Design of a reworked implementation of socket, ssl, and select modules for Jython, using Netty 4.
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This spike captures a snapshot of the work prior to it being completed and merged into Jython trunk. In particular, UDP, server sockets, poll, etc, etc, are now implemented. 100% of test_socket tests are passing, 100% of the requests test suite, and pip now works.

But this document is still useful for understanding the design. At some point, it should be updated howewver.


The socket, select, and ssl modules provide the core, low-level networking semantics for Python. However, implementing these modules in their entirety is difficult for Jython given some differences between these APIs and the underlying Java platform. This is especially true with respect to supporting IO completions on nonblocking sockets (using either select or poll) and SSL handshaking.

This spike demonstrates with working code that for Jython 2.7 we can use Netty 4 to readily implement these core semantics, with minor exceptions. In particular, this spike mostly looks at the implications of implementing the select function, which is both minimally documented and tested in Python. The other major element addressed is the management of Netty's thread pool, especially with respect to cleaning up a PySystemState; such management is quite easy to implement in practice.

What was not covered

This has intentionally been a limited spike, which is a generally good thing to do with spikes.

In particular, the milestone for releasing Jython 2.7 beta 2 is to support pip, which in turn requires support for requests, which in turn is blocking on nonblocking SSL support for peer (client) sockets.

So this means there's no support for server sockets in this spike; however I did some quick analysis of the Netty docs that suggests that such support should be straightforward. As a fallback - although this should not be necessary - there's an existing solution in Jython trunk for server sockets without SSL, blocking or not.

Supporting datagram (UDP) sockets has a similar fallback.

Of the remaining issues to be addressed, still to be done is support for exceptions. In particular, it is not clear that calling select with an list of sockets in exception is a well-defined, cross-platform concept for even CPython. So while appropriate mapping of exceptions for socket methods may be a potential risk, it is likely mitigated by the lack of good cross platform definition of exceptions, say Unix vs Windows.

Mapping Python socket semantics to Java

Common usage of blocking sockets in Python is quite similar to what Java readily supports with blocking sockets; consequently Jython has for some time supported such sockets. The difficulty arises with respect to nonblocking sockets as used with the select module:

  • Java's Selectable sockets (SocketChannel, ServerSocketChannel) have a different API than blocking sockets (Socket, ServerSocket). Because they are different implementations, it is not possible in Java to switch from blocking to nonblocking. Unfortunately, it seems to be a fairly common pattern for Python code to switch from blocking to nonblocking support, generally to avoid such issues as managing SSL handshaking asynchronously. (I'm not aware of code going the opposite direction.)

  • No direct support for working with SSL in a nonblocking way. Java supports SSLSocket and SSLServerSocket, but not a SocketChannel variant. Instead, one has to work explicitly with the SSL handshaking steps using SSLEngine, which does not correspond to Python semantics (except perhaps with respect to observability of the completions of steps by the select function`).

The current implementation in Jython 2.5 (and current Jython trunk) does have a socket and select implementation that works around the first problem, but at the cost of significant complexity in additional corner cases and known warts.

So unification will be a big win.

Netty 4 allows us to sidestep both these issues seen previously in Jython 2.5, add SSL, and achieve this desired unification. We make the following observations in this spike:

  • As should be expected, we can layer blocking functionality on a common nonblocking implementation. But this is especially easy to do in Netty, where making nonblocking ops be blocking is simply a matter of waiting on a ChannelFuture, with possible timeout.

  • Netty in particular mostly eliminates the need to manage any aspect of SSL, excepting its setup in a channel pipeline.

  • The key challenge then is to implement IO completion support.

Implementing IO completions

First, Netty's completion model is generally edge-based, in other words some change has happened (perhaps). In contrast, Python's select and poll are level-based: a socket is now ready to read, for example. However, it is easy to layer a level-based model on an edge-based model: simply add a test - is it ready to read? - after getting a notification.

(Note that such testing can potentially race if multiple threads are say selecting and reading on the same socket. Sockets in general are not threadsafe this way, however.)

Such ready predicates work well with a model of using condition variables for such notifications, due to inherent quality of CVs that they may experience spurious wakeups.

With that in mind, there are two types of IO completions in Netty:

  • ChannelFuture - such futures mostly correspond to a discrete state transition of the channel itself - connected to peer (implies DNS lookup, if necessary); SSL has handshaked; a peer socket has closed its side of the channel. Futures are also used for write completions (not necessarily at peer, of course).

  • Channel handlers - Netty supports a pipeline for each channel, divided into inbound and outbound, where handlers on each side of the pipeline handle incoming/outgoing events. In particular, we are interested in ChannelInboundHandler and its events. Some of these events carry messages, as wrapped in Netty's ByteBuf. For example, in the case of channelRead, we really do know it's ready to read since we have a message to read.

