So how can I make this work?

This is a quick guide to getting started with mod_python programming once you have it installed. This is not an installation manual.

It is also highly recommended to read (at least the top part of) the section Python API after completing this tutorial.

A Quick Start with the Publisher Handler

This section provides a quick overview of the Publisher handler for those who would like to get started without getting into too much detail. A more thorough explanation of how mod_python handlers work and what a handler actually is follows on in the later sections of the tutorial.

The Publisher Handler is provided as one of the standard mod_python handlers. To get the publisher handler working, you will need the following lines in your config:

AddHandler mod_python .py
PythonHandler mod_python.publisher
PythonDebug On

The following example demonstrates a simple feedback form. The form asks for a name, e-mail address and a comment which are then used to construct and send a message to the webmaster. This simple application consists of two files: form.html - the form to collect the data, and form.py - the target of the form’s action.

Here is the html for the form:

   Please provide feedback below:
<form action="form.py/email" method="POST">

   Name:    <input type="text" name="name"><br>
   Email:   <input type="text" name="email"><br>
   Comment: <textarea name="comment" rows=4 cols=20></textarea><br>
   <input type="submit">


The action element of the <form> tag points to form.py/email. We are going to create a file called form.py, like this:

import smtplib

WEBMASTER = "webmaster"   # webmaster e-mail
SMTP_SERVER = "localhost" # your SMTP server

def email(req, name, email, comment):

    # make sure the user provided all the parameters
    if not (name and email and comment):
        return "A required parameter is missing, \
               please go back and correct the error"

    # create the message text
    msg = """\
From: %s
Subject: feedback
To: %s

I have the following comment:


Thank You,


""" % (email, WEBMASTER, comment, name)

    # send it out
    conn = smtplib.SMTP(SMTP_SERVER)
    conn.sendmail(email, [WEBMASTER], msg)

    # provide feedback to the user
    s = """\

Dear %s,<br>
Thank You for your kind comments, we
will get back to you shortly.

</html>""" % name

    return s

When the user clicks the Submit button, the publisher handler will load the email() function in the form module, passing it the form fields as keyword arguments. It will also pass the request object as req.

You do not have to have req as one of the arguments if you do not need it. The publisher handler is smart enough to pass your function only those arguments that it will accept.

The data is sent back to the browser via the return value of the function.

Even though the Publisher handler simplifies mod_python programming a great deal, all the power of mod_python is still available to this program, since it has access to the request object. You can do all the same things you can do with a “native” mod_python handler, e.g. set custom headers via req.headers_out, return errors by raising apache.SERVER_ERROR exceptions, write or read directly to and from the client via req.write() and req.read(), etc.

Read Section Publisher Handler for more information on the publisher handler.

Quick Overview of how Apache Handles Requests

Apache processes requests in phases. For example, the first phase may be to authenticate the user, the next phase to verify whether that user is allowed to see a particular file, then (next phase) read the file and send it to the client. A typical static file request involves three phases: (1) translate the requested URI to a file location (2) read the file and send it to the client, then (3) log the request. Exactly which phases are processed and how varies greatly and depends on the configuration.

A handler is a function that processes one phase. There may be more than one handler available to process a particular phase, in which case they are called by Apache in sequence. For each of the phases, there is a default Apache handler (most of which by default perform only very basic functions or do nothing), and then there are additional handlers provided by Apache modules, such as mod_python.

Mod_python provides every possible handler to Apache. Mod_python handlers by default do not perform any function, unless specifically told so by a configuration directive. These directives begin with 'Python' and end with 'Handler' (e.g. PythonAuthenHandler) and associate a phase with a Python function. So the main function of mod_python is to act as a dispatcher between Apache handlers and Python functions written by a developer like you.

The most commonly used handler is PythonHandler. It handles the phase of the request during which the actual content is provided. Because it has no name, it is sometimes referred to as as generic handler. The default Apache action for this handler is to read the file and send it to the client. Most applications you will write will provide this one handler. To see all the possible handlers, refer to Section Apache Configuration Directives.

So what Exactly does Mod-python do?

Let’s pretend we have the following configuration:

<Directory /mywebdir>
    AddHandler mod_python .py
    PythonHandler myscript
    PythonDebug On

Note: /mywebdir is an absolute physical path in this case.

And let’s say that we have a python program (Windows users: substitute forward slashes for backslashes) /mywedir/myscript.py that looks like this:

from mod_python import apache

def handler(req):

    req.content_type = "text/plain"
    req.write("Hello World!")

    return apache.OK

Here is what’s going to happen: The AddHandler directive tells Apache that any request for any file ending with .py in the /mywebdir directory or a subdirectory thereof needs to be processed by mod_python. The 'PythonHandler myscript' directive tells mod_python to process the generic handler using the myscript script. The 'PythonDebug On' directive instructs mod_python in case of an Python error to send error output to the client (in addition to the logs), very useful during development.

When a request comes in, Apache starts stepping through its request processing phases calling handlers in mod_python. The mod_python handlers check whether a directive for that handler was specified in the configuration. (Remember, it acts as a dispatcher.) In our example, no action will be taken by mod_python for all handlers except for the generic handler. When we get to the generic handler, mod_python will notice 'PythonHandler myscript' directive and do the following:

  • If not already done, prepend the directory in which the PythonHandler directive was found to sys.path.

  • Attempt to import a module by name myscript. (Note that if myscript was in a subdirectory of the directory where PythonHandler was specified, then the import would not work because said subdirectory would not be in the sys.path. One way around this is to use package notation, e.g. 'PythonHandler subdir.myscript'.)

  • Look for a function called handler in module myscript.

  • Call the function, passing it a request object. (More on what a request object is later).

