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Actors for Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks (The Ambient Actor Model)

Jessie Dedecker1+ - jededecker@vub.ac.be
Werner Van Belle2*+ - werner@yellowcouch.org, werner.van.belle@gmail.com

1- Programming Technology Lab (PROG) Department of Computer Science (DINF) Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB); Pleinlaan 2; 1050 Brussel; Belgium
2- Department Computer Science (IFI) University of Tromsø (UiTø); Tromsø; Norway
* Corresponding author; + Equal Contribution

Abstract :  Wireless communication has a limited communication range which introduces two major problems, currently not captured in distributed middleware. First, they are less reliable than their wired variants and secondly they are extremely dynamic. Both problems complicate the development of mobile software. In this paper we extend the operational semantics of the actor model to capture these two properties. We do this by adding a single new concept to the model: the mailbox. This paper provides a foundation for new implementations of the actor language and frameworks that are usable in the context of wireless network environments.

Keywords:  ambient pervasive ubiquitous computing asynchronous distributed systems actor systems
Reference:  Jessie Dedecker, Werner Van Belle; Actors for Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks (The Ambient Actor Model); Proceedings of Embedded and Ubiquitous Computing (EUC2004); Springer Verlag; Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS 3207); Editor(s) Aizu-Wakamatsu; pages 482-494; August 2004

1 Introduction

Networks formed by the interconnection of mobile wireless devices are often called mobile ad-hoc networks. Developping software to run within mobile ad-hoc networks is extremeley challenging. Firstly because mobile ad-hoc communication is less reliable than fixed topologies. Connections are interrupted as devices move out of communication range. Secondly because mobile ad-hoc communication is more dynamic. Communication partners frequently enter and leave the communication range.

In order to approach these problems we extended the actor model. In the remainder of the paper, we assume familiarity with the actor model, as such we will not fully recapitulate the semantics. These can be found in [AMST97].

2 Actors

The actor programming language [Agh90] was designed for use in open distributed network environments (i.e. the internet). A distributed application is modelled with actors that are distributed throughout the network. Each actor has a behavior associated with it. The behavior defines how an actor handles incoming messages. Communication between actors occurs solely with asynchronous message passing.

2.1 The Actor Programming Language

The operational semantics of the actor programming language [AMST97] are defined as an extension of a simple functional language. A function that takes one parameter, a message, and is used to define the behavior of an actor. In the operational semantics of the actor language the functional language is conceptualized by the lambda calculus [Chu85]. The lambda calculus is extended with three actor primitives that support programming in a distributed environment:

2.2 Actor Systems

The actor language is supported by an actor system. Conceptually, an actor system can be modelled as a message set and the behavior of the actors living in the system. The message set contains two types of messages: 1) messages sent, but not yet transmitted and 2) messages received, but not yet processed. A message, whose target address is that of an actor living in the actor system, is taken from the message set and passed as an argument to the function that is assigned to the target actor address. When the message set is empty the actor waits for a new message. An actor only handles one message at a time. Hence, race conditions can not occur on data-level in the actor language. When a message is sent then the message is put in the message set. When the target actor address of the message is that of an actor living in another actor system then the message is transferred to the message set of that actor system. The operational semantics of the actor language do not define any order in which the messages from the message set are processed, but it assumes fairness so no starvation can occur.

2.3 Applicability of Actors in Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks

Actors are a programming model [Agh90] for distributed networks and provide a good groundwork for programming the internet. The actor model makes use of an asynchronous message delivery, that is, it decouples the availability of the communication partners in time. This makes the actor model suitable for open distributed systems and a good candidate for mobile ad-hoc networks. However, the actor model fails to capture certain important concepts:

3 The Ambient Actor Model

In this section we extend the operational semantics and the syntax of the actor model so that the limitations, pointed out in the previous section, are resolved. We will refrain from giving all the definitions from the original model, which can be found in [AMST97]. We will however repeat some definitions if we adapted them to extend the operational semantics of the actor model or if we believe that they are essential to understanding the extensions.

