Contracts for building and consuming event-based finite state machines

dev-master 2024-02-03 09:53 UTC

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Last update: 2024-06-03 10:28:34 UTC


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This repository contains contracts for building and consuming event-based finite state machines.

Table of contents

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  1. The pretty GH Pages version of this document shows a nice table of contents here {:toc}

1 - Terminology

  • State - A named representation of application state which can be determined either explicitly through a direct transition, or implictly through a chain of higher-order super-states.
  • Transition - Defines when and how to move from one state to another
  • Trigger - An event that would cause a transition. Any PHP object can be used as a trigger, making this interface highly interoperable with PSR-14 based event systems.
  • Action - An action is again an object and works like an event. Its handlers are based on the current state though, enabling stateful behaviour in a very flexible manner.
  • State Machine - The main entrypoint for triggers and actions. Responsible for keeping track of the current state, performing transitions and notifying subscribers.
  • Context Metadata related to the current state
  • Transition Provider - Returns a valid Transition object for any given trigger.
  • State Machine Observer - Allows outside code to subscribe to state updates.
  • State Storage - An abstraction layer to interface the process of loading & saving the active state with various sources (eg. memory, db, Redis)

2 - Concepts

2.1 - StateMachineInterface

The purpose of a class implementing this interface is to keep track of the active state as well as to delegate events from the outside application in case the extended ObservableStateMachineInterface is used . It's easy to be tempted to cram lots of logic and responsibility into this class, which is why the interfaces presented here deliberately keep some expected responsibility away from the class.

interface StateMachineInterface

     * Implementing methods MUST receive a TransitionInterface object from a TransitionProviderInterface.
     * If a transition object is returned, its target state MUST be transitioned to.
     * @see TransitionInterface::target()
     * @param object $payload
     * @return StateMachineInterface
    public function trigger(object $payload): self;

2.1.1 - Performing transitions

Consequently, the only required method on the base interface is a way to react to an external trigger (-> event). When the state machine is triggered, is MUST request a Transition object from a TransitionProvider. If no valid transition is returned, no further action is required.

A state machine MAY receive a StateStorageInterface as an injected depency. If this is used, StateStorageInterface::save() MUST be called with the new state so that the state change can be persisted.

An ObservableStateMachineInterface MUST notify all of its subscribers when a transition is made. More about this in the next section.

2.1.2 - Handling events

There are 2 additional interfaces related to event handling that a state machine can optionally implement:


This interface defines an Observer pattern segregated into 3 areas of interest:

  • Entering a state
  • Exiting a state
  • Performing an action
interface ObservableStateMachineInterface extends StateMachineInterface

     * Adds an observer to the stack.
     * When a state machine exits a state, all ExitStateObservers MUST be notified.
     * When a new state is entered, all EnterStateObservers MUST be notified
     * When a state action is triggered (on implementors of StatefulActorInterface),
     * all ActionObservers MUST be notified
     * @see Observer\EnterStateObserver, Observer\ExitStateObserver, Observer\ActionObserver, ActorInterface
     * @param Observer\StateMachineObserver $observer
     * @return self
    public function attach(Observer\StateMachineObserver $observer): self;

     * Removes an observer from the stack.
     * The observer MUST no longer be notified of state changes
     * @param Observer\StateMachineObserver $observer
     * @return self
    public function detach(Observer\StateMachineObserver $observer): self;

State machines can therefore be written without being aware of any event-handling logic, let along providing their own. Use-cases for StateMachineObservers include:

  • Implementing internal stateful behaviour defined as a state's onEntry, onExit or action callbacks
  • Logging
  • Bridging to external event systems


Classes implementing this interface provide a way to process to arbitrary object payloads via an action($payload) method.

interface ActorInterface

     * Carry out an action corresponding to the given payload object
     * @param object $payload Arbitrary data relevant for the desired action.
     * @return object The payload object - modified by the implementing method if applicable
    public function action(object $payload): object;

This is the primary way to interface the application logic with the state machine. Whenever state-dependent behaviour or data is required, a corresponding action can be requested from the state machine.

It is meant to serve as a generic and flexible entrypoint for any use case, so it is a good idea to wrap this method with more explicit sugar methods to directly address the usage scenarios of your specific state machine.

namespace Noem\State;

class MyFSM implements StateMachineInterface, ActorInterface {

    public function trigger(object $payload): self {
        // ... implementation
        return $this;
    public function action(object $payload): object {
        // ... implementation
    public function buttonLabel(): string {
        $result = $this->action((object)['label' => '']);
        return (string) $result->label;



More sophisticated implementations might wish to store meta-data that belongs to a specific state. A classic example would be a "button click":

  • User clicks a button. A ButtonClicked event is emitted. We enter the button.held state.
  • Transitions are now possible to button.pressed and button.longPressed, each disabled until a ButtonReleased event fires
  • On each Update action, we increase the timeHeld with $machine->context($state)['timeHeld']++
  • The button is released, causing a ButtonReleased event
  • The guard callbacks are firing: If timeHeld < 500ms, the transition to button.pressed is enabled. If it's >500ms, the transition to button.longPressed is enabled

ContextInterface provides a way to store this kind of meta information without relying on an external framework or global state

2.2 - TransitionProviderInterface

The TransitionProvider is responsible for returning a valid transition based on the given action and the current state.

interface TransitionProviderInterface

     * Return a Transition object that matches the given state and trigger
     * @param StateInterface $state For comparing the source state against
     * @param object $trigger For evaluating whether the transition is enabled
     * @return TransitionInterface|null
    public function getTransitionForTrigger(StateInterface $state, object $trigger): ?TransitionInterface;

It is similar in intention and function to PSR-14's ListenerProvider:

  • It reduces complexity of the state machine object by shielding it from knowledge about where states and transitions come from and how they interact
  • Thus, its responsibilities CAN be reduced to
    • Keeping track of the current state
    • Dealing with events
  • Shifting transitions and interaction with the state graph outside the machine enables interop between multiple packages: An AggregateTransitionProvider might gather the transitions from a number of modules, resulting in a state machine built from many loosely coupled fragments.