Event-driven programming in Flask with Blinker signals

Setting up blinker:

The Open Event Project offers event managers a platform to organize all kinds of events including concerts, conferences, summits and regular meetups. In the server part of the project, the issue at hand was to perform multiple tasks in background (we use celery for this) whenever some changes occurred within the event, or the speakers/sessions associated with the event.

The usual approach to this would be applying a function call after any relevant changes are made. But the statements making these changes were distributed all over the project at multiple places. It would be cumbersome to add 3-4 function calls (which are irrelevant to the function they are being executed) in so may places. Moreover, the code would get unstructured with this and it would be really hard to maintain this code over time.

That’s when signals came to our rescue. From Flask 0.6, there is integrated support for signalling in Flask, refer http://flask.pocoo.org/docs/latest/signals/ . The Blinker library is used here to implement signals. If you’re coming from some other language, signals are analogous to events.

Given below is the code to create named signals in a custom namespace:

from blinker import Namespace

event_signals = Namespace()
speakers_modified = event_signals.signal('event_json_modified')

If you want to emit a signal, you can do so by calling the send() method:

speakers_modified.send(current_app._get_current_object(), event_id=event.id, speaker_id=speaker.id)

From the user guide itself:

“ Try to always pick a good sender. If you have a class that is emitting a signal, pass self as sender. If you are emitting a signal from a random function, you can pass current_app._get_current_object() as sender. “

To subscribe to a signal, blinker provides neat decorator based signal subscriptions.

def name_of_signal_handler(app, **kwargs):


Some Design Decisions:

When sending the signal, the signal may be sending lots of information, which your signal may or may not want. e.g when you have multiple subscribers listening to the same signal. Some of the information sent by the signal may not be of use to your specific function. Thus we decided to enforce the pattern below to ensure flexibility throughout the project.

def new_handler(app, **kwargs):
# do whatever you want to do with kwargs['event_id']

In this case, the function new_handler needs to perform some task solely based on the event_id. If the function was of the form def new_handler(app, event_id), an error would be raised by the app. A big plus of this approach, if you want to send some more info with the signal, for the sake of example, if you also want to send speaker_name along with the signal, this pattern ensures that no error is raised by any of the subscribers defined before this change was made.

When to use signals and when not ?

The call to send a signal will of course be lying in another function itself. The signal and the function should be independent of each other. If the task done by any of the signal subscribers, even remotely affects your current function, a signal shouldn’t be used, use a function call instead.

How to turn off signals while testing?

When in testing mode, signals may slow down your testing as unnecessary signals subscribers which are completely independent from the function being tested will be executed numerous times. To turn off executing the signal subscribers, you have to make a small change in the send function of the blinker library.

Below is what we have done. The approach to turn it off may differ from project to project as the method of testing differs. Refer https://github.com/jek/blinker/blob/master/blinker/base.py#L241 for the original function.

def new_send(self, *sender, **kwargs):
    if len(sender) == 0:
        sender = None
    elif len(sender) > 1:
        raise TypeError('send() accepts only one positional argument, '
                        '%s given' % len(sender))
        sender = sender[0]
    # only this line was changed
    if not self.receivers or app.config['TESTING']:
        return []
        return [(receiver, receiver(sender, **kwargs))
                for receiver in self.receivers_for(sender)]
Signal.send = new_send

event_signals = Namespace
# and so on ....

That’s all for now. Have some fun signaling 😉 .