Streaming Small HTTP Responses with Python

November 20, 2013 at 09:39 AM

For a recent hackathon project, I wanted to setup a client/server configuration, all in Python, so that the server could run shell commands and stream the output back to the client. The client was a Raspberry Pi and the server was my laptop, which already had my real project setup.

My first thought was to do this over HTTP, with Requests for the client and Bottle for the server. I started writing some code, checked the Bottle docs for sending a streaming response, and was running with a few lines.

import bottle
import subprocess

def stream():
    proc = subprocess.Popen(
        'echo 1 && sleep 3 && echo 2 && sleep 3 && echo 3',
    while proc.poll() is None:
        output = proc.stdout.readline()
        yield output + "\r\n"

bottle.debug(True)'', port=8000, reloader=True)

This code worked great in Chrome; console output was streamed with pauses and the connection was not dropped.

Then I started on a client in Python. Requests also supports streaming responses, just a parameter to the standard requests.get(), nothing too major.

import requests

r = requests.get('', stream=True)
for line in r.iter_lines():
    print line

The First Mistake

After running the client a few times, the output wasn’t getting streamed. Output would pop in, as if the response was fully downloading before printing. I tried increasing the sleep amount, to see if the response was too short and tweaking the python handling of output, trying to find some sort of implicit stdout buffering with export PYTHONUNBUFFERED=True. I rewrote the server in Flask, which offers the same streaming capabilities as Bottle, but encountered the same situation with the client not streaming the response. After consulting with teammates, we couldn’t see the problem and moved on to trying to stream a local SSH connection instead, which had its own host of environment problems.

The one variable I didn’t tweak in these examples was the response size, which seems obviously when looking back now. My first mistake was not testing boundary cases: all the minimum viable tests were extremely small and not extremely different. I moved on too quickly without diving deep enough into the problem: the docs and samples were all so simple, so I assumed nothing could be wrong with the libraries I’m using.

The Second Mistake

This hackathon was all for fun, so I gave up and moved onto the next problem, but I returned the next day and dived deeper. My second mistake was trusting the docs: documentation is a great resource, but code never lies.

After looking at the function declaration for the response.iter_lines(), it quickly made sense: the default chunk size for the lines in the response was 512 bytes, which 1 2 3 would never get chunked into multiple pieces. I was also not sending \r\n, the standard HTTP chunked terminator.

def iter_lines(self, chunk_size=ITER_CHUNK_SIZE, decode_unicode=None):

Setting chunk_size=1 made my client immediately print output, solving all my problems.

For Next Time

To make testing easier, I’ve created a Github repo to demo all this code:

While debugging this situation, I remembered to try HTTPie, a cURL replacement written in Python using Requests, which handled the streaming response correctly. Looking at HTTPie’s code for consuming responses, led to me look at Request’s code and figure everything out. Definitely recommend this tool!

Lastly, always check the code and don’t be afraid to dive deep.

Powered by Middleman.