Class Scheduling in Ruby

This tutorial provides a walkthrough of designing and building a simple application in Ruby using FoundationDB. In this tutorial, we use a few simple data modeling techniques. For a more in-depth discussion of data modeling in FoundationDB, see Data Modeling.

The concepts in this tutorial are applicable to all the languages supported by FoundationDB. If you prefer, you can see a version of this tutorial in Python, Java, or Go.

First steps

Let’s begin with “Hello world.”

If you have not yet installed FoundationDB, see Getting Started on macOS or Getting Started on Linux.

Open a Ruby interactive interpreter and import the FoundationDB API module:

$ irb
> require 'fdb'
=> true

Before using the API, we need to specify the API version. This allows programs to maintain compatibility even if the API is modified in future versions:

> FDB.api_version 600
=> nil

Next, we open a FoundationDB database. The API will connect to the FoundationDB cluster indicated by the default cluster file.

> @db = FDB.open
=> #<FDB::Database:0x007fc2309751e0 @dpointer=#<FFI::Pointer address=0x007fc231c139c0>, @options=#<FDB::DatabaseOptions:0x007fc230975168 @setfunc=#<Proc:0x007fc230975190@/Users/someone/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.0.0-p247/gems/fdb-1.0.0/lib/fdbimpl.rb:510 (lambda)>>>

We are ready to use the database. In Ruby, using the [] operator on the database object is a convenient syntax for performing a read or write on the database. First, let’s simply write a key-value pair:

> @db['hello'] = 'world'
=> "world"

When this command returns without exception, the modification is durably stored in FoundationDB! Under the covers, this function creates a transaction with a single modification. We’ll see later how to do multiple operations in a single transaction. For now, let’s read back the data:

>>> print 'hello ', @db['hello']
hello world => nil

If this is all working, it looks like we are ready to start building a real application. For reference, here’s the full code for “hello world”:

require 'fdb'
FDB.api_version 600
@db = FDB.open
@db['hello'] = 'world'
print 'hello ', @db['hello']

Class scheduling application

Let’s say we’ve been asked to build a class scheduling system for students and administrators. We’ll walk through the design and implementation of this application. Instead of typing everything in as you follow along, look at the Appendix: class_scheduling.rb for a finished version of the program. You may want to refer to this code as we walk through the tutorial.

Requirements

We’ll need to let users list available classes and track which students have signed up for which classes. Here’s a first cut at the functions we’ll need to implement:

available_classes()      # returns list of classes
signup(studentID, class) # signs up a student for a class
drop(studentID, class)   # drops a student from a class

Data model

First, we need to design a data model. A data model is just a method for storing our application data using keys and values in FoundationDB. We seem to have two main types of data: (1) a list of classes and (2) a record of which students will attend which classes. Let’s keep attending data like this:

# ['attends', student, class] = ''

We’ll just store the key with a blank value to indicate that a student is signed up for a particular class. For this application, we’re going to think about a key-value pair’s key as a tuple. Encoding a tuple of data elements into a key is a very common pattern for an ordered key-value store.

We’ll keep data about classes like this:

# ['class', class_name] = seats_available

Similarly, each such key will represent an available class. We’ll use seats_available to record the number of seats available.

Transactions

We’re going to rely on the powerful guarantees of transactions to help keep all of our modifications straight, so let’s look at a nice way that the FoundationDB Ruby API lets you write a transactional function. The transact() method ensures that a code block is executed transactionally. Let’s write the very simple add_class function we will use to populate the database’s class list:

def add_class(db_or_tr, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])] = '100'
    end
end

A function using this approach has a parameter taking either a Database or Transaction on which it calls the transact() method. The block passed to transact() is parameterized by the transaction the function will use to do reads and writes.

When calling such a function, however, you can pass a Database instead of a Transaction. The method automatically creates a transaction and implements a retry loop to ensure that the transaction eventually commits.

For a FoundationDB database @db:

add_class(@db, 'class1')

is equivalent to something like:

tr = @db.create_transaction
committed = false
while !committed
    begin
        tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])] = '100'
        tr.commit.wait
        committed = true
    rescue FDB::Error => e
        tr.on_error(e).wait
    end
end

If instead you pass a Transaction for the db_or_tr parameter, the transaction will be used directly, and it is assumed that the caller implements appropriate retry logic for errors. This permits functions using this pattern to be composed into larger transactions.

