Chapter 11. HTTP Web Services

11.1. Diving in

You've learned about HTML processing and XML processing, and along the way you saw how to download a web page and how to parse XML from a URL, but let's dive into the more general topic of HTTP web services.

Simply stated, HTTP web services are programmatic ways of sending and receiving data from remote servers using the operations of HTTP directly. If you want to get data from the server, use a straight HTTP GET; if you want to send new data to the server, use HTTP POST. (Some more advanced HTTP web service APIs also define ways of modifying existing data and deleting data, using HTTP PUT and HTTP DELETE.) In other words, the “verbs” built into the HTTP protocol (GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE) map directly to application-level operations for receiving, sending, modifying, and deleting data.

The main advantage of this approach is simplicity, and its simplicity has proven popular with a lot of different sites. Data -- usually XML data -- can be built and stored statically, or generated dynamically by a server-side script, and all major languages include an HTTP library for downloading it. Debugging is also easier, because you can load up the web service in any web browser and see the raw data. Modern browsers will even nicely format and pretty-print XML data for you, to allow you to quickly navigate through it.

Examples of pure XML-over-HTTP web services:

In later chapters, you'll explore APIs which use HTTP as a transport for sending and receiving data, but don't map application semantics to the underlying HTTP semantics. (They tunnel everything over HTTP POST.) But this chapter will concentrate on using HTTP GET to get data from a remote server, and you'll explore several HTTP features you can use to get the maximum benefit out of pure HTTP web services.

Here is a more advanced version of the openanything module that you saw in the previous chapter:

Example 11.1.

If you have not already done so, you can download this and other examples used in this book.

import urllib2, urlparse, gzip
from StringIO import StringIO

USER_AGENT = 'OpenAnything/1.0 +'

class SmartRedirectHandler(urllib2.HTTPRedirectHandler):    
    def http_error_301(self, req, fp, code, msg, headers):  
        result = urllib2.HTTPRedirectHandler.http_error_301(
            self, req, fp, code, msg, headers)              
        result.status = code                                
        return result                                       

    def http_error_302(self, req, fp, code, msg, headers):  
        result = urllib2.HTTPRedirectHandler.http_error_302(
            self, req, fp, code, msg, headers)              
        result.status = code                                
        return result                                       

class DefaultErrorHandler(urllib2.HTTPDefaultErrorHandler):   
    def http_error_default(self, req, fp, code, msg, headers):
        result = urllib2.HTTPError(                           
            req.get_full_url(), code, msg, headers, fp)       
        result.status = code                                  
        return result                                         

def openAnything(source, etag=None, lastmodified=None, agent=USER_AGENT):
    '''URL, filename, or string --> stream

    This function lets you define parsers that take any input source
    (URL, pathname to local or network file, or actual data as a string)
    and deal with it in a uniform manner.  Returned object is guaranteed
    to have all the basic stdio read methods (read, readline, readlines).
    Just .close() the object when you're done with it.

    If the etag argument is supplied, it will be used as the value of an
    If-None-Match request header.

    If the lastmodified argument is supplied, it must be a formatted
    date/time string in GMT (as returned in the Last-Modified header of
    a previous request).  The formatted date/time will be used
    as the value of an If-Modified-Since request header.

    If the agent argument is supplied, it will be used as the value of a
    User-Agent request header.

    if hasattr(source, 'read'):
        return source

    if source == '-':
        return sys.stdin

    if urlparse.urlparse(source)[0] == 'http':                                      
        # open URL with urllib2                                                     
        request = urllib2.Request(source)                                           
        request.add_header('User-Agent', agent)                                     
        if etag:                                                                    
            request.add_header('If-None-Match', etag)                               
        if lastmodified:                                                            
            request.add_header('If-Modified-Since', lastmodified)                   
        request.add_header('Accept-encoding', 'gzip')                               
        opener = urllib2.build_opener(SmartRedirectHandler(), DefaultErrorHandler())
    # try to open with native open function (if source is a filename)
        return open(source)
    except (IOError, OSError):

    # treat source as string
    return StringIO(str(source))

def fetch(source, etag=None, last_modified=None, agent=USER_AGENT):  
    '''Fetch data and metadata from a URL, file, stream, or string'''
    result = {}                                                      
    f = openAnything(source, etag, last_modified, agent)             
    result['data'] =                                        
    if hasattr(f, 'headers'):                                        
        # save ETag, if the server sent one                          
        result['etag'] = f.headers.get('ETag')                       
        # save Last-Modified header, if the server sent one          
        result['lastmodified'] = f.headers.get('Last-Modified')      
        if f.headers.get('content-encoding', '') == 'gzip':          
            # data came back gzip-compressed, decompress it          
            result['data'] = gzip.GzipFile(fileobj=StringIO(result['data']])).read()
    if hasattr(f, 'url'):                                            
        result['url'] = f.url                                        
        result['status'] = 200                                       
    if hasattr(f, 'status'):                                         
        result['status'] = f.status                                  
    return result                                                    

Further reading