Activity in Temporal

If you want to use Temporal, you need to know about Activity.


If you want to use as your workflow engine, you need to know about Activity, which is one of the key concepts of the Temporal workflow engine. After reading this article, you will understand:

  • What is an activity?
  • Activity execution
  • Observe an activity
  • Test an activity
  • Use-cases
  • Trade-offs

Now, let’s get started!

What is an activity?

According to the official documentation of Temporal, “an Activity is a normal function or object method that executes a single, well-defined action (either short or long-running), such as calling another service, transcoding a media file, or sending an email message”. In the basic “Hello World” sample, we can see how the actual code looks like:

// Workflow is a Hello World workflow definition.
func Workflow(ctx workflow.Context, name string) (string, error) {
	// ...
	var result string
	err := workflow.ExecuteActivity(ctx, Activity, name).Get(ctx, &result)
	if err != nil {
		logger.Error("Activity failed.", "Error", err)
		return "", err

	logger.Info("HelloWorld workflow completed.", "result", result)

	return result, nil

func Activity(ctx context.Context, name string) (string, error) {
	logger := activity.GetLogger(ctx)
	logger.Info("Activity", "name", name)
	return "Hello " + name + "!", nil

where we have a function Activity for logging “Hello $name!” which is called by the Workflow using workflow.ExecuteActivity(...).

Activity Execution

Now, what happens when a workflow executes an activity? Basically, it contains 3 stages in the lifecycle of the execution: scheduled, started, and completed.

  1. ActivityTaskScheduled – The activity task is sent to the Temporal server. More precisely, sent to a specific namespace and specific task queue inside the Temporal server via gRPC. Then, this activity waits to be picked up by a Temporal worker (client) to execute the actual logic. During this time, the event is persisted in the database and you can see it from the Web UI in the event history.
  2. ActivityTaskStarted – The activity task is picked by a Temporal worker that is listening to that task queue. Therefore, the task is considered as “started”. The task is being processed by the SDK client.
  3. ActivityTaskCompleted – The activity task is now completed. The SDK client has picked up and successfully completed the Activity Task.

Your best friend for better understanding these concepts is the Temporal Web UI because it shows the execution of the workflow as event history, where all the events are listed in chronological order. It’s quite simple.

However, for advanced users, the reality is more complex than that. Here are some details that you may need to know if you need to run workflows in production:

  • Pending task. When an activity task is scheduled, it won’t necessarily be picked up because the worker may not be deployed or may not listen to that task queue.
  • Heartbeating. When an activity task is being processed, the duration can be short or long. You may need to set up heartbeating for long-running activities so that Temporal server knows that the activity is making progress so that it won’t abort the execution. For example, if the activity reads a large file from Amazon S3 or runs an ML training job on some local GPUs. For short execution, such as a quick API call or reading a small file from a disk, heartbeating is not necessary.
  • Execution retries. You can define a retry policy in the activity options from the workflow context to allow retrying failed activity tasks. One “Activity Execution” contains multiple “Activity Task Executions”. A task can be retried due to timeout or failure. The number of retries or other conditions is defined in the retry policy. You can see more details in the official document “What is an Activity Execution?”
  • Other task results. ActivityTaskCompleted isn’t the only type of result for the execution. An activity task can also be failed (ActivityTaskFailed), timed out (ActivityTaskTimedOut), cancel-requested (ActivityTaskCancelRequested), or canceled (ActivityTaskCanceled). You can browse those events in the Events reference.


Now I have a workflow running and I want to inspect the activities, what should I do?


When defining your activity, you may retrieve a logger from the activity package as

logger := activity.GetLogger(ctx)

Internally, the logger not only logs the message and severity but also adds additional key-value pairs such as the namespace, the task queue, worker ID, the workflow type, the workflow ID, the run ID, etc.


The Go SDK provides support for distributed tracing through OpenTracing. Tracing allows you to view the call graph of a workflow execution along with its activities and child workflows. See documentation. Otherwise, you can also create a custom interceptor by extending the BaseTracer and providing your own implementation. It provides functions to intercept the activity and workflow, in particular, extracting span from the gRPC headers and injecting it into the context or vice versa.


To test activity, you probably cannot use a normal unit test anymore. Because some logic assumes that the current function is located inside an activity, such as activity.GetLogger(ctx). It will panic if your test isn’t inside an activity.

Therefore, you need to prepare an activity environment or workflow environment for it. This can be done using the testing framework provided by the Temporal Go SDK or other language SDKs via a Temporal test suite. Once the environment is created, you will need to register the activity into the environment so that you can execute the activity.

The test file helloworld_test.go in the “hello world” sample very well resumed what you need to do, either using NewTestWorkflowEnvironment() or NewTestActivityEnvironment().

package helloworld

import (



func Test_Workflow(t *testing.T) {
	testSuite := &testsuite.WorkflowTestSuite{}
	env := testSuite.NewTestWorkflowEnvironment()

	// Mock activity implementation
	env.OnActivity(Activity, mock.Anything, "Temporal").Return("Hello Temporal!", nil)

	env.ExecuteWorkflow(Workflow, "Temporal")

	require.True(t, env.IsWorkflowCompleted())
	require.NoError(t, env.GetWorkflowError())
	var result string
	require.NoError(t, env.GetWorkflowResult(&result))
	require.Equal(t, "Hello Temporal!", result)

func Test_Activity(t *testing.T) {
	testSuite := &testsuite.WorkflowTestSuite{}
	env := testSuite.NewTestActivityEnvironment()

	val, err := env.ExecuteActivity(Activity, "World")
	require.NoError(t, err)

	var res string
	require.NoError(t, val.Get(&res))
	require.Equal(t, "Hello World!", res)


But when should I use activities?

Using activities has multiple benefits: the logic encapsulated by the activity can be retried based on the retry policy; you can see the input and output in JSON format in the event history; you can rely on workflow.ExecuteActivity(...) to handle asynchronous processing, etc. Given the benefits above, I believe that you can use activities:

  • when your workflow talks to an external service so that you can retry on failures
  • when you need clear input and output for a section of your workflow so that you can inspect the event history
  • when you need to execute multiple tasks concurrently or asynchronously so that you can combine them with workflow selectors and channels.

If other cases are not covered by this section, please let me know, I am happy to update it! :D


One trade-off about using activity is the risk of function signature mismatch between the definition (e.g. Activity(ctx context.Context, name string) (string, error) in the hello world sample) and the execution (e.g. workflow.ExecuteActivity(ctx, Activity, name)). If you updated the activity definition without updating the executions (callers), then your workflow execution will probably not work anymore – because the Temporal worker cannot find the function in its registry… because the signature is changed. One mitigation is to avoid using ExecuteActivity directly, but generate a client, which encapsulates the logic. Therefore, you can rely on the compiler to find out the issue.

Going Further

How to go further from here?


In this article, we talk about activities in temporal: the definition of activity, the execution of an activity, observability, testing, use-cases, trade-offs, and finally some additional resources to go further. Interested to know more? You can subscribe to the feed of my blog, follow me on Twitter or GitHub. Hope you enjoy this article, see you the next time!

P.S. Special thanks to Charles Oran for reviewing this post.