Pattern or Antipattern? Splitting up initialization with asyncio

“O brave new world, That has such people in’t!” – William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Edit: Jean-Paul Calderone (exarkun) has a very good response to this detailing why it should be considered an antipattern. He has some great thoughts on the implicit contract that a programmer is signing when they write an __init__() method and the maintenance cost that is incurred if a programmer breaks those expectations. Definitely worth reading!

Instead of spending the Thanksgiving weekend fighting crowds of shoppers I indulged my inner geek by staying at home on my computer. And not to shop online either — I was taking a look at Python-3.4’s asyncio library to see whether it would be useful in general, run of the mill code. After quite a bit of experimenting I do think every programmer will have a legitimate use for it from time to time. It’s also quite sexy. I think I’ll be a bit prone to overusing it for a little while 😉

Something I discovered, though — there’s a great deal of good documentation and blog posts about the underlying theory of asyncio and how to implement some broader concepts using asyncio’s API. There’s quite a few tutorials that skim the surface of what you can theoretically do with the library that don’t go into much depth. And there’s a definite lack of examples showing how people are taking asyncio’s API and applying them to real-world problems.

That lack is both exciting and hazardous. Exciting because it means there’s plenty of neat new ways to use the API that no one’s made into a wide-spread and oft-repeated pattern yet. Hazardous because there’s plenty of neat new ways to abuse the API that no one’s thought to write a post explaining why not to do things that way before. My joke about overusing it earlier has a large kernel of truth in it… there’s not a lot of information saying whether a particular means of using asyncio is good or bad.

So let me mention one way of using it that I thought about this weekend — maybe some more experienced tulip or twisted programmers will pop up and tell me whether this is a good use or bad use of the APIs.

Let’s say you’re writing some code that talks to a microblogging service. You have one class that handles both posting to the service and reading from it. As you write the code you realize that there’s some time consuming tasks (for instance, setting up an on-disk cache for posts) that you have to do in order to read from the service that you do not have to wait for if your first actions are going to be making new posts. After a bit of thought, you realize you can split up your initialization into two steps. Initialization needed for posting will be done immediately in the class’s constructor and initialization needed for reading will be setup in a future so that reading code will know when it can begin to process. Here’s a rough sketch of what an implementation might look like:

import os
import sqlite
import asyncio

import aiohttp

class Microblog:
    def __init__(self, url, username, token, cachedir):
        self.auth = token
        self.username = username
        self.url = url
        loop = asyncio.get_event_loop()
        self.init_future = loop.run_in_executor(None, self._reading_init, cachedir)

    def _reading_init(self, cachedir):
        # Mainly setup our cache
        self.cachedir = cachedir
        os.makedirs(cachedir, mode=0o755, exist_ok=True)
        self.db = sqlite.connect('sqlite:////{0}/cache.sqlite'.format(cachedir))
        # Create tables, fill in some initial data, you get the picture [....]

    def post(self, msg):
        data = dict(payload=msg)
        headers = dict(Authorization=self.token)
        reply = yield from aiohttp.request('post', self.url, data=data, headers=headers)
        # Manipulate reply a bit [...]
        return reply

    def sync_latest(self):
        # Synchronize with the initialization we need before we can read
        yield from self.init_future
        data = dict(per_page=100, page=1)
        headers = dict(Authorization=self.token)
        reply = yield from aiohttp.request('get', self.url, data=data, headers=headers)
        # Stuff the reply in our cache

if __name__ == '__main__':
    chirpchirp = Microblog('', 'a.badger', TOKEN, '/home/badger/cache/')
    loop = asyncio.get_event_loop()
    # Contrived -- real code would probably have a coroutine to take user input
    # and then submit that while interleaving with displaying new posts
    asyncio.async(' '.join(sys.argv[1:])))

Some of this code is just there to give an idea of how this could be used. The real question’s revolve around splitting up initialization into two steps:

  • Is yield from the proper way for sync_latest() to signal that it needs self.init_future to finish before it can continue?
  • Is it good form to potentially start using the object for one task before __init__ has finished all tasks?
  • Would it be better style to setup posting and reading separately? Maybe a reading class and a posting class or the old standby of invoking _reading_init() the first time sync_latest() is called?

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