WSGI and Paste Deploy: The Bare Necessities

Using paster to create layouts for various types of projects is great, especially when you need to get up and running quickly. The downside, is that that sometimes the hand-holding, even along with some amazing documentation, doesn’t give you the whole story.

I’m in the planning stages for a new project, and although I’m still on the fence as to what we’ll use to develop it, I’m sweet on Pyramid. However, I’m also a WSGI n00b, and haven’t used the paste stack for anything beyond building plone buildouts and archetypes boilerplate. That means that PasteDeploy is not in my playbook. There are some great PasteScript templates provided by the Pyramid project to get started quickly, but I didn’t see any good explanation of why the files were created, and how they actually worked, even in the super-awesome Pyramid docs.

Disclaimer: I didn’t look that hard. :P

So, to ease my pain, I got back to basics. I started with a fresh egg, the PasteDeploy documentation and PEP 333. I came up with the absolute, bare-minimum code, setup, and config necessary to produce a functioning (albeit boring) WSGI application, and the necessary glue to run it via PasteDeploy.

If you’re the type that doesn’t need much explaination and just want to look at the code, go right to the source (checkout instructions)


You’ll need, at minimum, a modern version of python (I used the 2.6 version that ships with Debian Squeeze), virtualenv, and some way to install virtualenv.

I’ll leave getting virtualenv installed as an exercise for the reader :)

I’m going to assume you’re in a Linux environment in the few times we need to interact with the operating system. As far as I know, this should work on any operating system Python runs on, but as always, your mileage may vary.


$ virtualenv fun-minimal-wsgi
$ cd fun-minimal-wsgi
$ source bin/activate
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ easy_install PasteScript PasteDeploy

If for some reason you’re not familiar with virtualenv (and if you’re a python developer, you really should be, it’s great), these commands:

  1. Sets up a sandbox python environment (but will use system packages if they exist and haven’t been overridden locally)
  2. Puts you into that environment
  3. Installs PasteDeploy

To get out of the environment, you can type deactivate:

(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ deactivate

Bare-Minimum Egg

We’ll store our WSGI code in a simple python egg, that is setuptools-enabled (pretty much the standard). This requires a couple of directories, and some special files (I based this off of output of the PasteScript ‘basic_namespace’ template, for details about what this means, see the setuptools docs).

Here’s what the layout looks like:

--> minimal\
-----> minimal\

Here’s a quick list of commands to create an empty version of that layout (assume that we’re still in the fun-minimal-wsgi directory):

(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ mkdir minimal
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ touch minimal/
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ mkdir minimal/minimal
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ touch minimal/minimal/

The basic idea here is we have an egg source directory minimal, containing a file, used to install and configure it, and a singular package, also called minimal (coincidentally… what it’s named is not a requirement of setuptools).

Now for the contents of

from setuptools import setup, find_packages
import os

version = '1.0'

         Very, very minimal example of a WSGI application and middleware.
      # Get more strings from
        "Programming Language :: Python",
      author='Josh Johnson',
      author_email='none of your',

This is, at its bare minimum, all you need to say you've got an egg. :)

You could run python develop and start using it in your virtual environment (but don't yet), not that it does anything yet :)

Bare-Minimum WSGI App

This code goes into minimal/minimal/ This is right out of PEP 333, with a couple of changes to take out any logic, and show all of the possible ways to create a WSGI app, and WSGI middleware.

# simple_app and AppClass are right out of PEP 333
def simple_app(environ, start_response):
    """Simplest possible application object"""
    status = '200 OK'
    response_headers = [('Content-type', 'text/plain')]
    start_response(status, response_headers)
    return ['Hello world!\n']
class AppClass:
    """Produce the same output, but using a class

    (Note: 'AppClass' is the "application" here, so calling it
    returns an instance of 'AppClass', which is then the iterable
    return value of the "application callable" as required by
    the spec.

    If we wanted to use *instances* of 'AppClass' as application
    objects instead, we would have to implement a '__call__'
    method, which would be invoked to execute the application,
    and we would need to create an instance for use by the
    server or gateway.

    def __init__(self, environ, start_response):
        self.environ = environ
        self.start_response = start_response

    def __iter__(self):
        status = '200 OK'
        response_headers = [('Content-type', 'text/plain')]
        self.start_response(status, response_headers)
        yield "Hello world!\n"

# not in PEP 333, but mentioned in the comments to AppClass
class AlternateAppClass:
    def __call__(self, environ, start_response):
        status = '200 OK'
        response_headers = [('Content-type', 'text/plain')]
        start_response(status, response_headers)
        return ['Hello world!\n']

class MinimalMiddleware:
    Bare-minimum, doesn't do anything at all, middleware.
    def __init__(self, application):
        self.application = application
    def __call__(self, environ, start_response):
        return self.application(environ, start_response)

class SimpleMiddleware:
    Takes a prefix, and appends it to each line in the response.
    def __init__(self, application, prefix):
        self.application = application
        self.prefix = prefix

    def __call__(self, environ, start_response):
        response = self.application(environ, start_response)
        return ['%s %s' % (self.prefix, s) for s in response]

Read PEP 333 for full explainations, but here's the gist:

WSGI apps are super simple. At minimum, they're a simple function (simple_app), and at their most complex, a simple that implements the iterator protocol (AppClass). The function, or the __call__ method (in the case of AppClass, __init__ is standing in for __call__) take a 'start_response' callable and a dictionary with environment information (think CGI variables). They then use the callable to set the necessary response code and headers (in our case '200 OK' and 'Content-Type: text/plain'), then return an iterable, where each member is a line in the output to send to the browser.

