What is a Living Document?

Let's start by defining a living document as opposed to a dead document. Take a look at the following example JSON document:

  "name": "Jeff",	
  "state": "Washington",
  "title": "Dark Lord"

This example JSON is a representation of a person living in the great state of Washington with an awkward title (it's me, tee hee), but this JSON is dead. It requires external stimulus to change. If you put this document inside a typical document store without any additional updates, then it will remain that way for as long as that document store exists.

A living document is the opposite of a dead document. A living document can be put within a living document store, and the document will update and change on its own over time. Take for instance the following Adama code:

public int ticks;

@construct {
  ticks = 0;
  transition #tick in 1;

#tick {
  transition #tick in 1;

This Adama code defines:

  • a publicly visible integer field called ticks (a singleton value scoped to the document).
  • a constructor which runs only once when the document is created to initialize ticks and kick off the state machine
  • a state machine transition that runs every second and increments the ticks field

In effect, a living document is just a state machine on top of a JSON document that can transition in three ways: time, messages from people, or shared data changes between other living documents. The above example illustrates time. See Actors and Dungeon Master for more details about how messages come into the picture. Shared data changes are a work in progress, so ping me if you want more details.

Alternatively, a living document is a tiny persistent server.

Mental Model: Tiny Persistent Servers

An exceptionally tiny persistent server is an alternative view of this concept. This is what the merging of state and compute looks like with Adama. With Adama, you outline the shape of your state and then open up mechanisms for how that state changes. This is comparable to building a server in whatever language you want except the discipline to correctly persist state outside of the server is handled for you by the runtime.

For the target domain of board games, this is exceptionally useful because representing the state of board games is a difficult task within itself. With Adama, a single document represents the entirety of a single game's state via a singular definition.

Now, representing the state inside a single document provides an exceptional array of features: versioning, debugging via time travel, an imagination for androids, atomic and consistent boundaries, locality homing, and more. These features will be documented in the future.