Erlang-style Supervisors in C# with Akka.NET and the Actor Model

One reason Erlang is considered a fault-tolerant language is its support for the Actor Model in its standard library…

”… Erlang has been used to build systems with 99.9999999 (that’s nine 9s). Used correctly, the error handling mechanisms can help make your program run forever (well, almost)” (Armstrong, 13)

The Actor Model is effective when working with concurrency in F#

The resilience of the Actor Model comes from the ability to create hierarchies of specialized Actors. Some Actors have specializations that are more risky than others.

Risk-taking Actors are pushed lower in the hierarchy, away from the life-sustaining parts of the system (a.k.a. the Error Kernel). Since Actors don’t share state, failure can be isolated from the Error Kernel.

Every Actor has an Actor above it that Supervises it. When a child Actor throws an error, its Supervisor can chose how to handle it.

The two languages I’ve mentioned so far, Erlang and F#, are both pretty much functional languages.

What if you aren’t comfortable in these languages yet? Is there a way to take advantage of Actor Supervision using C#?

C# Actor Models

There are, in fact, multiple ways to use the Actor Model in C#, including:

Of these options, Akka.NET is a good way to get started.

Akka.NET is a toolkit and runtime for building highly concurrent, distributed, and fault tolerant event-driven applications on .NET & Mono (

If this post gets you excited about Akka.NET, I highly encourage you to do the Akka.NET Bootcamp. Their documentation and community support is excellent.

Example Use Case

Let’s get our hands on an example of how Akka.NET uses Actor Supervision to give our system Fault Tolerance.

I’ll borrow a use case from Vaughn Vernon’s book, Reactive Messaging Patterns with the Actor Model: Applications and Integration in Scala and Akka

  1. The Customer tells OrderProcessor to place an Order for book B.
  2. The OrderProcessor creates Order for book B, and as a result an event OrderPlaced is created to indicate the fact.
  3. Event OrderPlaced is delivered from Order to OrderProcessor.
  4. OrderProcessor tells the Account to ChargeCreditCard, which succeeds, and event AccountCharged is created to indicate the fact.
  5. Event AccountCharged is delivered from Account to OrderProcessor, which in turn tells Order to hold a reference to information conveyed by AccountCharged.
  6. The use case continues by telling Inventory to reserve book B and telling the Shipper to ship the Order. (Vernon, 1)

Here’s a simple visualization of this use case:


Let’s briefly go through the Actors in our use case. Don’t worry too much about the specifics here. This post is more about Supervision strategy than the Actor Model as a whole. The code can be found here.

The OrderProcessorActor

The OrderProcessorActor handles our Command and Event messages and coordinates the communication between them:

public class OrderProcessorActor : ReceiveActor {
    private readonly ILoggingAdapter _logger = Context.GetLogger();
    public OrderProcessorActor() {
        Receive<PlaceOrder>(placeOrder => PlaceOrderHandler(placeOrder));
        Receive<OrderPlaced>(orderPlaced => OrderPlacedHandler(orderPlaced));
        Receive<AccountCharged>(accountCharged => AccountChargedHandler(accountCharged));
    private void PlaceOrderHandler(PlaceOrder placeOrder) {
        var orderActor = Context.ActorOf(
                () => new OrderActor(
            "orderActor" + DateTime.Now.Ticks);
    private void OrderPlacedHandler(OrderPlaced orderPlaced) {
        var accountActor = Context.ActorOf(
                () => new AccountActor(
            "accountActor" + orderPlaced.OrderInfo.AccountId);
        accountActor.Tell(new ChargeCreditCard(orderPlaced.OrderInfo.ExtPrice));
    private void AccountChargedHandler(AccountCharged accountCharged) {
        if (accountCharged.Success) {
            _logger.Info("Account charged!\n{0}",
            // Sends to TestActor (Test) or CustomerActor (Production)
        else {
            _logger.Warning("Error! Account not charged!");
            // Sends to TestActor (Test) or CustomerActor (Production)

We’ll use the OrderProcessor as an entry point to our Actor System. We’ll also use Akka.NET’s TestKit to drive this implementation with tests like this one:

public void OrderProcessorActor_end_to_end() {
    var message = new PlaceOrder(12345, 10, 25, 50.00m);
    var orderProcessorActor = ActorOfAsTestActorRef(
                () => new OrderProcessorActor(), TestActor


The OrderActor

An OrderActor is created by the OrderProcessorActor for every PlaceOrder message it receives. It tells the OrderProcessor that the Order has been placed by responding with a OrderPlaced message.

class OrderActor : ReceiveActor {
    public OrderActor() {
        Receive<PlaceOrder>(placeOrder => PlaceOrderHandler(placeOrder));

    public void PlaceOrderHandler(PlaceOrder placeOrder) {
            new OrderPlaced(DateTime.Now.Ticks.ToString(), placeOrder));

Here’s a test to show that an OrderActor gets created for every PlaceOrder message:

public void OrderProcessorActor_handles_placeOrderCommand_creates_orderActor() {
    var message = new PlaceOrder(12345, 10, 25, 5000);
    var orderProcessorActor = ActorOfAsTestActorRef(
                () => new OrderProcessorActor(), "orderProcessor");
    var orderChild = ActorSelection("/user/orderProcessor/orderActor*")


The AccountActor

The AccountActor is going to be our focus, since it is responsible for the risky task of making sure the Customer’s credit card is charged successfully. This is the Actor that we want to put some Fault Tolerance around.