Making some sample classes

Let’s make some sample classes and put them in the @class_names variable. We’ll make individual classes from combinations of class types, levels, and times:

# Generate 1,620 classes like '9:00 chem for dummies'
levels = ['intro', 'for dummies', 'remedial', '101',
          '201', '301', 'mastery', 'lab', 'seminar']
types = ['chem', 'bio', 'cs', 'geometry', 'calc',
         'alg', 'film', 'music', 'art', 'dance']
times = Array(2...20).map {|h| h.to_s.encode('UTF-8') + ':00'}
class_combos = times.product(types, levels)
@class_names = class_combos.map {|combo| combo.join(' ')}

Initializing the database

We initialize the database with our class list:

def init(db_or_tr)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        tr.clear_range_start_with(FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends']))
        tr.clear_range_start_with(FDB::Tuple.pack(['class']))
        @class_names.each do |class_name|
            add_class(tr, class_name)
        end
    end
end

After init() is run, the database will contain all of the sample classes we created above.

Listing available classes

Before students can do anything else, they need to be able to retrieve a list of available classes from the database. Because FoundationDB sorts its data by key and therefore has efficient range-read capability, we can retrieve all of the classes in a single database call. We find this range of keys with get_range():

def available_classes(db_or_tr)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        r = FDB::Tuple.range(['class'])
        tr.get_range(r[0], r[1]) {|kv| FDB::Tuple.unpack(kv.key)[1]}
    end
end

In general, the FDB::Tuple.range() method returns an Array of two elements representing the begin and end of the range of all the key-value pairs starting with the specified tuple. In this case, we want all classes, so we call FDB::Tuple.range() with the tuple ['class']. get_range() returns an enumerable of the key-values specified by its range. To extract the class name, we unpack the key into a tuple using FDB::Tuple.unpack() and take its second part. (The first part is the prefix 'class'.)

Signing up for a class

We finally get to the crucial function. A student has decided on a class (by name) and wants to sign up. The signup function will take a student (s) and a class (c):

def signup(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        tr[rec] = ''
    end
end

We simply insert the appropriate record (with a blank value).

Dropping a class

Dropping a class is similar to signing up:

def drop(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        tr.clear(rec)
    end
end

Of course, to actually drop the student from the class, we need to be able to delete a record from the database. We do this with the clear() method.

Done?

We report back to the project leader that our application is done—students can sign up for, drop, and list classes. Unfortunately, we learn that a new problem has been discovered: popular classes are being over-subscribed. Our application now needs to enforce the class size constraint as students add and drop classes.

Seats are limited!

Let’s go back to the data model. Remember that we stored the number of seats in the class in the value of the key-value entry in the class list. Let’s refine that a bit to track the remaining number of seats in the class. The initialization can work the same way (in our example, all classes initially have 100 seats), but the available_classes, signup, and drop functions are going to have to change. Let’s start with available_classes:

def available_classes(db_or_tr)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        r = FDB::Tuple.range(['class'])
        tr.get_range(r[0], r[1]) {|kv| FDB::Tuple.unpack(kv.key)[1] if kv.value.to_i > 0}
    end
end

This is easy – we simply add a condition to check that the value is non-zero. Let’s check out signup next:

def signup(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        if not tr[rec].nil?
            return # already signed up
        end

        seats_left = tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class', c])].to_i
        if seats_left == 0
            raise 'No remaining seats'
        end

        tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])] = (seats_left - 1).to_s.encode('UTF-8')
        tr[rec] = ''
    end
end

We now have to check that we aren’t already signed up, since we don’t want a double sign up to decrease the number of seats twice. Then we look up how many seats are left to make sure there is a seat remaining so we don’t push the counter into the negative. If there is a seat remaining, we decrement the counter.

Concurrency and consistency

The signup function is starting to get a bit complex; it now reads and writes a few different key-value pairs in the database. One of the tricky issues in this situation is what happens as multiple clients/students read and modify the database at the same time. Couldn’t two students both see one remaining seat and sign up at the same time?

