Cats-Effect: Cancel Scala Process on Timeout

Alexey Novakov published on

4 min, 735 words

Categories: scala

Sometimes Scala developer needs to call external program, which is running outside of the JVM. In this case, we use scala.sys.process package. Process package has bunch of functions to spin up new processes, consume their outputs and errors. Also, spawned process can be stopped. Usually, we run external programs for a short period of time to make some side-effect. Then, we analyse its exit code to apply some error handling logic in our main Scala program. It worth to say that process API is blocking execution thread, when we are waiting for its completion. To summarise, Scala developer wants to do the following:

  1. Start external program as a process by giving a string containing command to be executed in underlying operating system.
  2. Wait for completion and get the exit code.
  3. Cancel spawned process, in case waiting time for its completion is greater than a certain threshold.

Good news, we can do all of that in Cats-Effect leveraging IO monad to handle a side-effect and having timeout logic around.

Handle blocking code

Besides usual ContextShift, we will use separate thread pool to run blocking code of process API. Cats-Effect provides Blocker class to evaluate specific IO on a given execution context. In case below, we are going to use CachedThreadPool, which can grow almost infinitely. Our main execution context will be still and it will be used for non-blocking operations.

import java.util.concurrent.Executors
import java.util.concurrent.TimeoutException

import cats.effect.ExitCase._
import cats.effect.{Blocker, Concurrent, ContextShift, IO, Timer}
import cats.implicits._

import scala.concurrent.ExecutionContext
import scala.concurrent.duration._
import scala.sys.process._

implicit val timer: Timer[IO] = IO.timer(
implicit val cs: ContextShift[IO] = IO.contextShift(

val cachedThreadPool = Executors.newCachedThreadPool()
val blocker = Blocker.liftExecutionContext(

Blocking Task

Blocker has blockOn method, which takes an IO and returns an IO to be evaluated on the specified earlier thread pool.

def startProcess(cmd: String): IO[Int] = {
  val blockingTask = blocker.blockOn(IO(

  //.... tbd

Using Cats-Effect Bracket type class we can safely start our process and handle its IO cancelation. On task cancel event, we are going to call Process#destroy method to stop running in OS.

def startProcess(cmd: String): IO[Int] = {
  val blockingTask = blocker.blockOn(IO(
  blockingTask.bracketCase { p =>
  } { (p, exit) =>
    exit match {
      case Completed => IO.unit
      case Error(_) | Canceled => IO(p.destroy())

Above pattern matching case on Canceled, we stop process p using destroy().

Run a task with timeout

One of the way to run Cats IO with timeout is to use its race method from Concurrent type class. Second task in race is a call of Timer#sleep, which is semantically blocking an IO for a specified duration.

Let's bring special function to start a race for two IOs and have third task as fallback IO, in case first IO was not completed before timeout. Below function was reused from Cats-Effect documentation:

def timeoutTo[F[_], A](
    fa: F[A],
    after: FiniteDuration,
    fallback: F[A]
  )(implicit timer: Timer[F], concurrent: Concurrent[F]): F[A] = {

    concurrent.race(fa, timer.sleep(after)).flatMap {
      case Left(a) =>
      case Right(_) =>

Now we are ready to run our blocking task with timeout. For the sake of example, we set 1 second as timeout and failing returned IO, by giving fallback IO with exception. Let us run infinitely running command such tail -f on some file to simulate long-running task, which we need to cancel in case of timeout.

val task = startProcess("tail -f build.sbt")
val finalTask = timeoutTo(task, 1.second, 
  IO.raiseError(new TimeoutException("Failed to run external process")))


scala> finalTask.unsafeRunSync()
          //... here comes a content of build.sbt as per given command 
java.util.concurrent.TimeoutException: Failed to run external process

Happy case:

scala> val task = startProcess("echo cats")
scala> val finalTask = timeoutTo(task, 1.second, 
  IO.raiseError(new TimeoutException("Failed to run externall process")))
scala> finalTask.unsafeRunSync()
res3: Int = 0


  • Using Bracket we can easily catch IO cancelation and release acquired resource. In the example above, we destroy external process, so that OS resource is released.
  • Cats Blocker helps us to run blocking tasks safely with regards to other non-blocking tasks.
  • And IO.race can be used to simulate timeout, since it cancels race looser.


  • Photo by Maico Amorim on Unsplash