public class AccountActor : ReceiveActor {

public class AccountActor : ReceiveActor {
    public int AccountId { get; }
    private readonly IStripeGateway _stripeGateway = new StripeGateway();
    private readonly ILoggingAdapter _logger = Context.GetLogger();
    public AccountActor(int accountId) {
        AccountId = accountId;
            chargeCreditCard => ChargeCreditCardHandler(chargeCreditCard));
    private void ChargeCreditCardHandler(ChargeCreditCard chargeCreditCard) {
        StripeCharge stripeCharge = null;
        try {
            stripeCharge = _stripeGateway
            if (stripeCharge != null)
                Context.Parent.Tell(new AccountCharged(chargeCreditCard, true));
        catch (Exception) {
            Context.Parent.Tell(new AccountCharged(chargeCreditCard, false));

Since the AccountActor is responsible for charging the Customer’s credit card, it probably uses a service like Stripe to process payments. We’ll write a StripeGateway that the AccountActor uses as a dependency for calling the Stripe API.

We’ll pull in the library to use some of its types.

internal interface IStripeGateway {
    StripeCharge CreateCharge(decimal amount);

public class StripeGateway : IStripeGateway {
    public StripeCharge CreateCharge(decimal amount) {
    	// Create the Stripe Charge

StripeGateway has the potential to throw Exceptions. In a Non-Actor world, these Exceptions could impact the whole application. In our Actor world, we can isolate failure to the AccountActor.

Let’s make the StripeGateway.CreateCharge() method throw an Exception when it’s passed a negative amount:

public class StripeGateway : IStripeGateway {
    public StripeCharge CreateCharge(int amount) {
        if (amount < 0) {
            throw new StripeException(
                new StripeError() {
                    Code = "card_error"
                }, "Can't charge card a negative value");
        return new StripeCharge() {
            Amount = amount,
            Captured = true

Here’s a test that shows that this StripeException is raised:

public void AccountActor_throws_exception_from_stripeGateway() {
    var message = new ChargeCreditCard(-1234.50m);
    var accountActor = ActorOf(Props.Create(() => new AccountActor(12345)));

        .ExpectOne(() => accountActor.Tell(message));

Supervision Strategies

… supervision describes a dependency relationship between actors: the supervisor delegates tasks to subordinates and therefore must respond to their failures (Akka.NET Docs)

There are 4 ways that a Supervisor can respond to a Child’s failure:

Default Strategy

With the default Supervision Strategy of Restart our AccountActor will clear its internal state, and restart once:

We can prove that the AccountActor was restarted by putting a log statement in the AccountActor.PostStop() method:

protected override void PostStop() {
    _logger.Warning("AccountActor stopped!");

Here’s what the log entry looks like when we use this Supervisor Strategy:

public void AccountActor_gets_stopping_directive() {
    var message = new ChargeCreditCard(-5000);
    var accountActor = ActorOf(
        Props.Create(() => new AccountActor(12345),

    EventFilter.Warning("AccountActor stopped!")
        .ExpectOne(() => accountActor.Tell(message));

// Log Event
[WARNING][2/9/2016 8:31:11 PM][Thread 0020]
 AccountActor stopped!

Custom Supervision Strategy

What if we didn’t want to just Restart when AccountActor encountered a StripeException?

Let’s give OrderProcessorActor a Custom Supervisor Strategy that tells AccountActor to Resume and keep its existing State when it encounters a StripeException.

We can add this custom Supervisor Strategy to our OrderProcessorActor to allow children AccountActors to continue processing messages and keep state when a StripeException happens.

public class OrderProcessorActor : ReceiveActor {
    //... Actor Implementation

    protected override SupervisorStrategy SupervisorStrategy() {
        return new OneForOneStrategy(
            Decider.From(x => {
                if (x is StripeException) return Directive.Resume;
                return Directive.Restart;

Here’s a test that verifies that the AccountActor.PostStop() method is not called, therefore _logger.Warning("AccountActor stopped!") is not called, therefore the Actor has Resumed processing messages:

public void OrderProcessorActor_applies_custom_supervisor_strategy() {
    var message = new PlaceOrder(12345, 10, 25, -5000);
    var orderProcessorActor = ActorOfAsTestActorRef(
        () => new OrderProcessorActor(), TestActor);

    // Expect 0 Log Entries
    EventFilter.Warning("AccountActor stopped!")
        .Expect(0, () => orderProcessorActor.Tell(message));

Feel free to grab the sample code via this link and run the tests.


We began by noticing the power of the Actor Model, more specifically Actor Supervision, in languages like Erlang and F#.

Supervision allows us to use Actor Hierarchy to isolate faults so that errors from risky behaviors don’t break our entire application. We started searching for ways to implement the Actor Model in C#…

There happens to be a few ways to use the Actor Model in C#. Akka.NET is a well-tested and well-documented Actor Model framework for C#. It’s based on Akka for the JVM.

We finished up by implementing a real-world Actor Supervision scenario, borrowed from Vaughn Vernon. We wrote an Order Processing system in the Actor Model and tested a couple Supervision Strategies that were provided by Akka.NET.

How do we handle the effects of our Supervision Strategies? Do we stash messages, restart the Actor, and process the them when the Actor comes back? Or, do we persist messages, stop the Actor, make a new Actor, and then process the messages? What about the Customer?…

Stay tuned - I have more to talk about. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to read more about the Actor Model… C#… Architecture… DDD… CQRS… you name it, I want to write about it.


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