Bossy Lobster

A blog by Danny Hermes; musing on tech, mathematics, etc.

Edit on GitHub

Last to Cross the Finish Line: Part Two

Recently, my colleague +Fred Sauer and I gave a tech talk called "Last Across the Finish Line: Asynchronous Tasks with App Engine". This is part two in a three part series where I will share our learnings and give some helpful references to the App Engine documentation.

Check out the previous post if you haven't already. In this section, we'll cover the two WSGI handlers in serving requests for our application and the client side code that communicates with our application.


Before defining the handlers, let's first review the imports:

import json

from google.appengine.api import channel
from google.appengine.api import users
from google.appengine.ext.webapp.util import login_required
import webapp2
from webapp2_extras import jinja2

from display import RandomRowColumnOrdering
from display import SendColor
from models import PopulateBatch

We import json for serialization of messages. Specific to App Engine, we import channel to use the Channel API, users and login_required for authenticating users within a request, webapp2 for creating WSGI Handlers and jinja2 for templating.

Finally, we import four functions from the two other modules defined within our project. From the display module, we import the SendColorfunction that we explored in part oneand the RandomRowColumnOrdering function, which generates all possible row, column pairs in a random order. From the as of yet undiscussed models module we import the PopulateBatch function, which takes a session ID and a batch of work to be done and spawns workers to carry out the batch of work.


This module defines two handlers: the main page for the user interface and an AJAX handler which will begin spawning the workers.

For the main page we use jinja2 templates to render from the template main.html in the templates folder:

class MainPage(webapp2.RequestHandler):
  def RenderResponse(self, template, **context):
    jinja2_renderer = jinja2.get_jinja2(
    rendered_value = jinja2_renderer.render_template(template, **context)
  def get(self):
    user_id = users.get_current_user().user_id()
    token = channel.create_channel(user_id)
    self.RenderResponse('main.html', token=token, table_id='pixels',
                        rows=8, columns=8)

In get — the actual handler serving the GET request from the browser — we use the login_required decorator to make sure the user is signed in, and then create a channel for message passing using the ID of the signed in user. The template takes an HTML ID, rows and columns to create an HTML table as the "quilt" that the user will see. We pass the created token for the channel, an HTML ID for the table and the rows and columns to the template by simply specifying them as keyword arguments.

For the handler which will spawn the workers, we use RandomRowColumnOrdering to generate row, column pairs. Using each pair along with the SendColor function and the user ID (as a proxy for session ID) for message passing, we add a unit of work to the batch

class BeginWork(webapp2.RequestHandler):
  # Can't use login_required decorator here because it is not
  # supported for POST requests
  def post(self):
    response = {'batch_populated': False}
      # Will raise an AttributeError if no current user
      user_id = users.get_current_user().user_id()
      # TODO: return 400 if not logged in
      work = []
      for row, column in RandomRowColumnOrdering(8, 8):
        args = (row, column, user_id)
        work.append((SendColor, args, {}))  # No keyword args
      PopulateBatch(user_id, work)
      response['batch_populated'] = True
      # TODO: Consider logging traceback.format_exception(*sys.exc_info()) here

Finally, for routing applications within our app, we define:

app = webapp2.WSGIApplication([('/begin-work', BeginWork),
                               ('/', MainPage)],

and specify

- url: /.*

in app.yaml; to use WSGI apps, the App Engine runtime must be python27.

Client Side Javascript and jQuery

In the template main.html we use jQuery to make AJAX requests and manage the CSS for each square in our "quilt". We also define some other Javascript functions for interacting with the App Engine Channel API. In the HTML <head> element we load the Channel Javascript API, and in the <body> element we open a channel using the {{ token }} passed in to the template:

  <script src="/_ah/channel/jsapi"></script>
  <script type="text/javascript">
   channel = new goog.appengine.Channel('{{ token }}');
   socket =;
   socket.onerror = function() { console.log('Socket error'); };
   socket.onclose = function() { console.log('Socket closed'); };

In addition to onerror and onclose, we define more complex functions for the onopen and onmessage callbacks.

First, when the socket has been opened, we send a POST request to /begin-work to signal that the channel is ready for communication. If the response indicates that the batch of workers has been initialized successfully, we call a method setStatus which will reveal the progress spinner:

socket.onopen = function() {
  $.post('/begin-work', function(data) {
    var response = JSON.parse(data);
    if (response.batch_populated) {
      setStatus('Loading began');

As we defined in part one, each SendColor worker sends back a message along the channel representing a row, column pair and a color. On message receipt, we use these messages to set the background color of the corresponding square to the color provided:

socket.onmessage = function(msg) {
  var response = JSON.parse(;
  var squareIndex = 8*response.row + response.column;
  var squareId = '#square' + squareIndex.toString();
  $(squareId).css('background-color', response.color);

As you can see from squareId, each square in the table generated by the template has an HMTL ID so we can specifically target it.


In the final post, we'll define the PopulateBatch function and explore the ndb models and Task Queue operations that make it work.