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15: Using multiple actors

Overview

In this guide, you are going to create a project with multiple actors. Currently, you can only define one actor in a Motoko file and a single actor is always compiled to a single canister. You can, however, create projects that have multiple actors and can build multiple canisters from the same dfx.json configuration file.

For this guide, you are going to create separate program files for three actors in the same project. This project defines the following unrelated actors:

  • The assistant actor provides functions to add and show tasks in a to-do list.

    For simplicity, the code sample for this guide only includes the functions to add to-do items and to show the current list of to-do items that have been added. A more complete version of this canister—with additional functions for marking items as complete and removing items from the list—is available in the examples repository as simple to-do checklist.

  • The rock_paper_scissors actor provides a function for determining a winner in a hard-coded rock-paper-scissors contest.

    This code sample illustrates the basic use of switch and case in a Motoko program with hard-coded players and choices.

  • The daemon actor provides mock functions for starting and stopping a daemon.

    This code sample simply assigns a variable and prints messages for demonstration purposes.

Prerequisites

Before getting started, assure you have set up your developer environment according to the instructions in the developer environment guide.

Create a new project

Open a terminal shell on your local computer, if you don’t already have one open.

Create a new project by running the following command:

Use dfx new <project_name> to create a new project:

dfx new multiple_actors

You will be prompted to select a language that your backend canister will use:

? Select a backend language: ›  
❯ Motoko
Rust
TypeScript (Azle)
Python (Kybra)

Then, select a frontend framework for your frontend canister, or select 'No frontend canister':

  ? Select a frontend framework: ›  
❯ SvelteKit
React
Vue
Vanilla JS
No JS template
No frontend canister

Lastly, you can include extra features to be added to your project:

  ? Add extra features (space to select, enter to confirm) ›
⬚ Internet Identity
⬚ Bitcoin (Regtest)
⬚ Frontend tests

Change to your project directory by running the following command:

cd multiple_actors

Modify the default configuration

You have already seen that creating a new project adds a default dfx.json configuration file to your project directory. For this guide, you need to add sections to this file to specify the location of each canister that defines an actor you want to build.

Open the dfx.json configuration file in a text editor, then change the default multiple_actors_backend canister name and source directory to assistant.

For example, under the canisters key:

"assistant": {
"main": "src/assistant/main.mo",
"type": "motoko"
},

Because you are going to add settings to this canisters section of the configuration file, you must also add a comma after the curly brace that encloses the location of the assistant main source code file and the canister type.

Remove the multiple_actors_frontend section from the file.

Add a new canister name, source code location, and canister type for the rock_paper_scissors canister and a new canister name, source code location, and canister type for the daemon program files below the assistant canister definition.

After making the changes, the canisters section of the dfx.json file should look similar to this:

{
"canisters": {
"assistant": {
"main": "src/assistant/main.mo",
"type": "motoko"
},
"rock_paper_scissors": {
"main": "src/rock_paper_scissors/main.mo",
"type": "motoko"
},
"daemon": {
"main": "src/daemon/main.mo",
"type": "motoko"
}
},
"defaults": {
"build": {
"packtool": ""
}
},
"version": 1
}

Save your changes and close the dfx.json file to continue.

Change the name of the default source file directory to match the name specified in the dfx.json configuration file by running the following command:

cp -r src/multiple_actors_backend/ src/assistant/

Copy the assistant source file directory to create the main canister file for the rock_paper_scissors actor by running the following command:

cp -r src/assistant/ src/rock_paper_scissors/

Copy the assistant source file directory to create the main canister file for the daemon actor by running the following command:

cp -r src/assistant/ src/daemon/

Modify the default canisters

You now have three separate directories in the src directory, each with a template main.mo file. For this guide, you will replace the content in each template main.mo file with a different actor.

Open the src/assistant/main.mo file in a text editor and delete the existing content.

Copy and paste this code into the file:

import Array "mo:base/Array";
import Nat "mo:base/Nat";

// Define the actor
actor Assistant {

stable var todos : [ToDo] = [];
stable var nextId : Nat = 1;

// Define to-do item properties
type ToDo = {
id : Nat;
description : Text;
completed : Bool;
};

// Add to-do item utility
func add(todos : [ToDo], description : Text, id : Nat) : [ToDo] {
let todo : ToDo = {
id = id;
description = description;
completed = false;
};
Array.append(todos, [todo])
};

// Show to-do item utility
func show(todos : [ToDo]) : Text {
var output : Text = "\n___TO-DOs___";
for (todo : ToDo in todos.vals()) {
output #= "\n(" # Nat.toText(todo.id) # ") " # todo.description;
if (todo.completed) { output #= " ✔"; };
};
output
};

public func addTodo (description : Text) : async () {
todos := add(todos, description, nextId);
nextId += 1;
};

public query func showTodos () : async Text {
show(todos)
};

};

Save your changes and close the main.mo file to continue.

Open the src/rock_paper_scissors/main.mo file in a text editor and delete the existing content.

