With akka becoming more and more popular, akka kernel being deprecated, docker rocking the word, Typesafe releasing ConductR and more folks getting to scala, I wanted to write a post about how to run akka applications. Akka applications aren’t servlet applications java developers are used to, normally those are main class applications in a jar file and have other jars as dependencies. So it’s no-brainer that we can just use java command and no container like tomcat or jetty is need. I will cover how to run in development while iterating on a task. How to run it in development and tunnel the port and let others point to your code before you even go to production or pre production environment and how to run it inside a docker container in production and pre production environments. Unforunatly I didn’t get hold of ConductR to try it myself, so I won’t be writing about it in this post. Btw, most of this should be to relevant other scala/java main class applications not only akka and akka http applications.

How to run in development

Since it’s development environment things are easier because we have the tools installed and those are making thing easier for us. The easiest thing to do would be to use sbt run command. sbt run is fine when I just want to bring my server up but while developing I always have sbt loaded, then I run comments there, be it compile, test, it:test, etc. What I want is to run it, and every time I go and add more code, come back to sbt and restart my app. This way I don’t have to reload sbt every time I just need to wait for compiler to compile the files I modified. This approach makes development much faster. The problem with sbt run (no matter if you’re running run target from sbt that’s loaded or running sbt run from terminal) is that in order for you to restart your running app you have to kill stb and load it again, which takes some time.

You can also run your app using activator ui. When you make a change to your code it will restart your app.

One sbt plugin I use is sbt-revolver from spray and it’s reStart is sure my favorite. Basically as I said I always have sbt running and when I need to start or restart my app I just run reStart command from sbt. I can exactue other sbt targets while it’s running since I still have my sbt shell avaliable, or stop it using reStop. ~reStart also works if you prefer it to automaticly restart when you make a change. To configure sbt-revolver add Revolver.settings to your build file.

Another good plugin is sbt-native-packager. You either stage or distribute your build. To stage it run stage command and it will create target/universal/stage folder in your project with bin and lib subdirectories. bin has bash and windows cmd files with your project name that will run your application. lib directory has all your dependency jars. You see where this is going? No one jar, fat jar, big jar business. We have clean and lightweight jar file with only things that needs to be in it. We can put in nexus (or whatever else you’re using), lib is clean and shows what the dependencies are with their versions. I like to use stage to create executable and use it to run my application when I’m doing the final testing before I push my change since this is the most production like version (well unless we’re using docker). To distribute it you run dist command. It produces exactly what stage does but instead of making stage folder it creates a zip file with your application name and version. I never run it in development because in order for me to run my app I have to unzip it first, which is what stage is for. This is for CI server to run and store produces zip artifact on S3 (or whatever else you’re using). To configure sbt-native-packager add enablePlugins(JavaAppPackaging) to your build file.

If you don’t need to iterate fast in development, you just need to run it and use it, you have all those options, sbt run, activator, reStart, stage, docker. Although I do recommend for final testing to stage and run the staged files or run docker container since this how your app is gonna run in next environments.

Running in production and pre production environments

We already know what we get when we run dist command from sbt-native-packager. We can just deploy it to all our environments, expend it and run the bash file (build once run it everywhere). This is one option.

Better option is Docker. sbt-native-packager can help you generate Dockerfile, build and push your image.

  • docker:stage will create target/docker folder with Dockerfile, executable, and dependency jars.
  • docker:publishLocal will build a docker images with your application name and tag it with version you have in your sbt build file.
  • docker:publish will push docker image to DockerHub or your configured registry tagging it with the version in build file (This one you should run from your CI server).

Now we’re treating docker images as our artifacts. We can pull the same artifact (docker image), and run it in all our environments. Again build once run it everywhere. If you’re using docker in production it’s a good idea to run your app in docker container locally for final testing instead of using sbt stage, since that’s the whole point of docker, you’re running the whole container, same that will run in production, not just your application. What you need to do is to run docker:publishLocal target to create the image locally. Then use docker run (docker run -t -i --rm -p 9000:9000 yeghishe/running-akka-apps-sample:0.0.1 /bin/bash).

Sample app

To demo those options and to make it easier for folks to reference the configuration I created a sample akka http app based on my minimal-scala-akka-http-seed activator template (to create a project based on it do activator new <YOU PROJECT NAME> minimal-scala-akka-http-seed). It has activator already in it, has the plugins I mentioned in project directory and a simple service that returns the mandatory Hello World when doing get request on root path. I’ll be demonstrating all the options I talked about. After you have it running, you can validate it by hitting it with curl localhost:9000 command.

sbt run

Execute sbt run from terminal or load sbt then exacute run target.

Typesafe activator

Execute ./activator ui which will start a server (listening on port 8888 by default) and open your browser pointing to it. Go to Ran tab and hit Start button.


Load sbt and execute reStart or ~reStart.

  • reStart starts or restarts the app.
  • reStop stops the running app.
  • reStatus shows if the app is running or it’s stopped.

sbt-native-packager with zip packages

Execute stage target from sbt and run executable in target/universal/stage/bin/ directory.


I pushed a docker images for this sample app to my DockerHub account for your convinice. Just run docker pull yeghishe/running-akka-apps-sample:latest to bring down the lastest image.

To start the container:

docker run -d -p 9000:9000 yeghishe/running-akka-apps-sample:latest

Or to run interactivly and automaticly remove the container when you stop it:

docker run -t -i --rm -p 9000:9000 yeghishe/running-akka-apps-sample:latest /bin/bash