Category Archives: Sysadmin

Sending Alerts With Graphite Graphs From Nagios


The way I’m doing this relies on a feature I wrote for Graphite that was only recently merged to trunk, so at time of writing that feature isn’t in a stable release. Hopefully it’ll be in 0.9.10. Until then, you can at least test this setup using Graphite’s trunk version.

Oh yeah, the new feature is the ability to send graph images (not links) via email. I surfaced this feature in Graphite through the graph menus that pop up when you click on a graph in Graphite, but implemented it such that it’s pretty easy to call from a script (which I also wrote – you’ll see if you read the post).

Also, note that I assume you already know Nagios, how to install new command scripts, and all that. It’s really easy to figure this stuff out in Nagios, and it’s well-documented elsewhere, so I don’t cover anything here but the configuration of this new feature.

The Idea

I’m not a huge fan of Nagios, to be honest. As far as I know, nobody really is. We all just use it because it’s there, and the alternatives are either overkill, unstable, too complex, or just don’t provide much value for all the extra overhead that comes with them (whether that’s config overhead, administrative overhead, processing overhead, or whatever depends on the specific alternative you’re looking at). So… Nagios it is.

One thing that *is* pretty nice about Nagios is that configuration is really dead simple. Another thing is that you can do pretty much whatever you want with it, and write code in any language you want to get things done. We’ll take advantage of these two features to actually do a couple of things:

  • Monitor a metric by polling Graphite for it directly
  • Tell Nagios to fire off a script that’ll go get the graph for the problematic metric, and send email with the graph embedded in it to the configured contacts.
  • Record that we sent the alert back in Graphite, so we can overlay those events on the corresponding metric graph and verify that alerts are going out when they should, that the outgoing alerts are hitting your phone without delay, etc.

The Candy

Just to be clear, we’re going to set things up so you can get alert messages from Nagios that look like this (click to enlarge):

And you’ll also be able to track those alert events in Graphite in graphs that look like this (click to enlarge, and note the vertical lines – those are the alert events.):

Defining Contacts

In production, it’s possible that the proper contacts and contact groups already exist. For testing (and maybe production) you might find that you want to limit who receives graphite graphs in email notifications. To test things out, I defined:

  • A new contact template that’s configured specifically to receive the graphite graphs. Without this, no graphs.
  • A new contact that uses the template
  • A new contact group containing said contact.

For testing, you can create a test contact in templates.cfg:

define contact{
        name                            graphite-contact 
        service_notification_period     24x7            
        host_notification_period        24x7 
        service_notification_options    w,u,c,r,f,s 
        host_notification_options       d,u,r,f,s  
        service_notification_commands   notify-svcgraph-by-email
        host_notification_commands      notify-host-by-email
        register                        0

You’ll notice a few things here:

  • This is not a contact, only a template.
  • Any contact defined using this template will be notified of service issues with the command ‘notify-svcgraph-by-email’, which we’ll define in a moment.

In contacts.cfg, you can now define an individual contact that uses the graphite-contact template we just assembled:

define contact{
        contact_name    graphiteuser
        use             graphite-contact 
        alias           Graphite User

Of course, you’ll want to change the ‘email’ attribute here, even for testing.

Once done, you also want to have a contact group set up that contains this new ‘graphiteuser’, so that you can add users to the group to expand the testing, or evolve things into production. This is also done in contacts.cfg:

define contactgroup{
        contactgroup_name       graphiteadmins
        alias                   Graphite Administrators
        members                 graphiteuser

Defining a Service

Also for testing, you can set up a test service, necessary in this case to bypass default settings that seek to not bombard contacts by sending an email for every single aberrant check. Since the end result of this test is to see an email, we want to get an email for every check where the values are in any way out of bounds. In templates.cfg put this:

define service{
    name                        test-service
    use                         generic-service
    passive_checks_enabled      0
    contact_groups              graphiteadmins
    check_interval              20
    retry_interval              2
    notification_options        w,u,c,r,f
    notification_interval       30
    first_notification_delay    0
    flap_detection_enabled      1
    max_check_attempts          2
    register                    0

Again, the key point here is to insure that no notifications are ever silenced, deferred, or delayed by nagios in any way, for any reason. You probably don’t want this in production. The other point is that when you set up an alert for a service that uses ‘test-service’ in its definition, the alerts will go to our previously defined ‘graphiteadmins’.

To make use of this service, I’ve defined a service in ‘localhost.cfg’ that will require further explanation, but first let’s just look at the definition:

define service{
        use                             test-service 
        host_name                       localhost
        service_description             Some Important Metric
        check_command                   check_graphite_data!24!36
        notifications_enabled           1

There are two new things we need to understand when looking at this definition:

  • What is ‘check_graphite_data’?
  • What is ‘_GRAPHURL’?

These questions are answered in the following section.

In addition, you should know that the value for _GRAPHURL is intended to come straight from the Graphite dashboard. Go to your dashboard, pick a graph of a single metric, grab the URL for the graph, and paste it in (and double-quote it).

Defining the ‘check_graphite_data’ Command

This command relies on a small script written by the folks at Etsy, which can be found on github:

Here’s the commands.cfg definition for the command:

# 'check_graphite_data' command definition
define command{
        command_name    check_graphite_data
        command_line    $USER1$/check_graphite_data -u $_SERVICEGRAPHURL$ -w $ARG1$ -c $ARG2$

The ‘command_line’ attribute calls the check_graphite_data script we got on github earlier. The ‘-u’ flag is a URL, and this is actually using the custom object attribute ‘_GRAPHURL’ from our service definition. You can see more about custom object variables here: - the short story is that, since we defined _GRAPHURL in a service definition, it gets prepended with ‘SERVICE’, and the underscore in ‘_GRAPHURL’ moves to the front, giving you ‘$_SERVICEGRAPHURL’. More on how that works at the link provided.

