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Package for easier access to the Forsta Surveys REST API

Project description

This packages permits easier access to Forsta Surveys’ REST API.

If you are a Forsta Surveys user, you can use the API to read and write your survey data, create surveys and many other tasks.


For an introduction to using the API, see this Knowledge Base article:

For current API reference documentation, see

Quick Examples

Install the package (we recommend using virtualenv rather than global installation):

sudo pip install decipher

You have three options to authenticate against the API:

Using an API Key: visit the Research Hub, and from the User Links menu (click on your picture in the upper right corner), select API Keys. Here you can provision a new API key for yourself or another user created just for API usage.

API keys last until revoked or rekeyed. This is the preferrable method if you are using the API for automation.

If you only expect to use the API from the command line, you do not have to create an API key but can login to the system just as if you had logged into the user interface (thus it will expire after anywhere between 15 minutes to 24 hours depending on your company’s security settings). Here’s an example session:

$ beacon login

If you are using the Beacon API for automation, you should generate and enter
an API key. If you only need temporary access, to e.g. upload/download files
you can enter your username/password below

How do you want to authenticate?
1. Enter the 64-character API key (valid until deactivated)
2. Enter your username/password (temporary)
3. Enter a long code (visible on the API key page)
q. Quit
Select 1, 2, 3 or q: x

If you select option 1:

Enter your API key

API KEY: **p84443bmg06skt6ceawpq4xa9qxyx8jucuxk0fz5mxuwp1v4**

Enter your host, or press Enter for the default
Host:  ****

Testing your new settings...
Looks good. Settings were saved to the file /home/youruser/.config/decipher

If you select option 2:

Enter your full username (email address)
Username: ******

Enter your password
Password: **password, not shown**

Enter your host, or press Enter for the default
Host: ****

Testing your new settings...
Acquired a temporary session key. It will be expire after 1439 minutes of idle time.
Looks good. Settings were saved to the file /home/youruser/.config/decipher

If you select option 3:

Visit (or private server equivalent)
Select 'generate temporary key' then paste it below

Temporary Key: **NDJiZD.....**

Testing your new settings...
Looks good. Settings were saved to the file /home/youruser/.config/decipher

The “login” action saves your API information in the file ~/.config/decipher.

From the command line you can now run the “beacon” script which lets you quickly run an API call:

beacon -t get rh/users select=id,email,fullname,last_login_from limit=10
The above illustrates:
  • An API call with method GET

  • Targetting the “users” resource, which will be at /api/v1/rh/users

  • Using the “projection” feature to select only 4 fields (id, email, full name and IP of last login)

  • Using the “limit” feature to limit output to 10 first entries

  • Using the -t option to output the data as a formattet text table, rather than JSON.

If you replace the -t option with -p you will see the Python code needed for that same call:

from decipher.beacon import api
users = api.get("rh/users", select="id,email,fullname,last_login_from", limit=10)
for user in users:
   print "User #{id} <{email}> logged in last from {last_login_from}".format(user)

Methods and pagination

Given the api object you can call api.get,, api.put and api.delete to invoke those verbs on the resource you specify. See the API documentation for what resources support what verbs. With all of these, specify the arguments as keyword arguments to the function:

from decipher.beacon import api

The above deletes a static file named file.gif under the my/survey survey.

Some resources return a lot of data, and are paginated using the JSON:API conventions.

from decipher.beacon import api
for entry in api.iter_paged('rh/users/self/audit-log', max_items=2500)):
  print (entry["user_email"], entry["event"])

The above code asks for your own audit log. The data will be returned with 1000 entries per page normally, but by using iter_paged you can automatically let the library request the next page and return one item at time. The max_items argument is optional; if not specified the library will keep calling until there’s no more data left.


By default any failed call is immediately returned as a BeaconAPIException. To retry server errors (codes 500, 502, 503, 504) create a custom API object:

from decipher.beacon import BeaconAPI
api = BeaconAPI(retry=3)

This will attempt any call up to 3 times, if the result is one of the above mentioned error codes.


