[Python-ideas] (PEP 555 subtopic) Propagation of context in async code

Koos Zevenhoven k7hoven at gmail.com
Sun Oct 15 09:44:52 EDT 2017

Let me respond to my own email. I'm sorry I wrote a long email, but I
figured I'll have to take the time to write this down carefully (and even
in a new thread with a clear title) so that people would know what the
discussion was about.  Probably I could have done better structuring that
email, but I seriously ran out of time.

This is directly related to how "a normal user" writing async code would be
affected by the semantics of this (context arguments/variables). It's also
related to the semantics of contexts combined with normal generator
functions, partly because the situation is somewhat similar, and partly
because we might want the same basic rules to apply in both situations.

(Side note: This also has to do with more obscure cases like multiple
different async frameworks in the same process (or in the same program, or
perhaps the same server, or even larger
– whatever the constraints are).

Any of the context propagation and isolation/leakage semantics I have
described (or that I recall anyone else describing) could be implemented in
the PEP 555 approach without any problems. The difference is just an if
statement branch or two in C code.

So, see below for some more discussion between (it would be useful if some
people could reply to this email and say if and why they agree or disagree
with something below -- also non-experts that roughly understand what I'm
talking about):

On Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 6:49 PM, Koos Zevenhoven <k7hoven at gmail.com> wrote:

> This is a continuation of the PEP 555 discussion in
> https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-September/046916.html
> And this month in
> https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-October/047279.html
> If you are new to the discussion, the best point to start reading this
> might be at my second full paragraph below ("The status quo...").
> On Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 10:25 AM, Nick Coghlan <ncoghlan at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On 13 October 2017 at 10:56, Guido van Rossum <guido at python.org> wrote:
>>> I'm out of energy to debate every point (Steve said it well -- that
>>> decimal/generator example is too contrived), but I found one nit in Nick's
>>> email that I wish to correct.
>>> On Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 1:28 AM, Nick Coghlan <ncoghlan at gmail.com>
>>> wrote:
>>>> As a less-contrived example, consider context managers implemented as
>>>> generators.
>>>> We want those to run with the execution context that's active when
>>>> they're used in a with statement, not the one that's active when they're
>>>> created (the fact that generator-based context managers can only be used
>>>> once mitigates the risk of creation time context capture causing problems,
>>>> but the implications would still be weird enough to be worth avoiding).
>>> Here I think we're in agreement about the desired semantics, but IMO all
>>> this requires is some special casing for @contextlib.contextmanager. To me
>>> this is the exception, not the rule -- in most *other* places I would want
>>> the yield to switch away from the caller's context.
>>>> For native coroutines, we want them to run with the execution context
>>>> that's active when they're awaited or when they're prepared for submission
>>>> to an event loop, not the one that's active when they're created.
>>> This caught my eye as wrong. Considering that asyncio's tasks (as well
>>> as curio's and trio's) *are* native coroutines, we want complete isolation
>>> between the context active when `await` is called and the context active
>>> inside the `async def` function.
>> The rationale for this behaviour *does* arise from a refactoring argument:
>>    async def original_async_function():
>>         with some_context():
>>             do_some_setup()
>>             raw_data = await some_operation()
>>             data = do_some_postprocessing(raw_data)
>> Refactored:
>>    async def async_helper_function():
>>         do_some_setup()
>>         raw_data = await some_operation()
>>         return do_some_postprocessing(raw_data)
>>    async def refactored_async_function():
>>         with some_context():
>>             data = await async_helper_function()
> ​*This* type of refactoring argument I *do* subscribe to.​
>> However, considering that coroutines are almost always instantiated at
>> the point where they're awaited, I do concede that creation time context
>> capture would likely also work out OK for the coroutine case, which would
>> leave contextlib.contextmanager as the only special case (and it would turn
>> off both creation-time context capture *and* context isolation).
> ​The difference between context propagation through coroutine function
> calls and awaits comes up when you need help from "the" event loop, which
> means things like creating new tasks from coroutines. However, we cannot
> even assume that the loop is the only one. So far, it makes no difference
> where you call the coroutine function. It is only when you await it or
> schedule it for execution in a loop when something can actually happen.
> The status quo is that there's nothing that prevents you from calling a
> coroutine function from within one event loop and then awaiting it in
> another. So if we want an event loop to be able to pass information down
> the call chain in such a way that the information is available *throughout
> the whole task that it is driving*, then the contexts needs to a least
> propagate through `await`s.
> This was my starting point 2.5 years ago, when Yury was drafting this
> status quo (PEP 492). It looked a lot of PEP 492 was inevitable, but that
> there will be a problem, where each API that uses "blocking IO" somewhere
> under the hood would need a duplicate version for asyncio (and one for each
> third-party async framework!). I felt it was necessary to think about a
> solution before PEP 492 is accepted, and this became a fairly short-lived
> thread here on python-ideas:
> https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2015-May/033267.html
> ​This year, the discussion on Yury's PEP 550 somehow ended up with a very
> similar need before I got involved, apparently for independent reasons.
> A design for solving this need (and others) is also found in my first
> draft of PEP 555, found at
> https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-September/046916.html
> Essentially, it's a way of *passing information down the call chain* when
> it's inconvenient or impossible to pass the information as normal function
> arguments. I now call the concept "context arguments".
> ​More recently, I put some focus on the direct needs of normal users (as
> opposed direct needs of async framework authors).
> Those thoughts are most "easily" discussed in terms of generator
> functions, which are very similar to coroutine functions: A generator
> function is often thought of as a function that returns an iterable of
> lazily evaluated values. In this type of usage, the relevant "function
> call" happens when calling the generator function. The subsequent calls to
> next() (or a yield from) are thought of as merely getting the items in the
> iterable, even if they do actually run code in the generator's frame. The
> discussion on this is found starting from this email:
> https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-October/047279.html
> However, also coroutines are evaluated lazily. The question is, when
> should we consider the "subroutine call" to happen: when the coroutine function
> is called, or when the resulting object is awaited. Often these two are
> indeed on the same line of code, so it does not matter. But as I discuss
> above, there are definitely cases where it matters. This has mostly to do
> with the interactions of different tasks within one event loop, or code
> where multiple event loops interact.
> As mentioned above, there are cases where propagating the context through
> next() and await is desirable. However, there are also cases where the
> coroutine call is important. This comes up in the case of multiple
> interacting tasks or multiple event loops.
> To start with, probably a more example-friendly case, however, is running
> an event loop and a coroutine from synchronous code:
> import asyncio
> async def do_something_context_aware():
>     do_something_that_depends_on(current_context())
> loop = asyncio.get_event_loop()
> with some_context():
>     coro = do_something_context_aware()
> loop.run_until_complete(coro)
>>>>> Now, if the coroutine function call `do_something_context_aware()` does
> not save the current context on `coro`, then there is no way some_context()
> can affect the code that will run inside the coroutine, even if that is
> what we are explicitly trying to do here.
> ​The easy solution is to delegate the context transfer to the scheduling
> function (run_until_complete), and require that the context is passed to
> that function:
> with some_context​():
> ​    coro = do_something_context_aware()
> ​    loop.run_until_complete(coro)​
> ​This gives the async framework (here asyncio) a chance to make sure the
> context propagates as expected. In general, I'm in favor of giving async
> frameworks some freedom in how this is implemented. However, to give the
> framework even more freedom, the coroutine call,
> do_something_context_aware(), could save the current context branch on
> `coro`, which run_until_complete can attach to the Task that gets created.
> The bigger question is, what should happen when a coroutine awaits on
> another coroutine directly, without giving the framework a change to
> interfere:
> async def inner():
>     do_context_aware_stuff()
> async def outer():
>     with first_context():
>         coro = inner()
>     with second_context():
>         await coro
> The big question is: ​In the above, which context should the coroutine be
> run in?
> "The" event loop does not have a chance to interfere, so we cannot
> delegate the decision.
>Note that I did not write the above as what real code is expected to look
like. It's just to underline the semantic difference that the context can
change between the call and the await. Indeed, one might say that people
don't write code like that. And maybe async/await is still sufficiently
young that one can sort of say "this is how we showed people how to do it,
so that's how they'll do it" [*].