The ‘-w’ and ‘-c’ flags to check_graphte_data are ‘warning’ and ‘critical’ thresholds, respectively, and they correlate to the positions of the service definition’s ‘check_command’ arguments (so, check_graphite_data!24!36 maps to ‘check_graphite_data -u <url> -w 24 -c 36′)

Defining the ‘notify-svcgraph-by-email’ Command

This command relies on a script that I wrote in Python called ‘’, which also lives in github:

The script does two things:

  • It emails the graph that corresponds to the metric being checked by Nagios, and
  • It pings back to graphite to record the alert itself as an event, so you can define a graph for, say, ‘Apache Load’, and if you use this script to alert on that metric, you can also overlay the alert events on top of the ‘Apache Load’ graph, and vet that alerts are going out when you expect. It’s also a good test to see that you’re actually getting the alerts this script tries to send, and that they’re not being dropped or seriously delayed.

To make use of the script in nagios, lets define the command that actually sends the alert:

define command{
    command_name    notify-svcgraph-by-email
    command_line    /path/to/ -u "$_SERVICEGRAPHURL$" -t $CONTACTEMAIL$ -n "$SERVICEDESC$" -s $SERVICESTATE$

A couple of quick notes:

  • Notice that you need to double-quote any variables in the ‘command_line’ that might contain spaces.
  • For a definition of the command line flags, see’s –help output.
  • Just to close the loop, note that notify-svcgraph-by-email is the ‘service_notification_commands’ value in our initial contact template (the very first listing in this post)

Fire It Up

Fire up your Nagios daemon to take it for a spin. For testing, make sure you set the check_graphite_data thresholds to numbers that are pretty much guaranteed to trigger an alert when Graphite is polled. Hope this helps! If you have questions, first make sure you’re using Graphite’s ‘trunk’ branch, and not 0.9.9, and then give me a shout in the comments.

The Python User Group in Princeton (PUG-IP): 6 months in

In May, 2011, I started putting out feelers on Twitter and elsewhere to see if there might be some interest in having a Python user group that was not in Philadelphia or New York City. A single tweet resulted in 5 positive responses, which I took as a success, given the time-sensitivity of Twitter, my “reach” on Twitter (which I assume is far smaller than what might be the entire target audience for that tweet), etc.

Happy with the responses I received, I still wanted to take a baby step in getting the group started. Rather than set up a web site that I’d then have to maintain, a mailing list server, etc., I went to the cloud. I started a group on, and started looking for places to hold our first meeting., I’m convinced, gives you an enormous value if you’re looking to start a user group Right Now, Today™. For $12/mo., you get a place where you can announce future meetups, hold discussions, collect RSVPs so you have a head count for food or space or whatever, and vendors can also easily jump in to provide sponsorship or ‘perks’ in the form of discounts on services to user group members and the like. It’s a lot for a little, and it’s worked well enough. If we had to stick with it for another year, I’d have no real issue with that.

Google Groups

I set up a mailing list using Google Groups about 2-3 months ago now. I only waited so long because I thought’s discussion forum might work for a while. After a few meetings, though, I noticed that there were always about five more people in attendance than had RSVP’d on Some people just aren’t going to be bothered with having yet another account on yet another web site I guess. If that’s the case, then I have two choices (maybe more, but these jumped to mind): force the issue by constantly trumpeting’s service, or go where everyone already was. Most people have a Google account, and understand its services. Also, since the group is made up of technical people, they mostly like the passive nature of a mailing list as opposed to web forums.

If you’re setting up a group, I’d say that setting up a group on and simultaneously setting up a Google group mailing list is the way to go if you want to get a fairly complete set of services for very little money and about an hour’s worth of time.

Meeting Space

Meeting space can come from a lot of different places, but I had a bit of trouble settling on a place at first. Princeton University is an awesome place and has a ton of fantastic places to meet with people, but if you’re not living on campus (almost no students are group members, btw), parking can be a bit troublesome, and Princeton University is famous for having little or no signage, and that includes building names, so finding where to go even if you did find parking can be problematic. So, so far, the University is out.

The only sponsor I had that was willing to provide space was my employer, but we’re nowhere near Princeton, and don’t really have the space. Getting a sponsor for space can be a bit difficult when your group doesn’t exist yet, in part because none of them have engaged with you or your group until the first meeting, when the attendees, who all work for potential sponsors, show up.

I started looking at the web site for the Princeton Public Library. I’ve been involved in the local Linux user group for several years, and they use free meeting space made available by the public library in Lawrenceville, which borders Princeton. I wondered if the Princeton Public Library did this as well, but they don’t, actually. In fact, meeting space at that location can get pretty expensive, since they charge for the space and A/V equipment like projectors and stuff separately (or they did when I started the group – I believe it’s still the case).

I believe I tweeted my disappointment about the cost of meeting at the Princeton Public Library, and did a callout on Twitter for space sponsors and other ideas about meeting space in or near Princeton. The Princeton Public Library got in touch through their @PrincetonPL Twitter account, and we were able to work out a really awesome deal where they became a sponsor, and agreed to host our group for 6 months, free of charge. Awesome!

Now, six months in, we either had to come to some other agreement with the library, or move on to a new space. After six months, it’s way easier to find space, or sponsors who might provide space, but I felt if we could find some way to continue the relationship with the library, it’d be best not to relocate the group. We wound up finding a deal that does good things for the group, the library, the local Python user community, and the evangelism of the Python language….

Knowledge for Space

Our group got a few volunteers together to commit to providing a 5-week training course to the public, held at the Princeton Public Library. Adding public offerings like this adds value to the library, attracts potential new members (they’re a member-supported library, not a state/municipality-funded one), etc. In exchange for providing this service to the library, the library provides us with free meeting space, including the A/V equipment.

If you don’t happen to have a public library that offers courses, seminars, etc., to the general public, you might be able to cut a similar deal with a local community college, or even high school. If you know of a corporation locally that uses Python or some other technology the group can speak or train people in, you might be able to trade training for meeting space in their offices. Training is a valued perk to the employees of most corporations.