The reason for distinction in Netty is that it's both incredibly useful to have explicit pipelines; it also avoids additional synchronization overhead when going from one handler to another; and it works well with the ref counting used by ByteBuf. For our purposes, it really doesn't matter that this division exists.

Specific mapping

Rather than directly map to be ready-to-read/ready-to-write/error state, notify condition variable for selector, then test levels in the selector:

Edge event Notes
socket.send Is this really an edge event?
SocketChannel.closeFuture recv will see an empty string (sentinel for peer close)
SSLHandler.handshakeFuture Also initiates post-connect phase that sets up PythonInboundHandler

(CIH = ChannelInboundHandler)

Notification from socket to selector is straightforward. Each socket manages a list of listeners (selector, registered poll objects) using a CopyOnWriteArrayList; normally we would expect a size of no more than 1, but Python select/poll semantics do allow multiple listeners.

The usual pattern of working with a condition variable is further extended in the case of the select mechanism, because we need to explicitly register and unregister the selector for each socket. To avoid races of unregistration and notification, this should be always nested in the acquisition of condition variable and the unregistration always performed upon exit. Having register_selectors be a context manager ensures this is the case:

with, self._register_sockets(chain(self.rlist, self.wlist, self.xlist)):
  while True:
    selected_rlist = set(sock for sock in self.rlist if sock._readable())
    selected_wlist = set(sock for sock in self.wlist if sock._writable())
    selected_xlist = []  # FIXME need to determine exception support
    if selected_rlist or selected_wlist:
      return sorted(selected_rlist), sorted(selected_wlist), sorted(selected_xlist)

SSL handshaking and events

To avoid races with SSL handshaking, it is important to add the PythonInboundHandler after handshaking completes. I need some actual experience here, but I believe it's not necessary to manipulate the pipeline again in the case of SSL renegotiation - it seems to be only a race of reading the first handshaking (encrypted) message. To solve this, the listener on the handshake does this setup in a post_connect step.

Note that we could potentially observe the handshake process by seeing SSL_ERROR_WANT_READ and SSL_ERROR_WANT_WRITE exceptions in the SSLSocket.do_handshake() method, then requiring the user to call select, but this is pointless. The documentation of do_handshake() makes this clear:

Perform a TLS/SSL handshake. If this is used with a non-blocking socket, it may raise SSLError with an arg[0] of SSL_ERROR_WANT_READ or SSL_ERROR_WANT_WRITE, in which case it must be called again until it completes successfully.


The operative term is may, so we do not have to support this behavior and just let the threadpool do it.

This is seen in the example in the docs, which simulates blocking behavior on nonblocking SSL sockets:

while True:
    except ssl.SSLError as err:
        if err.args[0] == ssl.SSL_ERROR_WANT_READ:
  [s], [], [])
        elif err.args[0] == ssl.SSL_ERROR_WANT_WRITE:
  [], [s], [])

Such code will never see ssl.SSL_ERROR_WANT_READ and ssl.SSL_ERROR_WANT_WRITE exceptions, but will continue to be correct.

Although not investigated in this spike, implementing ssl.unwrap_socket should be easy given that a SslHandler can be added/removed from the channel's pipeline at any time.

Implementing poll

The select module defines a poll object, which supports more efficient completions than the select function. This spike didn't look at specific coding of poll, but it appears to be straightforward to implement:

  • poll.register registers this selector for a given socket. The selector in turn is edge notified and checks for any registered levels. Unlike select, we need a selector for each socket to maintain O(1) behavior.

  • Use a blocking queue to collect any registered polling events of the desired type. As with select, such events indicate levels, so this level must be tested before putting in the queue.

  • poll.unregister simply removes the poll selector from the list of selectors for a socket, returning KeyError if not in the list.

  • poll.poll - poll the blocking queue for any events with an appropriate timeout (specified in milliseconds), include zero (default).

To be determined is the possibility of supporting POLLPRI; other events are straightforward.

A minor issue is that poll works with file descriptors, not sockets.

Writing to the socket

Implementing socket.send is straightforward, although this is a good example of where there's been no work on figuring out precise exceptions yet:

    def send(self, data):
        if not self.can_write:
            raise Exception("Cannot write to closed socket")  # FIXME use actual exception
        future =
        self._handle_channel_future(future, "send")

Reading from the socket

Netty does not directly support reading from a socket, as needed by socket.recv. Instead any code needs to implement a handler, specifically overriding ChannelInboundHandler.channelRead, then do something with the received message:

    def channelRead(self, ctx, msg):
        msg.retain()  # bump ref count so it can be used in the blocking queue

In particular, each socket in this emulation has an incoming queue (a java.util.concurrent.LinkedBlockingQueue) which buffers any read messages. The one complexity in Netty is that messages are ByteBuf, which is reference counted by Netty, so the ref count needs to be increased by one to be used (temporarily) outside of Netty.

