Parallel Microservices with Dependencies

January 2018 ยท 5 minute read

The problem

Right now, I’m a software engineering intern on the infrastructure team at Blend Labs. We run a standard microservice architecture over k8s running on AWS instances. Internal apps make it convenient to run and deploy microservices, abstracting away a lot of k8s stuff. It’s simple. You just register an image or a git repo and let our tools do the rest.

Internally, we have our own abstractions to help us deal with k8s stuff so it’s easier to manage common tasks that we’d like to do with k8s, Docker, or etcd. Part of our workflow includes a component called TaskRunner that does what you’d expect – it runs tasks. There is an abstraction called a Module that has a logically separated set of tasks. These tasks are assumed to be linearly dependent. You have to run them in sequence. A Module has a Register() function that adds a set of sequences to a queue for TaskRunner to execute.

We realized that not every Module has to be run in a linear order. In fact, things would probably be a lot faster if we could specify strict dependencies and try to run things in parallel. One immediate issue was that we didn’t know how long it would take to run each set of steps, or Module, which rules out a lot of optimizations.


You can very easily tell that this is a graph problem. We can abstract each Module as a node. A node can keep track of their dependents and dependencies, so we effectively have two directional graphs. Every time a Module is registered, it also has to specify its dependencies.

Acyclic graphs

It’s pretty important to make sure that the graph doesn’t contain a cycle so we wrote checks to see if the graph contained a cycle. So how do you check to see if a directional graph contains a cycle?

A graph is defined as cyclic if you can start a traversal down a node and end up coming back to that node. So you can just arbitrarily pick nodes to traverse down, and see if any of these paths lead you back to a node that you already visited. Since we’re talking about dependencies, you might have thought of topological graph sorting. Topological sorting can actually detect cycles in a graph, but topological sort itself won’t solve our problems since it resolves dependencies in a linear fashion.

It’s actually a fairly easy problem to tackle. You need to have a set of unvisited nodes, a set of visited nodes, and a set representing the nodes in the current traversal stack.

Pick an arbitrary node in the set of unvisited nodes. Begin a traversal down this path (depth-first). As you go down the path, add each node to the stack, and then after you get through all of the nodes on the stack, and you add all of those nodes to the set of visited nodes. When you are traversing down the stack, don’t visit already visited nodes, and if you come across a node in the stack, you know you have a cycle.

If you get through the entire graph without coming across a node in the stack, the graph is acyclic.

The pseudocode looks something like this.

def check(graph):
    visited, unvisited, stack = set(), set(), set()

    while len(unvisited) > 0:
        root = unvisited.remove(random)

        if helper(graph, root, visited, unvisited, stack):
            return True
    return False

def helper(graph, root, unvisited, visited, stack):
    """ returns true if a particular path has a backedge

    if root in stack:
        return False

    return helper(graph, root.child, unvisited, visited, stack)

Traversing the graph

Once we’ve verified that there are no cycles in the dependency graph, we can theoretically run asynchronous breadth-first searches from every root in the graph.

Note that this dependency graph will need to have links for dependencies and dependents. A task can be run if it has no dependents or if all of the dependents have been run/fulfilled. While this can be better optimized, at the moment, if a module is completed, the thread checks on all of its dependents and if that dependent has all of its dependencies completed, it can run. We could spawn off a new thread, but spawning a potentially infinite number of threads isn’t much good. Our solution involved using a fixed number of worker threads that would take accept nodes off of a queue, so we could limit the maximum number of threads at any given time.

Implementation details

Of course, everything is always easier in theory. I had some trouble figuring out how to set up the concurrency aspect of the code, but it turns out Go actually has some pretty nice concurrency features.

I ended up following this tutorial, which made things very easy.

When implementing these algorithms, we had a few things to think about. I was also new to Go, so I had to get acclimated with Go’s concurrency features.

Turns out, you can take care of all that with chan, go’s “channel”. It’s essentially a messaging system that lets you easily communicate between threads. I won’t go too in depth into it since the example covers it very well.