The gio library provides both synchronous and asynchronous interfaces for performing IO. Unfortunately, the two APIs require quite different programming styles, making it difficult to convert code written to the simpler synchronous API to the asynchronous one.
For C programs this is unavoidable, but for Python we should be able to do better. And if you’re doing asynchronous event driven code in Python, it makes sense to look at Twisted. In particular, Twisted’s Deferred objects can be quite helpful.
The Twisted documentation describes deferred objects as “a callback which will be put off until later”. The deferred will eventually be passed the result of some operation, or information about how it failed.
From the consumer side, you can register one or more callbacks that will be run:
def callback(result): # do stuff return result deferred.addCallback(callback)
The first callback will be called with the original result, while subsequent callbacks will be passed the return value of the previous callback (this is why the above example returns its argument). If the operation fails, one or more errbacks (error callbacks) will be called:
def errback(failure): # do stuff return failure deferred.addErrback(errback)
If the operation associated with the deferred has already been completed (or already failed) when the callback/errback is added, then it will be called immediately. So there is no need to check if the operation is complete before hand.
Using Deferred objects with gio
We can easily use gio’s asynchronous API to implement a new API based on deferred objects. For example:
import gio from twisted.internet import defer def file_read_deferred(file, io_priority=0, cancellable=None): d = defer.Deferred() def callback(file, async_result): try: in_stream = file.read_finish(async_result) except gio.Error: d.errback() else: d.callback(in_stream) file.read_async(callback, io_priority, cancellable) return d def input_stream_read_deferred(in_stream, count, io_priority=0, cancellable=None): d = defer.Deferred() def callback(in_stream, async_result): try: bytes = in_stream.read_finish(async_result) except gio.Error: d.errback() else: d.callback(bytes) # the argument order seems a bit weird here ... in_stream.read_async(count, callback, io_priority, cancellable) return d
This is a fairly simple transformation, so you might ask what this buys us. We’ve gone from an interface where you pass a callback to the method to one where you pass a callback to the result of the method. The answer is in the tools that Twisted provides for working with deferred objects.
The inlineCallbacks decorator
You’ve probably seen code examples that use Python’s generators to implement simple co-routines. Twisted’s inlineCallbacks decorator basically implements this for generators that yield deferred objects. It uses the enhanced generators feature from Python 2.5 (PEP 342) to pass the deferred result or failure back to the generator. Using it, we can write code like this:
@defer.inlineCallbacks def print_contents(file, cancellable=None): in_stream = yield file_read_deferred(file, cancellable=cancellable) bytes = yield input_stream_read_deferred( in_stream, 4096, cancellable=cancellable) while bytes: # Do something with the data. For this example, just print to stdout. sys.stdout.write(bytes) bytes = yield input_stream_read_deferred( in_stream, 4096, cancellable=cancellable)
Other than the use of the yield keyword, the above code looks quite similar to the equivalent synchronous implementation. The only thing that would improve matters would be if these were real methods rather than helper functions.
Furthermore, the inlineCallbacks decorator causes the function to return a deferred that will fire when the function body finally completes or fails. This makes it possible to use the function from within other asynchronous code in a similar fashion. And once you’re using deferred results, you can mix in the gio calls with other Twisted asynchronous calls where it makes sense.
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Note that for C, there’s the GFiber proposal