You need an API key to use the API if you are not using a temporary, time limited login. You can supply this key in 3 ways when connecting remotely:

By specifying it in the ~/.config/decipher file which has this format:


The “main” section is default, but you can select any other by using beacon -sothersection or setting api.section = “section” before calling any API functions.

By setting an environment variable:

export BEACON_KEY=1234567890abcdef1234567890abcdef

Be aware that environment variables on most UNIX systems are visible to other programs running on the same machine.

By explicitly initializing the API with login information:

from decipher.beacon import api
api.login("1234567890abcdef1234567890abcdef", "")

Command line options

The command line script has the following options:

beacon [options] <verb> <resource> [arg=value...]
 Verb is one of:
  get    -- list resources
  post   -- create new resource
  put    -- update existing resource
  delete -- delete or retire existing resource

  login  -- interactively define an API key and host
  rekey  -- rekey your current secret key and update the config file

 Extra arguments are decoded as JSON objects/arrays if they start with { or [ or are null

  -v verbose (show headers sent & received))
  -t display output as an aligned text table
  -p display Python code required to make the call
  -s <section> use a different section in the /home/youruser/.config/decipher file than 'main'

For example, to create a new API key for user, restricted only to the IP address run:

beacon post rh/apikeys 'restrictions={"networks":[""]}'

NOTE: Because of the way the shell manages quoting, you should surround parameters which are to be sent as objects with single quotes. We have an alternative syntax that makes this easier:

beacon post rh/apikeys restrictions.networks.0=

With the alternate syntax, using key.subkey=value will make key an object, with subkey as its key and put the value there. You can repeat this several times to build up complex objects, without having to quote JSON. If the subkey is a digit, an array is created instead of an object. Thus restrictions.networks.0= will create a “networks” key in the paramter “restrictions”, which will be an object, and the value of that key will be an array – the first (starting with 0) element being

Data can be read from files rather than supplied on the command line. Use param=@filename to read the entire contents of the file “filename”. You can convert a tab-delimited file to a an array of JSON object using the syntax: @filename@json. For example, if “data.txt” contains some data you want to upload into a survey, you can do:

beacon post surveys/your-survey/data/edit key=source data=@data.txt@json

Which will send along the contents of the tab-delimited data.txt but convert it into an array of JSON objects first.

Similarly, using @filename.yml@yaml will parse the file as YAML.

Using @filename@64 will encode the file as base-64. This is useful for APIs like syslang/{language} which accept a base-64 encoded Excel file as input.


APIs like the distribute/email let you take output of one API call and feed it into another API. Using distribute/email you can e.g. generate one or more data files and feed the result into distribute/email which will send the results via email as an attachment.

The beacon script provides a shortcut to compose this from the command line, using the -m option. Calling beacon -m will, rather than performing the call, output the target and arguments in the object form consumed by meta-APIs like distribute/email.

Example composition with shell script:

DATAMAP=$(beacon -m get surveys/demo/report/tables/datamap format=html)
beacon post distribute/email sources=${DATAMAP},, subject="Your daily datamap"

Here, the beacon -m option is used to put the string:

{"api": "/api/v1/surveys/demo/report/tables/datamap", "method": "GET", "args": {"format": "html"}}

into the $DATAMAP shell variable, which is then passed into a call to distribute/email.

Note there are some convenience features to create arrays used above: if a SIMPLE command line argument contains or ends with a comma, then it’s assumed to be a comma-separated list of strings. This works for something like “3,4,5” or “,”.

If it starts with {} (like the content of the DATAMAP variable) and ends with a comma it’s also wrapped in an array. Here we only look for comma at the end of the argument – if we looked anywhere, splitting would likely destroy the JSON object.

The corresponding Python code would be:

from decipher.beacon import api

datamap = api.get('surveys/demo/report/tables/datamap', format='html', meta=True)
print'distribute/email', sources=[datamap],
    recipients=[""], subject="Your daily datamap")

Note the meta=True argument to the normal api.get call, which will not perform the call but return the meta-dictionary.

Using on a Forsta Surveys installation

You can use this script when logged into a FS instance, in which case authentication happens locally and automatically. While in a survey directory, use “beacon ./datamap format=html” – the ./ will be replaced with surveys/your/survey/path/ automatically.

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