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Event Loops, Signals, and Slots

Sample Factory uses a custom mechanism for communication between components inspired by Qt's signals and slots. Unlike in Qt, signals and slots can be used not only across threads, but also across processes. The implementation of this mechanism is available as a separate repository here.

The main idea can be summarised as follows:

  • Application is a collection of EventLoops. Each EventLoop is an infinite loop that occupies a thread or a process.
  • Logic of the system is implemented in EventLoopObject components that live on EventLoops. Each EventLoop can support multiple EventLoopObjects.
  • Components (i.e. EventLoopObjects) can emit signals. A signal "message" contains a name of the signal and the payload (arbitrary data).
  • Components can also connect to signals emitted by other components by specifying a slot function to be called when the signal is received by the EventLoop.

The majority of communication between components is done via signals and slots. Some examples:

  • Rollout workers emit "p{policy_id}_trajectories" signal when a new trajectory is available, and Batcher's on_new_trajectories() slot is connected to this signal.
  • Inference workers emit "advance{rollout_worker_idx}" signal when actions are ready for the next rollout step, and RolloutWorker's advance_rollouts() slot is connected to this signal.

Implementation details

  • There's no argument validation for signals and slots. If you connect a slot to a signal with a different signature, it will fail at runtime. This can also be used to your advantage by allowing to propagate arbitrary data as payload with appropriate runtime checks.
  • Signals can be connected to slots only before the processes are spawned, i.e. only during system initialization. This is mostly done by the Runner in connect_components().
  • It is currently impossible to connect a slot to a signal if emitter and receiver objects belong to event loops already running in different processes (although it should be possible to implement this feature). Connect signals to slots during system initialization.
  • Signal-slot mechanism in the current implementation can't implement a message passing protocol where only a single copy of the signal is received by the subscribers. Signals are always delivered to all connected slots. Use a FIFO multiprocessing queue if you want only one receiver to receive the signal. For example, RolloutWorkers explicitly push requests for new actions into queues corresponding to a policy that controls the agent, and this queue can be processed by any of the multiple InferenceWorkers: inference_queues[policy_id].put(policy_request)

Please see for more information.

Multiprocessing queues

At the core of the signal-slot mechanism are the queues that are used to pass messages between processes. Python provides a default implementation multiprocessing.Queue, which turns out to be rather slow.

Sample Factory uses a custom queue implementation written in C++ using POSIX API that is significantly faster: