A typed dictionary for Python... sorta.
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Aside from being a cheeky excuse to make people say things that sound sorta dirty, DictShield is a fast way to validate and trim the values in a dictionary. This is most useful to people building server-side API's that can't necessarily trust their inputs.

It is designed with MongoDB in mind but could be easily adapted to work with other storage systems.

The Design

DictShield specifically aims to provides helpers for a few types of common needs for server-side API designers.

  1. Transform some string of input into a Python dictionary.

  2. Validate keys as being certain types

  3. Remove keys we're not interested in.

  4. Provide helpers to remove keys in Mongo's representation before the data is sent to a user.

  5. Provide helpers for reshaping dictionaries depending on the intended consumer (eg. owner or random person).

DictShield also allows for object hierarchy's to mapped into dictionaries too. This is useful primarily to those who use DictShield to instantiate classes representing their data instead of just filtering dictionaries through the class's static methods.


There are a few ways to use DictShield. To introduce the concept, I'll show how Document classes can be instantiated and then converted to

  1. An object fit for mongo to store
  2. A dictionary safe for transmitting to the owner of the document
  3. A dictionary safe for transmitting to anyone on the site

Object Creation

This code is taken from dictshield/examples/creating_objects.py

Below is an example of a Media class holding one member.

from dictshield.document import Document
from dictshield.fields import StringField

class Media(Document):
    """Simple document that has one StringField member
    title = StringField(max_length=40)

You create the class just like you would any Python class. And we'll see how that class is represented in Mongo.

m = Media()
m.title = 'Misc Media'
print 'From Media class to mongo structure:\n\n    %s\n' % (m.to_mongo())

The output from this looks like:

    '_types': ['Media'],
    '_cls': 'Media',
    'title': u'Misc Media'

We see two keys that come from Media's meta class: _types and _cls. _types stores the hierachy of Document classes used to create the document. _cls stores the specific class instance. This becomes more obvious when I subclass Media to create the Movie document below.

import datetime
from dictshield.fields import IntField

class Movie(Media):
    """Subclass of Foo. Adds bar and limits publicly shareable
    fields to only 'bar'.
    _public_fields = ['title','year']
    year = IntField(min_value=1950, 
    personal_thoughts = StringField(max_length=255)

If you feel these fields are too much overhead, you can turn them off by adding a dictionary called meta to the Movie class with the key allow_inheritance set to False.

Noticed we've added a _public_fields member to our document. This list is used to store which fields are safe for transmitting to someone who doesn't own this particular document. You'll notice personal_thoughts is not in that list.

Here's an instance of the Movie class:

mv = Movie()
mv.title = u'Total Recall'
mv.year = 1990
mv.personal_thoughts = u'I wish I had three hands...'

Next, we'll see what happens when we print this document in different forms. Perhaps you're wondering what I mean?

A web system typically has tiers involved with data access, depending on the user logged in. My most common need is to differentiate between internal system data (the raw document), data fields for the owner of the data (internal data removed) and the data fields that are shareable with the general public.

This is the raw document as stored in Mongo:

    'personal_thoughts': u'I wish I had three hands...', 
    '_types': ['Media', 'Media.Movie'], 
    'title': u'Total Recall', 
    '_cls': 'Media.Movie',
    'year': 1990

Here is a document safe for transmitting to the owner of the document. We achieve this by calling Movie.make_json_ownersafe. This function is a classmethod available on the Document class. It knows to remove _cls and _types because they are in Document._internal_fields. You can add any fields that should be treated as internal to your system by adding a list named _private_fields to your Document and listing each field.

    'personal_thoughts': u'I wish I had three hands...',
    'title': u'Total Recall',
    'year': 1990

A dictionary safe for transmitting to the public, not just the owner. We achieve this by calling make_json_publicsafe.

    'title': u'Total Recall',
    'year': 1990


This code is taken from dictshield/examples/validation.py

For the first example, we'll instantiate a User instance and then fill in some fields to focus simply on validation.

Here is an example of a User document.

from dictshield.document import Document
from dictshield.fields import MD5Field
from dictshield.fields import StringField

class User(Document):
    _public_fields = ['name']
    secret = MD5Field()
    name = StringField(required=True, max_length=50)
    bio = StringField(max_length=100)

We'll populate a User instance with a bogus looking secret.

u = User()
u.secret = 'whatevz'
u.name = 'test hash'

Now, we'll validate this. Failed validation throws DictPunch exceptions, so we'll protect against that in our code.

print 'Attempting first validation...'
except DictPunch, dp:
    print 'DictPunch caught: %s' % (dp))

You might notice that the field which failed is also (new) reported. It's available on the exception as field_name and field_value. The reason is stored as reason.

The exception prints in this pattern: field_name(field_value): reason

DictPunch caught: secret(whatevz):  MD5 value is wrong length

Anyway, in this particular case an MD5 was expected, but we had the string 'whatevz', which is not an MD5.

This is what the MD5Field looks like. Notice that it's basically just an implementation of a validate() function, which raises a DictPunch exception if validation fails.

class MD5Field(BaseField):
    """A field that validates input as resembling an MD5 hash.
    hash_length = 32
    def validate(self, value):
        if len(value) != MD5Field.hash_length:
            raise DictPunch('MD5 value is wrong length',
                            self.field_name, value)
            x = int(value, 16)
            raise DictPunch('MD5 value is not hex',
                            self.field_name, value)

Back to validation...

It's possible we don't want to instantiate a bunch of objects just to validate some fields, so let's see what it looks like to use a more typical process: go from python dictionary into a validated mongo bson structure via a DictShield Document definition.

Remember the User class we defined earlier?

class User(Document):
    _public_fields = ['name']
    secret = MD5Field()
    name = StringField(required=True, max_length=50)
    bio = StringField(max_length=100)

Here is a dictionary we'll use to seed the document. Notice the key names are the same as the field named in the document.

total_input = {
    'secret': 'e8b5d682452313a6142c10b045a9a135',
    'name': 'J2D2',
    'bio': 'J2D2 loves music',
    'rogue_field': 'MWAHAHA',

Let's validate the dictionary. This only checks if the fields in the User class have valid entries in the dictionary. This also makes sure that any required fields are present and validated.

except DictPunch, dp:
    print('  DictPunch caught: %s\n' % (dp))

This is the first time we've seen validate_class_fields(...). This is a classmethod which throws a DictPunch when validation on any field fails.

The keyword validate_all is available if you'd prefer to check every field and get a list of DictPunch's, if found, as a return value.

exceptions = User.validate_class_fields(total_input, validate_all=True)

Once validation has passed, we can pass the dictionary into our User class, to map dictionary keys to field names, and call to_mongo() to get a mongo safe dictionary mapped to the design of the User class.

user_doc = User(**total_input).to_mongo()

The values in total_input are matched against fields found in the DictShield Document class and anything else is discarded.

user_doc now looks like below with rogue_field removed.

    '_types': ['User'], 
    'bio': u'J2D2 loves music', 
    'secret': 'e8b5d682452313a6142c10b045a9a135', 
    'name': u'J2D2', 
    '_cls': 'User'