cl-async: Non-blocking, asynchronous programming for Common Lisp

A while ago, I released cl-async, a library for non-blocking programming in Common Lisp. I've been updating it a lot over the past month or two to add features and fix bugs, and it's really coming along.

My goal for this project is to create a general-purpose library for asynchronous programming in lisp. I think I have achieved this. With the finishing of the futures implementation, not only is the library stable, but there is now a platform to build drivers on top of. This will be my next focal point over the next few months.

There are a few reasons I decided to build something new. Here's an overview of the non-blocking libraries I could find:

  • IOLib - An IO library for lisp that has a built-in event loop, only works on *nix.
  • Hinge - General purpose, non-blocking library. Only works on *nix, requires libev and ZeroMQ.
  • Conserv - A nice layer on top of IOLib (so once again, only runs on *nix). Includes TCP client/server and HTTP server implementations. Very nice.
  • teepeedee2 - A non-blocking, performant HTTP server written on top of IOLib.

I created cl-async because of all the available libraries, they are either non-portable, not general enough, have too many dependencies, or a combination of all three. I wanted a library that worked on Linux and Windows. I wanted a portable base to start from, and I also wanted tools to help make drivers.

Keeping all this in mind, I created bindings for libevent2 and built cl-async on top of them. There were many good reasons for choosing libevent2 over other libraries, such as libev and libuv (the backend for Node.js). Libuv would have been my first choice because it supports IOCP in Windows (libevent does not), however wrapping it in CFFI was like getting a screaming toddler to see the logic behind your decision to put them to bed. It could have maybe happened if I'd written a compatibility layer in C, but I wanted to have a maximum of 1 (one) dependency. Libevent2 won. It's fast, portable, easy to wrap in CFFI, and on top of that, has a lot of really nice features like an HTTP client/server, TCP buffering, DNS, etc etc etc. The list goes on. That means less programming for me.

Like I mentioned, my next goal is to build drivers. I've already built a few, but I don't consider them stable enough to release yet. Drivers are the elephant in the room. Anybody can implement non-blocking IO for lisp, but the real challenge is converting everything that talks over TCP/HTTP to be async. If lisp supported coroutines, this would be trivial, but alas, we're stuck with futures and the lovely syntax they afford.

I'm going to start with drivers I use every day: beanstalk, redis, cl-mongo, drakma, zs3, and cl-smtp. These are the packages we use at work in our queue processing system (now threaded, soon to be evented + threaded). Once a few of these are done, I'll update the cl-async drivers page with best practices for building drivers (aka wrapping async into futures). Then I will take over the world.

Another goal I have is to build a real HTTP server on top of the bare http-server implementation provided by cl-async. This will include nice syntax around routing (allowing REST interfaces), static file serving, etc.

Cl-async is still a work in progress, but it's starting to become stabilized (both in lack of bugs and the API itself), so check out the docs or the github project and give it a shot. All you need is a lisp and libevent =].