Async & Reactive APIs

  • how-to
    The Couchbase Scala SDK allows the use, and mixing, of three distinct APIs: blocking, asynchronous, and reactive.

    The Scala SDK provides three APIs, which can be freely mixed:

    • A simple blocking one, that returns Try.

    • An asynchronous one, that returns Future.

    • A reactive one, that returns reactive primitives from the Project Reactor library, e.g. Mono and Flux.

    Using the Blocking API

    This is the simplest API, in which all operations are synchronous and blocking. A simple upsert example looks like this:

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    val result = collection.upsert("document-key", json)

    Methods in the blocking API that can error will return a Scala Try object, which can either be a Success containing the result, or a Failure containing a Throwable exception that derives from CouchbaseException.

    This can be pattern matched on, like this:

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    collection.upsert("document-key", json) match {
      case Success(_) => println("Successfully upserted")
      case Failure(exception) => println("Error: " + exception)

    Simple pattern matching like this works fine for simple examples, but starts to look complicated when doing multiple operations:

    // Create some initial JSON
    val json = JsonObject("status" -> "awesome!")
    // Upsert it
    collection.upsert("document-key", json) match {
      case Success(result) =>
      case Failure(err) => println("Error: " + err)
    // Get it back
    collection.get("document-key") match {
      case Success(result) =>
        // Convert the content to a JsonObjectSafe
        result.contentAs[JsonObjectSafe] match {
          case Success(json) =>
            // Pull out the JSON's status field, if it exists
            json.str("status") match {
              case Success(status) => println(s"Couchbase is $status")
              case _ => println("Field 'status' did not exist")
          case Failure(err) => println("Error decoding result: " + err)
      case Failure(err) => println("Error getting document: " + err)

    Developers may prefer to use flatMap, which lets all the Try be checked in one place. Here, the call to collection.get will only be attempted if the call to collection.upsert was successful — that is, returned Success.

    val json = JsonObject("status" -> "awesome!")
    val result: Try[String] = collection.upsert("document-key", json)
      .flatMap(_ => collection.get("document-key"))
    result match {
      case Success(status) => println(s"Couchbase is $status")
      case Failure(err) =>    println("Error: " + err)

    Using the Asynchronous API

    The asynchronous API returns Scala Future, representing the execution of an asynchronous task and the promise of a future result.

    Here’s what a simple upsert looks like, handling Success or Failure (note we are not actually blocking on the result here — if you need that then you can use the methods in Scala’s Await, or simply use the blocking Couchbase API):

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    val result: Future[MutationResult] = collection.async.upsert("document-key", json)
    result onComplete {
      case Success(_)         => println("Successfully upserted")
      case Failure(exception) => println("Error: " + exception)

    But, the compiler will fail to compile this, reporting that an implicit ExecutionContext cannot be found for onComplete.

    As you may know, to do anything with a Future — including onComplete, map and flatMap — an ExecutionContext is required. Here’s how to create one that creates an unlimited thread-pool with named threads:

    val threadPool = Executors.newCachedThreadPool(new ThreadFactory {
      override def newThread(runnable: Runnable): Thread = {
        val thread = new Thread(runnable)
        // Make it a daemon thread so it doesn't block app exit
        thread.setName("my-thread-prefix-" + thread.getId)
    implicit val ec = ExecutionContext.fromExecutor(threadPool)

    Now there’s an implicit ExecutionContext available, the upsert example will compile.

    Let’s see a more complex example combining operations together. Future compose well, with flatMap being the most common tool:

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    val result: Future[String]   = collection.async.upsert("document-key", json)
      .flatMap(_                => collection.async.get("document-key"))
      .map((v: GetResult)       => v.contentAs[JsonObject])
      .map((v: Try[JsonObject]) => v.get)
      .map((v: JsonObject)      => v.str("status"))
    result onComplete {
      case Success(status) => println(s"Status ${status}")
      case Failure(err: DocumentNotFoundException) => println("Doc not found")
      case Failure(err: NoSuchElementException) => println("JSON not in expected format")
      case Failure(exception) => println("Error: " + exception)

    Interestingly, you’ll see a couple of calls to Try.get() here. These throw exceptions if the Try is Failure, and exceptions are usually something we try to avoid in Scala. But here there’s no problem as the Future will capture the exception, and raise in so it can be handled in a Failure, as in the example.

