Is Scala's actors similar to Go's coroutines?

If I wanted to port a Go library that uses Goroutines, would Scala be a good choice because its inbox/akka framework is similar in nature to coroutines?

Nope, they’re not. Goroutines are based on the theory of Communicating Sequential Processes, as specified by Tony Hoare in 1978. The idea is that there can be two processes or threads that act independently of one another but share a “channel,” which one process/thread puts data into and the other process/thread consumes. The most prominent implementations you’ll find are Go’s channels and Clojure’s core.async , but at this time they are limited to the current runtime and cannot be distributed, even between two runtimes on the same physical box.

CSP evolved to include a static, formal process algebra for proving the existence of deadlocks in code. This is a really nice feature, but neither Goroutines nor core.async currently support it. If and when they do, it will be extremely nice to know before running your code whether or not a deadlock is possible. However, CSP does not support fault tolerance in a meaningful way, so you as the developer have to figure out how to handle failure that can occur on both sides of channels, and such logic ends up getting strewn about all over the application.

Actors, as specified by Carl Hewitt in 1973, involve entities that have their own mailbox. They are asynchronous by nature, and have location transparency that spans runtimes and machines - if you have a reference (Akka) or PID (Erlang) of an actor, you can message it. This is also where some people find fault in Actor-based implementations, in that you have to have a reference to the other actor in order to send it a message, thus coupling the sender and receiver directly. In the CSP model, the channel is shared, and can be shared by multiple producers and consumers. In my experience, this has not been much of an issue. I like the idea of proxy references that mean my code is not littered with implementation details of how to send the message - I just send one, and wherever the actor is located, it receives it. If that node goes down and the actor is reincarnated elsewhere, it’s theoretically transparent to me.

Actors have another very nice feature - fault tolerance. By organizing actors into a supervision hierarchy per the OTP specification devised in Erlang, you can build a domain of failure into your application. Just like value classes/DTOs/whatever you want to call them, you can model failure, how it should be handled and at what level of the hierarchy. This is very powerful, as you have very little failure handling capabilities inside of CSP.

Actors are also a concurrency paradigm, where the actor can have mutable state inside of it and a guarantee of no multithreaded access to the state, unless the developer building an actor-based system accidentally introduces it, for example by registering the Actor as a listener for a callback, or going asynchronous inside the actor via Futures.

Shameless plug - I’m writing a new book with the head of the Akka team, Roland Kuhn, called Reactive Design Patterns where we discuss all of this and more. Green threads, CSP, event loops, Iteratees, Reactive Extensions, Actors, Futures/Promises, etc. Expect to see a MEAP on Manning by early next month.

Good luck!