This makes socket.recv reasonably simple, with three cases to be handled:

    def recv(self, bufsize, flags=0):
        msg = self._get_incoming_msg()
        if msg is None:
            return None
        elif msg is _PEER_CLOSED:
            return ""
        msg_length = msg.readableBytes()
        buf = jarray.zeros(min(msg_length, bufsize), "b")
        if msg.readableBytes() == 0:
            msg.release()  # return msg ByteBuf back to Netty's pool
            self.incoming_head = None
        return buf.tostring()

(flags is not looked at, but as usual, this is the sort of thing that's likely to be fairly non-portable. TBD.)

The interesting case here is breaking up a received message into bufsize chunks. The other interesting detail is that this currently involves two copies, one to the byte[] array allocated by jarray (necessary to move the data out of Netty) and then to a PyString (this second copy can be avoided by implementing and using socket.recv_into with a bytearray).

The helper method socket._get_incoming_msg handles blocking (with possible timeout) and nonblocking cases. In particular, because LinkedBlockingQueue does not allow for pushing back onto the front of a queue, the socket wrapper keeps a separate head:

    def _get_incoming_msg(self):
        if self.incoming_head is None:
            if self.blocking:
                if self.timeout is None:
                    self.incoming_head = self.incoming.take()
                    self.incoming_head = self.incoming.poll(
                        self.timeout * TO_NANOSECONDS, TimeUnit.NANOSECONDS)
                self.incoming_head = self.incoming.poll()  # Could be None

        # Only return _PEER_CLOSED once
        msg = self.incoming_head
        if msg is _PEER_CLOSED:
            self.incoming_head = None
        return msg

As usual with such code, this method cannot be called concurrently by multiple threads, but such thread safety is not guaranteed by socket.recv.

Potential issues

Jar overhead

To use Netty 4 with Jython, the following jars (as of the 4.0.13 version) are needed, for a total of approx 958K:

Jar Size
netty-buffer-4.0.13.Final.jar 138K
netty-codec-4.0.13.Final.jar 134K
netty-common-4.0.13.Final.jar 336K
netty-handler-4.0.13.Final.jar 72K
netty-transport-4.0.13.Final.jar 278K

So this is a minimal addition to Jython's dependencies.

Writing in Python

This spike is implemented in Python, specifically "pure Jython" (Python code using Java). Except for some isolated hot spots, performance is not likely to be improved by rewriting in Java because everything is in terms of bulk ops.

Namespace import

Let's assume the actual implementation is written in Python. In the ant build, Jython uses the Jar Jar Links tool to rewrite Java namespaces to avoid potential conflicts with certain containers, however, this rewriting does not (and reliably cannot) take in account any using Python code. In particular, this means that use of the io.netty namespace may actually be in

Supporting either is simple: simple do the following in an underlying _socket support module to pull in the Netty namespace:

    import as netty
except ImportError:
    import io.netty as netty

Thread pools

The next potential issue is that Netty uses a ThreadPoolGroup to manage channels (including SSLEngine tasks) and the corresponding event loop. Each group is connected with the Bootstrap factory, which manages socket options. So _socket will also instantiate a common NioThreadPoolGroup (possibly both worker and boss) for all subsequent operations.

In general, Jython avoids creating any threads except those that the user creates. (The one current exception is the use of Runtime.addShutdownHook.) This is in part because threads can cause issues with class unloading.

However, this is straightforward to mitigate as seen in the spike. At the module level, _socket simply uses sys.registerCloser(callback) to register a callback hook that does group.shutdown(). Although shutdown is a deprecated method, shutdownGracefully() takes too long. Here's why we can use it. In general, we should expect code that is using sockets has done its own graceful shutdown at the app level. Therefore, any produced errors will demonstrate where this code has not in fact done so. Given that the thread pool is composed of daemon threads, this is likely not an issue regardless.

Note that sys is equivalent to PySystemState; this cleanup is called by both the JVM shutdown hook process as well as PySystemState.cleanup and PythonInterpreter.cleanup. In addition, Bootstrap/ServerBootstrap, SSLEngine, and other resources are fairly lightweight, so they can be simply constructed as needed and collected by GC as usual.

Security manager considerations

In certain cases, imports of _socket and usage of Python sockets may fail due to security manager restrictions:

  • SecurityManager.checkAccess can restrict the construction of new threads for a given thread group, which could cause the failure of the thread pool.

