Dan Plyukhin, Gul Agha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Automatic garbage collection (GC) prevents certain kinds of bugs and reduces programming overhead. GC techniques for sequential programs are based on reachability analysis. However, testing reachability from a root set is inadequate for determining whether an actor is garbage: Observe that an unreachable actor may send a message to a reachable actor. Instead, it is sufficient to check termination (sometimes also called quiescence): an actor is terminated if it is not currently processing a message and cannot receive a message in the future. Moreover, many actor frameworks provide all actors with access to file I/O or external storage; without inspecting an actor’s internal code, it is necessary to check that the actor has terminated to ensure that it may be garbage collected in these frameworks. Previous algorithms to detect actor garbage require coordination mechanisms such as causal message delivery or nonlocal monitoring of actors for mutation. Such coordination mechanisms adversely affect concurrency and are therefore expensive in distributed systems. We present a low-overhead deferred reference listing technique (called DRL) for termination detection in actor systems. DRL is based on asynchronous local snapshots and message-passing between actors. This enables a decentralized implementation and transient network partition tolerance. The paper provides a formal description of DRL, shows that all actors identified as garbage have indeed terminated (safety), and that all terminated actors—under certain reasonable assumptions—will eventually be identified (liveness).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39:1-39:35
JournalLogical Methods in Computer Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • actors
  • concurrency
  • distributed systems
  • garbage collection
  • quiescence detection
  • termination detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science


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