Using Reg


Reg implements predicate dispatch and multiple registries:

Predicate dispatch

We all know about dynamic dispatch: when you call a method on an instance it is dispatched to the implementation in its class, and the class is determined from the first argument (self). This is known as single dispatch.

Reg implements multiple dispatch. This is a generalization of single dispatch: multiple dispatch allows you to dispatch on the class of other arguments besides the first one.

Reg actually implements predicate dispatch, which is a further generalization that allows dispatch on arbitrary properties of arguments, instead of just their class.

The Morepath web framework is built with Reg. It uses Reg’s predicate dispatch system. Its full power can be seen in its view lookup system.

This document explains how to use Reg. Various specific patterns are documented in Patterns.

Multiple registries

Reg supports an advanced application architecture pattern where you have multiple predicate dispatch registries in the same runtime. This means that dispatch can behave differently depending on runtime context. You do this by using dispatch methods that you associate with a class that represents the application context. When you switch the context class, you switch the behavior.

Morepath uses context-based dispatch to support its application composition system, where one application can be mounted into another.

See Context-based dispatch for this advanced application pattern.

Reg is designed with a caching layer that allows it to support these features efficiently.


Let’s examine a short example. First we use the reg.dispatch() decorator to define a function that dispatches based on the class of its obj argument:

import reg

def title(obj):
   return "we don't know the title"

We want this function to return the title of its obj argument.

Now we create a few example classes for which we want to be able to use the title fuction we defined above.

class TitledReport(object):
   def __init__(self, title):
      self.title = title

class LabeledReport(object):
   def __init__(self, label):
      self.label = label

If we call title with a TitledReport instance, we want it to return its title attribute:

def titled_report_title(obj):
    return obj.title

The title.register decorator registers the function titled_report_title as an implementation of title when obj is an instance of TitleReport.

There is also a more programmatic way to register implementations. Take for example, the implementation of title with a LabeledReport instance, where we want it to return its label attribute:

def labeled_report_title(obj):
    return obj.label

We can register it by explicitely invoking title.register:

title.register(labeled_report_title, obj=LabeledReport)

Now the generic title function works on both titled and labeled objects:

>>> titled = TitledReport('This is a report')
>>> labeled = LabeledReport('This is also a report')
>>> title(titled)
'This is a report'
>>> title(labeled)
'This is also a report'

What is going on and why is this useful at all? We present a worked out example next.

Dispatch functions

A Hypothetical CMS

Let’s look at how Reg works in the context of a hypothetical content management system (CMS).

This hypothetical CMS has two kinds of content item (we’ll add more later):

  • a Document which contains some text.
  • a Folder which contains a bunch of content entries, for instance Document instances.

This is the implementation of our CMS:

class Document(object):
   def __init__(self, text):
       self.text = text

class Folder(object):
   def __init__(self, entries):
       self.entries = entries

size methods

Now we want to add a feature to our CMS: we want the ability to calculate the size (in bytes) of any content item. The size of the document is defined as the length of its text, and the size of the folder is defined as the sum of the size of everything in it.

If we have control over the implementation of Document and Folder we can implement this feature easily by adding a size method to both classes:

class Document(object):
   def __init__(self, text):
       self.text = text

   def size(self):
       return len(self.text)

class Folder(object):
   def __init__(self, entries):
       self.entries = entries

   def size(self):
       return sum([entry.size() for entry in self.entries])

And then we can simply call the .size() method to get the size:

>>> doc = Document('Hello world!')
>>> doc.size()
>>> doc2 = Document('Bye world!')
>>> doc2.size()
>>> folder = Folder([doc, doc2])
>>> folder.size()

The Folder size code is generic; it doesn’t care what the entries inside it are; if they have a size method that gives the right result, it will work. If a new content item Image is defined and we provide a size method for this, a Folder instance that contains Image instances will still be able to calculate its size. Let’s try this:

class Image(object):
    def __init__(self, bytes):
        self.bytes = bytes

    def size(self):
        return len(self.bytes)

When we add an Image instance to the folder, the size of the folder can still be calculated:

>>> image = Image('abc')
>>> folder.entries.append(image)
>>> folder.size()

Cool! So we’re done, right?

Adding size from outside

So far we didn’t need Reg at all. But in a real world CMS we aren’t always in the position to change the content classes themselves. We may be dealing with a content management system core where we cannot control the implementation of Document and Folder. Or perhaps we can, but we want to keep our code modular, in independent packages. So how would we add a size calculation feature in an extension package?

We can fall back on good-old Python functions instead. We separate out the size logic from our classes:

def document_size(item):
    return len(item.text)

def folder_size(item):
    return sum([document_size(entry) for entry in item.entries])

Generic size

There is a problem with the above function-based implementation however: folder_size is not generic anymore, but now depends on document_size. It fails when presented with a folder with an Image in it:

>>> folder_size(folder)
Traceback (most recent call last):
AttributeError: ...

