Lightbend Activator

Reactive Real-time Search

Activator will be EOL-ed on May 24, 2017.

We’re making it easier and simpler for developers to get started with Lightbend technologies. This unfortunately means that future releases of Play, Akka and Scala will no longer include Activator support, and Lightbend’s Activator server will be decommissioned by the end of 2017. Instead of supporting Activator to create and set up development projects, we'll be supporting standard Giter8 templates for sbt users and Maven archetypes for Maven users. So going forward,

To create new Lightbend projects

Instead of using the Activator command, make sure you have sbt 0.13.13 (or higher), and use the “sbt new” command, providing the name of the template. For example, “$ sbt new akka/hello-akka.g8”. You can find a list of templates here.

Also, as a convenience, the Lightbend Project Starter allows you to quickly create a variety of example projects that you just unzip and run.

To create new templates

If you want to create new templates, you can now do that in Giter8.

To migrate templates from Activator to Giter8

If you created Activator templates in the past, please consider migrating them to Giter8 with this simple process.

Reactive Real-time Search

August 7, 2013
reactive play akka angularjs elasticsearch

A reactive Play!, Akka and AngularJS application using Elasticsearch to demonstrate real-time log entry search

How to get "Reactive Real-time Search" on your computer

There are several ways to get this template.

Option 1: Choose realtime-search in the Lightbend Activator UI.

Already have Lightbend Activator (get it here)? Launch the UI then search for realtime-search in the list of templates.

Option 2: Download the realtime-search project as a zip archive

If you haven't installed Activator, you can get the code by downloading the template bundle for realtime-search.

  1. Download the Template Bundle for "Reactive Real-time Search"
  2. Extract the downloaded zip file to your system
  3. The bundle includes a small bootstrap script that can start Activator. To start Lightbend Activator's UI:

    In your File Explorer, navigate into the directory that the template was extracted to, right-click on the file named "activator.bat", then select "Open", and if prompted with a warning, click to continue:

    Or from a command line:

     C:\Users\typesafe\realtime-search> activator ui 
    This will start Lightbend Activator and open this template in your browser.

Option 3: Create a realtime-search project from the command line

If you have Lightbend Activator, use its command line mode to create a new project from this template. Type activator new PROJECTNAME realtime-search on the command line.

Option 4: View the template source

The creator of this template maintains it at

Option 5: Preview the tutorial below

We've included the text of this template's tutorial below, but it may work better if you view it inside Activator on your computer. Activator tutorials are often designed to be interactive.

Preview the tutorial


This Activator Template is a simple demonstration of integrating Play, Akka, AngularJS and Elasticsearch to create a reactive, real-time log entry search application. The log entry data is in this example is just 'randomly' generated for the purposes of keeping things simple. The tutorial assumes you've grasped at least the very basic concepts of a Play! application. (Note: the code is currently lacking example tests).

Play and Akka

Play and Akka are used to implement the reactive server-side application. The application favours SSE (Server Sent Events) to push updates to the client. The template introduces a number of interesting topics, including Play Iteratees/Enumerators and Akka Actors.


AngularJS has been chosen on the client-side to demonstrate how simple it can be to build a dynamic, single page user experience with very little code.


The "bonsai cool" percolation feature of Elasticsearch achieves the real-time search aspect of the application. The application starts up an embedded Elasticsearch node, so no need to run your own external instance. Take a look at /app/utils/EmbeddedESServer.scala for the embedded server code. There is a custom /app/Global.scala where the embedded server is started and shutdown as part of the application lifecycle.

The Actors

The application has three actors:


This actor's job is to coordinate the reactive parts of the application and supervise the other actors. It is the main dependency of the application's single Play controller /app/controllers/Application.scala.

Starting/stopping a search
The actor responds to a StartSearch message by 'replying' with an Enumerator to the sender. The Enumerator wraps a unicast channel to which log entries are pushed that match the query string sent within the message. Let's take a look at some code:

    private def startSearching(startSearch: StartSearch) =
            onStart = (c) => {
                channels += ( -> c)
                elasticSearchActor ! startSearch
            onComplete = {
                self ! StopSearch(
            onError = (str, in) => {
                self ! StopSearch(
            callback = {
                self ! StopSearch(

The Play Iteratees library has the very handy Concurrent utilities. In this case, Concurrent.unicast is called to create an Enumerator that encloses a Concurrent.Channel. When the channel starts (onStart), it is stored in a map local to the actor (using UUID as key) and the StartSearch message is forwarded onto the ElasticSearchActor where the query will be percolated in Elasticsearch. It's worth noting that this code is not production ready - it ought to be a transactional operation, i.e. we should only store the channel once we know Elasticsearch has successfully percolated the query. You will notice that a StopSearch message is sent to self such that the channel is removed from the local map, and the percolated query is deleted, when the channel is no longer useful (i.e. is closed by the client, or an error occurs).

