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Radu
@raduab_gitlab
@jdubray that makes sense! what about my second question, how should I implement allowedActions in the sam-pattern. do you have an example somewhere?
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
@radu all samples are in the test. I don't release a feature without testing it, thought there might be corner cases I miss:
 it('should accept a limited set of actions', () => {
      const SAMAllowedActionTest = createInstance({ instanceName: 'allowed' })

      expect(SAMAllowedActionTest).to.not.equal(SAM)

      const { intents } = SAMAllowedActionTest({

        initialState: {
          counter: 0
        },

        component: {
          actions: [
            () => ({ incBy1: 1 }),
            () => ({ incBy2: 1 })
          ],
          acceptors: [
            model => ({ incBy1, incBy2 }) => {
              if (E(incBy1) || E(incBy2)) {
                model.counter += (incBy1 || 0) + (incBy2 || 0)
              }
            }
          ]
        },

        render: state => expect(state.counter).to.be.lessThan(4)
      })
      const [incBy1, incBy2] = intents
      SAMAllowedActionTest({ allow: { actions: [incBy2] } })
      incBy1()
      incBy2()
      incBy1()

      setRender(state => expect(state.counter).to.be.equal(1))
    })
this is how you change it: SAMAllowedActionTest({ allow: { actions: [incBy2] } })
Radu
@raduab_gitlab

I guess this would be better placed into a reactor function? e.g.

reactors: [
  model => ({ action }) => {
    ...
    allow({ actions: [anotherAction] })
  },
  model => ({ anotherAction }) => {
    ...
    allow({ actions: [action] })
  }
]

What would be the allow() function in the above example?

Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
The idea is that allowed intents would change at every step, so you need to mount that logic after the SAM instance has returned the intents. Now with the sam-fsm library, it also works with action labels, so you can use the sam-fsm very effectively to controlled the allowed intents.
Otherwise, yes, the reactors would be a great place to specify them.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
I'll add these labels to the sam-pattern library, that seems to be a reasonable addition, rather than requiring the intent instance's reference.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
I have updated the action definition to integrate a label. You can now use:
actions: [
          ['TICK', tick],
          ['TOCK', tock],  // a SAM action associated to the label TOCK
         tack  // a regular (not labeled) action
        ],
That means that now you can also label actions in SAM (without fsm) and therefore you can defined the allowed actions as an array of labels (string)
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray

Graphviz offers a nice state machine editor, for instance (http://magjac.com/graphviz-visual-editor/):

digraph rocket_launcher {
    rankdir=LR;
    size="8,5"
    node [shape = doublecircle]; ready;
    node [shape = circle];
    ready -> started [label = "START"];
    started -> ticking [label = "TICK"];
    ticking -> ticking [label = "TICK"];
    ticking -> aborted [label = "ABORT"];
    ticking -> launching [label = "LAUNCH"];
    aborted -> ready [label = "RESET"];
    launching -> ready [label = "RESET"];
}

You can even save them in the browser local storage

I am adding a graphviz output to sam-fsm
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
these shapes look nicer:
ready [shape = doublecircle fontcolor=white style=filled color=black]
node [shape = Mrecord];
Edward Mulraney
@edmulraney
Nice find, thanks for sharing
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
Ok, I added to the sam-fsm library! v0.9.16
@edmulraney let me know if you see anything else, otherwise, I'll call it a 1.0.0
I found a slightly prettier design:
digraph fsm_diagram {
rankdir=LR;
size="8,5"
READY [shape = circle margin=0 fixedsize=true width=0.33 fontcolor=black style=filled color=black label="\n\n\nREADY"]
END [shape = doublecircle margin=0 style=filled fontcolor=white color=black]
node [shape = Mrecord];
READY -> TICKED [label = "START"]
TICKED -> TOCKED [label = "TOCK"];
TOCKED -> TICKED [label = "TICK"];
TOCKED -> END [label = "STOP"];

}
image.png
Edward Mulraney
@edmulraney
Last thing I'd suggest, and you may have done this already, is sensible defaults
looked like quite a large object to initialise the FSM with. Would be nice if you could just pass the transitions, and it defaults to just a standard FSM (deterministic)
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@metapgmr_twitter
Yes, it's already done, the first state is also used as the start state, so you can just pass a transition object.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
image.png
I was actually able to add conditions as well (last transition):
Edward Mulraney
@edmulraney
So does sam-fsm autogenerate that diagram, with conditions? I imagine you have to add that manually
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@metapgmr_twitter
Yes! The textual form. What I had in mind is that during the test phase in your build pipeline you could autogenerate the png file from a local graphviz instance and check it back in with a link in the readme file. It would be autidocumenting at its best.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
There is also dotuml, I'll add an output tonight, there is a nice plugin for vscode: https://dotuml.com/documentation.html#secDiagramState
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
I am working on adding composite states: https://www.uml-diagrams.org/state-machine-diagrams.html#composite-state
That sounds like a reasonable feature

Here is the specification:
Since a SAM instance can run multiple state machine, the sam-fsm library also supports the concept of composite state when a state machine can only accept actions when another state machine is in a particular state. The composite state fsm can also be programmed to execute automatic actions on the parent fsm on specific states (success, failure,...)