To support Image we first need an image_size function:

def image_size(item):
   return len(item.bytes)

We can now write a generic size function to get the size for any item we give it:

def size(item):
    if isinstance(item, Document):
        return document_size(item)
    elif isinstance(item, Image):
        return image_size(item)
    elif isinstance(item, Folder):
        return folder_size(item)
    assert False, "Unknown item: %s" % item

With this, we can rewrite folder_size to use the generic size:

def folder_size(item):
    return sum([size(entry) for entry in item.entries])

Now our generic size function works:

>>> size(doc)
>>> size(image)
>>> size(folder)

All a bit complicated and hard-coded, but it works!

New File content

What if we want to write a new extension to our CMS that adds a new kind of folder item, the File, with a file_size function?

class File(object):
   def __init__(self, bytes):
       self.bytes = bytes

def file_size(item):
    return len(item.bytes)

We need to remember to adjust the generic size function so we can teach it about file_size as well. Annoying, tightly coupled, but sometimes doable.

But what if we are actually another party, and we have control of neither the basic CMS nor its size extension? We cannot adjust generic_size to teach it about File now! Uh oh!

Perhaps the implementers of the size extension anticipated this use case. They could have implemented size like this:

size_function_registry = {
   Document: document_size,
   Image: image_size,
   Folder: folder_size

def register_size(class_, function):
   size_function_registry[class_] = function

def size(item):
   return size_function_registry[item.__class__](item)

We can now use register_size to teach size how to get the size of a File instance:

register_size(File, file_size)

And it works:

>>> size(File('xyz'))

But this is quite a bit of custom work that the implementers need to do, and it involves a new API (register_size) to manipulate the size_function_registry. But it can be done.

New HtmlDocument content

What if we introduce a new HtmlDocument item that is a subclass of Document?

class HtmlDocument(Document):
    pass # imagine new html functionality here

Let’s try to get its size:

>>> htmldoc = HtmlDocument('<p>Hello world!</p>')
>>> size(htmldoc)
Traceback (most recent call last):
KeyError: ...

That doesn’t work! There’s nothing registered for the HtmlDocument class.

We need to remember to also call register_size for HtmlDocument. We can reuse document_size:

>>> register_size(HtmlDocument, document_size)

Now size will work:

>>> size(htmldoc)

This is getting rather complicated, requiring not only foresight and extra implementation work for the developers of size but also extra work for the person who wants to subclass a content item.

Hey, we should write a system that automates a lot of this, and gives us a universal registration API, making our life easier! And what if we want to switch behavior based on more than just one argument? Maybe you even want different dispatch behavior depending on application context? This is what Reg is for.

Doing this with Reg

Let’s see how we can implement size using Reg:

First we need our generic size function:

def size(item):
    raise NotImplementedError

This function raises NotImplementedError as we don’t know how to get the size for an arbitrary Python object. Not very useful yet. We need to be able to hook the actual implementations into it. To do this, we first need to transform the size function to a generic one:

import reg

size = reg.dispatch('item')(size)

We can actually spell these two steps in a single step, as reg.dispatch() can be used as decorator:

def size(item):
    raise NotImplementedError

What this says that when we call size, we want to dispatch based on the class of its item argument.

We can now register the various size functions for the various content items as implementations of size:

size.register(document_size, item=Document)
size.register(folder_size, item=Folder)
size.register(image_size, item=Image)
size.register(file_size, item=File)

size now works:

>>> size(doc)

It works for folder too:

>>> size(folder)

It works for subclasses too:

>>> size(htmldoc)

Reg knows that HtmlDocument is a subclass of Document and will find document_size automatically for you. We only have to register something for HtmlDocument if we want to use a special, different size function for HtmlDocument.

Multiple and predicate dispatch

Let’s look at an example where dispatching on multiple arguments is useful: a web view lookup system. Given a request object that represents a HTTP request, and a model instance ( document, icon, etc), we want to find a view function that knows how to make a representation of the model given the request. Information in the request can influence the representation. In this example we use a request_method attribute, which can be GET, POST, PUT, etc.

Let’s first define a Request class with a request_method attribute:

class Request(object):
    def __init__(self, request_method, body=''):
        self.request_method = request_method
        self.body = body

We’ve also defined a body attribute which contains text in case the request is a POST request.

We use the previously defined Document as the model class.

Now we define a view function that dispatches on the class of the model instance, and the request_method attribute of the request:

                lambda obj, request: request.request_method))
def view(obj, request):
    raise NotImplementedError

As you can see here we use match_instance and match_key instead of strings to specify how to dispatch.

