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Simple services in Python

By Arjan Molenaar (2020-11-27)

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 park. 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.

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 functionality. If you go back in history even more, setuptools’ pkg_resources was used to provide this functionality.

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. Sphinx, Flake8, and setuptools also provide extension points. Even though they are shown above as text, they can also be iterated:

>>> entry_point = importlib.metadata.entry_points()["distutils.commands"]
>>> entry_point
[EntryPoint(name='build', value='', group='distutils.commands'),
EntryPoint(name='test', value='setuptools.command.test:test', group='distutils.commands'),
EntryPoint(name='upload_docs', value='setuptools.command.upload_docs:upload_docs', group='distutils.commands')]

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 variable or function depending on what is defined in the entry point.

Entry points can also point to modules, as is the case with Sphinx themes:

>>> entry_point = importlib.metadata.entry_points()["sphinx.html_themes"]
>>> entry_point
[EntryPoint(name='alabaster', value='alabaster', group='sphinx.html_themes')]
>>> entry_point[0].load()
<module 'alabaster' from '/usr/lib/python3.11/site-packages/alabaster/'>

Note that the colon (:) is missing from the entry point value, so it loads the module.

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

First we need something that acts as entry point. Let’s create a new project with a file myapp/ In this file we create a little class:

# myapp/
class MyClass:

This is what it takes to add our entry point to a pyproject.toml when you’re using setuptools:

name = "myapp"
version = "0.0.1"

my_class = "myapp.module:MyClass"

Now, let’s create and activate a simple virtual environment and install our new package:

python -m venv .venv
source .venv/bin/activate
pip install -e .

If you prefer Poetry, the pyproject.toml config looks like this:

name = "myapp"
version = "0.0.1"
description = "Entry points demo"
authors = ["Arjan Molenaar"]

"my_class" = "myapp.module:MyClass"

Poetry takes care of creating a virtual environment, so you can simply call:

poetry install
poetry shell

Now, let’s load our newly created entry points:

>>> import importlib.metadata
>>> entry_point = importlib.metadata.entry_points()["myapp"]
[EntryPoint(name='my_class', value='myapp.module:MyClass', group='myapp')]

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