The main addition to the actor model is the introduction of explicit mailboxes. A mailbox is a store of messages. A number of mailboxes are used within the model to guarantee communication. These are the ``in''-box, which keeps track of incoming messages, the ``out''-box, which keeps track of messages that should be delivered to other actor systems, the ``sent''- and the ``rcv''- box which keep track of, respectively, which messages have been sent and which messages have been processed by the actor. Aside from these four standard mailboxes, every actor can create new mailboxes as necessary. Messages can be present in multiple mailboxes at the same time. E.g, a message can be located in the ``sent''-box of the sending actor and the ``in''-box of the receiving actor.

3.1 Messages and Mailbox Associations Messages ( $ \mathbb{M}$)

$\displaystyle \mathbb{M} = \{ pr(a,cv) \enskip\vert\enskip a \in \mathbb{V}, cv \in \mathbb{V}\}$

A message is a pair (pr) of:

$ \mathbb{V}$ is the set of all possible value expressions of the functional language as defined in [AMST97]. In the spirit of dynamically typing (as in [AMST97]) we do not restrict the target of the message to the set actor addresses, the correctness is checked in the rules that define the operational semantics. A message is represented as a pair of value expressions, this is in contrast with the message representation as defined in [AMST97] (where a message was denoted with $ <{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}>$). By representing the messages as a pair of values the message becomes a first class value in the actor language. This will proof useful to manipulate the mailboxes. To make a clear distinction in the definitions between messages and ``regular'' pair values, we will identify a pair that is used as a message with $ {a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}$.

In the extended actor model a message is always associated with at least one mailbox. To denote these mailbox associations in the actor model we introduce the following set: Mailbox Associations ( $ {\tt m}\mathbb{B}$)

$\displaystyle {\tt m}\mathbb{B} = \{<ct\enskip\vert\enskip{mbx_a}> \in \mathbb{...
...} \enskip\vert\enskip ct \in \mathbb{V}, a \in \mathbb{X}, mbx \in \mathbb{S}\}$

Denotes a content $ ct$ associated with mailbox $ mbx_a$. $ \mathbb{S}$ is the set of identifiers for mailboxes, $ \mathbb{S} \subset \mathbb{A}{\tt t}$, with $ \mathbb{A}{\tt t}$ the set of atoms in the functional language. $ \mathbb{X}$ is the set of actor addresses. The mailbox itself is written as an identifier, subscripted with the name of the actor the mailbox belongs to. E.g., $ in_b$ denotes the in-box of actor $ b$. Typically, messages are associated with a mailbox, but other values can also be associated with a mailbox.

3.2 Actor Configurations

The operational semantics of the model itself is based on actor-configurations and reduction rules defined on such a configuration. An actor configuration can be considered to be an actor system as explained in section 2.2. Essentially, an actor configuration can be perceived as all actors present on one computational device, such as an embedded system, a desktop and others. The set of actor configurations is defined as Actor Configurations ( $ \mathbb{K}$)

$\displaystyle \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha\enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$
where $ \rho$, $ \chi \in {\bf P}_\omega[\mathbb{X}], \alpha \in \mathbb{X} \overset{f}{\rightarrow}\mathbb{A}{\tt s}$, and $ \mu \in {\bf M}_\omega[{\tt m}\mathbb{B}]$

Say Y is a set then $ {\bf P}_\omega[{\tt Y}]$ is the set of finite subsets of Y. $ {\bf M}_\omega[{\tt Y}]$ is the set of finite multi-sets with elements in Y. $ \mathbb{A}{\tt s}$ is the set of actor states as defined in [AMST97].

An actor configuration contains:

It is required that all actor configurations satisfy the following constraints ($ A$=Dom($ \alpha$)):
  1. $ \rho \subseteq A$ and $ A \cap \chi = \emptyset$,
  2. if $ \alpha(a) = (?_{a'})$, then $ a' \in A$,
  3. if $ a \in A$, then FV $ (\alpha(a)) \subseteq A \cup \chi$,
  4. if $ <ct\enskip\vert\enskip mbx_a> \in \mu$, then $ a \in A$
  5. if $ ct = {v_0}{\Leftarrow}{v_1}$ then FV $ (v_i) \subseteq A \cup \chi$ for $ i < 2$
The fourth point is new compared to the constraints that were defined in [AMST97] and denotes that each mailbox in an actor configuration should be owned by an actor from the actor configuration.

