Internal Pipeline Machinery

预计阅读时间: 14 分钟


The pipeline is a structure containing a sequence of functions (blocks/lambdas) that are called one after another, distributed in phases topologically ordered, with the ability to mutate the sequence and to call the remaining functions in the pipeline and then return to current block.

All the functions are suspending blocks/lambdas, thus the whole pipeline is asynchronous.

Since pipelines contain blocks of code, they can be nested, effectively creating sub-pipelines.

Pipelines are used in Ktor as an extension mechanism to plug functionality in at the right place. For example, a Ktor application defines five main phases: Setup, Monitoring, Features, Call and Fallback. The routing feature defines its own nested pipeline inside the application’s call phase.


The simplified API of pipelines (without some generics, only public members and no bodies) looks like this:

class PipelinePhase(val name: String)
class Pipeline <TSubject : Any, TContext : Any> {
    constructor(vararg phases: PipelinePhase)

    val attributes: Attributes
    fun addPhase(phase: PipelinePhase)
    fun insertPhaseAfter(reference: PipelinePhase, phase: PipelinePhase)
    fun insertPhaseBefore(reference: PipelinePhase, phase: PipelinePhase)
    fun intercept(phase: PipelinePhase, block: suspend PipelineContext.(TSubject) -> Unit)
    fun merge(from: Pipeline)

    suspend fun execute(context: TContext, subject: TSubject): TSubject


Phases are groups of interceptors that can be ordered topologically, defining relationships between them.

You can define your own pipeline phases like this:

val myPipelinePhase = PipelinePhase("MyPipelinePhase")

You can register phases when constructing the pipeline: Pipeline(phase1, phase2, phase3...)

You can also register your phase later in a pipeline by calling the Pipeline.addPhase method, or register it by defining a relation to another phase, adjusting the order of the phases by using the Pipeline.insertPhaseAfter and Pipeline.insertPhaseBefore methods, thereby defining relations for phases to be topologically sorted.

For example, if you define two phases and want them to be executed in order, you can:

val phase1 = PipelinePhase("MyPhase1")
val phase2 = PipelinePhase("MyPhase2")
pipeline.insertPhaseAfter(ApplicationCallPipeline.Features, phase1)
pipeline.insertPhaseAfter(phase1, phase2)

Then you can intercept phases, so your interceptors will be called in that phase in the order they are registered:

pipeline.intercept(phase1) { println("Phase1[A]") }
pipeline.intercept(phase2) { println("Phase2[A]") }
pipeline.intercept(phase2) { println("Phase2[B]") }
pipeline.intercept(phase1) { println("Phase1[B]") }

Would print:


You can execute the pipeline by calling the execute method, providing a context and a subject:

pipeline.execute(context, subject)

You can omit calling the addPhase method when using the insertPhase* methods unless you need to register a Phase that would otherwise be included by calling Pipeline.merge later.

For example if you define a Phase inside a node in the routing feature, and then, in an inner node, try to insert a phase using that one as reference, you would get an exception similar to io.ktor.pipeline.InvalidPhaseException: Phase Phase('YourPhase') was not registered for this pipeline.
In this case you can just call addPhase, so the phase is referenced before merging.

Interceptors and the PipelineContext

When calling Pipeline.intercept you provide a phase where the interception will be appended, and you also have to provide a function/lambda that receives a this: PipelineContext, so you can handle whatever you need. Inside that context, you have access to a properly typed context (usually the ApplicationCall) and an optional Subject, so you can pass information to other interceptors.

The context API:

class PipelineContext<TSubject : Any, out TContext : Any>() {
    val context: TContext
    val subject: TSubject
    fun finish()
    suspend fun proceedWith(subject: TSubject): TSubject
    suspend fun proceed(): TSubject

This way, the interceptors can control the flow in the following ways:

  • Throwing an exception: The exception propagates back, and the pipeline is canceled.
  • Calling the proceed or proceedWith functions: The interceptor is suspended, while the rest of the pipeline is executed. Once completed the function is resumed, and the proceed/proceedWith code block is executed.
  • Calling the finish() function: The pipeline finishes without any exceptions and without executing the rest of the pipeline.
  • In other cases: The next function is called, or the pipeline finishes if it was the last function.

The order of the blocks is determined first by the order of phases they are installed into, then by installation order.

Phases are defined when the pipeline is created and can be augmented to add more phases using pipeline.phases.

For a PipelineContext that has an ApplicationCall as context, there is a convenience extension property call as an alias to context.

The Subject

During execution the pipeline context also carries a subject: an arbitrarily typed generic object TSubject that is being processed.

The subject is accessible from the context as a property with its own name, and it is propagated between interceptors. You can change the instance (for example for immutable subjects) using the PipelineContext.proceedWith(subject) method.

When using this method, the pipeline will continue with the new subject instance and will return to the caller with the last instance passed by the pipeline, effectively allowing it to process the subject in later interceptions.

For a pipeline without a subject you can use Unit, for example, since the ApplicationCallPipeline doesn’t require a subject; it uses Unit.


Pipelines of the same type can be merged. This is done with the merge function on a receiving pipeline.

All interceptors from pipeline merging are added to the receiving pipeline according to their phases.

Pipelines are merged when there are different points where interceptors can be installed. One example is the response pipeline that can be intercepted at the application level, call level, or per route. Before we execute a response pipeline, we merge them all.

Ktor pipelines


Ktor defines a pipeline without a subject, and the ApplicationCall as a context defining five phases (Setup, Monitoring, Features, Call and Fallback) to be executed in this order:

#direction: right fill=#af8
#.fallback: fill=#faa dashed

[Setup] then -> [Monitoring]
[Monitoring] then -> [Features]
[Features] then -> [Call]
[Call] then -> [Fallback]

The purpose for intercepting each phase:

  • Setup: phase used for preparing the call and its attributes for processing (like the CallId feature)
  • Monitoring: phase used for tracing calls: useful for logging, metrics, error handling and so on (like the CallLogging feature)
  • Features: most features should intercept this phase (like the Authentication feature).
  • Call: features and interceptors used to complete the call, like the Routing feature
  • Fallback: features that process unhandled calls in a normal way and resolve them somehow, like the StatusPages feature

The code looks like this:

open class ApplicationCallPipeline : Pipeline<Unit, ApplicationCall>(Setup, Monitoring, Features, Call, Fallback) {
    val receivePipeline = ApplicationReceivePipeline()
    val sendPipeline = ApplicationSendPipeline()

    companion object {
        val Setup = PipelinePhase("Setup")
        val Monitoring = PipelinePhase("Monitoring")
        val Features = PipelinePhase("Features")
        val Call = PipelinePhase("Call")
        val Fallback = PipelinePhase("Fallback")

This base pipeline is used by the Application and the Routing features.


A Ktor Application is an ApplicationCallPipeline. This is the main pipeline used for web backend applications handling http requests.


The routing feature defines a nested pipeline attached to the Call phase in the Application pipeline. You can get the routing root node pipeline by calling val routing = application.routing {}. Each node in the Route tree defines its own pipeline that is later merged per each route.

By merging the tree pipelines, you can define phases and interceptions at some point in the tree, and then they will be executed in the order defined by the phase relationships.

Since Route nodes have their own pipeline and the merge happens later, if you plan to add relationships to some phases defined in other ancestor Route nodes, you will have to add them with Pipeline.addPhase in the specific Route node to avoid the io.ktor.pipeline.InvalidPhaseException: Phase Phase('YourPhase') was not registered for this pipeline exception.


Ktor also defines other pipelines in some other features.


See PipelineTest for examples.