Morepath App Reuse

I'm working on a new Python web microframework called Morepath, as I've mentioned before. Here's the code and here's a draft quickstart. Morepath is a microframework with a difference: it's small and easy to learn like the others, but has special super powers under the hood.

One of those super powers is Reg, which along with Morepath's model/view separation makes it easy to write reusable views. But in this article I'll talk about another super power: Morepath's application reuse patterns.

We'll talk about how Morepath lets you isolate applications, extend and override applications, and compose applications together. Morepath tries to make these possibilities simple, even obvious. Morepath strives to make the possible as obvious as possible.

Application Isolation

Morepath lets you create app objects like this:

app = morepath.App()

These app objects are WSGI applications, but also serve as registries for application configuration information. This configuration is specify used decorators. Typically apps consist of models and views:

@app.model(model=User, path='user/{username}',
           variables=lambda user: { 'username': user.username })
def get_user(username):
    return query_for_user(username)

def render_user(request, model):
    return "User: %s" % model.username

Here we've exposed the User model class under the path /user/{username}. When you go to such a URL, the default (unnamed) view will be found, and we've provided that too: it just renders "User: {username}".

What now if we have another app where we want to publish User in a different way? No problem, we can just create one:

other_app = morepath.App()
@other_app.model(model=User, path='different_path/{username}')
def get_user(username):
    return different_query_for_user(username)

def render_user(request, model):
    return "Differently Displayed User: %s" % model.username

Here we expose User to the web again, but use a different path and a different view. If you run this app (even in the same runtime), this will be separate.

This app isolation is nothing really special; it's kind of obvious that this is possible. But that's what we wanted. Let's look at a few more involved possibilities next.

Application Extension

Let's look at our first application app again. It exposes a single view for users (the default view). What now if we want to add a new functionality to this application so that we can edit users as well?

This is simple; we can add a new edit view to app:

@app.view(model=User, name='edit')
def edit_user(request, model):
    return 'Edit user: %s' % model.username

The string we return here is of course useless for a real edit view, but you get the idea.

But what if we have a scenario where there is a core application and we want to extend it without modifying it?

Why would this ever happen, you may ask? Well, it can, especially in more complex applications and reuse scenarios. Often you have a common application core and you want to be able to plug into it. Meanwhile, you want that core application to still function as before when used (or tested!) by itself. Perhaps there's somebody else who has created another extension of it.

This architectural principle is called the Open/Closed Principle in software engineering, and Morepath makes it really easy to follow it. What you do is create another app that extends the original:

extended_app = morepath.App(extends=[app])

And then we can add the view to the extended app:

@extended_app.view(model=User, name='edit')
def edit_user(request, model):
    return 'Edit user: %s' % model.username

Now when we publish extended_app using WSGI, the new edit view will be there, but when we publish app it won't be.

Kind of obvious, perhaps. Good. Let's move on.

Application Overrides

Now we get to a more exciting example: overriding applications. What if instead of adding an extension to a core application you want to override part of it? For instance, what if we want to change the default view for User?

Here's how we would do that:

def render_user_differently(request, model):
    return 'Different view for user: %s' % model.username

We've now overridden the default view for User to a new view that renders it differently.

You can also do this for what is returned for model paths. We might for instance want to return a different user object altogether in our overriding app:

@extended_app.model(model=OtherUser, path='user/{username}')
def get_user_differently(username):
    return OtherUser(username)

To make OtherUser actually be published on the web under /user/{username} it either needs to be a subclass of User, for which we've already registered a default view, or we need to register a new default view for OtherUser.

Overriding apps actually doesn't look much different from how you build apps in the first place. Hopefully not so obvious that it's boring. Let's talk about something new.

Nesting Applications

Let's talk about application composition: nesting one app in another.

Imagine our user app allows users to have wikis associated with them. You would have paths like /user/faassen/wiki and /user/bob/wiki.

One approach might be to implement a wiki application within the user application we already have, along these lines:

@app.model(model=Wiki, path='user/{username}/wiki')
def get_wiki(username):
    return wiki_for_user(username)

def wiki_default_view(request, model):
    return "Default view for wiki"

(this is massively simplified of course. we'd also have a Page model that's exposed on a sub-path under the wiki, with its own views, etc)

But this feels bad. Why?

  • Why would we implement a wiki as part of our user app? Our wiki application should really be an app by itself, that we can use byitself and also test by itself.
  • There's the issue of the username: it will appear in all paths that go to wiki-related models (the wiki itself, any wiki pages). But why should we have to care about the username of a user when we are thinking about wikis?
  • It would also be nice if we can use the wiki app in other contexts as well, instead of only letting it be associated with users. What about associating a wiki app with a project instead, like you can do in github?

A separate app for wikis seems obvious. So let's do it. Here's the wiki app by itself:

wiki_app = morepath.App()

@wiki_app.model(model=Wiki, path='{wiki_id}')
def get_wiki(wiki_id):
    return query_wiki(wiki_id)

def wiki_default_view(request, model):
    return "Default view for wiki"

This is an app that exposes wikis on URLs using wiki_id, like /my_wiki, /another_wiki.

But that won't work if we want to associate wikis with users. What if we want the paths we had before, like /user/faassen/wiki?

Morepath has a solution. We can mount the wiki app in the user app, like this:

@app.mount(app=wiki_app, path='user/{username}/wiki')
def mount_wiki(username):
    return {
       'wiki_id': get_wiki_id_for_username(username)

We do need to adjust the wiki app a bit as right now it expects wiki_id to be in its paths, and the wiki id won't show up when mounted. This is a simple adjustment: we need to register the model so that its path is empty:

@wiki_app.model(model=Wiki, path='')
def get_wiki(wiki_id):
    return query_wiki(wiki_id)

But where does wiki_id come from now if not from the path? We already have it: it was determined when the app was mounted, and comes from the dictionary that we return from mount_wiki().

What if we want to use wiki_app by itself, as a WSGI app? That can be useful, also for testing purposes. It needs this wiki_id parameter now. We can construct this WSGI app from wiki_app by giving it a context explicitly:


Application Reuse

Many web frameworks have mechanisms for overriding specific behavior and to support reusable applications. These tend to have been developed in an ad-hoc fashion as new needs arose.

Morepath instead has a general mechanism for supporting app extension and reuse. You use the same principles and APIs you already use to create new applications. Any normal Morepath app can without extra effort be reused. Anything registered in a Morepath app can be overridden. This is because Morepath builds on a powerful general configuration system.

This is because Morepath, like Grok or Pyramid, comes from the rich Zope heritage, where we've thought about this stuff. And Morepath wraps all that power in a small, easy, reusable little framework.

Let me know what you think!