The composite descriptor specifies the composite state label of the parent fsm (COMPOSITE_STATE in the snippet below). That state value acts as a global guard of the composite fsm. The composite fsm will start in the pc0 state each time the parent transitions to the composite state.

Conversely, the composite fsm can specify automatic actions on the parent fsm as composite transitions. On a given state (for instance END, the composite fsm will automatically execute the specified parent action and pass the proposal parameters (in addition to its own state)).

When the parent and or composite fsm use their local states, the same logic applies.

const parentFSM = fsm({ 
  pc: 'parentStatus', 
  states: {
    COMPOSITE_STATE: { ... }
  },
  ... 
})

const compositeStateFSM = fsm({ 
        ...
        composite: {
          onState: { pc: 'parentStatus', label: 'COMPOSITE_STATE' },
          transitions: [
            { onState: 'END', action: 'PARENT_ACTION', proposal: ['counter'] }
          ]
        }
        ...
})
Edward Mulraney
@edmulraney
Looks cool - I haven't hit a use case where I'd need that yet since i'm only using FSM for high level / macro control state that is self isolated. One thing I've been thinking about is removing the responsibility of triggering events from the UI components themselves, and instead having the model responsible for sending them. Haven't thought it through too much yet but it would mean the FSM was responsible for the event triggers based off the model, instead of having it defined in UI components themselves. Then UI components are only responsible for triggering events that update state (not events that immediately go to the FSM, i'd rather the UI components didn't know about the FSM)
That way your FSM logic is all colocated also (inside the FSM itself, the transitions and the triggers)
Currently a developer can effectively write triggerTransitionEvent() when the model isn't necessarily in the right state to have sent that. The FSM protects against this by only allowing permitted events (actions), and by optionally having guards. With having the FSM responsible for triggering the event instead, the developer no longer has the responsibility of updating state (via a proposal or event), and, triggering the transition event, but instead only has to update state
That way they can't "get it wrong" when it comes to the triggering the transition event, they can only get the state update wrong (which is one less area for bugs to appear)
Edward Mulraney
@edmulraney
The FSM is then testable to a much more useful degree by ensuring the transitions are also triggered correctly. Previously testing that would have required every UI component that can trigger the event to also be part of the test
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray

That way they can't "get it wrong" when it comes to the triggering the transition event

that has always been my issue with the coupling action/event -> state, that's why I prefer Dr. Lamport's view of state machines and integrate the control state as another model property derived from the processing of the proposal. But happy to hear more about your thoughts and see if I can implement. I am already so pleased (but not surprised) that SAM can implement FSMs so easily. I have claimed that with empirical data points (and some reasonable theoretical background) but I have now proven that the two can coexist synergetically.

pechkin
@3dc1d3

@jdubray how very serendipitous you should be having this fsm discussion as I was deliberating on this very topic over the last few weeks!

I have 2 questions based on what you've said above and your articles:

1) why write sam-fsm if the semantics of fsms are "not very useful beyond light switches"? what need does it fulfill that isn't (it seems) better fulfilled by vanilla sam?

2) is there a good example that highlights practical advantages of computing state from the model vs the traditional fsm approach of S1 dictating to enter S2 given some condition?

I appreciate the elegance and decoupled nature of the sam approach, but in the end, it seems to me the difference is superfluous when viewed as sam: accept(...); compute_and_enter_state_from_model(); vs fsm: process_event(...); compute_and_enter_state_from_event_and_model(); - what am I missing?

one thing that may be hampered is time travel, but I think that as long as the control state is part of the model, and the fsm respects it, then you can time travel with traditional fsm design? (not sure, just speculating)

Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
@3dc1d3
1) When you look at the work of Dr. Lamport you will notice that TLA+ based state machines often us a pc variable that Dr. Lamport describes as control state, sam-fsm makes it easier to implement control state without compromising on the structure of the TLA+ state machine. In other words, the control state does not necessarily change for every action (unlike in a traditional FSM). Theoretically the state changes of course but it is often immaterial to the control state.
2) FSMs couple actions and state, one action leads to one state regardless of any computation you would need. TLA+ based state machine use the model to decouple action and state: action -> model -> state, action makes a proposal to the model, the model computes the resulting state (which includes the control state). The best examples are the code everyone writes day in and day out. The only reason we cannot use FSMs is exactly because that coupling is not practical for things other than light switches. We don't know the resulting state when we take an action. SAM is just a factoring of your code that helps you reason more effectively about the application state. In our code the application state is usually handled via if-then-else statements. Unfortunately developers tend to use them inconsistently. SAM provides a structure that makes it a lot clearer to reason about it because:
  • the mutations are first class citizens (two types of mutations: acceptors and reactors), in particular actions (event handlers) are no longer orchestrating mutations, mutations are reactive
  • the state representation(s) can be computed from the application state (again reactively) leading to cleaner rendering of that state representation, again, actions or mutations are not involved in orchestrating the rendering
    Overall, SAM (since it based on TLA+) introduces the concept of a step, a very natural step that allows you to deal with complex issues, including control state as it is demonstrated with sam-fsm. The only thing that sam-fsm does is adding general acceptors and reactors configured with the FSM definition. If you were to implement that by hand the code would look very ugly very fast (as shown by the old rocket launcher sample), add on top non-fsm code and you redefine spaghetti code.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
The example I take often is what does it mean to start an electric vehicle? Yes, I get it, you turn the light switch on, but even then it's no true, since a Tesla for instance is always on. To start an EV, really means to be in the position to start your trip. Going on the road without enough battery would get you into trouble, we don't need to have this kind of consideration for GPVs because we can refill easily. So an EV needs something like SAM where the action's proposal is a destination, and the model computes whether the car is effectively ready to start the trip or if you need to charge it. Most of our code looks like that, SAM provides the structure to write this code effectively and scale in scope effortlessly, otherwise the if-then-else turn quickly ugly.
pechkin
@3dc1d3

@jdubray thank you, I understand the high level rationale, my question was more specific. I'll try to rephrase it more clearly.

a standard sam process:

1. propose A
2. update M
3. compute S from M

step 3 is it's own pure fn based on M alone, where M has 'absorbed' the effects of A (or E (event) in fsm terms).

a general fsm:

1. observe E
2a. update M
2b. decide/compute S from M+E

I labelled them 2a and 2b as this is typically done in the same fn.

observations:

  1. computing S from M or M+E is really the same thing, the former just includes E's data as part of the model.
  2. one could argue that step 2b is an 'optimised' step 3 as you (often) don't need to check any values of the model, you can just change state based on the type of the event (and it's args) alone as is commonly done in traditional fsms designs.
  3. the structure and semantics are basically the same (within this limited scope)

question: under what conditions would the fsm design cause problems? specifically the difference between sam's computing S as a standalone fn based only on M vs fsm's essentially including that same computation as the final step in the update fn?

this question has come up while reviewing UML tools to help our team document and structure fsms - the sam approach makes it impossible to visualise the state transitions precisely because there's no hard link between state A and state B.

so if I were to draw a sam-based fsm in UML it would look something like (as I understand it):

            ┌─────────┐
    A ──────┤         ├──────  A
            │         │
            │         │
    B ──────┤ State   ├──────  B
            │         │
            │         │
    C ──────┤         ├──────  C
            └─────────┘

you could add transition labels to hint where you expect A to transition to but it's still just a hint - the state fn is what really determines the next state, which is buried in a bunch of condition checks.

Did that make sense?

Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
@3dc1d3 I would king of disagree from step 2b, the step 1 decides of the update (the expected control state value), the model has no flexibility as to decide how the application gets updated. The only computation that occurs is on the guarded transitions and automatic transitions. With that in mind, I am not sure how you could implement the Tesla example above? You'd have to create an automatic action that stops the Tesla when the battery charge is too low and displays an error message. There is not a lot of room to do complex updates to the application state, within the FSM. The design of the FSM would cause problem as soon as you start having an explosion of automatic actions and additional control states to implement the behavior when the action cannot control the true value of the control state, which is very common in complex software.
SAM + SAM-FSM would help because you can choose a non deterministic FSM (Start -> Started or NotCharged). You can create a representation of that state machine. Actually SAM-FSM does it for you with fsm.stateMachineDiagram
Yes, what you are saying makes sense, but my answer is that FSMs do not scale in scope, you could quickly lose track of what's going on when everything becomes a control state. SAM + SAM-FSM gives you the flexibility of using control state when it makes sense and simple actions when it doesn't.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
David (author of XState) claims that State charts are better, but I don't see it.
Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray

Did that make sense?

yes, spot on, but real world state machines do not work like FSMs (not even talking about mixing API calls)

pechkin
@3dc1d3

yes statecharts is what I've been looking into, and I also do not really buy into them, but I'm struggling to justify why.