3.3 Operational Semantics of Actor Configurations

On such an actor configuration, a number of reduction rules are defined. Each rule contains a label $ l$ that consists of a tag indicating the name of the primitive instruction and a set of parameters. In all cases, except for the i/o transitions (with tags $ in$, $ out$, $ join$, $ disjoin$), the first parameter names the $ focus$ actor of the transition. As in, [AMST97] if $ \alpha'(a) = (b)$ and is with $ a$ omitted from its domain we write $ \alpha'$ as $ \alpha,(b)_a$ to focus attention on $ a$. We follow a similar convention for other states subscripted with addresses (such as mailbox associations).

The rules are in our model are extended with an environmental set $ \tau$. The set $ \tau$ contains the actor configurations that are available (in communication range) while the reduction is performed. The introduction of this set is important to reify the notion of environmental context in our extended model. Below we explain and discuss the different rules.

Definition: $ \underset{\tau}{\mapsto}$ $ \tau \in {\bf M}_\omega[\mathbb{K}]$

$ \tt <fun:a>$

$ e\buildrel\lambda\over\mapsto_{\hbox{Dom}(\alpha)\cup{\{a\}}}e' \Rightarrow
...ngle \alpha,[e']_a\enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^\rho_\chi$

$ \tt <new:a,a'>$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{\tt newadr()}]\hbox{\tt ]}_...
...}_a,(?_a)_{a'}\enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$

$ \tt <init:a,a'>$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{\tt init(a',v)}]\hbox{\tt ]...
...tt ]}_a,v_{a'}\enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$

$ \tt <bec:a,a'>$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{\tt become(v)}]\hbox{\tt ]}...
...enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}\qquad a' fresh$

$ {\tt <send:a,m>}$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{{\tt send(}v_0,v_1\hbox{\tt...
...ox{\tt ]}_a\enskip\vert\enskip\mu, M\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$

with $ M=\{<{v_0}{\Leftarrow}{v_1}\enskip\vert\enskip{out_a}>\}$ iff $ v_0 \notin Dom(\alpha)$

or $ M=\{<{v_0}{\Leftarrow}{v_1}\enskip\vert\enskip{sent_a}>, <{v_0}{\Leftarrow}{v_1}\enskip\vert\enskip{in_{v_0}}>\}$ iff $ v_0 \in Dom(\alpha)$

$ {\tt <out:m>}$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha\enskip\vert\enskip\mu,m\bigr\rangle\!\!\bi...
...kip\mu,m'\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho\cup(FV(cv)\cap Dom(\alpha)}_{\chi}$

with $ m=<{b}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{out_a}>$

and $ m'=<{b}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{sent_a}>$, $ b \in\chi, a \in Dom(\alpha)$

if $ \exists \kappa \in \tau$ with $ \kappa = \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha_1\enskip\vert\enskip\mu_1\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho_1}_{\chi_1}$ and $ b \in Dom(\alpha_1)$

$ {\tt <in:m>}$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha\enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr...
...\enskip\mu,m\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi\cup(FV(cv)-Dom(\alpha))}$
with $ m=<{b}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{in_b}>$, $ b \in\rho$ and $ FV(cv) \cap Dom(\alpha) \subseteq \rho$

$ {\tt <rcv:a,m>}$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,(v)_a\enskip\vert\enskip\mu, m\bigr\rangle...
...{\tt )]}_a\enskip\vert\enskip\mu, m'\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$

with $ m=<{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{in_a}>$ and $ m'=<{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{rcv_a}>$

