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A URL dispatch to object system that combines aspects of routing and traversal.

Project description



In web application construction there are two main ways to publish objects to the web: routing and traversal. Both are a form of URL dispatch: in the end, a function or method is called as the result of a pattern in the URL. Both use very different methods to do so, however.

In routing a mapping is made from URL patterns to controllers (or views) that are called to generate the rendered web page. The URL pattern is also used to pull parameter information from the URLs which can then be passed on.

Take for instance the URL departments/10/employees/17. A URL pattern could exist that maps all departments/*/employees/* patterns to a particular callable. In addition, the routing system can be used to declare that the parameters 10` and 17 should be taken from this URL and passed along as arguments to the controller. The programmer then programs the controller to retrieve correct models from the database using this information. After this the controller uses the information in these models to construct the contents of the view, for instance by rendering it with a HTML template.

In traversal, there is no explicit mapping of URLs to controllers or views. Instead a model structure is traversed step by step, guided by the URL. By analogy one can in Python traverse through nested dictionaries (d['a']['b']['c']), or attributes (d.a.b.c). In the end, a view is looked up for the final model that can be called. The view could be a special attribute on the model. More sophisticated systems can be used to separate the view from the model.

The URL departments/10/employees/17 would be resolved to a view because there is a departments container model that contains department model objects. In turn from a department model one can traverse to the employees container, which in turn allows traversal to individual employees, such as employee 17. In the end a view is looked up for employee 17, and called.

Routing is often used in combination with a relational database, typically exposed to objects by means of an object relation mapper. Traversal tends to be more convenient with in-memory object structures or object databases.

Routing has advantages:

  • it is a good way for exposing relational content that doesn’t have natural nesting.

  • the pattern registry gives the developer an explicit overview of the URL patterns in an application.

  • the approach is familiar as it is used by many frameworks.

Traversal has advantages as well:

  • it is a good way for exposing object content that has arbitrary nesting.

  • model-driven: objects come equipped with their views. This allows the developer to compose an application from models, supporting a declarative approach.

  • location-aware: a nested object structure can easily be made location aware. Each model can know about its parent and its name in the URL. This allows for easy construction of URLs for arbitrary models. In addition, permissions can be declared based on this structure.

Traject tries to combine the properties of routing and traversal in a single system. Traject:

  • looks like a routing system and has the familiarity of the routing approach.

  • works well for exposing relational models.

  • lets the developer explicitly declare URL mappings.

  • supports arbitrary nesting, as URL mappings can be nested and the system is also easily combined with normal traversal.

  • is model-driven. Routing is to models, not to views or controllers.

  • is location-aware. Models are in a nested structure and are aware of their parent and name, allowing model-based security declarations and easy URL construction for models.

Some potential drawbacks of Traject are:

  • Traject expects a certain regularity in its patterns. It doesn’t allow certain complex URL patterns where several variables are part of a single step (i.e foo/<bar_id>-<baz_id>). Only a single variable is allowed per URL segment.

  • Traject needs to constructs or retrieve models for each stage in the route in order to construct a nested structure. This can mean more queries to the database per request. In practice this is often mitigated by the fact that the parent models in the structure are typically needed by the view logic anyway.

  • In Traject each model instance should have one and only one location in the URL structure. This allows not only URLs to be resolved to models, but also URLs to be generated for models. If you want the same model to be accessible through multiple URLs, you might have some difficulty.

URL patterns

Let’s consider an URL pattern string that is a series of steps separated by slashes:

>>> pattern_str = 'foo/bar/baz'

We can decompose it into its component steps using the parse function:

>>> import traject
>>> traject.parse(pattern_str)
('foo', 'bar', 'baz')

Steps may also be variables. A variable is a step that is prefixed by the colon (:):

>>> traject.parse('foo/:a/baz')
('foo', ':a', 'baz')

More than one variable step is allowed in a pattern:

>>> traject.parse('foo/:a/baz/:b')
('foo', ':a', 'baz', ':b')

The variable names in a pattern need to be unique:

>>> traject.parse('foo/:a/baz/:a')
Traceback (innermost last):
ParseError: URL pattern contains multiple variables with name: a

Registering patterns

In Traject, the resolution of a URL path results in a model. This model can then in turn have views registered for it that allow this model to be displayed. How the view lookup works is up to the web framework itself.

You tell Traject which model is returned for which path by registering a factory function per URL pattern. This factory function should create or retrieve the model object.

The factory function receives parameters for each of the matched variables in whichever pattern matched - the signature of the factory function should include all the variables in the patterns that are matched.

Let’s look at an example.

This is the URL pattern we want to recognize:

>>> pattern_str = u'departments/:department_id/employees/:employee_id'

We can see two parameters in this URL pattern: department_id` and customer_id.

We now define a model as it might be stored in a database:

>>> class Employee(object):
...   def __init__(self, department_id, employee_id):
...     self.department_id = department_id
...     self.employee_id = employee_id
...   def __repr__(self):
...     return '<Employee %s %s>' % (self.department_id, self.employee_id)

We define the factory function for this URL pattern so that an instance of this model is returned. The parameters in this case would be department_id and employee_id:

>>> def factory(department_id, employee_id):
...   return Employee(department_id, employee_id)

The factory function in this case just creates a Employee object on the fly. In the context of a relation database it could instead perform a database query based on the parameters supplied.

