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Enchannel is a lightweight spec for flexible communications between a frontend, like the notebook or jupyter-sidecar, and a backend kernel (the runtime, like Python, Julia, or R). Enchannel does not specify the implementation or how the communications are constructed or destructed.




The core functionality of the notebook is to send messages from a frontend to a backend, and from a backend to a frontend (or many frontends). In the case of the Jupyter/IPython notebook, it communicates over websockets (which in turn reach out to ØMQ on the backend).

What if...?

What if you want to serve the same HTML and Javascript for the notebook application itself while being able to work in a native ØMQ environment? What if websockets are fairly restricted in your working *ahem* corporate environment and you need to send data via POST and receive streaming updates using server-sent events?


Well, we'd need a nice, clean way to abstract the transport layer. As Jupyter is messages all the way down, hooking up a series of event emitters, all with the same interface, is one abstraction. That's definitely do-able.

Instead, let's rely on Observables: asynchronous data streams, from the future. Observables, as flexible transport, are the multi-valued promise we've all been waiting for:

Single return value Mutiple return values
Pull/Synchronous/Interactive Object Iterables (Array, Set, Map, Object)
Push/Asynchronous/Reactive Promise Observable

Note: The enchannel spec uses RxJS's observables implementation.

enchannel your data

The spec

Kernel communications are described by a single object containing subjects, each corresponding to a communication channel of the kernel instance. There will be between four and five channels:

const {
  heartbeat, // (optional)
} = channelsObject;  

For more information see the Jupyter client docs.

Relying on RxJS's implementation of subjects means the streams can be handled like so:

iopub.filter(msg => msg.header.msg_type === 'execute_result')
     .map(msg =>
     .subscribe(x => { console.log(`DATA: ${util.inspect(x)}`)})

As a benefit of subjects, we can go ahead and submit messages to the underlying transport:

var message = {
  header: {
    msg_id: `execute_${uuid.v4()}`,
    username: '',
    session: '00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000',
    msg_type: 'execute_request',
    version: '5.0',
  content: {
    code: 'print("woo")',
    silent: false,
    store_history: true,
    user_expressions: {},
    allow_stdin: false,
};; // send the message

Messages observed from these Subjects are all immutable, not by convention but through a recursive Object.freeze.

Note that heartbeat is not included in the spec above primarily because it's an implementation by-product and may end up being deprecated based on the chosen development approach.

What's in this repo? Convenience.

In addition to the spec doc itself (the text above) this repo contains convenience functions for enchannel implementations and consumers. To use these functions install this package with npm:

npm install enchannel

The utility functions included are described below.


Checks to see if one message is child to another. Accepts two arguments, parent and child, both of which are Jupyter message objects. To use as a conditional:

const enchannel = require('enchannel');
if (enchannel.isChildMessage(parent, child)) {
  console.log('is child');

It will probably make more sense to use it as an observable filter. In the example below, parent is a Jupyter message object and channels.iopub is an RxJS observable:

const enchannel = require('enchannel');
const isChildMessage = enchannel.isChildMessage.bind(null, parent);
const childMessages = channels.iopub.filter(isChildMessage);


Creates a Jupyter message object that accepts three arguments:

  • username: string
  • session: string, guid unique to the current session
  • msg_type: string, type of message being sent

This full example shows how you'd setup the session and username, and then create and send a shutdown request:

channels = ...connected using an enchannel backend...

// Created once with the channels
const uuid = require('uuid');
const session = uuid.v4();
const username = process.env.LOGNAME || process.env.USER ||
  process.env.LNAME || process.env.USERNAME;

// Create the shutdown request method
const enchannel = require('enchannel');
const shutdownRequest = enchannel.createMessage(username, session, 'shutdown_request');
shutdownRequest.content = { restart: false };

// Send it
// Before sending, don't forget to subscribe to the channel you are sending on!  In practice
// there is more code involved here, because you'd want to filter the messages your subscribing
// to for messages that are child to the one that you send. => { /* ... */ });;


Sends a shutdown request Jupyter message to the kernel and completes the observables. Accepts three arguments:

  • channels: object, enchannel channels object
  • username, string
  • session, string, guid unique to the current session
  • restart: optional boolean, whether the shutdown request is actually a restart request

The following example shows how this method would be used:

const enchannel = require('enchannel');
console.log('begin shutdown');
enchannel.shutdownRequest(channels, username, session, restart).then(() => {
  console.log('finished shutting down');

Develop with us

To contribute to the spec or convenience functions, clone this repo and install it by running the following from the repo root:

npm install

Before contributing changes to the utility functions, be kind to your peers and check if the unit tests pass locally by running:

npm test