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Simple services in Python

By Arjan Molenaar on November 27, 2020

As a project grows, at some point there is a desire for a plug-in/add-ons/extension mechanism. Therefore, it is a good idea to think of this early in the project.

For those of us that build applications in Python, extensibility is like a walk in the part. It’s part of the Python ecosystem, thanks to entry points.

Entry points form the basis for plugin libraries like pluggy. Before you reach for a library, you may want to consider what it takes to make your application extensible.

To be honest, it is not that hard to provide a simple plugin mechanism. In Gaphor it takes around 60 lines of code. Not enough code for a library even.

It all starts with importlib.metadata, which is part of the Python standard library since Python 3.8. For older versions (Python 3.6 and 3.7) a library importlib_metadata (notice the underscore) can be used instead, providing the same functionality1.

To view all entry points available in your python installation:

>>> import importlib.metadata
>>> for ep in importlib.metadata.entry_points():
...     print(ep)

As you can see, we have quite a few entry points available. Some are for distutils and one is for pytest. Flake8, setuptools, and gaphor also provide extension points. Even though they are shown above as text, they can also be iterated:

>>> entry_point = importlib.metadata.entry_points()[""]
>>> entry_point
(EntryPoint(name='component_registry', value='', group=''), ...)

A plugin can also be loaded:

>>> entry_point[0].load()
<class ''>

In this case, it will resolve to a class, but it can also resolve to a module or function depending on what is defined in the entry point.

As we have seen, it is straight forward to load an entry point. Next, lets look at how to define our own.

This is what it would take to add an entry point for Gaphor using

from setuptools import setup, find_packages

    entry_points = {
        '': [
            'helloworld = gaphor.plugins.helloworld:HelloWorldPlugin',

Using the more modern Poetry config (pyproject.toml), we can also define entry points:

"helloworld" = "gaphor_helloworld_plugin:HelloWorldPlugin"

So… if reading entry points takes about 2 lines of code, what are the other 58 lines about? Most of it is dependency resolution: In Gaphor services can take other services as an argument. We will discuss that some other time :).

To conclude: every application can be made extensible in Python. Extensibility is basically free with entry points. Think about extensibility early in your project.


  1. In Python 2, pkg_resources in setuptools is used to provide this functionality.