$ {\tt <messages:a,mbx>}$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{\tt messages(mbx)}]\hbox{\t...
...}]\hbox{\tt ]}\enskip\vert\enskip\mu\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$
with $ ct_i \in \{ct \enskip\vert\enskip<ct \enskip\vert\enskip mbx_a> \in \mu\}$
$ {\tt <add:a,mbx,m>}$
$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{\tt add(mbx,ct)}]\hbox{\tt ...
...box{\tt ]}_a\enskip\vert\enskip\mu,m\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$
with $ m=<ct\enskip\vert\enskip mbx_a>$
$ {\tt <del:a,mbx,m>}$
$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha,\hbox{\tt [R}[{\tt del(mbx,ct)}]\hbox{\tt ...
...hbox{\tt ]}_a\enskip\vert\enskip\mu'\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho}_{\chi}$
with $ \mu'=\mu \backslash \{<ct\enskip\vert\enskip mbx_a>\}$
$ {\tt <join>}$
 $ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha_0\enskip\vert\enskip\mu_0\bigr\rangle\!\!\...
...lpha_0\enskip\vert\enskip\mu_0,M\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho_0}_{\chi_0}$
if $ \exists \kappa \in \tau$ with $ \kappa = \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha_1\enskip\vert\enskip\mu_1\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho_1}_{\chi_1}$ and
$ M=\{ <{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{joined_{b}}>, <{b}{\Leftarrow}{\t...
...{required_{b}}>\in \mu_0 \wedge <cv\enskip\vert\enskip{provided_{a}}> \in \mu_1$}
$ {\tt <disjoin>}$

$ \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha_0\enskip\vert\enskip\mu_0\bigr\rangle\!\!\...
...p\vert\enskip\mu_0\backslash T,M\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho_0}_{\chi_0}$

if $ \nexists \kappa \in \tau$ with $ \kappa = \bigl\langle\!\!\bigl\langle \alpha_1\enskip\vert\enskip\mu_1\bigr\rangle\!\!\bigr\rangle ^{\rho_1}_{\chi_1}$ and

with $ M=\{
<{b}{\Leftarrow}{\tt disjoin}\enskip\vert\enskip{in_b}> \,\vert\,$

$ <{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{joined_{b}}> \in \mu_0 \wedge a \notin Dom(\alpha_1)\}$

$ T = \{<{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{joined_b}> \,\vert\, <{a}{\Leftarrow}{cv}\enskip\vert\enskip{joined_{b}}> \in \mu_0 \wedge a \notin Dom(\alpha_1)$}

3.3.1 Basic Actor Operations

The first four reduction rules below are the same as defined in [AMST97] and did not need to be adapted:

3.3.2 Adapted Rules

The remainder of the rules have been adapted to include the notion of mailboxes:

3.3.3 Mailbox Manipulation

$ <messages>, <add>, <del>$ Aside from these modified standard rules, some reduction rules have been added to manipulate and inspect the mailboxes from within the actor language. With the $ <messages>$ rule one can access the content of a mailbox. The $ <add>$ rule will create a mailbox when it does not exist, if the mailbox exists, the content will be added to the mailbox. The $ <del>$ rule will delete a message from a mailbox, when the last message of a mailbox has been removed, the mailbox itself is removed. The above reduction rules allow actors to manage mailboxes explicitly. It also allows actors to keep track of a history of sent and waiting messages. It allows actors to see whether a message has actually been sent out. Also note that there is no rule in which a message automatically disappears from the system. This means that memory management will have to be handled manually by the programmer. This is because it depends on the semantics of the program whether a message has become irrelevant to the program. For example, when a certain task has completed and is not relevant anymore.

3.3.4 Handling Environmental Contexts

Mobile applications used in an ad-hoc wireless network environment need to ``sense'' their physical environment. This ``sense'' is introduced in the model through the notion of first-class ``environmental context''. The first-class ``environmental context'' is supported with two reduction rules: $ <join>$ and $ <disjoin>$. When two devices come in contact (because they are in the same communication area), they will automatically ``join''. They disjoin when they leave each others communication range. An important issue with the ``join'' is the abstract specification of actors we are looking for in the physical environment, since the physical environment is possibly unknown we do not know the addresses of the actors that are living on other machines. To this end, we have added four extra mailboxes for every actor: provided, required, joined and disjoined. The mailboxes provided and required are used to let an actor specify an abstract description of what kind of behavior it provides or requires, this abstract description is called a pattern. The pattern is specified in the model as a communicable value. When a pattern in the provided and required mailboxes match, then the corresponding actors will be notified. This notification happens through the use of the joined and disjoined mailboxes. Thus, the joined and disjoined mailboxes keep track of the relevant actors, specified through the use of the provided and required mailboxes, that are in communication range. This mechanism is defined in the model through the $ <join>$ and $ <disjoin>$ rules: The join and disjoin operations are not symmetrical. After joining and disjoining two actor configurations, the state of the involved actor configurations is not necessarily the same as before the join operation. This is due to the fact that for every join or disjoin a number of messages are sent, which might influence the behavior of the involved actors.