Broadcasting matching results
The actor will receive a SearchMatch message when a log entry has matched a percolated query.

    private def broadcastMatch(searchMatch: SearchMatch) {
        searchMatch.matchingChannelIds.foreach {
            channels.get(_).map {
                _ push

On receipt of the message, each matching id is iterated over and the corresponding channel is retrieved from the local map. The log entry is then pushed to the channel, and thus onto the client.

Scheduling log entry creation
The actor uses the Akka scheduler to send a Tick to the LogEntryProducerActor every second - in the real world, this would obviously be unnecessary, as genuine log entries would be fed into the application in some other way. The Tick is sent to self before being forwarded on to the LogEntryProducerActor.


This actor has responsibility for both registering queries in Elasticsearch and percolating log entry documents against those queries. Rather than utilise the Elasticsearch Java Client, the code, instead, crafts the Elasticsearch API calls manually, demonstrating the use of the asynchronous Play WS API to execute them. For simplicity, the calls are hard coded to talk to Elasticsearch on localhost:9200 (where the embedded server will be listening).

The code is fairly self explanatory within this actor. Do note that there is a lack of error handling on the API calls thus making this actor unsuitable for production use in its current form. It is recommended you read the Elasticsearch documentation on percolation to learn more about this powerful feature.

There's one little important gotcha this code has avoided - closing over the sender ref in an asynchronous callback block. The sender ref is part of the shared mutable state of the actor and so, if the actor were to reply to the sender in the percolate callback, a race condition would be encountered if another thread had modified the actor's state before the percolation call to Elasticsearch had completed. This race condition has been avoided by ensuring to 'freeze' the sender ref, by sending it to a private function:

    private def percolate(logJson: JsValue, requestor: ActorRef)

and close over the parameter instead.


We won't go into the detail of this actor. Suffice to say, its job is to generate a random, JSON formatted log event whenever it receives a Tick message. In reality, a genuine source of log events would replace this actor.

The Play Controller

As most of the server-side logic exists within the actors, the single Play controller is very simple. The most interesting aspect of the controller is the action that opens an event stream connected with the client:

    def search(searchString: String) = Action {
        Async {
            (searchActor ? StartSearch(searchString = searchString)).map {
                case SearchFeed(out) => &> EventSource()).as("text/event-stream")

The most important thing to note is the use of the Akka 'ask' pattern of message exchange (notice the use of '?' instead of '!'). This differs from the more typical fire-and-forget approach in that we're able to asynchronously pick up a reply from the recipient actor. In this scenario, a StartSearch message is sent to the MainSearchActor which replies with an Enumerator used to stream search results to the client. Given the use of the 'ask' pattern, we wrap the action logic in an Async block - so not to hold up other requests - rather than blocking until the Future yields a result.

The User Interface

The key parts of the application UI are:

  1. A Play! template with AngularJS specific markup /app/views/index.scala.html
  2. A single AngularJS controller /app/assets/javascripts/controllers.js

The application makes use of the WebJars project to simplify the introduction of its JS and CSS dependencies (e.g. AngularJS and Twitter Bootstrap).

UI Template

The UI template can be found at /app/views/index.scala.html.

Firstly, the opening <div> is linked to the controller SearchCtrl that subsequently enables the automagical databinding power of AngularJS. A simple search form captures an Apache Lucene formatted query string. A search can be started by clicking on the 'Search' button which invokes the startSearching() function defined in the controller. Finally, you can see the use of AngularJS two-way databinding to render matching search results contained within the view model (only displays the latest 10 matches):

    <tr ng-repeat="searchResult in searchResults | limitTo:10">

The AngularJS Controller

The AngularJS controller /app/assets/javascripts/controllers.js is fairly straightforward. The key part is handling a new search:

    $scope.startSearching = function () {
        $scope.searchResults = [];
        $scope.searchFeed = new EventSource("/search/" + $scope.searchString);
        $scope.searchFeed.addEventListener("message", $scope.addSearchResult, false);

Firstly, an existing search is stopped (if running) and the results model cleared (will automagically clear any existing results from the HTML markup). Secondly, an event stream connection is made to the server and an event listener is added that pushes matching search results into the model as they arrive from the server.

As we are updating the model (in the addSearchResult function) outside of it's knowledge, we've had to explicitly tell Angular that we've pushed a new result to the model by wrapping the code in a function passed to $scope.apply. See the Angular docs for the $scope object for more information.

Using the application

Fire up the application using play run and point your browser (not IE - it doesn't support SSE. Doh!) to http://localhost:9000. Using the application is as simple as entering an Apache Lucene formatted query. Please read the Lucene query parser syntax documentation for more information on how to construct Lucene query strings. A simple example would be to enter "GET" as your query string, thus matching all log entries for GET requests.