If you use a string argument, this string names an argument and dispatch is based on the class of the instance you pass in. Here we use match_instance, which is equivalent to this: we have a obj predicate which uses the class of the obj argument for dispatch.

We also use match_key, which dispatches on the request_method attribute of the request; this attribute is a string, so dispatch is on string matching, not isinstance as with match_instance. You can use any Python immutable with match_key, not just strings.

We now define concrete views for Document and Image:

@view.register(request_method='GET', obj=Document)
def document_get(obj, request):
    return "Document text is: " + obj.text

@view.register(request_method='POST', obj=Document)
def document_post(obj, request):
    obj.text = request.body
    return "We changed the document"

Let’s also define them for Image:

@view.register(request_method='GET', obj=Image)
def image_get(obj, request):
    return obj.bytes

@view.register(request_method='POST', obj=Image)
def image_post(obj, request):
    obj.bytes = request.body
    return "We changed the image"

Let’s try it out:

>>> view(doc, Request('GET'))
'Document text is: Hello world!'
>>> view(doc, Request('POST', 'New content'))
'We changed the document'
>>> doc.text
'New content'
>>> view(image, Request('GET'))
>>> view(image, Request('POST', "new data"))
'We changed the image'
>>> image.bytes
'new data'

Dispatch methods

Rather than having a size function and a view function, we can also have a context class with size and view as methods. We need to use reg.dispatch_method instead of reg.dispatch to do this.

class CMS(object):

    def size(self, item):
        raise NotImplementedError

                      lambda self, obj, request: request.request_method))
    def view(self, obj, request):
        return "Generic content of {} bytes.".format(self.size(obj))

We can now register an implementation of CMS.size for a Document object:

def document_size_as_method(self, item):
    return len(item.text)

Note that this is almost the same as the function document_size we defined before: the only difference is the signature, with the additional self as the first argument. We can in fact use reg.methodify() to reuse such functions without an initial context argument:

from reg import methodify

CMS.size.register(methodify(folder_size), item=Folder)
CMS.size.register(methodify(image_size), item=Image)
CMS.size.register(methodify(file_size), item=File)

CMS.size now behaves as expected:

>>> cms = CMS()
>>> cms.size(Image("123"))
>>> cms.size(Document("12345"))

Similarly for the view method we can define:

@CMS.view.register(request_method='GET', obj=Document)
def document_get(self, obj, request):
    return "{}-byte-long text is: {}".format(
        self.size(obj), obj.text)

This works as expected as well:

>>> cms.view(Document("12345"), Request("GET"))
'5-byte-long text is: 12345'
>>> cms.view(Image("123"), Request("GET"))
'Generic content of 3 bytes.'

For more about how you can use dispatch methods and class-based context, see Context-based dispatch.

Lower level API

Component lookup

You can look up the implementation that a generic function would dispatch to without calling it. You can look that up by invocation arguments using the reg.Dispatch.by_args() method on the dispatch function or by predicate values using the reg.Dispatch.by_predicates() method:

>>> size.by_args(doc).component
<function document_size at 0x...>
>>> size.by_predicates(item=Document).component
<function document_size at 0x...>

Both methods return a reg.LookupEntry instance whose attributes, as we’ve just seen, include the dispatched implementation under the name component. Another interesting attribute is the actual key used for dispatching:

>>> view.by_predicates(request_method='GET', obj=Document).key
(<class 'Document'>, 'GET')
>>> view.by_predicates(obj=Image, request_method='POST').key
(<class 'Image'>, 'POST')

Getting all compatible implementations

As Reg supports inheritance, if a function like size has an implementation registered for a class, say Document, the same implementation will be available for any if its subclasses, like HtmlDocument:

>>> size.by_args(doc).component is size.by_args(htmldoc).component

The matches and all_matches attributes of reg.LookupEntry are an interator and the list, respectively, of all the registered components that are compatible with a particular instance, including those of base classes. Right now this is pretty boring as there’s only one of them:

>>> size.by_args(doc).all_matches
[<function document_size at ...>]
>>> size.by_args(htmldoc).all_matches
[<function document_size at ...>]

We can make this more interesting by registering a special htmldocument_size to handle HtmlDocument instances:

def htmldocument_size(doc):
   return len(doc.text) + 1 # 1 so we can see a difference

size.register(htmldocument_size, item=HtmlDocument)

size.all() for htmldoc now also gives back the more specific htmldocument_size:

>>> size.by_args(htmldoc).all_matches
[<function htmldocument_size at ...>, <function document_size at ...>]

The implementation are listed in order of decreasing specificity, with the first one as the one returned by the component attribute:

>>> size.by_args(htmldoc).component
<function htmldocument_size at ...>