4 Examples

Now that we have defined the operational semantics of the extended actor model we show that it is useful in the context of ad-hoc wireless network environments by means of two examples. The examples are defined with actor code using the extended actor model from the previous section. The first example shows how anonymous communication can be expressed. In the second example we work out a meeting scheduler application for use in an ad-hoc wireless network environment.

4.1 Pattern-Based Communication

We often want to send messages to an actor providing some service, but the actor address is unknown at the time of message sending, because the actor address depends on the physical environment of the embedded device. The anonymous actor can be described using type information [lKB02] or more semantic information about the service (such as a QoS property of the communication partner). In this example, we show how we can express such anonymous communication using the mailboxes in the extended actor model. We define a new communication primitive psend that takes two parameters: a description pattern of the required actor and the message that needs to be send.
psend = $ \lambda$pattern.$ \lambda$msg.
   seq(add(required, pattern),
       add(pending, msg))
We add the description pattern of the required actor to the required mailbox. This way the actor will be notified when the actor configuration joins with another actor configuration providing this pattern. The pending mailbox contains the messages that have a pattern as destination instead of an actor address.

The handleJoin definition walks over the resolutions in the joined mailbox. Each time a pattern that corresponds with the target of the messages in pending mailbox is found, the message is send to the provider of the pattern and removed from the pending mailbox.

handleJoin = $ \lambda$m.
       for-each($ \lambda$resolution.
           for-each($ \lambda$msg.
               if(eq?(target(msg), pattern(resolution)),
                  seq(send(provider(resolution), msg),
                      delete(pending, msg))),

Below is the definition of an actor that wants to print a file from the moment it comes into communication range of an actor that provides a printing service.

$ B\sb{Customer}$ = $ \lambda$file.$ \lambda$m.
    seq(psend('printer@300dpi, mkPrint(file)),
This example shows that the extended actor model contains the basic primitives to build more complex discovery mechanisms tailored to the need of the application.

4.2 Meeting Scheduler

Suppose a group of people all walk around with a PDA that is equipped with a wireless transmitter. Each PDA has an agenda application running and the agenda can be used to schedule a meeting with a group of acquaintances. A request for a meeting can be made at any point of time (so the acquaintances do not have to be reachable at the point of requesting a meeting). We assume that the PDA's at some point in time will be in communication range. The owner of the PDA's does not have to be aware of the communication that goes on between the PDA's, so the PDA can become out of range at any point in the communication. The agenda application schedules a meeting in two steps:
  1. try to make a reservation in the agenda from the participants of the meeting
  2. confirm the meeting in the agenda from the participant if all were successfully reserved.
If the reservation fails at some point, then all reservations that were made on other agenda's are removed. Our meeting scheduler is modelled by two actors that are described below.

4.2.1 Agenda Actor

The agenda is initialized with the e-mail address of the owner from the agenda. The e-mail address is used together with the type information of the application to join actor configurations together.
$ B\sb{InitAgenda}$ = $ \lambda$email.$ \lambda$m.
   seq(add(provided, mkProvided(email)),
       become( $ B\sb{FreeAgenda}$())))

We have chosen to represent the agenda as a single slot that is available for meetings to reduce the length of our example. The slot has three states: free, reserved and confirmed. The agenda understands three messages:

The slot contains an id that is used to determine to whom the slot has been assigned when it is reserved or confirmed. The slot only evolves into the corresponding state if the message contains the right id.

The code below shows the implementation of the agenda. The function rec in the code calculates the fixed-point of a function [MT91] so that it can be called recursively.

