Python, Web Applications

Juno, a micro web framework for Python

I love microframeworks and I love Python to it therefore follows that I love the minimal web frameworks you can get for Python like CherryPy. However as soon as I heard about Juno, a clone of my favourite microframework Sinatra I had to give it a go.

For me the archetypal application for Sinatra is Git-Wiki and therefore to kick the tires on Juno I decided to try and do the same thing with Bazaar. Hence:  Bzr-Wiki on Juno!

You need Juno, Jinja2 and SQLAlchemy as well the source from Launchpad. Once you have it all then got to the repo directory and type bzr init. You should then be good to fire up and muck around with it.

It is slightly ugly and lacks access to revision history, diffs and user tracking but apart from that it is a surprisingly functional wiki. It is also bi-directional in that you can add files to the Bazaar repo and they get reflected in the app.

So what was Juno like to work with? Well overall I thought this was the best Python microframework I have used so far. I really like the idea of decorating methods to avoid having to generate a mapping table. The syntax is terse and comprehensible, the conventions around the framework made sense to me.

By comparison with its progenitor I think I really missed the autoloading/dynamic evaluation that allows you to change code in Sinatra and have it immediately take effect. The function of the Request decorator was initially quite obscure (it binds all HTTP verbs to that method, if you want to map GET to another method you must specify all verbs independently) and I am still not sure it is right. I think the most specific decorator should take precedence. Other than that I think the framework ports a lot of the concepts from Sinatra in a sympathetic way.

The dependency on SQL Alchemy is also really clunky. If you specify that you are not using a database (as is the case here) then it is annoying to have to download a dependency and makes installation on Windows a pain I didn’t even want to try and tackle.

Juno is really promising though and I look forward to it developing. I think it would be a real delight to use it in an environment like Google App Engine.

Programming, Ruby, Scripting, Web Applications

Sinatra example

Since the Sinatra Project website currently seems to have been hijacked and directed to spam (the RubyForge page seems to be fine and is still a good introduction in its own right) I wanted to post an example of how to get going with Sinatra and also to highlight what makes it such a different approach to web frameworks. Here’s the example code on CodeDumper.

I wrote this with JRuby (for the cross-platform win). You’ll need to install the Sinatra, Haml and Mongrel Gems to get it to run.

It uses two styles, first there is the REST-ful extraction of parameters from the url and then there is the form POST submission. In both cases the code is pretty much the same as Sinatra extracts all parameters into the params hash.

I’ve inlined the Haml to make the example simple but normally the view templates would be extracted out of the code into separate files.

Sinatra is sometimes described as being as a web DSL rather than a web framework, it seems apt as it eschews MVC separation but instead by attaching code to routes directly it allows Controller code to be tiny and to delegate appropriately rather than putting in a heavyweight structure that might result in more frameworking code than actual “doing” code.

However one of the things I really like is something you can’t show in a code fragment and that is the ability to dynamically interact with your web application on the fly. Start up Sinatra, change the code of the file you’re running and your changes are reflected immediately. End the compile, deploy, view cycle! It kind of makes web programming fun again.

Programming, Ruby, Scripting, Web Applications

Sinatra and Haml

On Monday I was meant to be learning how to use the Grails framework (following up the impressive Grails site that Sky has launched) but I instead got distracted into scratching another itch, using Sinatra with JRuby. Since I was doing a little REST application I thought I would also give Haml a go as it promised a far easier way of generating HTML responses.

Installing both Gems was easy as ever and Sinatra was really easy to understand conceptually. Put the HTTP method name, the URI pattern you want to match and then the return value of the block is what goes back to the client in the response.

So for example to map “/hello” to the plain text response “Hello World” you simply have.

get "/hello" do
  "Hello World"

Fire up the script (with necessary requires) and a HTTP server is set up and running. It really couldn’t be simpler. You can use a :symbol in the URI matcher and then access it through the params hash. Within half an hour I was starting to add resources into my served HTML and I felt like master of the REST UNIVERSE.

Sinatra is a really smart piece of code that makes it simple to write a basic web application. I have loads of ideas of how it could be useful but one of my first thoughts was that it actually does a good job of solving the issue of GUI platforms.

My next project is to see how it works with posting data back to the app but on the face of it it all seems straight-forward.

Haml is another story. It is undoubtedly a good idea and on the right track. A DSL for creating HTML the method html for example creates a block html tag  while p “Hello World” creates a paragraph tag with the parameter as the content. Hash parameters sent to the method become attributes of the class.

It is much quicker than generating the HTML by hand but often not by much. That is because Haml has not found the same easy metaphor for code and content that Sinatra has. It is very picky, constantly harping about two-space indentation (no more, no less, don’t dare use tabs you bastardo!) for example, it sometimes throws a stack trace that failed to make it to Sinatra leading to a blank screen on the browser and hunt into the console for a clue as to what has gone wrong.

The documentation is to poor to figure out why the library doesn’t accept what you are doing and I am still baffled as to whether the module handles inline tags or whether you are meant to devolve all of that to Textile. Passing parameters to Haml templates seems unnecessarily complex (the only way I could get it to work is with normal string interpolation, it’s a solution but it seems to break the DSL concept) and mixing inline formatting with parameters baffles me still.

Haml makes more sense to me than RHTML style templating but its claim to simplicity and enjoyment seems to come only with a deep understanding and long experience with using it. It took me 20 minutes to fall in love with Sinatra but it took 20 minutes for me to get a working Haml page. And I didn’t enjoy myself doing it.