Get Started with Membrane


Building Pipelines is the way to create streaming applications with Membrane. Pipeline allows you to spawn Elements and establish data flow between them. Pipelines can also communicate with elements or terminate them. Elements within a pipeline are often referred to as its children and the pipeline is their parent.

Connecting elements together is called linking.

To create a pipeline, you need to implement the Membrane.Pipeline behavior. It boils down to implementing callbacks and returning actions from them. For a simple pipeline, it's sufficient to implement the handle_init callback, which is called upon the pipeline startup, and return the spec action, which spawns and links elements. Let's see it in an example:

Sample pipeline

Mix.install([ :membrane_hackney_plugin, :membrane_mp3_mad_plugin, :membrane_portaudio_plugin, ]) defmodule MyPipeline do use Membrane.Pipeline @impl true def handle_init(_ctx, mp3_url) do spec = child(%Membrane.Hackney.Source{ location: mp3_url, hackney_opts: [follow_redirect: true] }) |> child(Membrane.MP3.MAD.Decoder) |> child(Membrane.PortAudio.Sink) {[spec: spec], %{}} end end mp3_url = "" Membrane.Pipeline.start_link(MyPipeline, mp3_url)

The code above is one of the simplest examples of Membrane usage. It plays an MP3 file through your computer's default audio playback device with the help of the PortAudio audio I/O library. Let's digest this code and put it to work playing some sound.


Membrane is written in Elixir. It's an awesome programming language of the functional paradigm with great fault tolerance and process management, which made it the best choice for Membrane. If you're not familiar with it, you can use this cheatsheet for a quick look-up. We encourage you to also take a deep look into Elixir and learn how to use it to take full advantage of all its awesomeness. We believe you'll fall in love with Elixir too!

You have two options to run the snippet:

  • Option 1: Click here. You'll be directed to install Livebook, an interactive notebook similar to Jupyter, and it'll open the snippet in there for you. Then just click the 'run' button in there.

  • Option 2: If you don't want to use Livebook, you can install Elixir, type iex to run the interactive shell and paste the snippet there.

Sample pipeline explained

Let's figure out step-by-step what happens in the sample pipeline.

Firstly, we install the needed dependencies. They are plugins, that contain elements that we will use in the pipeline.

Mix.install([ :membrane_hackney_plugin, :membrane_mp3_mad_plugin, :membrane_portaudio_plugin, ])

Instead of creating a script and using Mix.install, you can also create a Mix project and add these dependencies to deps in mix.exs file.

After installing the dependencies, we can create a module for our pipeline:

defmodule MyPipeline do use Membrane.Pipeline end

Using the Membrane.Pipeline behaviour means we are treating our module as a Membrane Pipeline, so we will have access to functions defined in the Membrane.Pipeline module, and we can implement some of its callbacks. Let's implement the handle_init/2 callback, which is a function that is invoked to initialize a pipeline during start-up:

defmodule MyPipeline do use Membrane.Pipeline @impl true def handle_init(_ctx, path_to_mp3) do end end

If the concept of callbacks and behaviours is new to you, you can read more about it here, or see examples of behaviours in the Elixir standard library, for example the GenServer and Supervisor behaviours.

We'll use handle_init to specify all its elements as children and set up links between them to define the order in which data will flow through the pipeline:

@impl true def handle_init(_ctx, path_to_mp3) do spec = child(%Membrane.Hackney.Source{ location: mp3_url, hackney_opts: [follow_redirect: true] }) |> child(Membrane.MP3.MAD.Decoder) |> child(Membrane.PortAudio.Sink) {[spec: spec], %{}} end

The child function allows us to spawn particular elements. By piping one child to another with the |> operator, we can specify the order of the elements in the pipeline. Thus, the code above links Membrane.Hackney.Source to Membrane.MP3.MAD.Decoder and Membrane.MP3.MAD.Decoder to Membrane.PortAudio.Sink. Here's what they are:

  • Hackney source - an element based on the Hackney HTTP library, that downloads a file via HTTP chunk by chunk, and sends these chunks through its output pad. We pass two options to it: a URL where the MP3 is stored and a flag to make it follow HTTP redirects.
  • MP3 decoder - an element based on libmad, that accepts MP3 audio on the input pad and sends the decoded audio through the output pad.
  • PortAudio sink - an element that accepts decoded audio on its input pad and uses the PortAudio library to play in on the speaker.

In our spec, we don't mention the names of the pads, because input and output are the defaults. However, we could explicitly specify them:

spec = child(%Membrane.Hackney.Source{ location: mp3_url, hackney_opts: [follow_redirect: true] }) |> via_out(:output) |> via_in(:input) |> child(Membrane.MP3.MAD.Decoder) |> via_out(:output) |> via_in(:input) |> child(Membrane.PortAudio.Sink)

Even though not necessary here, via_in and via_out are useful in more complex scenarios that we'll cover later.

The value returned from handle_init:

{[spec: spec], %{}}

is a tuple containing the list of actions and the state.

  • Actions are the way to interact with Membrane. Apart from spec, you can for example return terminate: reason that will stop the elements and terminate the pipeline. Most actions, including spec, can be returned from multiple callbacks, allowing, for example, to spawn elements on demand. Check the Membrane.Pipeline behavior for the available callbacks and Membrane.Pipeline.Action for the available actions.
  • State is an arbitrary data that will be passed to subsequent callbacks as the last argument. It's usually a map. As we have no use for the state in this case, we just set it to an empty map.

When we have created our pipeline module, we can call Membrane.Pipeline.start_link to run it:

Membrane.Pipeline.start_link(MyPipeline, mp3_url)

We pass to it the pipeline module and options, which in our case is the mp3_url. The options are passed directly to the handle_init callback.

Congratulations! You've just built and run your first Membrane application. Let's now have a deeper look at the elements.

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