A Python class for observing (dynamic) lists of Twisted deferreds
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txdlo - a (Twisted) deferred list observer

txdlo is a Python package that provides a class called DeferredListObserver.

As you might guess, DeferredListObserver lets you observe callback and errback events from a list of Twisted deferreds. You can add observers that will be passed information about deferreds firing. You can add deferreds to the observed list at any time, which is very useful if you're dynamically creating deferreds that you want to monitor.

The class can be used to easily build functions or classes that provide deferreds that fire when arbitrary combinations of events from the observed deferreds have occurred.

For example you can write functions or classes that support deferreds that

  • Implement Twisted's DeferredList or simple variants of it, or that let you separate the various behaviors of DeferredList into simpler functions.
  • Provide a deferred that fires when N of the observed deferreds have fired.
  • Provide a deferred that ignores errors until one of the observed deferred succeeds, only firing with an error if all the observed deferreds fail.
  • Or (a more involved example), suppose you have 3 methods that can return you a user's avatar: a fast local cache, a filesystem, and a slow network call to Gravatar. You want to write a deferred-returning function that launches all three lookups at once and fires its deferred with the first answer. But if the cache and/or filesystems fails first, you don't want to trigger an error, you instead want to take the result from Gravatar and add it to the cache and/or filesystem, as well firing the returned deferred with the result (wherever it comes from). Only if all three lookups fail do you want to errback the deferred you returned.


Here's a simplified version of Twisted's DeferredList class, written as a function.

from twisted.internet.defer import Deferred, succeed
from txdlo import DeferredListObserver

def deferredList(deferreds):
    Return a deferred that fires with a list of (success, result) tuples,
    'success' being a boolean.

    @param deferreds: a C{list} of deferreds.
    @return: a L{twisted.internet.defer.Deferred} that fires as above.
    if len(deferreds) == 0:
        return succeed([])

    dlo = DeferredListObserver(maintainHistory=True)
    map(dlo.append, deferreds)
    deferred = Deferred()

    def observer(*ignore):
        if dlo.pendingCount == 0:
            # Everything in the list has fired.
            resultList = [None] * len(deferreds)
            for index, success, value in dlo.history:
                resultList[index] = (success, value)


    return deferred

A DeferredListObserver maintains three counts:

  • successCount: the number of observed deferreds that have fired successfully.
  • failureCount: the number of observed deferreds that have errored.
  • pendingCount: the number of observed deferreds that have not yet fired.

As in the example above, you can arrange for your observer function to examine the DeferredListObserver to see its state and act accordingly.

A DeferredListObserver can maintain the history of events it has seen (as in the example above). This can serve two purposes: (1) it can be useful for an observer function to have easy access to the results of the deferreds without having to store the results itself (as above), and (2) if you add an observer after some deferreds have already fired you may want your observer to be called with the events it missed.

Observer functions must take 3 arguments:

  • index: the index of the deferred that fired. The index is the zero-based order in which deferreds were added to the DeferredListObserver via its append function.
  • success: True if the deferred in question was fired via its callback, False if it was fired via errback.
  • value: the value the deferred was fired with.

To cause an added observer to immediately be called with the event history (if any), you must instantiate the DeferredListObserver with maintainHistory=True and pass replayHistory=True to observe. If you add an observer and request that the event history is replayed to it but the DeferredListObserver is not maintaining a history, a RuntimeError will be raised.

Observers added to a DeferredListObserver will be called in the order they were added.

The (untested) code in examples.py gives some example usages.

The unit tests in txdlo/test/test_txdlo.py may also be instructive.


To run the unit tests, either use make test or trial txdlo.

A subtlety

Note that the DeferredListObserver adds transparent callback and errback functions to the deferreds it is observing. The functions will see the state of the firing deferred at that point in its callback chain. If you add additional callbacks or errbacks to a deferred after passing it to DeferredListObserver.append, what goes on in those callbacks and errbacks will not be seen. For example, consider this code:

from twisted.internet.defer import Deferred, succeed, fail
from txdlo import DeferredListObserver

def die(value):
    raise Exception()

def observer(index, success, value):
    if success:
        print 'The deferred succeeded!'

dlo = DeferredListObserver()

deferred = succeed(42)
dlo.append(deferred)  # dlo adds a transparent callback & errback to deferred.


The callback added by the DeferredListObserver (in the .append call) will receive the succesful (42) value and report that the deferred fired successfully. But the later callback (die) for deferred will cause the deferred to transition into a failed state.

There's nothing that can be done about this (depending on your needs, it can be an advantage). That's just the way Twisted deferreds work. If it's a problem for you, you can avoid it by not adding callbacks to deferreds after you begin observing them.

You'll see a similar warnings on the documentation for Twisted's DeferredList

If you don't understand this warning, you should probably spend more quality time alone with Twisted deferreds!