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IC canisters can elect to receive regular heartbeat messages by exposing a particular canister_heartbeat function (see heartbeat).

In Motoko, an actor can receive heartbeat messages by declaring a system function, named heartbeat, with no arguments, returning a future of unit type (async ()).

A simple, contrived example is a recurrent alarm, that sends a message to itself every n-th heartbeat:

import Debug "mo:base/Debug";

actor Alarm {

let n = 5;
var count = 0;

public shared func ring() : async () {

system func heartbeat() : async () {
if (count % n == 0) {
await ring();
count += 1;

The heartbeat function, when declared, is called on every IC subnet heartbeat, by scheduling an asynchronous call to the heartbeat function. Due to its async return type, a heartbeat function may send further messages and await results. The result of a heartbeat call, including any trap or thrown error, is ignored. The implicit context switch inherent to calling every Motoko async function, means that the time the heartbeat body is executed may be later than the time the heartbeat was issued by the subnet.

As an async function, Alarm's hearbeat function is free to call other asynchronous functions (the inner call to ring() above is an example), as well as shared functions of other canisters.