These are tricky issues without simple answers—unless you have transactions! Because these functions are defined as FoundationDB transactions, we can have a simple answer: Each transactional function behaves as if it is the only one modifying the database. There is no way for a transaction to ‘see’ another transaction change the database, and each transaction ensures that either all of its modifications occur or none of them do.

Looking deeper, it is, of course, possible for two transactions to conflict. For example, if two people both see a class with one seat and sign up at the same time, FoundationDB must allow only one to succeed. This causes one of the transactions to fail to commit (which can also be caused by network outages, crashes, etc.). To ensure correct operation, applications need to handle this situation, usually via retrying the transaction. In this case, the conflicting transaction will be retried automatically by the transact() method and will eventually lead to the correct result, a ‘No remaining seats’ exception.

Idempotence

Occasionally, a transaction might be retried even after it succeeds (for example, if the client loses contact with the cluster at just the wrong moment). This can cause problems if transactions are not written to be idempotent, i.e. to have the same effect if committed twice as if committed once. There are generic design patterns for making any transaction idempotent, but many transactions are naturally idempotent. For example, all of the transactions in this tutorial are idempotent.

Dropping with limited seats

Let’s finish up the limited seats feature by modifying the drop function:

def drop(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        if tr[rec].nil?
            return  # not taking this class
        end
        class_key = FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])
        tr[class_key] = (tr[class_key].to_i + 1).to_s.encode('UTF-8')
        tr.clear(rec)
    end
end

This case is easier than signup because there are no constraints we can hit. We just need to make sure the student is in the class and to “give back” one seat when the student drops.

More features?!

Of course, as soon as our new version of the system goes live, we hear of a trick that certain students are using. They are signing up for all classes immediately, and only later dropping those that they don’t want to take. This has led to an unusable system, and we have been asked to fix it. We decide to limit students to five classes:

def signup(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        if not tr[rec].nil?
            return # already signed up
        end

        seats_left = tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class', c])].to_i
        if seats_left == 0
            raise 'No remaining seats'
        end

        r = FDB::Tuple.range(['attends', s])
        classes = tr.get_range(r[0], r[1])
        if classes.count == 5
            raise 'Too many classes'
        end

        tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])] = (seats_left - 1).to_s.encode('UTF-8')
        tr[rec] = ''
    end
end

Fortunately, we decided on a data model that keeps all of the attending records for a single student together. With this approach, we can use a single range read to retrieve all the classes that a student attends. We simply throw an exception if the number of classes has reached the limit of five.

Composing transactions

Oh, just one last feature, we’re told. We have students that are trying to switch from one popular class to another. By the time they drop one class to free up a slot for themselves, the open slot in the other class is gone. By the time they see this and try to re-add their old class, that slot is gone too! So, can we make it so that a student can switch from one class to another without this worry?

Fortunately, we have FoundationDB, and this sounds an awful lot like the transactional property of atomicity—the all-or-nothing behavior that we already rely on. All we need to do is to compose the drop and signup functions into a new switch function. This makes the switch function exceptionally easy:

def switch(db_or_tr, s, old_c, new_c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        drop(tr, s, old_c)
        signup(tr, s, new_c)
    end
end

The simplicity of this implementation belies the sophistication of what FoundationDB is taking care of for us.

By dropping the old class and signing up for the new one inside a single transaction, we ensure that either both steps happen, or that neither happens. The first notable thing about the switch function is that it is transactional, but it also calls the transactional functions signup and drop. Because these transactional functions can accept either a database or an existing transaction as the tr argument, the switch function can be called with a database by a simple client, and a new transaction will be automatically created. However, once this transaction is created and passed in as tr, the calls to drop and signup both share the same tr. This ensures that they see each other’s modifications to the database, and all of the changes that both of them make in sequence are made transactionally when the switch function returns. This compositional capability is very powerful.

Also note that, if an exception is raised, for example, in signup, the exception is not caught by switch and so will be thrown to the calling function. In this case, the transaction object (owned by the transact() method) is destroyed, automatically rolling back all database modifications, leaving the database completely unchanged by the half-executed function.

Are we done?

Yep, we’re done and ready to deploy. If you want to see this entire application in one place plus some multithreaded testing code to simulate concurrency, look at the Appendix: class_scheduling.rb, below.