How To Get Talks (or “How we stopped caring about getting talks”)

Whether you’re running a publishing outfit, a training event, or user group, getting people to deliver content is a challenge. Some people don’t think they have any business talking to what they perceive as a roomful of geniuses about anything. Some just aren’t comfortable talking in front of audiences, but are otherwise convinced of their own genius. Our group is trying to attack this issue in various ways, and so far it seems to be working well enough, though more ideas are welcome!

Basically, the group isn’t necessarily locked into traditions like “Thou shalt provide a speaker, who shalt bequeath upon our many wisdom of the ages”. Once you’ve decided as a group that having cookie-cutter meetings isn’t necessary, you start to think of all sorts of things you could all be doing together.

Below are some ideas, some in the works, some in planning, that I hope help other would-be group starters to get the ball rolling, and keep it in motion!

Projects For the Group, By the Group

Some members of PUG-IP are working together on building the website, which is housed in a GitHub repository under the ‘pugip’ GitHub organization. This one project will inevitably result in all kinds of home-grown presentations & events within the group. As new ideas come up and new features are implemented, people will give lightning talks about their implementation, or we’ll do a group peer review of the code, or we’ll have speakers give talks about third-party technologies we might use (so, we might have two speakers each give a 30-minute talk about two different NoSQL solutions, for example. We’ve already had a great overview of about 10 different Python micro-frameworks), etc.

We may also decide to break up into pairs, and then sprint together on a set of features, or a particularly large feature, or something like that.

As of now, we’ve made enough decisions as a group to get the ball rolling. If there’s any interest I can blog about the setup that allows the group to easily share, review, and test code, provide live demos of their work, etc. The tl;dr version is we use GitHub and free heroku accounts, but new ideas come into play all the time. Just today I was wondering if we could, as a group, make use of the cloud9 IDE (

The website is a great idea, but other group projects are likely to come up.

Community Outreach

PUG-IPs first official community outreach project will be the training we provide through the Princeton Public library. A few of us will collaborate on delivering the training, but the rest of the group will be involved in providing feedback on various aspects of the material, etc., so it’s a ‘whole group’ project, really. On top of increasing interactivity among the group members, outreach is also a great way to grow and diversify the group, and perhaps gain sponsorships as well!

There’s another area group called LUG-IP (a Linux user group) that also does some community outreach through a hardware SIG (special interest group), certification training sessions, and participating in local computing events and conferences. I’d like to see PUG-IP do this, too, maybe in collaboration with the LUG (they’re a good and passionate group of technologists).

Community outreach can also mean teaming up with various other technology groups, and one event I’m really looking forward to is a RedSnake meeting to be held next February. A RedSnake meeting is a combined meeting between PhillyPUG (the Philadelphia Python User Group) and Philly.rb (the Philadelphia Ruby Group). As a member of PhillyPUG I participated in last year’s RedSnake meeting, and it was a fantastic success. Probably 70+ people in attendance (here’s a pic at the end – some had already left by the time someone snapped this), and perhaps 10 or so lightning talks given by members of both organizations. We tried to do a ‘matching’ talk agenda at the meeting, so if someone on the Ruby side did a testing talk, we followed that with a Python testing talk, etc. It was a ton of fun, and the audience was amazing.


Socials don’t have to be dedicated events, per se. For example, PUG-IP has a sort of mini-social after every single meetup. We’re lucky to have our meetings located about a block away from a brewpub, so after each meeting, perhaps half of us make it over for a couple of beers and some great conversations. After a few of these socials, I started noticing that more talk proposals started to spring up.

Of course, socials can also be dedicated events. Maybe some day PUG-IP will…. I dunno… go bowling? Or maybe we’ll go as a group to see the next big geeky movie that comes out. Maybe we’ll have some kind of all-inclusive, bring-the-kids BBQ next summer. Who knows?

As a sort of sideshow event to the main LUG meetings, LUG-IP has a regularly-scheduled ‘coffee klatch’. Some of the members meet up one Sunday per month at (if memory serves) 8-11AM at a local Panera for coffee, pastries, and geekery. It’s completely informal, but it’s a good time.

Why Not Having Talks Will Help You Get Talks

I have a theory that is perhaps half-proven through my experiences with technology user groups: increasing engagement among and between the members of the group in a way that doesn’t shine a huge floodlight on a single individual (like a talk would) eventually breaks down whatever fears or resistance there is to proposing and giving a talk. Sometimes it’s just a comfort level thing, and working on projects, or having a beer, or sprinting on code, etc. — together — turns a “talking in front of strangers” experience into more of a “sharing with my buddies” one.

I hope that’s true, anyway. It seems to be. :)

Thanks For Reading

I hope someone finds this useful. It’s early on in the life of PUG-IP, but I thought it would be valuable to get these ideas out into the ether early and often before they slip from my brain. Good luck with your groups!

pyrabbit Makes Testing and Managing RabbitMQ Easy

I have a lot of hobby projects, and as a result getting any one of them to a state where I wouldn’t be completely embarrassed to share it takes forever. I started working on pyrabbit around May or June of this year, and I’m happy to say that, while it’ll never be totally ‘done’ (it is software, after all), it’s now in a state where I’m not embarrassed to say I wrote it.

What is it?

It’s a Python module to help make managing and testing RabbitMQ servers easy. RabbitMQ has, for some time, made available a RESTful interface for programmatically performing all of the operations you would otherwise perform using their browser-based management interface.

So, pyrabbit lets you write code to manipulate resources like vhosts & exchanges, publish and get messages, set permissions, and get information on the running state of the broker instance. Note that it’s *not* suitable for writing AMQP consumer or producer applications; for that you want an *AMQP* module like pika.

PyRabbit is tested with Python versions 2.6-3.2. The testing is automated using tox. In fact, PyRabbit was a project I started in part because I wanted to play with tox.