    Using the Reactive API

    Reactive Programming is an advanced paradigm designed to handle the challenges of building modern, network-aware and fault-tolerant programs.

    The reactive API uses primitives from Project Reactor, namely Mono (returning at most one result) and Flux (returning many). These are compliant with the reactive streams specification, and so can easily be converted into other reactive implementations such as RxJava.

    Here’s how to do a simple reactive upsert operation, logging any errors:

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    collection.reactive.upsert("document-key", json)
        .doOnError(err  => println(s"Error during upsert: ${err}"))
        .doOnNext(_     => println("Success"))

    upsert returns Mono[MutationResult]. The subscribe starts the operation - without a subscribe, nothing will happen. The operation happens in the background.

    Normally with reactive programming you will chain multiple operations together, and it’s often possible to continue handling the chain in a reactive manner too. For instance, many web frameworks allow an endpoint to stream back a reactive result.

    In the rare cases where you need to block on a reactive primitive (say, in a unit test) you can do it like this:

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    val result: MutationResult = collection.reactive.upsert("document-key", json)
      .doOnError(err => println(s"Error during upsert: ${err}"))
      .doOnNext(mutationResult => println("Success"))

    The block call here also does a subscribe under the hood.

    Let’s look at a more complex example, combining multiple operations. As with Future, reactive primitives can be composed, with flatMap being the most common tool.

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    // This example is written in a verbose style for clarity
    collection.reactive.upsert("document-key", json)
      .flatMap(_                  => collection.reactive.get("document-key"))
      .map((v: GetResult)         => v.contentAs[JsonObject])
      .map((v: Try[JsonObject])   => v.get)
      .map((v: JsonObject)        => v.str("status"))
      .doOnError {
        case err: DocumentNotFoundException => println("Doc not found")
        case err: NoSuchElementException => println("JSON not in expected format")
        case err => println(s"Error: ${err}")

    Similar to the Future example, you’ll note some calls to .get, on Option and Try that will throw exceptions if they do not contain Some or Success respectively. This is fine — the reactive code will capture it, and raise it in the standard reactive way — e.g. through doOnError and similar operators.

    While it’s beyond the scope of this guide to teach reactive programming, it’s important to touch on a handful of golden rules:

    1. Never do blocking calls inside operators (operators are doOnNext, flatMap, etc.). Those operators are executing on a limited number of threads, and blocking calls will limit concurrency. Instead, convert the blocking call into a Mono or Flux, and flatMap to it.

    2. Never subscribe to a reactive primitive inside an operator. Instead, flatMap to it.

    3. Always subscribe. A Mono or Flux will not start until it’s subscribed to.

    Bulk Operations

    For bulk operations, and applying the golden rules above, call flatMap inside SFlux, as in the upsert example following:

    val json = JsonObject("foo" -> "bar", "baz" -> "qux")
    val parallelism = 32
    val result: Seq[Either[Throwable, MutationResult]] = SFlux.fromIterable(Seq("doc1", "doc2", "doc3"))
          .flatMap(docId => collection.reactive.upsert(docId, json)
                  .map(result => Right(result))
                  .onErrorResume(err => SMono.just(Left(err))),

    Choosing an API

    So which API should you choose?

    It’s really down to you and the needs of your application. If you’re already writing code in a synchronous way already then it may make sense to continue that way. If you’re writing a web application that supports reactive streams, it may make sense to use the reactive API. And you can use different APIs at different times.

    The most important thing to consider is when streaming back large queries from Query, Full Text Search, and Analytics. Here, the reactive API will provide full backpressure: that is, if your application is processing rows slower than the service is returning them, then automatically fewer rows will be requested from the service to give the application time to catch up. The upshot of this is that few rows are ever buffered in-memory, and the application shouldn’t get out-of-memory exceptions.

    By contrast, the blocking and asynchronous APIs will buffer all rows in-memory before returning them to the application. This will generally be fine, but if you’re doing any large queries then you may want to consider the reactive API.