Part 5: Asynchrounous Operation and Events


The last part of the tutorial deals with a more “advanced” issue of RPC programming, asynchronous operation, which is a key feature of RPyC. The code you’ve seen so far was synchronous – which is probably very similar to the code you normally write: when you invoke a function, you block until the result arrives. Asynchronous invocation, on the other hand, allows you to start the request and continue, rather than waiting. Instead of getting the result of the call, you get a special object known as an AsyncResult (also known as a “future” or “promise”]), that will eventually hold the result.

In order to turn the invocation of a remote function (or any callable object) asynchronous, all you have to do is wrap it with async, which creates a wrapper function that will return an AsyncResult instead of blocking. AsyncResult objects have several properties and methods that

  • ready - indicates whether or not the result arrived
  • error - indicates whether the result is a value or an exception
  • expired - indicates whether the AsyncResult object is expired (its time-to-wait has elapsed before the result has arrived). Unless set by set_expiry, the object will never expire
  • value - the value contained in the AsyncResult. If the value has not yet arrived, accessing this property will block. If the result is an exception, accessing this property will raise it. If the object has expired, an exception will be raised. Otherwise, the value is returned
  • wait() - wait for the result to arrive, or until the object is expired
  • add_callback(func) - adds a callback to be invoked when the value arrives
  • set_expiry(seconds) - sets the expiry time of the AsyncResult. By default, no expiry time is set

This may sound a bit complicated, so let’s have a look at some real-life code, to convince you it’s really not that scary:

>>> import rpyc
>>> c=rpyc.classic.connect("localhost")
>>> c.modules.time.sleep
<built-in function sleep>
>>> c.modules.time.sleep(2) # i block for two seconds, until the call returns

 # wrap the remote function with async(), which turns the invocation asynchronous
>>> asleep = rpyc.async(c.modules.time.sleep)
>>> asleep
async(<built-in function sleep>)

# invoking async functions yields an AsyncResult rather than a value
>>> res = asleep(15)
>>> res
<AsyncResult object (pending) at 0x0842c6bc>
>>> res.ready
>>> res.ready

# ... after 15 seconds...
>>> res.ready
>>> print res.value
>>> res
<AsyncResult object (ready) at 0x0842c6bc>

And here’s a more interesting snippet:

>>> aint = rpyc.async(  # async wrapper for the remote type int

# a valid call
>>> x = aint("8")
>>> x
<AsyncResult object (pending) at 0x0844992c>
>>> x.ready
>>> x.error
>>> x.value

# and now with an exception
>>> x = aint("this is not a valid number")
>>> x
<AsyncResult object (pending) at 0x0847cb0c>
>>> x.ready
>>> x.error
>>> x.value #
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/home/tomer/workspace/rpyc/core/", line 102, in value
    raise self._obj
ValueError: invalid literal for int() with base 10: 'this is not a valid number'


Combining async and callbacks yields a rather interesting result: async callbacks, also known as events. Generally speaking, events are sent by an “event producer” to notify an “event consumer” of relevant changes, and this flow is normally one-way (from producer to consumer). In other words, in RPC terms, events can be implemented as async callbacks, where the return value is ignored. To better illustrate the situation, consider the following FileMonitor example – it monitors monitors a file (using os.stat()) for changes, and notifies the client when a change occurs (with the old and new stat results).

import rpyc
import os
import time
from threading import Thread

class FileMonitorService(rpyc.SlaveService):
    class exposed_FileMonitor(object):   # exposing names is not limited to methods :)
        def __init__(self, filename, callback, interval = 1):
            self.filename = filename
            self.interval = interval
            self.last_stat = None
            self.callback = rpyc.async(callback)   # create an async callback
   = True
            self.thread = Thread(target =
        def exposed_stop(self):   # this method has to be exposed too
   = False
        def work(self):
                stat = os.stat(self.filename)
                if self.last_stat is not None and self.last_stat != stat:
                    self.callback(self.last_stat, stat)   # notify the client of the change
                self.last_stat = stat

if __name__ == "__main__":
    from rpyc.utils.server import ThreadedServer
    ThreadedServer(FileMonitorService, port = 18871).start()

And here’s a live demonstration of events:

>>> import rpyc
>>> f = open("/tmp/floop.bloop", "w")
>>> conn = rpyc.connect("localhost", 18871)
>>> bgsrv = rpyc.BgServingThread(conn)  # creates a bg thread to process incoming events
>>> def on_file_changed(oldstat, newstat):
...     print "file changed"
...     print "    old stat: %s" % (oldstat,)
...     print "    new stat: %s" % (newstat,)
>>> mon = conn.root.FileMonitor("/tmp/floop.bloop", on_file_changed) # create a filemon

# wait a little for the filemon to have a look at the original file

>>> f.write("shmoop") # change size
>>> f.flush()

# the other thread then prints
file changed
    old stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 0L, 1225204483, 1225204483, 1225204483)
    new stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 6L, 1225204483, 1225204556, 1225204556)

>>> f.write("groop") # change size
>>> f.flush()
file changed
    old stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 6L, 1225204483, 1225204556, 1225204556)
    new stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 11L, 1225204483, 1225204566, 1225204566)

>>> f.close()
>>> f = open(filename, "w")
file changed
    old stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 11L, 1225204483, 1225204566, 1225204566)
    new stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 0L, 1225204483, 1225204583, 1225204583)

>>> mon.stop()
>>> bgsrv.stop()
>>> conn.close()

Note that in this demo I used BgServingThread, which basically starts a background thread to serve all incoming requests, while the main thread is free to do as it wills. You don’t have to open a second thread for that, if your application has a reactor (like gtk‘s gobject.io_add_watch): simply register the connection with the reactor for read, invoking conn.serve. If you don’t have a reactor and don’t wish to open threads, you should be aware that these notifications will not be processed until you make some interaction with the connection (which pulls all incoming requests). Here’s an example of that:

>>> f = open("/tmp/floop.bloop", "w")
>>> conn = rpyc.connect("localhost", 18871)
>>> mon = conn.root.FileMonitor("/tmp/floop.bloop", on_file_changed)

# change the size...
>>> f.write("shmoop")
>>> f.flush()

# ... seconds pass but nothing is printed ...
# until we make some interaction with the connection: printing a remote object invokes
# the remote __str__ of the object, so that all pending requests are suddenly processed
>>> print mon
file changed
    old stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 0L, 1225205197, 1225205197, 1225205197)
    new stat: (33188, 1564681L, 2051L, 1, 1011, 1011, 6L, 1225205197, 1225205218, 1225205218)
<__main__.exposed_FileMonitor object at 0xb7a7a52c>