Here’s the example, ripped from the documentation (which is ripped right from my own terminal session):

>>> from pyrabbit.api import Client
>>> cl = Client('localhost:55672', 'guest', 'guest')
>>> cl.is_alive()
>>> cl.create_vhost('example_vhost')
>>> [i['name'] for i in cl.get_all_vhosts()]
[u'/', u'diabolica', u'example_vhost', u'testvhost']
>>> cl.get_vhost_names()
[u'/', u'diabolica', u'example_vhost', u'testvhost']
>>> cl.set_vhost_permissions('example_vhost', 'guest', '.*', '.*', '.*')
>>> cl.create_exchange('example_vhost', 'example_exchange', 'direct')
>>> cl.get_exchange('example_vhost', 'example_exchange')
{u'name': u'example_exchange', u'durable': True, u'vhost': u'example_vhost', u'internal': False, u'arguments': {}, u'type': u'direct', u'auto_delete': False}
>>> cl.create_queue('example_queue', 'example_vhost')
>>> cl.create_binding('example_vhost', 'example_exchange', 'example_queue', 'my.rtkey')
>>> cl.publish('example_vhost', 'example_exchange', 'my.rtkey', 'example message payload')
>>> cl.get_messages('example_vhost', 'example_queue')
[{u'payload': u'example message payload', u'exchange': u'example_exchange', u'routing_key': u'my.rtkey', u'payload_bytes': 23, u'message_count': 2, u'payload_encoding': u'string', u'redelivered': False, u'properties': []}]
>>> cl.delete_vhost('example_vhost')
>>> [i['name'] for i in cl.get_all_vhosts()]
[u'/', u'diabolica', u'testvhost']

Hopefully you’ll agree that this is simple enough to use in a Python interpreter to get information and do things with RabbitMQ ‘on the fly’.

How Can I Get It?

Well, there’s already a package on PyPI called ‘pyrabbit’, and it’s not mine. It’s some planning-stage project that has no actual software associated with it. I’m not sure when the project was created, but the PyPI page has a broken home page link, and what looks like a broken RST-formatted doc section. I’ve already pinged someone to see if it’s possible to take over the name, because I can’t think of a cool name to change it to.

Until that issue is cleared up, you can get downloadable packages or clone/fork the code at the pyrabbit github page (see the ‘Tags’ section for downloads), and the documentation is hosted on the (awesome) site.

Thoughts on Python and Python Cookbook Recipes to Whet Your Appetite

Dave Beazley and myself are, at this point, waist deep into producing Python Cookbook 3rd Edition. We haven’t really taken the approach of going chapter by chapter, in order. Rather, we’ve hopped around to tackle chapters one or the other finds interesting or in-line with what either of us happens to be working with a lot currently.

For me, it’s testing (chapter 8, for those following along with the 2nd edition), and for Dave, well, I secretly think Dave touches every aspect of Python at least every two weeks whether he needs to or not. He’s just diabolical that way. He’s working on processes and threads at the moment, though (chapter 9 as luck would have it).

In both chapters (also a complete coincidence), we’ve decided to toss every scrap of content and start from scratch.

Why on Earth Would You Do That?

Consider this: when the last edition (2nd ed) of the Python Cookbook was released, it went up to Python 2.4. Here’s a woefully incomplete list of the superamazing awesomeness that didn’t even exist when the 2nd Edition was released:

  • Modules:
    • ElementTree
    • ctypes
    • sqlite3
    • functools
    • cProfile
    • spwd
    • uuid
    • hashlib
    • wsgiref
    • json
    • multiprocessing
    • fractions
    • plistlib
    • argparse
    • importlib
    • sysconfig
  • Other Stuff
    • The ‘with’ statement and context managers*
    • The ‘any’ and ‘all’ built-in functions
    • collections.defaultdict
    • advanced string formatting (the ‘format()’ method)
    • class decorators
    • collections.OrderedDict
    • collections.Counter
    • collections.namedtuple()
    • the ability to send data *into* a generator (yield as an expression)
    • heapq.merge()
    • itertools.combinations
    • itertools.permutations
    • operator.methodcaller()

* If memory serves, the ‘with’ statement was available in 2.4 via future import.

Again, woefully incomplete, and that’s only the stuff that’s in the 2.x version! I don’t even mention 3.x-only things like concurrent.futures. From this list alone, though, you can probably discern that the way we think about solving problems in Python, and what our code looks like these days, is fundamentally altered forever in comparison to the 2.4 days.

To give a little more perspective: Python core development moved from CVS to Subversion well after the 2nd edition of the book hit the shelves. They’re now on Mercurial. We skipped the entire Subversion era of Python development.

The addition of any() and all() to the language by themselves made at least 3-4 recipes in chapter 1 (strings) one-liners. I had to throw at least one recipe away because people just don’t need three recipes on how to use any() and all(). The idea that you have a chapter covering processes and threads without a multiprocessing module is just weird to think about these days. The with statement, context managers, class decorators, and enhanced generators have fundamentally changed how we think about certain operations.

Also something to consider: I haven’t mentioned a single third-party module! Mock, tox, and nosetests all support Python 3. At least Mock and tox didn’t exist in the old days (I don’t know about nose off-hand). Virtualenv and pip didn’t exist (both also support Python 3). So, not only has our code changed, but how we code, test, deploy, and generally do our jobs with Python has also changed.

Event-based frameworks aside from Twisted are not covered in the 2nd edition if they existed at all, and Twisted does not support Python 3.

WSGI, and all it brought with it, did not exist to my knowledge in the 2.4 days.

We need a Mindset List for Python programmers!

So, What’s Your Point

My point is that I suspect some people have been put off of submitting Python 3 recipes, because they don’t program in Python 3, and if you’re one of them, you need to know that there’s a lot of ground to cover between the 2nd and 3rd editions of the book. If you have a recipe that happens to be written in Python 2.6 using features of the language that didn’t exist in Python 2.4, submit it. You don’t even have to port it to Python 3 if you don’t want to or don’t have the time or aren’t interested or whatever.

Are You Desperate for Recipes or Something?

Well, not really. I mean, if you all want to wait around while Dave and I crank out recipe after recipe, the book will still kick ass, but it’ll take longer, and the book’s world view will be pretty much limited to how Dave and I see things. I think everyone loses if that’s the case. Having been an editor of a couple of different technical publications, I can say that my two favorite things about tech magazines are A) The timeliness of the articles (if Python Magazine were still around, we would’ve covered tox by now), and B) The broad perspective it offers by harvesting the wisdom and experiences of a vast sea of craftspeople.

