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@fernandezpablo's opinions on software development

Building a Firehose API with Play

Firehose who?

This is a tutorial about building your own twitter-firehose-like API. That may sound complex but it actually is an http endpoint that serves a never ending stream of (in this case) status updates.

If you’re not familiar with the concept check Twitter’s stream API docs.

All code is available as a github project here.

The building blocks

For this task we are going to use the fantastic Play! framework. If you happen to code in scala or java and do not know Play! stop reading this and go check it out. I’m serious. Go now. This article will be here waiting for you.

Particularly we’re going to use Play’s play.api.iteratee classes. This package is powerful but a bit complex, don’t worry though, we won’t be using a lot of advanced iteratees/enumerators here, just a few convenience classes.

If you want to learn more about iteratees, there are some good resources online.


Like I said the code is available on this github repo so I’m not going to copy all of it, just the relevant bits.

We are going to use Concurrent.broadcast for the core of our streaming API.

You can think about stream as a subscriber of the channel, when we push stuff on a channel it will get passed through.

With this in mind, it’s kinda obvious that we need to start pushing the generated updates to the channel and then somehow putting the stream on our users browsers. Let’s generate the updates first.

Sending updates

We are going to periodically send random updates, using a scheduler:

We’re using Akka for this but it’s just an implementation detail. What that means is that we’re sending about 20 random messages/second to the channel.

Streaming the updates

Okay so we have a channel that’s being filled with updates, let’s put that into our users browsers!

Uhm, looks like SimpleResult (which is the type our controllers need to return) accepts an Enumerator. Recall that our stream is an Enumerator, so let’s return that:

Looks great right? Let’s run it and…

Nope. It doesn’t work. What that means is that Play doesn’t know how to write a StatusUpdate to an http request body. And it makes sense, Play can’t possibly know how we want our object rendered.

Play does know though, how to put a JsValue (the representation of a JSON value) into an http request. Let’s see how we turn any case class into a JsValue:

Awesome! That json instance we can return. Now if only our stream was made of JsValues and not of our own StatusUpdates …

Enter Enumeratee

You could create a channel of JsValue but it would tie your stream to a specific representation, and we don’t want that (MVC, blah blah blah).

Wouldn’t it be great if we could “map” our StatusUpdate stream to a JsValue stream? In fact that’s exactly why the Enumeratee exist (Yes, naming is hard, I know):

Cool! This jsonStream we can return in our SimpleResult!

Test the thing

Open a terminal, fire play run to start the app and then curl localhost:9000/firehose.

You have just created your first streaming API! :D Congratulations, You rock!