$ B\sb{FreeAgenda}$ = rec($ \lambda$b.$ \lambda$m.
       seq(send(sender(m), mkReserveAnswer(session(m), #true)),
           become( $ B\sb{ReservedAgenda}$(session(m))))))

$ B\sb{ReservedAgenda}$ = rec($ \lambda$b.$ \lambda$id.$ \lambda$m.
    if(and(free?(m), eq?(id, session(m))),
       become( $ B\sb{FreeAgenda}$()))
       seq(send(sender(m), mkReserveAnswer(session(m), #false)),
    if(and(confirm?(m), eq?(id, session(m))),
       become( $ B\sb{ConfirmedAgenda}$(id))))

$ B\sb{ConfirmedAgenda}$ = rec($ \lambda$b.$ \lambda$id.$ \lambda$m.
       seq(send(sender(m), mkReserveAnswer(session(m), #false)),

4.2.2 Scheduler Actor

The scheduler agent is responsible for contacting the agenda actors to schedule the meeting. In the scheduler actor definitions below we use three helper functions:

The scheduling agent is initialized as $ B_{InitScheduleAgent}$. The scheduler agent has an id that is used to identify its session.

$ B\sb{InitScheduleAgent}$ = rec($ \lambda$b.$ \lambda$id.$ \lambda$m.
                map($ \lambda$email.mkRequired(email), partipants(m))),
           msend(participants(m), mkReserve(id)),
           become( $ B\sb{ReserveScheduleAgent}$(id, participants(m), sender(m)))))
The schedule agent can be requested to schedule a meeting by sending it the message schedule. When such a request is received the agent sends out reserve messages to the agenda actors of the participants and the scheduler evolves into the $ B_{ReserveScheduleAgent}$ state.
$ B\sb{ReserveScheduleAgent}$ = rec($ \lambda$b.$ \lambda$id.$ \lambda$participants.$ \lambda$m.$ \lambda$customer.
    if(and(reserveAnswer?(m), eq?(id, session(m))),
          if(eq?( map(sender, filter(reserveAnswer?, messages(rcv))),
                 become( $ B\sb{ConfirmScheduleAgent}$(id, participants, customer)))),
          seq(msend(map(destination, filter(reserve?, messages(sent))),
                     map(identity, filter(reserve?, messages(out))),
              send(customer, mkFailed()),
              become( $ B\sb{InitScheduleAgent}$(id+1)))))))

When handling a reserveAnswer message we make use of the mailboxes introduced in our system:

$ B\sb{ConfirmScheduleAgent}$ = rec($ \lambda$b.$ \lambda$participants.$ \lambda$m.$ \lambda$customer.
           eq?( map(sender, filter(confirm?, messages(sent))),
       seq(send(customer, mkSucceeded()),
           become( $ B\sb{InitScheduleAgent}$(id+1))))

Each time the ScheduleAgent actor disjoins from an agenda actor it checks to see if all confirm messages were sent out, again using the mailbox sent. If all confirm messages were sent, then the customer actor that sent the schedule is notified with a succeeded message.

The second example shows that the mailboxes introduced in the extended actor model contain useful primitives that allow to structure the different conversations the scheduler has with the different agenda applications. It also shows the usefulness of the mailboxes ``sent'' and ``out'' to check and manipulate the communication status of different messages.

5 Related Work

5.1 Formalisms

The distributed join calculus [FGL+96] gives chemical semantics for logical movement (migration), failures and failure detection of agents. A disadvantage of the model is that it presumes that failures can be detected. In the context of ad-hoc wireless network environments failures are impossible to detect, because it is technically impossible to know whether a device has failed or the device has moved out of communication range.

Locality based linda [DFP97] is a formalisation of Linda [Gel85,CG89] (discussed below) but with the explicit notion of locations. Locations are added to the primitives of Linda, so the primitives work on a specific tuple space. Anonymous communication becomes impossible, because the location needs to be provided. In our context this would mean that the addresses of communicating devices need to be known, which is impossible to determine in ad-hoc wireless network environments. The model also does not define what happens with communication if the location is unavailable.

The mobile ambient calculus [CG00] expresses an abstraction between mobile computing and mobile computation in administrative domains. Mobile computation is the physical movement of devices between administrative domains, while mobile computing is the movement of a logical process (also called migration). The extended actor model and the ambient calculus are complementary. The mobile ambient calculus describes movement of processes between different locations and communication between ambients that are located in an ambient. The extended actor model describes how actors can structure their asynchronous communication to manage sessions and how new actors can be found in new physical environments. The mobile ambient calculus could be used to describe the physical movement of actor configurations.