  • SecurityManager.checkConnect and SecurityManager.checkListen can be used to block the construction of peer and server sockets respectively.

My understanding is that restricting creation of threads is fairly rare in containers, and would presumably be subsumed under being able to actually open sockets. But it's up to the specific security manager. In general, this is not an issue, especially for the use case of supporting pip, which will be run from the command line or as part of some tooling.

Late binding of socket.bind

In Python it is possible to get the actual ephemeral socket address before listen (or less likely, connect):

import socket
s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
s.bind(("localhost", 0))  # request ephemeral port by using 0
host, port = s.getsockname()

In Java, sockets can only be either client (SocketChannel) or server sockets (ServerSocketChannel), unlike how they are exposed in the C API. Therefore such bind settings are instead only intent until either listen or connect allows this to be realized. It's not clear to me the current behavior of returning port=0 is correct in this case however. See the section on deferred creation of sockets in the design notes of Jython's current socket implementation.

Server socket support

Implementing socket.accept requires using a child handler to setup newly created child sockets. This child handler can readily put on a blocking queue for such newly created child sockets (per Python socket wrapper):

class ChildInitializer(ChannelInitializer):

    def __init__(self, parent_wrapper):
        self.parent_wrapper = parent_wrapper 

    def initChannel(self, ch):
	# ensure channel is setup per parent
	if self.parent_wrapper.ssl_wrapped:
	    pipeline = ch.pipeline()
	    engine = SSLContext.getDefault().createSSLEngine()
            pipeline.addLast("ssl", SslHandler(engine)

    	child_sock = self.parent_wrapper.create_child_socket(ch)
	# above ensures calling something like:
	# self.parent_wrapper.new_children.put(child_sock)

	# also publish event for for
        # interested listeners (if any)

socket.accept then simply looks like the following:

class _socketobject(object):

    def accept(self):
        if self.nonblocking:
            child_sock = self.new_children.poll(0, TimeUnit.SECONDS)
            child_sock = self.new_children.take()
        return child_sock, child_sock.address


This section captures various observations that were made outside of the main narrative of this document.


The socket module currently provides a comprehensive mapping of Java exceptions to Python versions. This needs to be revisited by looking at how Netty 4 surfaces exceptions, in particular, are these wrapped, or correspond to what we have already mapped, due to the underlying implementation?

Other functionality

The socket, ssl, and select modules provide other functionality; however, much of this is already complete and can be copied over from the existing implementation or my experimental branch (eg peer certificate introspection).

Managing listeners

Although Jython backs set with a ConcurrentHashMap, this is not sufficient for a list of listeners, which can be concurrently modified. Although the semantics of weakly consistent iteration of CHM is sufficient for notification, Jython actually follows what CPython does and will detect a change in size of a set during set iteration, throwing a RuntimeError if seen.

Condition variable

In general, the pattern of using condition variables is as follows:

with cv:  # 1
    while True:
        result = some_test()  # 2
	if result:
	    return result

This snippet (1) acquires the condition variable cv such that it always is released upon exit of the code block, such as a return; (2) ensures both a non-spurious wakeup and potentially no waiting by directly testing. Other threads using cv can progress given that cv.wait immediately releases cv, then reacquires when woken up.

Selectable files

Jython currently does not support selectable files. However, Netty (and the underlying Java platform, I believe this may require NIO2, which is part of Java 7), now does support completions on files. However, this would require revisiting our own implementation of Python New IO. Lastly, JRuby now supports selectable stdin, but presumably this requires bolting in a suitable stdin plugin for this functionality into Netty.

Possible Netty plugins

In addition to the stdin plugin for Netty, there a couple more to potentially consider that would require writing a Netty plugin:

  • Unix domain sockets. The Java native runtime project supports Unix domain sockets.

  • Raw sockets. Standard Java libraries do not support raw sockets, but this could be done with something like RockSaw (Apache licensed).

With such a plugin, and with some minimal extra glue, this should then just work with the approach specified here.

File descriptors for sockets

socket.fileno() returns a file descriptor, and this is used with poll in particular. However, a file descriptor is not really a meaningful concept in Java, so it seems most straightforward to simply return the socket object itself. (Note that file descriptors in the previous Jython implementation are objects, of type The alternative is to maintain a weak bidrectional map of integers to sockets, which seems both pointless and a lot of work.

(Bidirectional map is necessary to go from fd to socket, for poll support above; and to go the reverse direction to support fileno(). It must be weak with respect to any sockets to ensure GC can happen of sockets.)

Likewise fromfd is not really a meaningful concept for Java, so it should not be made available. In particular, as seen in this example, using fromfd is much like working with fork, another concept not portable to Java.