Deploying and scaling

Since we store all state for this application in FoundationDB, deploying and scaling this solution up is impressively painless. Just run a web server, the UI, this back end, and point the whole thing at FoundationDB. We can run as many computers with this setup as we want, and they can all hit the database at the same time because of the transactional integrity of FoundationDB. Also, since all of the state in the system is stored in the database, any of these computers can fail without any lasting consequences.

Next steps

  • See Data Modeling for guidance on using tuple and subspaces to enable effective storage and retrieval of data.
  • See Developer Guide for general guidance on development using FoundationDB.
  • See the API References for detailed API documentation.

Appendix: class_scheduling.rb

Here’s the code for the scheduling tutorial:

require 'fdb'

FDB.api_version 600

####################################
##        Initialization          ##
####################################

# Data model:
# ['attends', student, class] = ''
# ['class', class_name] = seats_left

@db = FDB.open

def add_class(db_or_tr, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])] = '100'
    end
end

# Generate 1,620 classes like '9:00 chem for dummies'
levels = ['intro', 'for dummies', 'remedial', '101',
          '201', '301', 'mastery', 'lab', 'seminar']
types = ['chem', 'bio', 'cs', 'geometry', 'calc',
         'alg', 'film', 'music', 'art', 'dance']
times = Array(2...20).map {|h| h.to_s.encode('UTF-8') + ':00'}
class_combos = times.product(types, levels)
@class_names = class_combos.map {|combo| combo.join(' ')}

def init(db_or_tr)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        tr.clear_range_start_with(FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends']))
        tr.clear_range_start_with(FDB::Tuple.pack(['class']))
        @class_names.each do |class_name|
            add_class(tr, class_name)
        end
    end
end

def available_classes(db_or_tr)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        r = FDB::Tuple.range(['class'])
        tr.get_range(r[0], r[1]) {|kv| FDB::Tuple.unpack(kv.key)[1] if kv.value.to_i > 0}
    end
end

def signup(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        if not tr[rec].nil?
            return # already signed up
        end

        seats_left = tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class', c])].to_i
        if seats_left == 0
            raise 'No remaining seats'
        end

        r = FDB::Tuple.range(['attends', s])
        classes = tr.get_range(r[0], r[1])
        if classes.count == 5
            raise 'Too many classes'
        end

        tr[FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])] = (seats_left - 1).to_s.encode('UTF-8')
        tr[rec] = ''
    end
end

def drop(db_or_tr, s, c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        rec = FDB::Tuple.pack(['attends', s, c])
        if tr[rec].nil?
            return  # not taking this class
        end
        class_key = FDB::Tuple.pack(['class',c])
        tr[class_key] = (tr[class_key].to_i + 1).to_s.encode('UTF-8')
        tr.clear(rec)
    end
end

def switch(db_or_tr, s, old_c, new_c)
    db_or_tr.transact do |tr|
        drop(tr, s, old_c)
        signup(tr, s, new_c)
    end
end

####################################
##           Testing              ##
####################################

def indecisive_student(i, ops)
    student_ID = "s%d" % i
    all_classes = @class_names
    my_classes = []

    Array(0...ops).each do |i|
        class_count = my_classes.length
        moods = []
        if class_count > 0
            moods.push('drop','switch')
        end
        if class_count < 5
            moods.push('add')
        end
        mood = moods.sample

        begin
            if all_classes.empty?
                all_classes = available_classes(@db)
            end
            if mood == 'add'
                c = all_classes.sample
                signup(@db, student_ID, c)
                my_classes.push(c)
            elsif mood == 'drop'
                c = my_classes.sample
                drop(@db, student_ID, c)
                my_classes.delete(c)
            elsif mood == 'switch'
                old_c = my_classes.sample
                new_c = all_classes.sample
                switch(@db, student_ID, old_c, new_c)
                my_classes.delete(old_c)
                my_classes.push(new_c)
            end
        rescue => e
            print e, "Need to recheck available classes."
            all_classes = []
        end
    end
end

def run(students, ops_per_student)
    threads = Array(0...students).map {|i| Thread.new(i, ops_per_student) {
                                       indecisive_student(i, ops_per_student)}
                                    }
    threads.each {|thr| thr.join}
    print "Ran %d transactions" % (students * ops_per_student)
end

if __FILE__ == $0
    init(@db)
    print "initialized"
    run(10, 10)
end