What Other Areas Are In Need?

Network programming and system administration. For whatever reason, the 2nd edition’s view of system administration is stuff like checking your Windows sound system and spawning an editor from a script. I guess you can argue that these are tasks for a sysadmin, but it’s just not the meat of what sysadmins do for a living. I’ll admit to being frustrated by this because I spent some time searching around for Python 3-compatible modules for SNMP and LDAP and came up dry, but there’s still all of that sar data sitting around that nobody ever seems to use and is amazing, and is easy to parse with Python. There are also terminal logging scripts that would be good.

Web programming and fat client GUIs also need some love. The GUI recipes that don’t use tkinter mostly use wxPython, which isn’t Python 3-compatible. Web programming is CGI in the 2nd edition, along with RSS feed aggregation, Nevow, etc. I’d love to see someone write a stdlib-only recipe for posting an image to a web server, and then maybe more than one recipe on how to easily implement a server that accepts them.

Obviously, any recipes that solve a problem that others are likely to have that use any of the aforementioned modules & stuff that didn’t exist in the last edition would really rock.

How Do I Submit?

  1. Post the code and an explanation of the problem it solves somewhere on the internet, or send it (or a link to it) via email to or to @bkjones on Twitter.
  2. That’s it.

We’ll take care of the rest. “The rest” is basically us pinging O’Reilly, who will contact you to sign something that says it’s cool if we use your code in the book. You’ll be listed in the credits for that recipe, following the same pattern as previous editions. If it goes in relatively untouched, you’ll be the only name in the credits (also following the pattern of previous editions).

What Makes a Good Recipe?

A perfect recipe that is almost sure to make it into the cookbook would ideally meet most of the criteria set out in my earlier blog post on that very topic. Keep in mind that the ability to illustrate a language feature in code takes precedence over the eloquence of any surrounding prose.

What If…

I sort of doubt this will come up, but if we’ve already covered whatever is in your recipe, we’ll weigh that out based on the merits of the recipes. I want to say we’ll give new authors an edge in the decision, but for an authoritative work, a meritocracy seems the only valid methodology.

If you think you’re not a good writer, then write the code, and a 2-line description of the problem it solves, and a 2-line description of how it works. We’ll flesh out the text if need be.

If you just can’t think of a good recipe, grep your code tree(s) for just the import statements, and look for ideas by answering questions on Stackoverflow or the various mailing lists.

If you think whatever you’re doing with the language isn’t very cool, then stop thinking that a cookbook is about being cool. It’s about being practical, and showing programmers possibly less senior than yourself an approach to a problem that isn’t completely insane or covered in warts, even if the problem is relatively simple.

Slides, an App, a Meetup, and More On the Way

I’ve been busy. Seriously. Here’s a short dump of what I’ve been up to with links and stuff. Hopefully it’ll do until I can get back to my regular blogging routine.

PICC ’11 Slides Posted

I gave a Python talk at PICC ’11. If you were there, then you have a suboptimal version of the slides, both because I caught a few bugs, and also because they’re in a flattened, lifeless PDF file, which sort of mangles anything even slightly fancy. I’m not sure how much value you’ll get out of these because my presentation slides tend to present code that I then explain, and you won’t have the explanation, but people are asking, so here they are in all their glory. Enjoy!

I Made a Webapp Designed To Fail

No really, I did. WebStatusCodes is the product of necessity. I’m writing a Python module that provides an easy way for people to talk to a web API. I test my code, and for some of the tests I want to make sure my code reacts properly to certain HTTP errors (or in some cases, to *any* HTTP status code that’s not 200). In unit tests this isn’t hard, but when you’re starting to test the network layers and beyond, you need something on the network to provide the errors. That’s what WebStatusCodes does. It’s also a simple-but-handy reference for HTTP status codes, though it is incomplete (418 I’m a teapot is not supported). Still, worth checking out.

Interesting to note, this is my first AppEngine application, and I believe it took me 20 minutes to download the SDK, get something working, and get it deployed. It was like one of those ‘build a blog in -15 minutes’ moments. Empowering the speed at which you can create things on AppEngine, though I’d be slow to consider it for anything much more complex.

Systems and Devops People, Hack With Me!

I like systems-land, and a while back I was stuck writing some reporting code, which I really don’t like, so I started a side project to see just how much cool stuff I could do using the /proc filesystem and nothing but pure Python. I didn’t get too far because the reporting project ended and I jumped back into all kinds of other goodness, but there’s a github project called pyproc that’s just a single file with a few functions in it right now, and I’d like to see it grow, so fork it and send me pull requests. If you know Linux systems pretty well but are relatively new to Python, I’ll lend you a hand where I can, though time will be a little limited until the book is done (see further down).

The other projects I’m working on are sort of in pursuit of larger fish in the Devops waters, too, so be sure to check out the other projects I mention later in this post, and follow me on github.

Python Meetup Group in Princeton NJ

I started a Meetup group for Pythonistas that probably work in NYC or PA, but live in NJ. I work in PA, and before this group existed, the closest group was in Philly, an hour from home. I put my feelers out on Twitter, found some interest, put up a quick Meetup site, and we had 13 people at the first meetup (more than had RSVP’d). It’s a great group of folks, but more is always better, so check it out if you’re in the area. We hold meetings at the beautiful Princeton Public Library (who found us on twitter and now sponsors the group!), which is just a block or so from Triumph, the local microbrewery. I’m hoping to have a post-meeting impromptu happy hour there at some point.

Python Cookbook Progress

The Python Cookbook continues its march toward production. Lots of work has been done, lots of lessons have been learned, lots of teeth have been gnashed. The book is gonna rock, though. I had the great pleasure of porting all of the existing recipes that are likely to be kept over to Python 3. Great fun. It’s really amazing to see just how it happens that a 20-line recipe is completely obviated by the addition of a single, simple language feature. It’s happened in almost every chapter I’ve looked at so far.

If you have a recipe, or stumble upon a good example of some language feature, module, or other useful tidbit, whether it runs in Python 3 or not, let me know (see ‘Contact Me’). The book is 100% Python 3, but I’ve gotten fairly adept at porting things over by now :) Send me your links, your code, or whatever. If we use the recipe, the author will be credited in the book, of course.

PyRabbit is Coming

In the next few days I’ll be releasing a Python module on github that will let you easily work with RabbitMQ servers using that product’s HTTP management API. It’s not nearly complete, which is why I’m releasing it. It does some cool stuff already, but I need another helper or two to add new features and help do some research into how RabbitMQ broker configuration affects JSON responses from the API. Follow me on github if you want to be the first to know when I get it released. You probably also want to follow myYearbook on github since that’s where I work, and I might release it through the myYearbook github organization (where we also release lots of other cool open source stuff).

Python Asynchronous AMQP Consumer Module

I’m also about 1/3 of the way through a project that lets you write AMQP consumers using the same basic model as you’d write a Tornado application: write your handler, import the server, link the two (like, one line of code), and call consume(). In fact, it uses the Tornado IOLoop, as well as Pika, which is an asynchronous AMQP module in Python (maintained by none other than my boss and myYearbook CTO,  @crad), which also happens to support the Tornado IOLoop directly.

‘Grokking Python’ Going to PICC Conference!

In conjunction with my involvement as co-author of the upcoming Python Cookbook, 3rd Ed. (not yet released), a tutorial at this year’s PyCon in Atlanta, an internal (and ongoing) lunchtime seminar series entitled ‘Snakes On a Plate’, and other recent Python-related projects, I’ve also been refining and revising what I can now call a completely awesome 3-hour introduction to the Python programming language.

If you’re a sysadmin, operations engineer, devops engineer, or just want to get your hands dirty with Python, I can’t think of a better more cost-effective way to do it than to attend the ‘Grokking Python’ tutorial at this year’s PICC conference, which is being held in New Brunswick, NJ, April 29-30.

While I do plan for the tutorial to run through the basics, I also assume attendees have programmed in some other language before. In addition, I firmly believe that, properly presented, most would find that Python is a very simple language to get to know and understand. That being the case, the most basic elements of the language (control statements, loops, etc) will be covered in the first hour (and the materials will be available for later reference).

Once we’re through that, it’s head first into what admin/ops engineers do for a living. Python was developed by a systems programmer for systems programming. As such, support for a huge swath of admin tasks (and far, far beyond) is baked into the language, and enormous tomes have been written covering third party tools and modules to do anything else you can possibly imagine.

We’re going to look at some of the more ho-hum parts of scripting, like accepting input from users, command line options and arguments, and file handling, but before it’s over we’re going to have a look at the basics of email, networking, multiprocessing, threading, coroutines, SSH, and more.

We’re also going to cover use of the Python interactive shell, which will not only help speed your mastery of the language and its standard library, but also holds promise as a sysadmin tool in its own right.

The blowing of minds is a goal of the tutorial. Bring a laptop, and bring some bandages ;-)

The Makings of a Great Python Cookbook Recipe

I’ve seen some comments on Twitter, Buzz, Reddit, and elsewhere, and we’ve gotten some suggestions for recipes already via email (thanks!), and both Dave and I thought it’d be good to present a simple-to-follow ‘meta-recipe’; a recipe for making a great recipe that has a good shot at making it into the cookbook.

So let’s get down to what makes a good recipe. These are in no particular order:


When you read a recipe for apple pie, it doesn’t include a diatribe about how to grow and pick apples. This is in part because of space constraints (the book would be huge, or the coverage would be incomplete, take your pick). It’s also partly because you can probably assume that the reader has somehow procured apples and assumes they’ll need them for this recipe and all of that.

In a recipe for, say, an ETL script that hopes to illustrate Python’s useful string manipulation features, you probably don’t need to spend much time explaining what a database is, or take a lot of lines of code to deal with the database. It makes the code longer, and just distracts from the string manipulation goodness you’re trying to relay to the reader.

Short and sweet. “Everything you need, nothing you don’t”.


Recipes for the cookbook should be relatively narrowly focused on illustrating a particular technique, module (built-in or otherwise), or language feature, and bringing it to life. It need not be illustrative of a business process, remotely associated technology, etc.

So, if you want to write a recipe about os.walk, you don’t need to get into the semantics of the ext3 filesystem implementation, because that’s not what you’re trying to illustrate.


Above I noted that the recipe should be relatively narrowly focused on a technique or language feature. It should NOT be narrowly focused in terms of its applicability.

For example, if you wanted to illustrate the usefulness of the Python csv module, awesome! And if you want to mention that csv will attempt to make its output usable in Excel, awesome! But if you wanted to write a recipe called “Supporting Windows ’95 Excel Clients With Python” dealing only with Excel, specifically on Windows ’95, well… that’s really specific, and really a ‘niche’ recipe. It’d be better left for some future ‘Python Hacks’ book or something.

When you read a cookbook, you probably don’t seek out “How to make mulligatawny soup in a Le Creuset™ Dutch Oven Using an Induction Stove at 30,000 Feet”. Likewise, in order to be useful to a wider audience, your recipe should ideally not force so many assumptions onto readers who just want to make a good meal (so to speak).

Our devotion to the practical also means we don’t plan to include any recipes dealing with Fibonacci numbers, factorials, or the like. Leave those for some future “Python Homework Problems” book.


By ‘well-written’, I’m partially just lumping everything I just said all together under one title. However, in addition, I would ask that recipe authors resist the temptation to utilize unnecessary ‘cleverness’ that might make the code harder to read and understand, or be a distraction from what you’re trying to relay to the reader.

Just because you can get the job done with a nested list comprehension doesn’t mean you should. Open up in the code listing to allow easy comprehension by readers at all levels. If you must use nested list comprehensions, perhaps it warrants a separate recipe?

Nested list comprehensions are just an example, of course. I’m sure you can think of others. When you’re looking at your recipe, just ask yourself if there’s a simpler construct, technique, or idiom that can be used to achieve the same goal.


