Comparison: chemical machine vs. academic Join Calculus

In talking about Chymyst, I follow the chemical machine metaphor and terminology, which differs from the terminology usually found in academic papers on JC. Here is a dictionary:

Chemical machine Academic Join Calculus Chymyst code
input molecule message on a channel case a(123) => ... // pattern-matching
molecule emitter channel name val a : M[Int]
blocking emitter synchronous channel val q : B[Unit, Int]
reaction process val r1 = go { case a(x) + ... => ... }
emitting a molecule sending a message a(123) // side effect
emitting a blocking molecule sending a synchronous message q() // returns Int
reaction site join definition site(r1, r2, ...)

As another comparison, here is some code in academic Join Calculus notation, taken from this tutorial:

def newVar(v0) def put(w) etc.

This code creates a shared value container val with synchronized single access.

The equivalent Chymyst code looks like this:

def newVar[T](v0: T): (B[T, Unit], B[Unit, T]) = {
  val put = b[T, Unit] 
  val get = b[Unit, T]
  val vl = m[T] // Will use the name `vl` since `val` is a Scala keyword.
    go { case put(w, ret) + vl(v) => vl(w); ret() },
    go { case get(_, ret) + vl(v) => vl(v); ret(v) }
  (put, get)

Extensions to Join Calculus

Chymyst implements significantly fewer restrictions than other versions of Join Calculus:

Chymyst also implements some additional features that are important for practical applications but not supported by other versions of Join Calculus:

Comparison: chemical machine vs. Actor model

Chemical machine programming is similar in some aspects to the well-known Actor model (e.g. as implemented by the Akka library).


Chemical machine Actor model
molecules carry values messages carry values
reactions wait to consume certain molecules actors wait to receive certain messages
synchronization is implicit in molecule emission synchronization is implicit in message-passing
reaction starts when input molecules are available actor starts running when a message is received
reactions can define new reactions and emit new input molecules for them actors can create new actors and send messages to them


Chemical machine Actor model
several concurrent reactions start automatically whenever several input molecules are available a desired number of concurrent actors must be created and managed manually
the user’s code only manipulates molecules the user’s code must manipulate explicit references to actors as well as messages
reactions may wait for (and consume) several input molecules at once actors wait for (and consume) only one input message at a time
reactions are immutable and stateless; all data is stored on molecules actors can mutate (“become another actor”); actors may carry mutable state
molecules are held in an unordered bag and may be processed in random order messages are held in an ordered queue (mailbox) and are processed in the order received
molecule data is statically typed message data is untyped (but not if using Akka Typed)

Comparison: chemical machine vs. CSP

CSP (Communicating Sequential Processes) is another approach to declarative concurrency, used today in the Go programming language.


The channels of CSP are similar to blocking molecules: sending a message will block until a process can be started that consumes the message and replies with a value.


The chemical machine admits only one reply to a blocking channel; CSP can open a channel and send many messages to it.

The chemical machine will start processes automatically and concurrently whenever input molecules are available. In CSP, the user needs to create and manage new threads manually.

JC has non-blocking channels as a primitive construct. In CSP, non-blocking channels need to be simulated by additional user code.