Projects I Wish I Had A Reason To Use

I keep half an eye on various of the channels through which new or updated Python projects are announced: planet.python.org, the PyPI feed, and c.l.py.announce. While I am occasionally irritated by the noise which PyPI produces (nested lists, anyone?) it’s helpful to see projects go past, just to remind myself what’s out there.

One phenomenon I’ve experienced is that I’ll not even have *heard* of some underlying library or web service until someone writes a Python interface to it. Glancing randomly at the current PyPI front page, I see “Python yubico client” which refers to some kind of one-key logon service which I’d never heard of. Then there’s “sunburnt - a Python interface to Solr” which, it happens, I have heard of. And a project which refers to the “Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network” which, even after I’ve visited the website, I’m still not very clear why I might want to use it. But I’m sure it’s really good for the people who do.

This is great news for two reasons at least: people are using Python for all sorts of things, and not just the big-named everyone-does-that stuff; and there’s an inadvertent advertising effect when they publish their work, which brings a possibly interesting project to the attention of a wider audience.

Which brings me to the main point of this post: from time to time I see a project go past which really grabs the programmer in me, and I just wish I had an excuse to use. Occasionally I actually get to fulfil this wish, but usually I just look wistfully on and check as each new update is released to see if there’s any way I can squeeze it into whatever I am paid to do (or have time to do otherwise).

  • Kamaelia - I’ve followed this one since its owner (Michael Sparks) presented it at a London Python meetup some years ago. I love the idea of simple objects and network pipelines between them. (Who wouldn’t?). I recall a thread a few years ago where Michael wondered why more people hadn’t taken it up (and why they’d gone for Twisted instead which seemed so much less intuitive).
  • Celery - obviously not unrelated to the previous entry. My interest in lightweight distributed message passing probably goes back to my days using Modula-2, the language I used at University and which led to my discovering Python. (Modula-2 has built-in support for coroutines).
  • requests - bit of a newcomer but it it exemplifies one of the things I admire most about Python code: it makes it really easy to do something which is conceptually simple. In this case, making HTTP requests. I think this is a key differentiator when comparing Python to other useful and successful languages: it just doesn’t take much code to get something done. It’s something I try for in my own libraries, and is, sadly, one of the reasons why the built-in logging module gets such a bad press. (In spite of its author’s ready willingness to answer questions, address issues, improve things, and update docs).
  • Whoosh - a pure Python search engine. For no very good reason, the idea of doing this in pure Python appeals to me. As it happens I’ve rolled my own search facilities for several small projects. (And who hasn’t?). Unfortunately, the cognitive overhead of replacing those by Whoosh is just too great at the moment to justify the small risk in changing. One day…
  • PyMongo (or any other of the several interfaces to MongoDB). As a daytime database developer, I’m as intrigued as the next man by the various schemaless / distributed databases currently going under the “NoSQL” umbrella. I’ve played with CouchDB (very RESTful interface but map-reduce all the way down) and MongoDB (less pure but more practical) and I even toyed with re-implementing our Helpdesk system using one of them, but as ever the risks were too great and there’s no real benefit to the business. (Only to me :) ).

There are loads more; these are just some that occur to me. Others include the kind of popup notifiers inspired by Growl, lkcl’s recently-discussed pyjamas and even some Windows-specific functionality within the pywin32 modules.

If only time and opportunity allowed…

3 Comments so far »

  1. Andrew Dalke said,

    Wrote on May 20, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

    What I’ve seen of Kamaelia I really like, but the web site has always been poorly kept. Links to example pages break, the “getting started” page references 0.6.0 while the front page says the lasted code is 1.0.12.0. This inclines me to feel negative about using the project.

  2. terrence said,

    Wrote on May 21, 2011 @ 2:57 am

    I know exactly what you mean — I have my own list. I’ll have to add Celery to it as it’s just what I needed 2 years ago but couldn’t find :-). I also have a list of projects that I really want to exist but haven’t seen yet. Do you know of any Pythonic graph databases? Something like neo4j, but sanely usable in Python would be a huge help to me right now.

    Also, thanks for linking to PyPI’s RSS feed. I had no idea that such a thing existed.

  3. Kevin Dahlhausen said,

    Wrote on May 27, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    Thanks for a great post. My version of your list is kept in gmail - I just send an email w/the subject python: or javascsript: and have filters sort it out.

    Requests in particular looks great - I’ll use that one right away.

    I didn’t know about the PyPi feed either.

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