In general, follow the ‘import this’ rules like you would with any other Python code you write. “Sparse is better than dense”, “Readability counts”, etc. In addition, bonus points are given for following PEP 8.

But I’m not just talking about the code. Long-time Python coders (or maybe even not-so-long-time ones) come to realize that the Zen of Python applies not just to code, but to the way you think about your application. When Dave and I are reading recipe descriptions, we’re thinking in that mode. “Would we do this? Why would we do this? When would we do this? Is there a more Pythonic solution to this problem? Can this solution be made more Pythonic?”

When in doubt…

If you’re not sure about any of that, your default action should be to post your recipe on the ActiveState site. The reality is that posting a recipe there will help both the community and yourself. The feedback you get on your recipe will help you become a better coder, and it’ll help people evaluating your recipe to make sound decisions and perhaps consider things they hadn’t. It’s good all over. Getting into the book is just a nice cherry on the sundae.

Also, while unit tests are fantastic, they’re not expected to show up along with the recipe. ActiveState to my knowledge doesn’t have a mechanism for easily including test code alongside (but not embedded in) the recipe code. If you want to use doctest, great. If you want to point us at a recipe you’ve posted, you can include tests in that email, or not. It’s totally unnecessary to include them, although they are appreciated.


If you have questions, email them to Dave and I at PythonCookbook at oreilly dot com. You can also post questions here in the comments of this post.

Good Things Come in Threes: Python Cookbook, Third Edition

It became official earlier today that David Beazley and myself will be co-editing/co-curating the next edition (the Third Edition) of the Python Cookbook. That’s really exciting. Here’s why:

It’s Python 3, Cover to Cover

Go big or go home. The third edition will be a Python 3 Cookbook. This by itself makes this a rather large undertaking, since it means modules used in earlier editions that don’t work in Python 3 can’t be used, and so those old recipes will need to be scrapped or rewritten.

You heard it right: if a module used in the last edition of Python Cookbook doesn’t work in Python 3, it won’t be in this edition. This includes some modules for which several recipes already exist, like dateutil and wxPython, and other modules I would’ve liked to use for illustrative purposes, like Tornado and psycopg2. I guess there’s still some time for smaller modules to port to Python 3 and be left alone in this edition, but I don’t know how realistic that is for something like wxPython.

It’s going to be ok.

I can’t find any modules (yet) in the second edition for which Python 3-compatible substitutes don’t exist, and in some cases I found myself wondering why a separate module was used at all when what needs doing isn’t a whole lot of work in pure Python anyway. I guess if the module is there and stable, why not use it, eh? Fair enough.

Three Authors?

Actually, yes. David, myself, and YOU, where YOU is anyone who posts good Python 3 recipes to the ActiveState ‘Python Cookbook’ site. This is actually not new. If you look at the last edition, you’ll see separate credits for each recipe. The Python Cookbook has always been a community effort, featuring recipes by some very familiar names in the Python community.

Anyway, just in case that wasn’t direct enough:

Go to the ActiveState Python Cookbook site and post a Python 3 recipe, and if it’s solid, your name and recipe may well be in the book.

Basically, ActiveState gives us free reign over their Python Cookbook content, so it’s a convenient way to let the community contribute to the work. If it’s in there, and it’s good, we can use it. They’re cool like that.

Three Questions

Answer these in the comments, or send email to Dave and I at PythonCookbook at oreilly.

  1. What are your three favorite recipes from either the 1st or 2nd edition?
  2. What are your three least favorite recipes from either the 1st or 2nd edition?
  3. What are three things (techniques, modules, basic tasks) you’d like to see covered that weren’t covered in earlier editions?

Three Cool Things About the Third Edition

  1. Tests. When the book comes out, we’ll make the unit tests for the recipes available in some form that is yet to be determined (but they’ll be available).
  2. Porting help. We’re not going to leave module authors out in the cold. We’re going to provide some help/advice. We’ve both written code in Python 3, and dealt with the issues that arise. I’m still porting one of my projects and have another in line after that, so I’ll be dealing with it even more.
  3. Dave and I are both overwhelmed with excitement about this book, about Python 3, and about working with you on it. Come help us out by posting Python 3 recipes (tests are also nice, but not required) on ActiveState, and shoot us an email at PythonCookbook at oreilly dotcom.

There will be other cool things, too. We’ll let you know, so stay tuned to this blog, Dave’s blog, and you should definitely follow @bkjones and @dabeaz on Twitter, since we’ll be asking for opinions/resources/thoughts on things as we go.

Nose and Reporting in Hudson

I like Hudson. Sure, it’s written in Java, but let’s be honest, it kinda rocks. If you’re a Java developer, it’s admittedly worlds better because it integrates with seemingly every Java development tool out there, but we can do some cool things in Python too, and I thought I’d share a really simple setup to get’s HTML reports and nose’s xUnit-style reports into your Hudson interface.

I’m going to assume that you know what these tools are and have them installed. I’m working with a local install of Hudson for this demo, but it’s worth noting that I’ve come to find a local install of Hudson pretty useful, and it doesn’t really eat up too much CPU (so far). More on that in another post. Let’s get moving.

Process Overview

As mentioned, this process is really pretty easy. I’m only documenting it because I haven’t seen it documented before, and someone else might find it handy. So here it is in a nutshell:

  • Install the HTML Publisher plugin
  • Create or alter a configuration for a “free-style software project”
  • Add a Build Step using the ‘Execute Shell’ option, and enter a ‘nosetests’ command, using its built-in support for xUnit-style test reports and
  • Check the ‘Publish HTML Report’, and enter the information required to make Hudson find the HTML report.
  • Build, and enjoy.

Install The HTMLReport Plugin

From the dashboard, click ‘Manage Hudson’, and then on ‘Manage Plugins’. Click on the ‘Available’ tab to see the plugins available for installation. It’s a huge list, so I generally just hit ‘/’ in Firefox or cmd-F in Chrome and search for ‘HTML Publisher Plugin’. Check the box, go to the bottom, and click ‘Install’. Hudson will let you know when it’s done installing, at which time you need to restart Hudson.