5.2 Software Technology

The programming language Janus [KS90] is based on concurrent constraint logic programming (CCP). We learned about it shortly after writing this paper. The model also includes explicit mailboxes and they show that the use of mailboxes is more expressive than the original actor model. Agents communicate by putting messages in each others mailboxes. A mailbox is associated with a ``teller" and an ``asker". The teller allows agents to put messages in the mailbox and the asker allows agents to retrieve messages from the mailbox. Tellers and askers can be transmitted between agents. An agent can ask for input on one or more mailboxes at the same time. The Janus programming model can express useful distributed programming idioms. There are some differences however between our extended model and theirs. The mailboxes are used as a communication medium in Janus, while in our extended actor model they are used for three different purposes: 1) a means to track the communication history 2) the actors that are communication range and 3) as a structuring tool for session management.

JXTA [Gon01] is middleware for peer-to-peer environments and covers problems such as peer discovery and peer-to-peer communication. JXTA can also be employed in a wireless context [Gon02]. A disadvantage however is that wireless devices have to depend on JXTA relays in order to perform basic operations such as peer discovery. This means that JXTA relays have to be present in each physical environment before wireless devices are able to interact with one another. This is in conflict with the idea of transparency in pervasive computing.

Jini [AWO+99] enables discovery and lookup of services based on their description. It is possible to search for objects based on the object's type information and attributes. Jini is based on a central server architecture. A Jini server would have to be present in any place where devices need to find each other.

In [lKB02] a library is introduced to enable multicast and broadcast messages between objects in Java using wireless communication. Message delivery is based on the type information instead of addresses. The mechanism of sending messages based on type information is similar to our dynamic join that uses a pattern to find compatible devices. However, the lookup mechanism provided by the dynamic join in our extended actor model allows the use of other useful static information such as the e-mail address we used in the example of the meeting scheduler. This can simplify lookup of specific devices without having to know the exact actor address. Messages are also sent asynchronously in the library, but there is no notion of an outgoing queue. This means that if a message is sent and there is no device listening on the other side, then the message is lost. This means that checking message delivery is put on the shoulders of the developer, which will make the program inherently more complex.

Linda [Gel85,CG89] is a coordination language based on tuple spaces. There are several primitives that make communication explicit in the code. There is a primitive for putting values in the tuple space (asynchronous) and primitives for getting values from the tuple space (blocking). Tuple spaces are interesting, because they allow communication without the need to specify the communication address of the receiver, much like in the spirit of our join rule. Linda is based on a central server architecture, there is one central tuple space where the structured values are put, which makes it not suitable for ad-hoc wireless network environments. The language does not provide semantics of communication failures in the language, which is important in our context.

6 Conclusion

In this paper we extended the operational semantics of the actor model in order to deal with three problems associated with ad-hoc wireless network environments:
  1. How do several devices find each other?
    To handle this problem we introduced reduction rules join and disjoin that define what happens when devices come in communication range of one another.
  2. How to deal with communication failures and disconnected operation?
    This problem is handled with the introduction of the in, rcv, out and sent mailboxes that allow us to track and intervene in the communication between different devices.
  3. How to keep track of different conversations that occur in different places?
    This problem is handled through the custom manipulation of mailboxes.
These three problems are handled with the introduction of a single concept in the actor language, namely that of a mailbox. The mailbox unifies the first-class computational and environmental context into a single concept. In the two examples above we have illustrated that they can be used as a basis for the implementation of more complex applications. We have implemented our extended actor model and are looking into new programming constructs based on the extended actor model that will ease the implementation of distributed applications for ad-hoc wireless network environments.


Thanks to Thomas Cleenewerck for proof-reading this paper and for providing us with some useful hints to increase the readability of this paper.


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... list2
In the $ \lambda$ calculus a pair is created with the function cons. The function car returns the first element of the pair, while the cdr function returns the second element. A list of elements is represented as a nesting of pairs. e.g. (1, 2, 3) is represented as (1, (2, (3, '())))