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socketserver: the Python networking module you didn't know you needed

Leonora Tindall 2016/12/24

I occasionally spend time randomly surfing the Python standard library docs; there is a lot of useful functionality included in the language’s standard distribution, such as, for instance, the socketserver module, which I didn’t know about until this evening and which is one of the most useful I’ve seen in a while. As ever, the docs are straightforward in their self-description:

The `socketserver` module simplifies the task of writing network servers.

This is something of an understatement. To demonstrate this, here is a simple CaaS (capitalization as a service) server written with socketserver and one with socket:

import socket

with socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM) as s:
    s.bind(('', 50006))
    conn, addr = s.accept()
    with conn:
        while True:
            data = conn.recv(1024)
            if not data: break

And here is the same functionality with socketserver:

import socketserver

class CaaSHandler(socketserver.StreamRequestHandler):
    def handle(self):
        data = self.rfile.readline()

if __name__ == "__main__":
    server = socketserver.TCPServer(('', 50007), CaaSHandler)

Both of these take connections synchronously and sequentially, capitalize the data they recieve, and return it. The main difference is that the socketserver version can accept as much data as there is memory, while the socket version can accept only a limited amount (1024 bytes in this example).

This is because socketserver’s StreamRequestHandler provides the file-like objects rfile and wfile which expose all the normal luxuries of Python 3 files, like readline and read. The parent class of the handler you write will deal with setting the buffer size, looping until a newline or EOF is encountered, and dealing with client-first and server-first protocols. We could just as easily add a welcome message/prompt to the program; just make the CaaSHandler class look like this:

class CaaSHandler(socketserver.StreamRequestHandler):
    def handle(self):
        self.wfile.write(b"Enter some data to be capitalized:\n")
        data = self.rfile.readline()

without any changes to the client’s behavior. Adding that functionality in the socket version is somewhat nontrivial; how, for instance, one would handle both clients that expect to send data first and clients that expect to receive it first is less than obvious.

The second useful facility that socketserver provides is the xxxServer classes. I use TCPServer here, to which I passed a tuple of (hostname, portnumber) and the name of my handler class, CaaSHandler. I could also have used UDPServer for datagrams or UnixStreamServer/UnixDatagramServer for Unix sockets.

The socketserver module also provides mixins for threading and forking servers, which makes writing asynchronous network services much less painful than using socket and threading or even asyncio.