  • At this point we’re inside the script, let’s examine it line-by-line:

    • from mod_python import apache

      This imports the apache module which provides the interface to Apache. With a few rare exceptions, every mod_python program will have this line.

    • def handler(req):

      This is our handler function declaration. It is called 'handler' because mod_python takes the name of the directive, converts it to lower case and removes the word 'python'. Thus 'PythonHandler' becomes 'handler'. You could name it something else, and specify it explicitly in the directive using '::'. For example, if the handler function was called 'spam', then the directive would be 'PythonHandler myscript::spam'.

      Note that a handler must take one argument - the Request Object. The request object is an object that provides all of the information about this particular request - such as the IP of client, the headers, the URI, etc. The communication back to the client is also done via the request object, i.e. there is no “response” object.

    • req.content_type = "text/plain"

      This sets the content type to 'text/plain'. The default is usually 'text/html', but because our handler does not produce any html, 'text/plain' is more appropriate. You should always make sure this is set before any call to 'req.write'. When you first call 'req.write', the response HTTP header is sent to the client and all subsequent changes to the content type (or other HTTP headers) have no effect.

    • req.write("Hello World!")

      This writes the 'Hello World!' string to the client.

    • return apache.OK

      This tells Apache that everything went OK and that the request has been processed. If things did not go OK, this line could return apache.HTTP_INTERNAL_SERVER_ERROR or apache.HTTP_FORBIDDEN. When things do not go OK, Apache logs the error and generates an error message for the client.


It is important to understand that in order for the handler code to be executed, the URL needs not refer specficially to myscript.py. The only requirement is that it refers to a .py file. This is because the AddHandler mod_python .py directive assignes mod_python to be a handler for a file type (based on extention .py), not a specific file. Therefore the name in the URL does not matter, in fact the file referred to in the URL doesn’t event have to exist. Given the above configuration, 'http://myserver/mywebdir/myscript.py' and 'http://myserver/mywebdir/montypython.py' would yield the exact same result.

Now something More Complicated - Authentication

Now that you know how to write a basic handler, let’s try something more complicated.

Let’s say we want to password-protect this directory. We want the login to be 'spam', and the password to be 'eggs'.

First, we need to tell Apache to call our authentication handler when authentication is needed. We do this by adding the PythonAuthenHandler. So now our config looks like this:

<Directory /mywebdir>
    AddHandler mod_python .py
    PythonHandler myscript
    PythonAuthenHandler myscript
    PythonDebug On

Notice that the same script is specified for two different handlers. This is fine, because if you remember, mod_python will look for different functions within that script for the different handlers.

Next, we need to tell Apache that we are using Basic HTTP authentication, and only valid users are allowed (this is fairly basic Apache stuff, so we’re not going to go into details here). Our config looks like this now:

<Directory /mywebdir>
   AddHandler mod_python .py
   PythonHandler myscript
   PythonAuthenHandler myscript
   PythonDebug On
   AuthType Basic
   AuthName "Restricted Area"
   require valid-user

Note that depending on which version of Apache is being used, you may need to set either the code{AuthAuthoritative} or AuthBasicAuthoritative directive to Off to tell Apache that you want allow the task of performing basic authentication to fall through to your handler.

Now we need to write an authentication handler function in myscript.py. A basic authentication handler would look like this:

from mod_python import apache

def authenhandler(req):

    pw = req.get_basic_auth_pw()
    user = req.user

    if user == "spam" and pw == "eggs":
       return apache.OK
       return apache.HTTP_UNAUTHORIZED

Let’s look at this line by line:

  • def authenhandler(req):

    This is the handler function declaration. This one is called authenhandler because, as we already described above, mod_python takes the name of the directive (PythonAuthenHandler), drops the word 'Python' and converts it lower case.

  • pw = req.get_basic_auth_pw()

    This is how we obtain the password. The basic HTTP authentication transmits the password in base64 encoded form to make it a little bit less obvious. This function decodes the password and returns it as a string. Note that we have to call this function before obtaining the user name.

  • user = req.user

    This is how you obtain the username that the user entered.

  • if user == "spam" and pw == "eggs":
        return apache.OK

    We compare the values provided by the user, and if they are what we were expecting, we tell Apache to go ahead and proceed by returning apache.OK. Apache will then consider this phase of the request complete, and proceed to the next phase. (Which in this case would be handler() if it’s a '.py' file).

  • else:
        return apache.HTTP_UNAUTHORIZED

    Else, we tell Apache to return HTTP_UNAUTHORIZED to the client, which usually causes the browser to pop a dialog box asking for username and password.

Your Own 404 Handler

In some cases, you may wish to return a 404 (HTTP_NOT_FOUND) or other non-200 result from your handler. There is a trick here. if you return HTTP_NOT_FOUND from your handler, Apache will handle rendering an error page. This can be problematic if you wish your handler to render it’s own error page.

In this case, you need to set req.status = apache.HTTP_NOT_FOUND, render your page, and then return(apache.OK):

from mod_python import apache

def handler(req):
   if req.filename[-17:] == 'apache-error.html':
      #  make Apache report an error and render the error page
   if req.filename[-18:] == 'handler-error.html':
      #  use our own error page
      req.status = apache.HTTP_NOT_FOUND
      pagebuffer = 'Page not here.  Page left, not know where gone.'
      #  use the contents of a file
      pagebuffer = open(req.filename, 'r').read()

   #  fall through from the latter two above

Note that if wishing to returning an error page from a handler phase other than the response handler, the value apache.DONE must be returned instead of apache.OK. If this is not done, subsequent handler phases will still be run. The value of apache.DONE indicates that processing of the request should be stopped immediately. If using stacked response handlers, then apache.DONE should also be returned in that situation to prevent subsequent handlers registered for that phase being run if appropriate.