the EV implementation would not be very different from sam, as far as I can tell. i guess in my mind the fsm would be as close as possible to sam, with the biggest (and in my mind the only) difference being in the handling of state transitions.

fsm: in state ON, accept destination A if M.battery==100%, set state to DRIVE.
any naps could be queued just before setting the state to DRIVE.

the difference with sam would be that the ON state has no idea what state to go to next as it is computed from M.

in sam I don't see how you can draw a diagram of state transitions because each state is completely blind/oblivious to what the next state might be computed to.

in regard to fsm.stateMachineDiagram - I assume this would still be a diagram of "this is how we expect/assume the transitions should happen" but is not "this is actually how the code is written, state A leads to state B, no questions." the only way to know for sure what the next state will be in sam is by looking through all the state computations - it's a black box, like in my diagram above.

drawing a diagram which shows the intended specification is good, but it doesn't say what the implementation actually does - this is the main selling point (to me) of UML based tools (statecharts): what you see is literally the path taken by the machine.

specifying allowed state transitions helps but all it does is narrow down the possible next states, you still can't say whether A will go to B or C.

Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray

if M.battery==100%

It's more complicated than that since you need to take into account the trip length, possibly the outside temperature, ... The main question though is "Is every state a control state?" and the answer is probably no. It is not practical to write code in a FSM way.

this is how we expect/assume the transitions should happen

Correct, this is a diagram of the FSM specification. It would actually be interesting to create a second one, of the actual path! great idea.

it's a black box, like in my diagram above.

That's why there is a model checker! I can't claim it's practical since the number of combinations would quickly explode, but you also have safety conditions to prevent the system to get to unexpected and unwanted states.

it doesn't say what the implementation actually does

I am not quite sure how UML solves this. UML produces design artefacts, not runtime.

Daniel Neveux
@dagatsoin

If I may, it seems that FSM can be done with SAM, but SAM can't be done with FSM. Mainly because, SAM state don't need to know where it comes from but can take hints to act like a FSM.
For exemple :

  • if you pass the delta to your SAM state computation function, you will know which control state was before.
  • if you map control state with allowed actions you can easily guess what control state will came after.

With those two points (totally legit in SAM thanks to the temporal concept), you can do a FSM.

Jean-Jacques Dubray
@jdubray
@dagatsoin exactly, with SAM you don't need static actions, the sam-pattern library does, only because it wraps it for some features of the library (such as allowedActions). A proposal does not have to have a specific structure either. It would be too impractical to define that kind of structure at the scale at of a real-world application. That's why I was really excited with the suggestion of @edmulraney because you can get the best of both world because control state makes a lot of sense.
I had often claimed that SAM was compatible with a FSM formalism, but the implementation was not pretty. sam-fsm or the like, makes it predictable and fairly easy to integrate.
pechkin
@3dc1d3

I am not quite sure how UML solves this. UML produces design artefacts, not runtime.

actually statecharts are used to generate the runtime. for example (QM)[https://www.state-machine.com/products/qm/] modelling tool, but there are many others. you draw the statechart and it outputs C code in fsm structure.

being able to see the paths and knowing that they exactly match the runtime implementation is (at least theoretically) a big help in digesting a complex system.

this is where I'm coming from, and why I'm so focused on how the state transitions are encoded - with sam I can't see the state architecture, i have to read it and compute it in my head. having a model checker is great of course but it doesn't give a junior dev, or even a new senior dev (or even a client) any insight into how the system actually operates (excluding bugs). the state fn acts as a spec enforcer, but the issue I'm facing is extracting the links/relationships out of that spec for easier understanding.

It would actually be interesting to create a second one, of the actual path! great idea.

how would you go about generating this diagram? if you can do that then you don't need the spec diagram as it's subsumed by the runtime diagram. I just don't see how you can extract it.

Edward Mulraney
@edmulraney

Still reading through the recent discussion but wanted to just say on this point:

and the answer is probably no. It is not practical to write code in a FSM way.

Totally agree. Where I'm going with my approach is that there is lots of auxiliary state that the FSM doesn't need to know about, and I think that's totally okay, you cannot factor in every true state of the world into your app, no matter how hard you try to. So it's about choosing what's essential to the control state. I think it would be valid to have some logic inside a component which is external to the FSM, but feeds its result to the FSM for the purpose of control state. It's a worthwhile tradeoff between practicality and usefulness.

pechkin
@3dc1d3
I agree with that as well, it is one of my biggest gripes with fsms and what I love most about sam - ability to cover a plethora of micro states but in a coherent and controlled (ha) way.