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Untwisting Python Network Programming
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Retrieving Mails with Twisted

Programming a POP3 client to retrieve mails in the Twisted framework is more complex and takes more code. The logic to retrieve mails is all in a class that subclasses POPClient (from twisted.mail.pop3client). Due to the event-driven nature of Twisted, it's easier to define a method for each step, register the success, and failure callbacks to the method to enter the next step and handle any error, respectively.

from twisted.internet.protocol import ClientCreator
from twisted.mail.pop3client import POP3Client

class MyPOP3Client(POP3Client):

    def serverGreeting(self, msg):
        POP3Client.serverGreeting(self, msg)
        self.login(self.myuser, self.mypass).addCallbacks(
              self.do_stat, errorHandler)
    def do_stat(self, result):
        self.stat().addCallbacks(self.do_retrieve, errorHandler)

In the class MyPOP3Client, the first step to get mails is the serverGreeting method, which Twisted will invoke when the client starts. This method invokes the superclass's serverGreeting, and then logs in to the POP3 server with a user name and password. The login method returns a Deferred object, invoking the addCallbacks method to register the do_stat method (called upon successful login), and the errorHandler method (called on login error).

Similarly, the do_stat method invokes POP3Client's stat method to perform a POP3 STAT command, and registers the next step as do_retrieve. Because the call to method stat is asynchronous, it cannot return its results to the caller with return values. Instead, it passes the results as arguments to the success callback registered to the stat method. The second parameter to the do_retrieve method is a list, of which the first element is the number of messages in the POP3 account.

def do_retrieve(self, stats):
        self.format       = "%-3s %-15s %s"
        self.num_messages = stats[0]
        self.cur_message  = 0

        print self.myuser, "has", self.num_messages, "messages"

        if self.num_messages > 0:
            if deletion:
                print "Deleting", self.num_messages, "messages",
                self.delete(0).addCallbacks(self.do_delete_msg, errorHandler)
                print self.format % ("Num", "From", "Subject")
                self.retrieve(0).addCallbacks(self.do_retrieve_msg, errorHandler)

    def do_retrieve_msg(self, lines):
        msg = email.message_from_string("\r\n".join(lines))
        print self.format % (self.cur_message, msg["From"], msg["Subject"])
        self.cur_message += 1
        if (self.cur_message < self.num_messages):
                    self.do_retrieve_msg, errorHandler)

If there is no message in the mailbox, the code calls reactor.stop to tell Twisted to shutdown. Otherwise, it invokes retrieve(0) to get the first message. Its success callback, do_retrieve_msg, handles the message by displaying its summary, and then retrieves the next message. Because the method do_retrieve_msg gets invoked for all subsequent messages, the code uses an instance variable, cur_message, to keep track of the current message number and to determine when it has handled all messages. When it has processed everything, it stops the Twisted main loop.

Because the logic of mail retrieval is similar to deletion, both features are in the same class, MyPOP3Client. The instance variable deletion denotes the current mode of working. You can see its initialization in __init__, along with the user name and password. More interesting is the setting of allowInsecureLogin to true, which allows login to a server without authentication challenge non-encrypted transport.

    def __init__(self):
        self.myuser   = user
        self.mypass   = passwd
        self.deletion = deletion
        self.allowInsecureLogin = True
    def do_delete_msg(self, str):
        print ".",
        self.cur_message += 1
        if (self.cur_message < self.num_messages):
                    self.do_delete_msg, errorHandler)
            print " done."
            q = self.quit()
            q.addCallbacks(lambda _: reactor.stop(), errorHandler)

To delete a mail, call the delete method of class POP3Client. Similar to the core poplib module, this method just marks the mail for deletion, and the actual deletion occurs when you send the POP3 command QUIT to the server, as with the quit method. Finally, Twisted's execution thread stops when the quitting action completes.

pop3 = ClientCreator(reactor, MyPOP3Client)
d    = pop3.connectTCP(host, 110)

With the implementation of the desired mail handling in class MyPOP3Client, you can launch the client. With its descriptive name, the class ClientCreator (from twisted.internet.protocol) provides a convenient way to start a communication client. This code passes the reactor and the MyPOP3Client class to create a ClientCreator, and begins the mail retrieval by calling connectTCP with the specified server and port number. Twisted's execution loop then kicks off by

Invoking do_retrieve_msg repeatedly for all messages is conceptually tedious and lengthy, when compared to the DeferredList mechanism which keeps track of several actions and gets notified when all actions complete, as in the case of sending mails. However, collecting the Deferreds of multiple calls to retrieve of POP3Client in a DeferredList simply does not work in Twisted (Versions 2.2.0 and 2.4.0). The success callback never gets invoked (see

Doing Telnet with Twisted

Twisted can power a Telnet client in a way similar to, but simpler than, the POP3 client. the Telnet conversation logic goes in a subclass of Telnet (from twisted.conch.telnet).

def stop(host):
    from twisted.internet.protocol import ClientCreator
    from twisted.conch.telnet import Telnet

    class MyTelnet(Telnet):
        def dataReceived(self, data):
            if "Login id:" in data:
            elif "Password:" in data:
            elif "Welcome" in data:
                d = self._write("shutdown\n")

        def connectionLost(self, reason):
            print "done."

    mytelnet = ClientCreator(reactor, MyTelnet)
    d = mytelnet.connectTCP(host, 4555)

The class MyTelnet overrides two methods of class Telnet. The first method, dataReceived, is called when data arrives at the client. It checks the data received and calls the _write method to send the user name, password, or the shutdown command accordingly to the server. The second method is connectionLost, which Twisted calls when the server closes the telnet session. In that case, the program simply terminates the Twisted execution loop. The Telnet client starts by using the ClientClient class, connected to port 4555 of the James mail server.

When to Be Twisted?

The two functionally equivalent programs, one using Python core modules and the other using the Twisted framework, significantly differ from each other in terms of programming style and the amount of code. Then when should you use either of the two options?

For basic programs such as the command-line client of this example, the Python core networking modules are more desirable due to the simplicity and performance advantages. However, most real-world networking programs are very complex, and Twisted's asynchronous programming model is more effective. For example, BitTorrent, the popular peer-to-peer file sharing client that performs massive parallel downloading of data chunks from different sources, uses Twisted. Twisted also works well in programs with graphical user interface (GUI), because its asynchronous nature fits more seamlessly with the event-driven programming models of modern GUI frameworks. In fact, Twisted has integration with popular GUI frameworks including PyGTK, Qt, Tkinter, WxPython, and Win32.

The other area where Twisted shines is in server programming. A typical network server uses multithreading so that it can handle multiple clients concurrently. The asynchronous mechanism of Twisted alleviates the creation and handling of threads by server programs. In addition, Twisted provides several protocols on which to build new networking services, enabling rapid development of complex servers. One such project is Quotient, which adopts Twisted to build a multiprotocol messaging server that supports a variety of protocols and services including SMTP, POP3, IMAP, webmail, and SIP.

Kendrew Lau is a consultant in Hong Kong, with focus on Java, Linux, and other OSS technologies.

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