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Macintosh and iPhone software development

Quartz Event Services for Interrupting an Embedded Python

I’ve always thought that Emacs was an interesting editor (development platform?) since it is extensible in the same programming language it’s written in: Emacs-Lisp. Not only that, but you can extend it at runtime, right while you’re using it.

I’ve wondered: What if the same thing could be done with a Python program on OS X. You could even start with a minimal program, and add functionality to it while running it, saving the intermediate results to disk so that the next time you start the program, you start up with all the state and functionality that was there before.

At the very least, it’d be nice to have a robust Python interpreter running concurrently and inside of the program under consideration.

I started with the EmbeddedInterpreter project from PyObjC 1.4, along with parts of the CurrencyConvBinding project so that there’d be something interesting really going on.

To that I’ve added a class called InterpreterKeyController. This class runs a thread that has an event tap, which can act upon key presses “out of band”. In other words, it can evaluate key presses as they arrive in the process, even if the main thread’s run loop is busy doing something else. Event taps are available with Quartz Event Services starting in 10.4.

InterpreterKeyController creates the event tap to take effect when events arrive in the process; it uses CGEventTapCreateForPSN to do this, which yields a Mach port.

Then it calls CFMachPortCreateRunLoopSource to make a CFRunLoopSourceRef, and adds that to the thread’s run loop with CFRunLoopAddSource.

Note that the events themselves don’t arrive in the thread’s run loop as they would for the main thread. Instead, the run loop source invokes the callback for the tap.

The main run loop could be busy running the Python interpreter. InterpreterKeyController’s event tap looks for control-C keypresses, and safely interrupts the Python interpreter. It’s important to get Python’s Global Interpreter Lock when doing this to avoid corrupting the interpreter. The Python interpreter gives up the lock every 100 bytecodes, allowing other threads to run, so the GIL will become available before too long. The code that does the actual interrupt looks like this:

PyGILState_STATE gilstate = PyGILState_Ensure();

KeyboardInterrupt is always taken on the main thread in Python. Due to the way EmbeddedInterpreter is written, it runs on the main thread. It does, in fact, run the main thread’s runloop while Python is blocking on input, and in between I/O operations to the console.

There’s a little bit of code added to the PyInterpreter module to turn the InterpreterKeyController on only when evaluating interactive input. Otherwise, the first control-C typed would issue a KeyboardInterrupt to the application itself, terminating it!

The end result is a Python console that can be embedded into another running program with some level of safety: If you run something from the console that goes into an infinite loop, just press control-C and it will be interrupted. There is no need to force quit the application, as was necessary with the stock EmbeddedInterpreter if it became hung up.

This can be demonstrated by typing:

>>> while True: pass

which then places the interpreter in an infinite loop. Pressing control-C results in:

Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 1, in

One thing to note is that everything in the running program is available in Python. For instance, the application delegate is automatically included into the interpreter. Since the currency conversion uses Cocoa bindings, executing a statement like

>>> appDelegate.dollarsToConvert=5

directly affects the model, with the appropriate text field changing in the UI, and the calculation is triggered as well.

It is my hope that others will find this useful for more safely adding a console as a diagnostic tool and to aid in experimentation and diagnosis during application development.

My testing environment is Python 2.5.1 installed on Mac OS X 10.4.11 + Xcode 2.4.1, with PyObjC 1.4 installed.

You can browse the source code for a project that uses InterpreterKeyController, where you can also tarballs.

Apple’s developer site has more information on Quartz Event Services.