In order to register this factory function, we need a registry of patterns, so we’ll create one:

>>> patterns = traject.Patterns()

Patterns need to be registered for particular classes or (zope.interface) interfaces. This is so that multiple pattern registries can be supported, each associated with a particular root object. In this case we’ll register the patterns for a class Root:

>>> class Root(object):
...    pass

We can now register the URL pattern and the factory:

>>> patterns.register(Root, pattern_str, factory)

Resolving a path

We are ready to resolve paths. A path is part of a URL such as foo/bar/baz. It looks very much like a pattern, but all the variables will have been filled in.

The models retrieved by resolving paths will be located. Ultimately their ancestor will be a particular root model from which all paths are resolved. The root model itself is not resolved by a pattern: it is the root from which all patterns are resolved.

We create a root model first:

>>> root = Root()

When a path is resolved, a complete chain of ancestors from model to root is also created. It may be that no particular factory function was registered for a particular path. In our current registry such patterns indeed exist: departments, departments/:department_id and departments/:department_id/employees all have no factory registered.

These steps will have a default model registered for them instead. When resolving the pattern we need to supply a special default factory which will generate the default models when needed.

Let’s make a default factory here. The factory function needs to be able to deal with arbitrary keyword arguments as any number of parameters might be supplied:

>>> class Default(object):
...     def __init__(self, **kw):
...         pass

Now that we have a Default factory, we can try to resolve a path:

>>> obj = patterns.resolve(root, u'departments/1/employees/2', Default)
>>> obj
<Employee 1 2>

An alternative resolve_stack method allows us to resolve a stack of names instead (where the first name to resolve is on the top of the stack):

>>> l = [u'departments', u'1', u'employees', u'2']
>>> l.reverse()
>>> patterns.resolve_stack(root, l, Default)
<Employee 1 2>


Traject supports the notion of locations. After we find a model, the model receive two special attributes:

*  ``__name__``: the name we addressed this object with in the path.
  • __parent__: the parent of the model. This is an model that matches the parent path (the path without the last step).

The parent will in turn have a parent as well, all the way up to the ultimate ancestor, the root.

We can look at the object we retrieved before to demonstrate the ancestor chain:

>>> obj.__name__
>>> isinstance(obj, Employee)
>>> p1 = obj.__parent__
>>> p1.__name__
>>> isinstance(p1, Default)
>>> p2 = p1.__parent__
>>> p2.__name__
>>> isinstance(p2, Default)
>>> p3 = p2.__parent__
>>> p3.__name__
>>> isinstance(p3, Default)
>>> p3.__parent__ is root

Default objects have been created for each step along the way, up until the root.

Consuming a path

In a mixed traject/traversal environment, for instance where view lookup is done by traversal, it can be useful to be able to resolve a path according to the patterns registered until no longer possible. The rest of the the steps are not followed, and are assumed to be consumed in some other way using the traversal system.

The consume method will consume steps as far as possible, return the steps that weren’t consumed yet, those steps that were consumed, and the object it managed to find:

>>> unconsumed, consumed, last_obj = patterns.consume(root,
...       'departments/1/some_view', Default)

departments/1/some_view cannot be consumed fully by the pattern departments/:department_id/employees/:employee_id, as some_view does not match the expected employees.

We can see which parts of the path could not be consumed:

>>> unconsumed

And which parts of the path were consumed as part of a pattern:

>>> consumed
['departments', '1']

The last object we managed to consume stands for 1:

>>> isinstance(last_obj, Default)
>>> last_obj.__name__
>>> p1 = last_obj.__parent__
>>> p1.__name__
>>> p1.__parent__ is root

The method consume_stack does the same with a stack:

>>> l = ['departments', '1', 'some_view']
>>> l.reverse()
>>> unconsumed, consumed, last_obj = patterns.consume_stack(root, l, Default)
>>> unconsumed
>>> consumed
['departments', '1']
>>> isinstance(last_obj, Default)
>>> last_obj.__name__
>>> p1 = last_obj.__parent__
>>> p1.__name__
>>> p1.__parent__ is root

Giving a model its location

Models are automatically given their location after traversal. There is however another case where giving an object a location can be useful. We may for instance retrieve an object from a query and then wish to construct a URL to it, or check whether it has location-dependent permissions. Traject therefore also offers functionality to reconstruct an object’s location.

In order to do this, we need to register a special function per model class that is the inverse of the factory. Given a model instance, it needs to return the arguments used in the pattern. Thus, for the following pattern:

>>> pattern_str = u'departments/:department_id/employees/:employee_id'

and a given model, we would need to reconstruct the arguments department_id and employee_id from that model.

This is a function that does this for Employee:

>>> def employee_arguments(obj):
...     return {'employee_id': obj.employee_id,
...             'department_id': obj.department_id}

When we register it, we also need to supply the class for which it can reconstruct the arguments, in this case, Employee:

>>> patterns.register_inverse(Root, Employee, pattern_str, employee_arguments)

Let’s construct some employee now:

>>> m = Employee(u'13', u'27')

It has no location (no __name__ or __parent__):

>>> m.__name__
Traceback (most recent call last):
AttributeError: ...

>>> m.__parent__
Traceback (most recent call last):
AttributeError: ...

We can now use the locate method to locate it:

>>> patterns.locate(root, m, Default)

The model will now have __name__ and __parent__ attributes:

>>> m.__name__
>>> p1 = m.__parent__
>>> p1.__name__
>>> p2 = p1.__parent__
>>> p2.__name__
>>> p3 = p2.__parent__
>>> p3.__name__
>>> p3.__parent__ is root

A global patterns registry

Since the patterns registry is clever enough to distinguish between roots, in many scenarios only a single, global Patterns registry is needed. Top-level functions have been made available in the traject namespace to manipulate and use this patterns registry:



0.9 (2009-11-16)

  • Initial public release.


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