An Introduction to the Python Web Server Gateway Interface (WSGI)

In Brief

WSGI is a specification, laid out in PEP 333, for a standardized interface between Web servers and Python Web frameworks/applications.

The goal is to provide a relatively simple yet comprehensive interface capable of supporting all (or most) interactions between a Web server and a Web framework. (Think "CGI" but programmatic rather than I/O based.)

An additional goal is to support "middleware" components for pre- and post-processing of requests: think gzip, recording, proxy, load-balancing.

No mechanism for deployment and relatively few mechanisms for configuration are specified in the PEP. (That's a problem Python Paste targets.)

All you really need to know...

Unless you are developing a new Web app framework (admittedly, p > 0.5...) you don't care about WSGI. Use a Web app framework. They all support WSGI at this point, which means you basically need to worry about configuration and deployment of your app, and nothing else.

Summary of Specification

The PEP specifies three roles: the role of a server, the role of a framework/app, and the role of a middleware object.

Web server side

The server must provide two things: an environ dictionary, and a start_response function. The environ dictionary needs to have the usual things present -- it's similar to the CGI environment. start_response is a callable that takes two arguments, status -- containing a standard HTTP status string like 200 OK -- and response_headers -- a list of standard HTTP response headers.

The Web server dispatches a request to the framework/app by calling the application:

iterable = app(environ, start_response)
for data in iterable:
   # send data to client

It's the framework/app's responsibility to build the headers, call start_response, and build the data returned in iterable. It's the Web server's responsibility to serve both the headers and the data up via HTTP.

Web framework/app side

The Web framework/app is represented to the server as a Python callable. It can be a class, an object, or a function. The arguments to __init__, __call__, or the function must be as above: an environ object and a start_response callable.

The Web framework/app must call start_response before returning or yielding any data.

The Web framework/app should return any data in an iterable form -- e.g. return [ page ].


Middleware components must obey both the Web server side and the Web app/framework side of things, plus a few more minor niggling restrictions. Middleware should be as transparent as possible.

An example WSGI application

Here's a very simple WSGI application that returns a static "Hello world!" page.

def simple_app(environ, start_response):
    status = '200 OK'
    response_headers = [('Content-type','text/plain')]
    start_response(status, response_headers)
    return ['Hello world!\n']

Here's a very simple middleware application that uppercases everything sent:

class Upperware:
   def __init__(self, app):
      self.wrapped_app = app

   def __call__(self, environ, start_response):
      for data in self.wrapped_app(environ, start_response):
         return data.upper()

To instantiate/run these from the server's perspective, you just do the obvious:



wrapped_app = Upperware(simple_app)

Yes, it can be that simple: here's my code for running Trac via scgiserver.

#!/usr/bin/env python
from trac.web.main import dispatch_request as app
from scgiserver import serve_application


serve_application(app, PREFIX, PORT)

Omitted complexity

start_response must also return a write_fn callable that legacy apps can use as a file-like stream. This makes it easy to convert old apps to be "WSGI compliant". Its use is deprecated because using a file-like stream puts the reins of execution in the hands of the app object, preventing intelligent content handling interleaving/asynchrony on the part of the server.

start_response can take an optional parameter, exc_info, that is used for error handling when present.

My Opinions

('cause I'm an opinionated guy, after all...)

Why I Like It

I no longer have to worry about making my application run in multiple Web servers: most servers, and all frameworks, are WSGI compliant.

The WSGI spec is simple enough that if you can't factor your Web app interface out into a WSGI-compliant interface, you didn't write your Web app properly. This exposes lousy design for what it is.

I can also build generic test harnesses for Web apps ;).

What I Don't Like

Discussion of WSGI is often entangled with discussion of Paste. I'm not sure exactly why, but it confuses the issue quite a bit.

What I Don't Grok

People seem to think "loosely-coupled" is good, even when talking about things like cookies and authentication. I don't understand how this simplifies code, or, conversely, I think this approach complicates very simple matters unnecessarily.

WSGI is Python's Answer to Ruby On Rails

Choice is good; WSGI makes choice a matter of developer opinion rather than technical compatibility.

(Seriously, that's all I got.)