The Twisted Plugin System

The purpose of this guide is to describe the preferred way to write extensible Twisted applications (and consequently, also to describe how to extend applications written in such a way). This extensibility is achieved through the definition of one or more APIs and a mechanism for collecting code plugins which implement this API to provide some additional functionality. At the base of this system is the twisted.plugin module.

Making an application extensible using the plugin system has several strong advantages over other techniques:

  • It allows third-party developers to easily enhance your software in a way that is loosely coupled: only the plugin API is required to remain stable.
  • It allows new plugins to be discovered flexibly. For example, plugins can be loaded and saved when a program is first run, or re-discovered each time the program starts up, or they can be polled for repeatedly at runtime (allowing the discovery of new plugins installed after the program has started).

Writing Extensible Programs

Taking advantage of twisted.plugin is a two step process:

  1. Define an interface which plugins will be required to implement. This is done using the zope.interface package in the same way one would define an interface for any other purpose.

    A convention for defining interfaces is do so in a file named like ProjectName/projectname/ . The rest of this document will follow that convention: consider the following interface definition be in Matsim/matsim/ , an interface definition module for a hypothetical material simulation package.

  2. At one or more places in your program, invoke twisted.plugin.getPlugins and iterate over its result.

As an example of the first step, consider the following interface definition for a physical modelling system.

from zope.interface import Interface, Attribute

class IMaterial(Interface):
    An object with specific physical properties
    def yieldStress(temperature):
        Returns the pressure this material can support without
        fracturing at the given temperature.

        @type temperature: C{float}
        @param temperature: Kelvins

        @rtype: C{float}
        @return: Pascals

    dielectricConstant = Attribute("""
        @type dielectricConstant: C{complex}
        @ivar dielectricConstant: The relative permittivity, with the
        real part giving reflective surface properties and the
        imaginary part giving the radio absorption coefficient.

In another module, we might have a function that operates on objects providing the IMaterial interface:

def displayMaterial(m):
    print 'A material with yield stress %s at 500 K' % (m.yieldStress(500),)
    print 'Also a dielectric constant of %s.' % (m.dielectricConstant,)

The last piece of required code is that which collects IMaterial providers and passes them to the displayMaterial function.

from twisted.plugin import getPlugins
from matsim import imatsim

def displayAllKnownMaterials():
    for material in getPlugins(imatsim.IMaterial):

Third party developers may now contribute different materials to be used by this modelling system by implementing one or more plugins for the IMaterial interface.

Extending an Existing Program

The above code demonstrates how an extensible program might be written using Twisted’s plugin system. How do we write plugins for it, though? Essentially, we create objects which provide the required interface and then make them available at a particular location. Consider the following example.

from zope.interface import implements
from twisted.plugin import IPlugin
from matsim import imatsim

class SimpleMaterial(object):
    implements(IPlugin, imatsim.IMaterial)

    def __init__(self, yieldStressFactor, dielectricConstant):
        self._yieldStressFactor = yieldStressFactor
        self.dielectricConstant = dielectricConstant

    def yieldStress(self, temperature):
        return self._yieldStressFactor * temperature

steelPlate = SimpleMaterial(2.06842719e11, 2.7 + 0.2j)
brassPlate = SimpleMaterial(1.03421359e11, 1.4 + 0.5j)

steelPlate and brassPlate now provide both IPlugin and IMaterial . All that remains is to make this module available at an appropriate location. For this, there are two options. The first of these is primarily useful during development: if a directory which has been added to sys.path (typically by adding it to the PYTHONPATH environment variable) contains a directory named twisted/plugins/ , each .py file in that directory will be loaded as a source of plugins. This directory must not be a Python package: including will cause the directory to be skipped and no plugins loaded from it. Second, each module in the installed version of Twisted’s twisted.plugins package will also be loaded as a source of plugins.

Once this plugin is installed in one of these two ways, displayAllKnownMaterials can be run and we will see two pairs of output: one for a steel plate and one for a brass plate.

Alternate Plugin Packages

getPlugins takes one additional argument not mentioned above. If passed in, the 2nd argument should be a module or package to be used instead of twisted.plugins as the plugin meta-package. If you are writing a plugin for a Twisted interface, you should never need to pass this argument. However, if you have developed an interface of your own, you may want to mandate that plugins for it are installed in your own plugins package, rather than in Twisted’s.

You may want to support yourproject/plugins/ directories for ease of development. To do so, you should make yourproject/plugins/ contain at least the following lines.

from twisted.plugin import pluginPackagePaths
__all__ = []

The key behavior here is that interfaces are essentially paired with a particular plugin package. If plugins are installed in a different package than the one the code which relies on the interface they provide, they will not be found when the application goes to load them.

Plugin Caching

In the course of using the Twisted plugin system, you may notice dropin.cache files appearing at various locations. These files are used to cache information about what plugins are present in the directory which contains them. At times, this cached information may become out of date. Twisted uses the mtimes of various files involved in the plugin system to determine when this cache may have become invalid. Twisted will try to re-write the cache each time it tries to use it but finds it out of date.

For a site-wide install, it may not (indeed, should not) be possible for applications running as normal users to rewrite the cache file. While these applications will still run and find correct plugin information, they may run more slowly than they would if the cache was up to date, and they may also report exceptions if certain plugins have been removed but which the cache still references. For these reasons, when installing or removing software which provides Twisted plugins, the site administrator should be sure the cache is regenerated. Well-behaved package managers for such software should take this task upon themselves, since it is trivially automatable. The canonical way to regenerate the cache is to run the following Python code:

from twisted.plugin import IPlugin, getPlugins

As mentioned, it is normal for exceptions to be raised once here if plugins have been removed.

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