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Alex de Sousa
Alex de Sousa

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

Yggdrasil: Easy Pub-Sub in Elixir

When I started coding in Elixir (around 2016), I was working for a financial company. Our product automatically invested money in the Forex market by copying traders' actions (market orders) in real time. We had the following:

Our system

In words, our system:

  1. Subscribed to PostgreSQL for receiving trader actions.
  2. Published to RabbitMQ for:
    • Categorizing trader actions.
    • And enqueuing trader actions in the proper queue.
  3. Subscribed to Redis for receiving updates on prices.
  4. Subscribed to several RabbitMQ queues for:
    • Receiving the categorized trader actions.
    • And deciding whether it should open/close some market orders or not.
  5. Opened and closed market orders.

We needed to be able to communicate with three systems (PostgreSQL, RabbitMQ and Redis). However, in general, we only needed three actions:

  • subscribe/1 to a channel.
  • publish/2 a message in a channel.
  • unsubscribe/1 from a channel.

If we could generalize those three actions into an API, we could then implement three individual adapters for every system to handle the annoying stuff like disconnections, failures, resource management, protocols, etc.


Meet Yggdrasil

Handling subscriptions should be easy and, in an ideal world, we would only need to know where to connect and start receiving messages right away.

We shouldn't need to worry about secondary (yet relevant) things like disconnections, failures and managing resources.


Yggdrasil is an immense mythical tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse cosmology.

Yggdrasil was our pub-sub generalization. Using the strong foundations of Phoenix pub-sub library, we built an agnostic publisher/subscriber application that has:

  • Multi node support.
  • Simple API: subscribe/1, unsubscribe/1 and publish/2.
  • A GenServer wrapper for handling subscriber events easily.
  • A basic adapter for using Elixir message distribution.
  • Fault-tolerant adapters for:

One API to rule them all

Yggdrasil's API is very simple:

  • A process subscribes to "my_channel":
   iex> :ok = Yggdrasil.subscribe(name: "my_channel")
   iex> flush()
   {:Y_CONNECTED, %Yggdrasil.Channel{...}}
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  • A process (in this case the same process) publishes the message "my message" in "my_channel".
   iex> :ok = Yggdrasil.publish([name: "my_channel"], "my message")
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  • The message should be in the mailbox of the subscriber process:
   iex> flush()
   {:Y_EVENT, %Yggdrasil.Channel{...}, "my message"}
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  • The subscriber can unsubscribe from the channel to stop receiving messages:
   iex> :ok = Yggdrasil.unsubscribe(name: "my_channel")
   iex> flush()
   {:Y_DISCONNECTED, %Yggdrasil.Channel{...}}
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flush() cleans the IEx process mailbox. In general, receiving Yggdrasil messages should be the same as receiving messages when the sender uses send/2.

So easy!

Yggdrasil behaviour

Yggdrasil provides a behaviour for writing subscribers easily. Following the previous example, the subscriber could be written as follows:

defmodule Subscriber do
  use Yggdrasil

  def start_link do
    channel = [name: "my_channel"]
    Yggdrasil.start_link(__MODULE__, [channel])

  @impl true
  def handle_event(_channel, message, _state) do
    IO.inspect {:mailbox, message}
    {:ok, nil}
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This subscriber will print the message as it receives it:

iex> {:ok, _pid} = Subscriber.start_link()
iex> :ok = Yggdrasil.publish([name: "my_channel"], "my message")
{:mailbox, "my_message"}
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An interesting side-effect is that now we can send messages to any process as long as they are subscribed to the right channel without needing to know the process PID or name.


Yggdrasil hides the complexity of a pub/sub and let's you focus in what really matters: messages.

Hope you found this article useful. Happy coding!

Heck yeah!

Cover image by Todd Quackenbush

Top comments (3)

bjorngrunde profile image
Björn Grunde

Thanks for a great article! Tho, pub/sub in elixir, in general, is still less of a headache compared to other languages, anything that makes your life easier. I will definitly try out Yggdrassil :)

alexdesousa profile image
Alex de Sousa

Thanks! I'll write some more about Yggdrasil in the near future. I want to expand on its different adapters (Redis, RabbitMQ and PostgreSQL), so stay tunned :)