But let's make the above code just a little bit more complicated, so that
it becomes easier to believe that the semantic difference here really
matters, and cannot be hand-waved away:

async def outer():
    with some_context():
        a = inner()

    with other_context():
        b = inner()

    await gather(a, b) # execute coroutines a and b concurrently

If the coroutine function call, inner(), does not save a pointer to the
current context at that point, then the code would just ignore the with
statements completely and run both coroutines in the outer context, which
is clearly not what an author of such code would want the code to do.

It is certainly possible to fix the problem with requiring wrapping the
coroutines with stuff, but that would lead to nobody ever knowing what the
semantics will be without checking if the the coroutine has been wrapped or

On the other hand, we could make the code *just work*, and that would be
completely in line with what I've been promoting also as the semantics for
generator functions in this thread:


I am definitely *not* talking about this kind of semantics because of
something *I personally* need:  In fact, I arrived at these thoughts
because my designs for solving "my" original problem had turned into a more
general-purpose mechanism (PEP 555) that would eventually also affect how
code written by completely normal users of with statements and generator
functions would behave. And certainly the situation is *very* similar to
the case of coroutine functions, as (only?) Guido seems to acknowledge.

But then how to address "my" original problem where the context would
propagate through awaits, and next/send? From what others have written, it
seems there are also other situations where that is desired. There are
several ways to solve the problem as an extension to PEP 555, but below is

> ​We need both versions: the one that propagates first_context() into the
> coroutine, and the one that propagates second_context() into it. Or, using
> my metaphor from the other thread, we need "both the forest and the trees".
> ​A solution to this would be to have two types of context arguments:
> 1. (calling) context arguments​
> and
> 2. execution context arguments
So yes, I'm actually serious about this possibility. Now it would be up to
library and framework authors to pick the right variant of the two. And
this is definitely something that could be documented very clearly.​

> ​Both of these would have their own​ stack of (argument, value) assignment
> pairs, explained in the implementation part of the first PEP 555 draft.
> While this is a complication, the performance overhead of these is so
> small, that doubling the overhead should not be a performance concern. The
> question is, do we want these two types of stacks, or do we want to work
> around it somehow, for instance using context-local storage, implemented on
> top of the first kind, to implement something like the second kind.
> However, that again raises some issues of how to propagate the
> context-local storage down the ambiguous call chain.
​This would also reduce the need to decorate and wrap generators and
decorator functions, although in some cases that would still be needed.

If something was not clear, but seems relevant to what I'm trying to
discuss here, please ask :)

– Koos​

​[*] Maybe it would not even be too late to make minor changes in the PEP
492 semantics of coroutine functions at this point if there was a good
enough reason. But in fact, I think the current semantics might be
perfectly fine, and I'm definitely not suggesting any changes to existing
semantics here. Only extensions to the existing semantics.

+ Koos Zevenhoven + http://twitter.com/k7hoven +
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/attachments/20171015/60052575/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Python-ideas mailing list