO, Byte], E]]
  val lastProcess: Process.UnboundIProcess[O, E]

  val originalProcesses: List[Process[Unit, Unit]]

ProcessLike is a common base trait for Process and ProcessGroup. By introducing it, we can change the RedirectableOutput trait's self type bounds so it works for both processes and process groups.

A valid process group always have at least 2 processes and they get pre-configured during the construction of the group so when they get started, their channels can be joined. This means the group members can be split into three groups:

We also store the original process values for reasons explained later.

So as we can see the piping has two stages:

  1. First we prepare the processes by setting up their output to return an un-executed stream
  2. And we need a process group specific start function into the ProcessRunner that plugs everything together

The first step is performed by the pipe operator (|), which is defined on Process via an extension method to construct group of two processes, and on ProcessGroupImpl to add more. For simplicity the piping operator is currently not defined on the bound process group types. So it has to be first constructed, and then the redirection set up.

Let's see the one that adds one more process to a group:

def pipeInto(other: Process.UnboundProcess,
             channel: Pipe[IO, Byte, Byte]): ProcessGroupImpl = {
  val pl1 = lastProcess.connectOutput(OutputStream(channel, (stream: Stream[IO, Byte]) => IO.pure(stream)))

    innerProcesses = pl1 :: innerProcesses,
    lastProcess = other,
    originalProcesses = other :: originalProcesses

def |(other: Process.UnboundProcess): ProcessGroupImpl = pipeInto(other, identity)

Other than moving processes around in the innerProcesses and lastProcess, we also set up the previous last process's output in the way I described:

This way we can write a process group specific start function into the process runner:

override def startProcessGroup[O, E](processGroup: ProcessGroup[O, E], blocker: Blocker): IO[RunningProcessGroup[O, E]] =
  for {
    first <- startProcess(processGroup.firstProcess, blocker)
    firstOutput <- first.runningOutput.join
    innerResult <- if (processGroup.innerProcesses.isEmpty) {
      IO.pure((List.empty, firstOutput))
    } else {
      val inner = processGroup.innerProcesses.reverse
      connectAndStartProcesses(inner.head, firstOutput, inner.tail, blocker, List.empty)
    (inner, lastInput) = innerResult
    last <- startProcess(processGroup.lastProcess.connectInput(InputStream(lastInput, flushChunks = false)), blocker)
    runningProcesses = :: inner) :+ last).toMap
  } yield new JVMRunningProcessGroup[O, E](runningProcesses, last.runningOutput)

where connectAndStartProcesses is a recursive function that does the same as we do with the first process:

One thing we did not talk about yet is getting the results of a process group. This is where the old implementation again used some type level techniques and returned a RunningProcess value with specific per-process output and error types for each member of the group, as a HList (or converted to a tuple).

By making the library a bit more dynamic we can drop this part too. What is that we really want to do with a running process group?

The most difficult and primary reason for the HList in the old version is the error redirection, as it can be done per process. With some restrictions we can make a reasonable implementation though.

First, we require that the processes participating in forming a process group does not have their error channel bound yet. Then we create a RedirectableErrors capability that is very similar to the existing RedirectableError trait, but provides an advanced interface through it's customizedPerProcess field:

trait RedirectableErrors[+P[_] <: ProcessGroup[_, _]] {
  lazy val customizedPerProcess: RedirectableErrors.CustomizedPerProcess[P] = // ...

where the CustomizedPerProcess interface contains the same redirection functions but accept a function of a Process as parameter.

For example:

def errorsToSink(sink: Pipe[IO, Byte, Unit]): P[Unit]
// vs
def errorsToSink(sinkFn: Process[_, _] => Pipe[IO, Byte, Unit]): P[Unit] =

The limitation is that for all process we need to have the same error result type but it still gets a lot of freedom via the advanced interface: we can tag the output with the process and split their processing further in the stream.

With this choice, we can finally define the result type of the process group too:

trait ProcessGroupResult[+O, +E] {
  val exitCodes: Map[Process[Unit, Unit], ExitCode]
  val output: O
  val errors: Map[Process[Unit, Unit], E]

The error results and the exit codes are in a map indexed by the original process. This is the value passed to the piping operator, the one that the user constructing the group has. That's why in the ProcessGroup trait we also had to store the original process values.

As the output of all the inner processes are piped to the next process, we only have to care about the last process' output.


With a full redesign and making some compromises, we get a library that has a much more readable and easier to maintain code, and an API that is discoverable by the IDE and does not produce any weird error messages on misuse.

Note that in all the code snippets above I removed the effect abstraction and just used IO to make them simpler. The real code of course can be used with any IO library such as ZIO, just like the previous versions.