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Python 2 Threading Primitives, Locks and Events

2019-12-03 by Quinlan Pfiffer

Recently I've had to deal with some inter-process communication in Python 2.7, in which I had several threads sharing data. I figured doing a brain-dump of some of this data would be useful for me in the future as well as anyone else wandering by.

In this specific instance, I'm retrieving frames from a camera of some sort, pulling them in over a websocket, then passing them on to an OpenCV processor. Nothing crazy, but the websocket server couldn't be blocked by the OpenCV processor, so threads were introduced. Really just two.

The primary things we care about here are thread events and thread locks.. I wrote this when I was dealing with Python 2, but I don't see why you couldn't do this stuff in 3+. In general, use asyncio in favor of threads and locks and processes and whatever. Easier to think about.

Heres something similar to what I ended up writing:

import thread, threading

class Server:
    def __init__(self, lock, event):
        self.lock = lock
        self.event = event

    # Assume this server is doing a bunch of server-y things, and this
    # method is the callback triggered when new data comes in:
    def msg_received(self, client, server, msg):
        with self.frame_lock:
            self.frame = msg

    def get_frame(self):
        return self.frame

class Processor:
    def __init__(self, lock, event):
        self.lock = lock
        self.event = event

    def process(self, server):
        while self.event.wait():
            with self.lock:
                frame = server.get_frame()

                # Do fancy processing here

def main():
    frame_lock = thread.allocate_lock()
    frame_event = threading.Event()

    # Server receives frames from upstream:
    server = Server(frame_lock, frame_event, ip='localhost', port=8999)

    # Processor does fancy computation on frames:
    processor = Processor(frame_lock, frame_event)
    t = Threading.Thread(target=processor.process, args=(server,))


if __name__ == '__main__':

This is more or less what I have. I haven't tested the above code, but the point is you have a Server of some sort operating independently of a processor of some other sort. Later on I might write another post detailing how you might do this with a UNIX pipe instead of this Locking/Event style, but we can talk about that when the time comes. Or doesn't. Whatever.

The fancy (but still basic) thing here is the event, and the lock. You can use the event to avoid spinlocking (eg. while not frame: ...), and instead only wake up your expensive processing Thread when it has something to do. Remember, sleep() is a sign that you're being lazy!

One thread will call event.set() when it is done operating on the shared resource, then back off. The next thread will then wake up and wait to acquire the lock, so it can operate on the shared resource, doing it's thing, and then calling event.clear(). This ends up working really nicely because each thread only works when it can, no one is stepping on anyone elses toes and it all just works out.