[mod_python] How do you use mod_python?

Graham Dumpleton grahamd at dscpl.com.au
Wed Jan 18 20:14:44 EST 2006

Daniel Nogradi wrote ..
> Some time ago there was a post (I think by Grisha) asking "why are you
> using mod_python?". It would be interesting to see answers from many
> users to a related question, _how_ do you use mod_python?
> A little more specifically, the various ways of using mod_python that
> I have in mind (which list is very much limited by my knowledge)
> include
> (1) writing custom handlers for every new project
> (2) writing a universal handler which serves various unrelated projects
> (3) using the publisher handler for every project
> (4) tweaking the publisher handler for every new project in different ways
> (5) using the publisher for some of the projects but writing new
> handlers for others
> And of course there could be many more ways of using mod_python that
> just didn't come into my mind at the moment or don't even know about
> it.
> So, after all, how do you use mod_python?

I don't. Well, that isn't totally true, but it is true that I never seem
to actually end up using mod_python to produce any actual applications
or web sites. I got into mod_python to try and clean up how I did my own
web site and as I always seem to do, I got so caught up in working out
how to do the infrastructure, I never get onto the real task at hand.

People who have seen how much I post on the mailing list and rant in
general about mod_python may find this surprising. Truth is, I simply
find working on the lower level architectural stuff and the development
of reusable components that others could use to be of much more
interest. I might even suggest that because my development of these
components is not strictly tied to the goal of a particular end user web
application, that I am able to look more widely at what is required in
general and provide a better library of components than may come out of
a project whose primary goal was a specific web application.

That said, I have been working now for over six months on a new package
as a successor to Vampire. This doesn't build on Vampire though, instead
I threw out Vampire and started over again, only really keeping what I
learnt from it. If people can handle another of my long rants, I'll go
into what I am up to with this new package and how it uses mod_python.
This may or may not be of interest in respect of the question of the
original poster. I promise that I am in the process of looking at
setting up my own blog and when that is done I'll take my rants there
instead and leave the mailing list alone .... :-)

Some background first. A lot of people who come to use mod_python seem
to like the great deal of flexibility it provides you as far as being
able to make a handler do what ever you want. At the same time, the
desire for this level of control usually means these same people will
not consider using a higher level package written by someone else for
mod_python. This can be understandable, as these higher level packages
usually impose one specific way of doing things and that may actually be
quite different to how a basic handler in mod_python works. Thus, one
has to buy into that way of doing things and it isn't typically possible
to combine use of such a package with other handlers written for

For myself, looking at how people often outright refuse to use third
party packages is really frustrating. You see people constantly
reinventing the wheel, but not necessarily doing a good job of it
because they don't always have a full understanding of how mod_python
works. Well, what I am working on now is intended to provide one with
some of the benefits of having what a higher level package can provide,
but in a componentised way that is compatible with how basic handlers
work so that you can still mix in use of existing handlers. Towards the
end of Vampire, it started to introduce some of these ideas, but it had
already been built on a more monolithic lower layer so was ultimately
doomed. Thus the need to create a new package, which I am calling Lamia.

Now, in Lamia nearly everything is a component, but where every
component respects the calling semantics of a basic mod_python handler.
Lamia does not though act as a top level dispatcher, thus, when you
specify the PythonHandler directive, you are still referring to a module
file which you create and write, how you then use the components that
Lamia provides is up to you. Thus, for the examples I provide below,
assume that you have set the Apache configuration to be:

  <Directory /some/path/root>
  SetHandler mod_python
  PythonHandler _myapp::root

The directory '/some/path/root' would contain your Python module file
called '_myapp.py'. Rather than use the default entry point of "handler()",
I have explicitly specified that it be called 'root()' instead for reasons I
will not go into here.

To illustrate what I mean by "componentised", consider the most basic
task that one has to solve with mod_python. That is, how do you get URLs
mapped to a specific handler. If you specify your own handler with the
PythonHandler directive, it is basically all up to you to work this out.
One instead could use mod_python.publisher, with it providing two levels
of mapping, first to files and second to objects within files. In using
mod_python.publisher however, you have already departed from the
standard calling semantics of a basic handler and have to write your
code differently as a result. It also locks you into that particular model
though and so you have lost some measure of control.

In Lamia, the intent is that if you want to map the location from the URL
to a specific Python module file, you would use the component called
'MapLocationToModule'. The '_myapp.py' module file would then contain:

  import os
  from lamia.handlers import *

  __here__ = os.path.dirname(__file__)

  root = HandlerRoot(
    handler = MapLocationToModule(
        root_directory = __here__,

Note that 'HandlerRoot' can in the main be ignored, it only needs to be
used for the root level entry point which PythonHandler calls. Its job
is to undo the URL mapping that Apache itself has done so that any
handler can reinterpret the URL itself properly.

I'll mention other issues with this file in a moment, but the end result
is that the location specified by the URL is processed and a search made
for a Python module code file below the specified root directory which
matches the request. If found, the module is automatically loaded and an
appropriate handler called.

