Monthly Downloads: 34,583
Programming language: Elixir
License: MIT License
Latest version: v0.3.1

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This project is not maintained anymore, and I don't advise using it. Pure functional FSMs are still my preferred approach (as opposed to gen_statem), but you don't need this library for that. Regular data structures, such as maps or structs, with pattern matching in multiclauses will serve you just fine.

Fsm is pure functional finite state machine. Unlike gen_fsm, it doesn't run in its own process. Instead, it is a functional data structure.


In the rare cases I needed a proper fsm, I most often wanted to use it inside the already existing process, together with the already present state data. Creating another process didn't work for me because that requires additional bookkeeping such as supervising and process linking. More importantly, fsm as a process implies mutability and side effects, which is harder to deal with. In addition, gen_fsm introduces more complicated protocol of cross-process communication such as send_event, sync_send_event, send_all_state_event and sync_send_all_state_event.

Unlike gen_fsm, the Fsm data structure has following benefits:

  • It is immutable and side-effect free
  • No need to create and manage separate processes
  • You can persist it, use it via ets, embed it inside gen_server or plain processes

Basic example

defmodule BasicFsm do
  use Fsm, initial_state: :stopped

  defstate stopped do         # opens the state scope
    defevent run do           # defines event
      next_state(:running)    # transition to next state

  defstate running do
    defevent stop do


Be sure to include a dependency in your mix.exs:

deps: [{:fsm, "~> 0.3.1"}, ...]
# basic usage
|> BasicFsm.run
|> BasicFsm.stop

# invalid state/event combination throws exception
|> BasicFsm.run
|> BasicFsm.run

# you can query fsm for its state:
|> BasicFsm.run
|> BasicFsm.state


As you probably know, basic fsm is not Turing complete, and has limited uses. Therefore, Fsm introduces concept of data, just like gen_fsm:

defmodule DataFsm do
  use Fsm, initial_state: :stopped, initial_data: 0

  defstate stopped do
    defevent run(speed) do                    # events can have arguments
      next_state(:running, speed)             # changing state and data

  defstate running do
    defevent slowdown(by), data: speed do     # you can pattern match data with dedicated option
      next_state(:running, speed - by)

    defevent stop do
      next_state(:stopped, 0)

|> DataFsm.run(50)
|> DataFsm.slowdown(10)
|> DataFsm.data

Global handlers

Normally, undefined state/event mapping throws an exception. You can handle this by using special _ event definition:

defmodule BasicFsm do
  use Fsm, initial_state: :stopped

  defstate stopped do
    defevent run, do: next_state(:running)

    # called for undefined state/event mapping when inside stopped state
    defevent _, do:

  defstate running do
    defevent stop, do: next_state(:stopped)

  # called for some_event, regardless of the state
  defevent some_event, do:

  # called for undefined state/event mapping when inside any state
  defevent _, do:

Keep in mind that public functions are defined only for the specified events. In the example above those are run, stop, and some_event. So you cannot call BasicFsm.undefined_event, because such event is not defined. You can explicitly define events, without adding them to state/event map:

defmodule MyFsm do
  defevent my_event1        # 0 arity event
  defevent my_event2/2      # 2 arity event

In global handlers, it is often useful to know about event context:

defevent _, state: state, data: data, event: event, args: args do
  # now you can reference state, data, event and args

Pattern matching and options

Pattern matching works with event arguments, and all available options:

defstate some_state do
  defevent event(1), do:
  defevent event(2), do:

  defevent event(x), state: 0, do:
  defevent event(x), state: 1, do:

It is allowed to define multiple global handlers:

defevent _, event: :event_1, do:
defevent _, event: :event_2, do:
defevent _, event: something_else, do:

You can also specify guards:

defevent my_event, when: ..., do:

Event results

The result of the event handler determines the response of the event:

defevent my_event do
  next_state(:new_state)             # data remains the same

defevent my_event do
  next_state(:new_state, new_data)

The result of the event will be the new fsm instance:

fsm2 = MyFsm.my_event(fsm)
MyFsm.another_event(fsm2, ...)

You can also return some result and the modified fsm instance:

respond(response)                         # data and state remain the same
respond(response, :new_state)             # data remains the same
respond(response, :new_state, new_data)

In this case, the result of calling the event is a two elements tuple:

{response, fsm2} = MyFsm.my_event(mfs)

If the result of event handler is not created via next_state or respond it will be ignored, and the input fsm instance will be returned. This is useful when the event handler needs to perform some side-effect operations (file or network I/O) without changing the state or data.

Dynamic definitions

Fsm macros are runtime friendly, so you can build your fsm dynamically:

defmodule DynamicFsm do
  use Fsm, initial_state: :stopped

  # define states and transition
  fsm = [
    stopped: [run: :running],
    running: [stop: :stopped]

  # loop through definition and dynamically call defstate/defevent
  for {state, transitions} <- fsm do
    defstate unquote(state) do
      for {event, target_state} <- transitions do
        defevent unquote(event) do

You might use this to define your fsm in the separate file, and in compile time read it and build the corresponding module.

Generated functions

Normally, defevent generates corresponding public interface function, which has the same name as the event. In addition, the multi-clause public transition function exists where all possible transitions are implemented. Interface functions simply delegate to the transition function, and their purpose is simply to have nicer looking interface.

You can make interface function private:

defeventp ...

The transition function is always public. It can be used for dynamic fsm manipulation:

MyFsm.transition(fsm, :my_event, [arg1, arg2])

Notice that with transition, you can also use undefined events, and they will be caught by global handlers (if such exist).

Extending the module

Inside your fsm module, you can add additional functions which manipulate the fsm. An fsm instance is represented by the private fsm_rec record:

def my_fun(fsm_rec() = fsm, ...), do:

In a separate process

Fsm makes sense even when used from a separate process. Instead of relying on gen_fsm verbs, you can use gen_server simple call/cast approach. If the interface of the fsm is large, it may be tedious to create wrappers for all events. Runtime friendly ExActor can make your life a bit easier:

defmodule BasicFsmServer do
  use ExActor

  def init(_), do: initial_state(BasicFsm.new)

  # dynamic wrapping of zero arity events inside casts
  for event <- [:run, :stop] do
    defcast unquote(event), state: fsm do
      |> new_state

  # call wrapper to get the state
  defcall state, state: fsm, do: BasicFsm.state(fsm)