Install tab

HTML Publisher Plugin: Check!

Configure a ‘free-style software project’

If you have an existing project already, click on it and then click the ‘Configure’ link in the left column. Otherwise, click on ‘New Job’, and choose ‘Build a free-style software project’ from the list of options. Give the job a name, and click ‘OK’.

Build a free-style software project.

You have to give the job a name to enable the 'ok' button :)

Add a Build Step

In the configuration screen for the job, which you should now be looking at, scroll down and click the button that says ‘Add build step’, and choose ‘Execute shell’ from the resulting menu.

Add Build Step

Execute shell. Mmmmm... shells.

This results in a ‘Command’ textarea appearing, which is where you type the shell command to run. In that box, type this:

/usr/local/bin/nosetests --with-xunit --with-coverage --cover-package demo --cover-html -w tests

Of course, replace ‘demo’ with the name of the package you want covered in your coverage tests to avoid the mess of having try to seek out every module used in your entire application.

We’re telling Nose to generate an xUnit-style report, which by default will be put in the current directory in a file called ‘nosetests.xml’. We’re also asking for coverage analysis using, and requesting an HTML report of the analysis. By default, this is placed in the current directory in ‘cover/index.html’.

execute shell area

Now we need to set up our reports by telling Hudson we want them, and where to find them.

Enable JUnit Reports

In the ‘Post-Build Actions’ area at the bottom of the page, check ‘Publish JUnit test result report’, and make it look like this:

The ‘**’ is part of the Ant Glob Syntax, and stands for the current working directory. Remember that we said earlier nose will publish, by default, to a file called ‘nosetests.xml’ in the current working directory.

The current working directory is going to be the Hudson ‘workspace’ for that job, linked to in the ‘workspace root’ link you see in the above image. It should mostly be a checkout of your source code. Most everything happens relative to the workspace, which is why in my nosetest command you’ll notice I pass ‘-w tests’ to tell nose to look in the ‘tests’ subdirectory of the current working directory.

You could stop right here if you don’t track coverage, just note that these reports don’t get particularly exciting until you’ve run a number of builds.

Enable Coverage Reports

Just under the JUnit reporting checkbox should be the Publish HTML Reports checkbox. The ordering of things can differ depending on the plugins you have installed, but it should at least still be in the Post-build Actions section of the page.

Check the box, and a form will appear. Make it look like this:

By default, will create a directory called ‘cover’ and put its files in there (one for each covered package, and an index). It puts them in the directory you pass to nose with the ‘-w’ flag. If you don’t use a ‘-w’ flag… I dunno — I’d guess it puts it in the directory from where you run nose, in which case the above would become ‘**/cover’ or just ‘cover’ if this option doesn’t use Ant Glob Syntax.

Go Check It Out!

Now that you have everything put together, click on ‘Save’, and run some builds!

On the main page for your job, after you’ve run a build, you should see a ‘ Report’ link and a ‘Latest Test Result’ link. After multiple builds, you should see a test result ‘Trend’ chart on the job’s main page as well.

job page

Almost everything on the page is clickable. The trend graph isn’t too enlightening until multiple builds have run, but I find the reports a nice way to see at-a-glance what chunks of code need work. It’s way nicer than reading the line numbers output on the command line (though I sometimes use those too).

How ’bout you?

If you’ve found other nice tricks in working with Hudson, share! I’ve been using Hudson for a while now, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing anything super cool with it — it just means I know enough to suspect I could be doing way cooler stuff with it that I haven’t gotten around to playing with. :)

Wonky Bunny Issue “Fixed”

For those who don’t know what the headline means:

  1. Bunny is an open source command line utility written in Python that provides a shell for talking to and testing AMQP brokers (tested on RabbitMQ).
  2. AMQP is a queuing protocol. It’s defined as a binary wire-level protocol as well as a command set. The spec also defines a good portion of the server semantics, so by that logic Bunny should work against other AMQP brokers besides RabbitMQ
  3. RabbitMQ is written in Erlang atop OTP, so clustering is ‘free and easy’. My experience with RabbitMQ so far has been fantastic, though I’d like to see client libraries in general mature a bit further.

So, Bunny had this really odd quirk upon its first release. If you did something to cause an error that resulted in a connection being dropped, bunny wouldn’t trap the error. It would patiently wait for you to enter the next command, and fail miserably. The kicker is that I actually defined a ‘check_conn’ method to make sure that the connection was alive before doing anything else, and that really wasn’t working.

The reason is because py-amqplib (or, perhaps, its interpretation of the AMQP spec, which defines a Connection class), implements a high-level Connection class, along with a Channel class (also defined in the spec), which is what seems to actually map to what you and I as users actually care about: some “thing” that lets us communicate with the server, and without which we can’t talk to the server.

With py-amqplib, a Connection is actually defined as a channel 0, and always channel 0. I gather that channel 0 gets some special treatment in other sections of the library code, and the object that lives at index ’0′ in Connection.channels is actually defined as a Connection object, whereas others are Channel objects.

The result of all of this is that creating a channel in my code and then checking my own object’s ‘chan’ attribute is useless because channels can be dropped on the floor in py-amqplib, and the only way I can tell to figure that out is to check the connection object’s ‘channels’ dictionary. So that’s what I do now. It seems to be working well.

Not only does bunny now figure out that your connection is gone, but it’ll also attempt a reconnect using the credentials you gave it in the last ‘connect’ command. You see, bunny extends the Python built-in cmd.Cmd object, which lets me define my whole program as a single class. That means that whatever you type in, like the credentials to the ‘connect’ command, can be kept handy, since the lifetime of the instance of this class is the same as the lifetime of a bunny session.

So, in summary, bunny is more useful now, but it’s still not “done”. I made this fix over the weekend during an hour I unexpectedly found for myself. It’s “a” solution, but it’s not “the” solution. The real solution is to map out all of the errors that actually cause a connection to drop and give the user a bit more feedback about what happened. I also want to add more features (like support for getting some stats back from Alice to replace bunny’s really weak ‘qlist’ command).