Thus if the location within the URL rooted at this directory specifies
'index.html' and an 'index.py' file exists, if it contains a handler
function called 'handler()' then that will be called. That handler is
specified like any other basic mod_python handler function and you can
do what ever you want in it. You could from that point totally ignore
Lamia and what other components it provide. The 'index.py' file might
therefore simply contain:

  from mod_python import apache

  def handler(req):
    req.content_type = 'text/plain'
    req.write('hello world\n')
    return apache.OK

Returning to the 'root' handler in '_myapp.py'. Some may be thinking
that that isn't actually a handler function. Well, truth be known,
mod_python doesn't care if it isn't a function, it just has to be a
callable Python object. In this case it is an instance of the
'HandlerRoot' object and that object has overloaded the '__call__()'
method so it is callable. Ie., the same as saying:

  class Handler:
    def __init__(self,**args):
    def __call__(self,req):

All the components in Lamia use this technique. That is, they are
actually instances of objects, whereby keyword arguments can be supplied
to the constructor which then later customise how the component behaves
when it is actually called to handle a request. In the case of
'HandlerRoot', all it does is reset some of the attributes of the
request object and then calls the handler supplied as argument to the
constructor. That handler then being an instance of
'MapLocationToModule' which does the dispatching of the request to
another module based on the URL.

To quickly delve into how a couple of other components may be used in
the Python module file mapped to by 'MapLocationToModule', consider
the following for 'index.py'.

  from mod_python import apache

  from lama.handlers import *

  def handler_txt(req):
    req.content_type = 'text/plain'
    req.write('hello world\n')
    return apache.OK

  def handler_html(req):
    req.content_type = 'text/html'
    req.write('<html><body><p>hello world</p></body></html>')
    return apache.OK

  handler = Handlers(
      txt = handler_txt,
      html = handler_html,

When 'MapLocationToModule' dispatches the request to the module, it
actually ignores any extension present on the URL. Thus, requests for
both 'index.html' and 'index.txt' would be sent to 'index.py' to be

In order to make it easier to handle responses for different extensions,
Lamia provides other components which can look at the extension and
map requests based on different extensions to different handlers. For
this example, 'MapExtension' is used. The definition of what extensions
map to what handlers is performed using keyword parameters. Again,
the target handler is a standard mod_python basic handler and you can
write it however you want.

Wrapped around 'MapExtension' you will note the 'Handlers' component.
This is a special component whose purpose is to apply each handler it
is provided in turn until one is able to fulfil the request. Thus, if a request
comes in for 'index.jpg', because there is no mapping for that extension,
the 'NotFound' component is triggered and a HTTP 404 response is
generated instead.

Note that 'MapExtension' isn't the only component that could have been
used to perform this specific task. Usually there are a few different
options depending on your tastes. Thus, you might instead have used:

  handler = Handlers(
      handlers = {
        '.txt': handler_txt,
        '.html': handler_html,

or something like:

  handler = Handlers(
      value = '.txt',
      handler = handler_txt,
      value = '.html',
      handler = handler_html,

Take the case of no extension at all now, you might want to instead map that
to member functions of an object. Well you can do that as well. As a quick

  class _Handlers:
    def form(req):

  object = _Handlers()

  handler = Handlers(
      handlers = {
        '': MapLocationToObject(
          handlers = object,
        '.txt': handler_txt,
        '.html': handler_html,

Now if you get a request with no extension on 'index' in the URL, the
part of that URL after that point will be mapped where possible to the
member functions of the instance of '_Handlers' class defined in that
file. So, ignoring issue of extensions on the next component of the URL
for the moment, a request of the form 'index/form' will map to the
member function called 'form'. Thus with the 'MapLocationToModule' and
'MapLocationToObject' components you are effectively doing what
mod_python.publisher is doing, but you have a lot better control over
when it is being done.

You might now start to see what I am up to. In some respect the intent
is not to change how you write the most basic handler which performs the
real work. It is to provide components which do all the hard work of
dealing with URL processing and working out which handler is called in
the first place. These components can be used selectively where required
and avoids the creation of some monolithic upper layer through which all
requests are processed and which may therefore irrevocably dictate how
your application has to be structured. The way the components are
constructed and used means you keep all the control and it is not lost to
some monolithic layer.

At the moment I have implemented over 100 components. These range from
components for mapping parts of a URL to handlers, components for
performing conditionals, components for returning error responses,
components for interogating or setting attributes in the request object,
to components for implementing basic authentication and session based
form authentication. There are even handlers which simply defer to other
higher level layers such as mod_python.publisher and mod_python.psp, or
which triggers precompiled code for such things as Cheetah templates.

The beauty of all this is that because every component is actually a
handler, there is no problem with you creating your own componentised
handlers which can be used in conjunction with what is in Lamia. For
example, I do not yet provide a component to map to WSGI, but it would
be easy for some one to do that if they wanted. You could even write
components to map to other monolithic systems such as CherryPy or

In some respects, one could say that Lamia is like WSGI, except that it
is tailored specifically to how mod_python works and does not throw away
all the good stuff that mod_python has to offer.

Anyway, sorry for the long rant. In respect of the question of how are
people using mod_python, this is probably no quite the answer you had
in mind, but hope it is of interest.

In parting, I will just provide one extended example which I have been
playing with, but not yet finalised. But then, I probably shouldn't as
people will then start to think that it is all to complicated after all
and think I am loony. The example implements form/session based login
mechanism for a set of pages implemented using Cheetah, where it all
simply draws on predefined components.

    from lamia.handlers import *
    from lamia.handlers_Cheetah import *

    import _users
    import os

    _userDatabase = _users.UserDatabase()
    __here__ = os.path.dirname(__file__)

    handler = Handlers(

            value = '/',
            handler = RedirectToLocation(
                location = 'index.html',

            handler_name = 'cheetah',
            handler = MapLocationToCheetah(
                directory = __here__,
                resource_extension = '.html',
                allow_path_info = False,

            directive = 'no-cache',


            pattern = '/_*',
            handler = NotFound(),

            value = 'login.html',
            handler = MapToHandler(
                handler_name = 'cheetah',

            database = _userDatabase,
            login = 'login.html'

            handler_name = 'cheetah',



I should go do some real work now. ;-)


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