The AppClass example is probably a good way to implement a WSGI app class, but it's not the simplest. What's required is a callable, so any object that implements a __call__ method and returns an iterable. AppClass implements the iterator protocol and short-circuits the need for instantiation. For the sake of clarity and throughness, I added the AlternateAppClass class to illustrate this.

We'll see the functional difference later when it's being wired up for use by PasteDeploy.

WSGI Middleware works like a bucket-brigade. An application object is passed from middleware class to middleware class until all are called. The middleware is instantiated with an application object, and when called is expected to return a response. I've included a simplified minimal implementation (MinimalMiddleware), and an implementation that manipulates the request before returning it (SimpleMiddleware).

Note: In the event that you're trying to jump ahead, this code might not run out of the box. I'm allowing a configuration option to be passed to SimpleMiddleware, and since it's required, it would fail.

PasteDeploy Configuration - Application

Now for the server part. You'll need to call this file something useful and put it somewhere you can get to (I've put it in the egg, minimal/minimal.ini).

use = egg:minimal

use = egg:Paste#http
host =
port = 6543

This does two things. It tells PasteDeploy to look in the egg called 'minimal' for an 'app-factory' entry point called main (more on this in a bit). It then configures the server.

Glue - Application

Before we can run the server we have to do three things: create an application factory, add the entry point specified in minimal.ini, and then install the egg.

The factory is simply a callable that returns a WSGI application. We'll add this to minimal/minimal/

def main(global_config, **settings):
    # settings comes from paste deploy, whatever values were in the section of the 
    # deployment config file
    if settings.get('use_class', False):
        return AppClass
    elif settings.get('use_alt_class', False):
        return AlternateAppClass()
        return simple_app

An application factory, for PasteDeploy, is a callable that takes a config object (the contents of the whole config file), and any number of keyword arguments, which correspond to the other options mentioned in the config file (in our case, had we put toggle = True in [app:main], that argument would be passed along to our factory)

I've added a few config options that the factory can respond to, to make it easy to try out the different ways of implementing the same WSGI application.

Now for the entry point, the real glue that ties PasteDeploy with our code.

We'll add the following to in the call to setup():

      main = minimal:main

Note that minimal:main maps directly to the main() function we created as our application factory. Had we named it something else, or if we wanted to provide multiple app factories for whatever reason, we could specify them one after the other, the name of the entry point (what we'd reference in minimal.ini), and a path to the function. The name main is just the default, and used as a convention/convienence. Here are some other examples:

  • Put use = egg:minimal#otherapp in minimal.ini, and otherapp = minimal:some_other_function_in_init in
  • Put use = egg:minimal#main in minimal.ini, and main = minimal.some_package:other_function in
  • Put use = egg:minimal#other in minimal.ini, and main = minimal.some_package.package_deeper:other_function in

You get the idea.

Install the Egg

We'll want to install this in develop mode, so changes to the code will be reflected as soon as they are made.

Note: entry points are only updated when the egg is installed, so you'll have to repeat this procedure every time you make a change to them in your egg.

Make sure you've activated your virtual environment before you do this!

(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ cd minimal
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ python develop
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ cd ..

Starting The Server

Now we should be able to start the server using the paster serve command.

(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ paster serve minimal/minimal.ini --reload

You can now navigate to and you should see 'hello world'

Since we specified --reload, we should be able to make changes to the application code and minimal.ini and the server will reload for us (remember the note about entry points though).

PasteDeploy Configuration - Middleware

Things will change a little bit now:

use = egg:minimal

use = egg:minimal
prefix = yikes:

pipeline =

Here we changed the [app:main] heading to an easy-to-refer-to name. We then defined the middleware part (middleware is called 'filters' in PasteDeploy configs), and a pipeline, which links up the middleware and the application.

The middleware specified here is also called 'main'.

Note we've also specified a parameter to the middleware. If we didn't need to, we could have just used egg:minimal in the [pipeline:main] section, in replace of [middleware]

Note: This will break your running server instance, since we are referring to a filter factory that doesn't exist.

Glue - Middleware

Now to make the middleware work. We'll need to a new entry point to minimal/, so it now looks like this:

      main = minimal:main
      main = minimal:middleware

Again, the name of the entry point is not significant, and main is used as the default so we don't have to specify it in the ini file.

Now for the filter factory in minimal/minimal/

# middleware factory for paste deploy
def middleware(global_config, **settings):
    prefix = settings.get('prefix', 'Booyeah:')
    def factory(app):
        return SimpleMiddleware(app, prefix)
    return factory

Here, we're using the SimpleMiddleware class, and finally utilizing/providing the prefix parameter.

Now we can re-install the egg (to get the new entry point) and restart the server.

(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ cd minimal
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ python develop
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ cd ..
(fun-minimal-wsgi)$ paster serve minimal/minimal.ini --reload

Now, visiting will look a little different.

The same middleware can be added to the pipeline multiple times as well, try adding another copy of middleware to [pipeline:main] and see what happens. You could also add another section referencing the same filter factory, but call it something else, and use a different setting for the prefix.


So, this helped me understand how WSGI works, and how PasteDeploy is used to serve it. This is the foundation of what Pylons, TurboGears and Pyramid use, and so it's important to understand to help understand the mentality behind everything else these frameworks do.

Please feel free to comment! Any feedback is appreciated, this was primarily a learning exercise for me :)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to WSGI and Paste Deploy: The Bare Necessities

  1. For a more through look at the different ways one can write WSGI application entry points see

  2. shonscomments says:

    I am working on repoze.bfg (while rest of the world is already using django/flask etc.). I wanted to quickly learn PastDeploy and WSGI. Exactly what this article explains. Thanks a ton.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s