Client/server based NLP Pipelining
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Client/server based NLP Pipelining

This is a simple, filesystem-based format- and progress agnostic setup for running document processing. The intended usage is to make it easy to package and distribute different parsers, preprocessors etc., and call them from other programs such as R or python without worrying about dependencies, installation, etc.


  • Storage
  • HTTP Server
  • Client bindings
  • Workers

Install and test


You can install a rest-server on your system using PIP or you can use a ready-to-run docker image.

As a Docker container

Do (possibly as superuser):

docker run --name nlpipe -dp 5001:5001 vanatteveldt/nlpipe

This will pull the nlpipe docker image and run the nlpipe restserver on port 5001 and by default run all known worker modules. Note: The -d means that the docker process will be 'detached', i.e. run in the background.

To see (or follow) the logs of a running worker, use:

docker logs [-f] nlpipe

Directly in your computer

NLPipe runs on Python version 3.something. To install nlpipe locally, it is best to create a virtual environment and install nlpipe in it:

pyvenv env
env/bin/pip install -e git+git://

Now you can run nlpipe from the created environment. e.g. to run a webserver that listens http://localhost:5001 in test-mode, open a separate terminal, "source" the Python virtual environment and do e.g.:

env/bin/python -m nlpipe.restserver

The program prints

Running on http://localhost:5001/ (Press CTRL+C to quit).

The server runs until you quit this process with CTRL+C. In the mean time it prints logging information in your xterm window.

The purpose of the server is only to move files around. In order to process files you need to set up a separate worker. The worker polls the server for new-uploaded texts, performs a task on them and returns the processed texts to the server. NLPipe supplies a demo processor-module test_upper. To set up a worker for this module, open a separate xterm, source the Python virtual environment in it and do e.g.:

$ env/bin/python -m nlpipe.worker http://localhost:5001 test_upper

The program responds with ... Workers active and waiting for input and keeps running. You can see that it polls the server, because the server prints loads of messages like:

[2017-05-03 12:59:00,844 werkzeug INFO ] - - [03/May/2017 12:59:00] "GET /api/modules/test_upper/ HTTP/1.1" 404 -

Note: This is not needed for the Docker server, because workers have been pre-installed there.

Test whether it works

NLPipe provides a client to communicate with the server. To use it, do e.g.

$ env/bin/python -m nlpipe.client http://localhost:5001 test_upper process "this is a test"
$ env/bin/python -m nlpipe.client http://localhost:5001 test_upper status 0x54b0c58c7ce9f2a8b551351102ee0938
$ env/bin/python -m nlpipe.client http://localhost:5001 test_upper result 0x54b0c58c7ce9f2a8b551351102ee0938

Explanation: The first line submits the string "this is a test" as a task for the test_upper processor. The command returns an identifier. The second line requests the status of the task. The status might be "PENDING", "STARTED", "DONE", "ERROR". When the task has been done, the third command retrieves the processed task.

Example Setups

CoreNLP lemmatize

To setup corenlp lemmatize and nlpipe, use:

$ docker run --name corenlp -dp 9000:9000 chilland/corenlp-docker 
$ docker run --name nlpipe --link corenlp:corenlp -e "CORENLP_HOST=http://corenlp:9000" -dp 5001:5001 vanatteveldt/nlpipe

And e.g. lemmatize a test sentence:

$ docker exec -it nlpipe python -m nlpipe.client /tmp/nlpipe-data corenlp_lemmatize process_inline --format=csv 'this is a test'

Distributed setup

You can setup a server on one computer and run workers on a different computer.

Setting up the server without any workers:

docker run --name nlpipe -dp 5001:5001 vanatteveldt/nlpipe python -m nlpipe.restserver

Starting a corenlp_lemmatize worker on a different (or the same) machine (assuming the server runs at

$ docker run --name corenlp -dp 9000:9000 chilland/corenlp-docker 
docker run --name nlpipeworker --link corenlp:corenlp -e "CORENLP_HOST=http://corenlp:9000" -dp 5001:5001 vanatteveldt/nlpipe python -m nlpipe.worker corenlp_lemmatize

And lemmatizing a document from a third machine: (note that using a docker is overkill here, it would be better to just use the python or R client)

docker run vanatteveldt/nlpipe python -m nlpipe.client corenlp_lemmatize process_inline --format csv "this is a test!"


Storage directory layout

Ths server uses file system to manage task queue and results cache. Each task (e.g. corenlp_lemmatize) contains subfolders containing the documents

- <task>
  - queue
  - in_process
  - results
  - errors

Process flow:

  • client puts document into <task>/queue
  • worker moves a document from <task>/queue to <task>/in_process and gets the text
  • worker processes the document
  • worker stores the result in <task>/results and removes it from <task>/in_process
  • client retrieves the document from <task>/results

The goal of this setup is to use the filesystem as a hierarchical database and use the UNIX atomic FS operations as a thread-safe locking/scheduling mechanism. The worker that manages to e.g. move the document from queue to in_process is the one doing the task. If two workers simultaneously select the same document to process, only the first will be able to move it, and the second will get an error from the file system and should select the next document.

Before putting a document on the queue, a client should check whether it is not already known and then create it.
This is not atomic, so it is possible that another thread has created the document at between checking and creating, but in that case the creation will give an error. In the (unlikely) event that another thread has created the document and a worked has moved it to in_process in the interval between checking and creating a document, there is a risk that the document will be processed twice, but this should not lead to a problem except for wasted processing time.

Client access

Clients/workers can access the filesystem directly. Since it is thread safe, this is the most efficient way of or use the HTTP server.

The built-in HTTP server will allow access to the NLPipe service with the following REST endpoints:

From client perspective:

PUT <task>/<hash> # adds a document by hash
POST <task> # adds a document, returning the hash
HEAD <task>/<hash> # gets status of task
GET <task>/<hash> # get result for task (or 404 / error)

From worker perspective:

GET <task> # gets one document from task (and moves from queue to in_process)
GET <task>?n=N # gets N documents from task (and moves from queue to in_process)
PUT <task>/<hash> # stores result 

There are also client bindings for the direct filesystem access (python) and for the HTTP server (python and R). The python bindings are included in this repository (nlpipe/ R bindings are available at