Copy and paste this code into the file:

import I "mo:base/Iter"; 

// Define an actor
actor RockPaperScissors {

// Define stable variables
stable var alice_score : Nat = 0;
stable var bob_score : Nat = 0;
stable var alice_last : Choice = #scissors;
stable var bob_last : Choice = #rock;

// Define custom types for the player's choice
type Choice = {
#rock;
#paper;
#scissors;
};

// Define a function to return the winner of the game
public func contest() : async Text {
for (i in I.range(0, 99)) {
battle_round();
};
var winner = "The contest was a draw";
if (alice_score > bob_score) winner := "Alice won"
else if (alice_score < bob_score) winner := "Bob won";
return (winner);
};

// Define the function for the game
func battle_round() : () {
let a = alice(bob_last);
let b = bob(alice_last);

switch (a, b) {
case (#rock, #scissors) alice_score += 1;
case (#rock, #paper) bob_score += 1;
case (#paper, #scissors) alice_score += 1;
case (#paper, #rock) bob_score += 1;
case (#scissors, #paper) alice_score += 1;
case (#scissors, #rock) bob_score += 1;
case (#rock, #rock) alice_score += 0;
case (#paper, #paper) bob_score += 0;
case (#scissors, #scissors) alice_score += 0;
};

alice_last := a;
bob_last := b;

return ();
};

// Hard-coded players and choices
func bob(last : Choice) : Choice {
return #paper;
};

func alice(last : Choice) : Choice {
return #rock;
};
};

Save your changes and close the main.mo file to continue.

Open the src/daemon/main.mo file in a text editor and delete the existing content.

Copy and paste this code into the file:

actor Daemon {
stable var running = false;

public func launch() : async Text {
running := true;
debug_show "The daemon process is running";
};

public func stop(): async Text {
running := false;
debug_show "The daemon is stopped";
};
};

Save your changes and close the main.mo file to continue.

Start the local canister execution environment

Before you can install the multiple_actors project locally, you need to start your local canister execution environment. If you intend to deploy it to the Internet Computer blockchain mainnet, then you can skip this section.

Open a new terminal window or tab on your local computer.

Navigate to the root directory for your project, if necessary.

Start the local canister execution environment by running the following command:

dfx start --clean

This guide uses the --clean option to start the local canister execution environment in a clean state.

This option removes any orphan background processes or canister identifiers that might disrupt normal operations. For example, if you forgot to issue a dfx stop when moving between projects, you might have a process running in the background or in another terminal. The --clean option ensures that you can start the local canister execution environment and continue to the next step without manually finding and terminating any running processes.

Leave the terminal that displays canister execution operations open and switch your focus to your original terminal where you created your new project.

Deploy your multi-canister dapp

To deploy the multi-canister dapp you need to register, build, and install the canisters either to the local canister execution environment or to the Internet Computer blockchain mainnet.

Register, build, and deploy the application by running the following command in your project's directory:

dfx deploy

To deploy the dapp on the Internet Computer blockchain mainnet, run dfx deploy command specifying the --network option and the network alias configured in the dfx.json file. For example, if you are connecting to the Internet Computer mainnet using to the URL specified by the network alias ic you would run a command similar the following:

dfx deploy --network ic

The dfx deploy command output displays information about the operations it performs. For example, the command displays the specific canister identifiers for the three canisters defined in the dfx.json configuration file.

Deployed canisters.
URLs:
Backend canister via Candid interface:
assistant: http://127.0.0.1:8080/?canisterId=c2lt4-zmaaa-aaaaa-qaaiq-cai&id=ahw5u-keaaa-aaaaa-qaaha-cai
daemon: http://127.0.0.1:8080/?canisterId=c2lt4-zmaaa-aaaaa-qaaiq-cai&id=aax3a-h4aaa-aaaaa-qaahq-cai
rock_paper_scissors: http://127.0.0.1:8080/?canisterId=c2lt4-zmaaa-aaaaa-qaaiq-cai&id=c5kvi-uuaaa-aaaaa-qaaia-cai

Verify deployment by calling the canisters

You now have three canisters smart contracts deployed, either on your local canister execution environment or on the Internet Computer blockchain mainnet, and can test them by using dfx canister call commands.

Use the dfx canister call command to call the canister assistant using the addTodo function and pass it the task you want to add by running the following command:

dfx canister call assistant addTodo '("Schedule monthly demos")'

Verify that the command returns the to-do list item using the showTodos function by running the following command:

dfx canister call assistant showTodos

The command returns output similar to the following:

("
___TO-DOs___
(1) Schedule monthly demos")

Use the dfx canister call command to call the canister rock_paper_scissors using the contest function by running the following command:

dfx canister call rock_paper_scissors contest

The command returns the result of the hard-coded contest similar to the following:

("Bob won")

Use the dfx canister call command to call the canister daemon using the launch function by running the following command:

dfx canister call daemon launch

Verify the mock launch function returns "The daemon process is running" message:

(""The daemon process is running"")

To test your canisters running on the Internet Computer blockchain mainnet use the same command as above, specifying the --network option and the network alias configured in the dfx.json file.

Next steps

In the next guide, let's discuss access control using identities