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Threading Model - Python

In last week's article, we introduced the PyMailGUI client, part of a Python program that sends, receives, composes, and parses Internet email messages. This week, we'll begin walking you through a PyMailGUI demo. This article, the second of six parts, is excerpted from chapter 15 of the book Programming Python, Third Edition, written by Mark Lutz (O'Reilly, 2006; ISBN: 0596009259). Copyright © 2006 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

  1. A PyMailGUI Demo
  2. Loading Mail
  3. Threading Model
  4. Load Server Interface
By: O'Reilly Media
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July 19, 2007

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Ultimately, mail fetches run over sockets on relatively slow networks. While the download is in progress, the rest of the GUI remains active—you may compose and send other mails at the same time, for instance. To show its progress, the nonblocking dialog of Figure 15-7 is displayed when the mail index is being fetched.

Figure 15-7.  Nonblocking progress indicator: Load

In general, all server transfers display such dialogs. Figure 15-8 shows the busy dialog displayed while a full text download of five selected and uncached mails is in progress, in response to a View action. After this download finishes, all five pop up in view windows.

Such server transfers, and other long-running operations, are run in threads to avoid blocking the GUI. They do not disable other actions from running in parallel, as long as those actions would not conflict with a currently running thread. Multiple mail fetches and sends can overlap in time, for instance, and can run in parallel with the GUI itself—the GUI responds to moves, redraws, and resizes during the transfers.

On systems without threads, PyMailGUI instead goes into a blocked state during such long-running operations (it stubs out the thread-spawn operation to perform a simple function call). Because the GUI is essentially dead without threads, covering

Figure 15-8.  Nonblocking progress indicator: View

and uncovering the GUI during a mail load on such platforms will erase or otherwise distort its contents. Threads are enabled by default on most platforms that Python run (including Windows), so you probably won’t see such oddness on your machine.

One implementation note: as we learned earlier in this book, only the thread that creates windows should generally update them. As a result, PyMailGUI takes care to not do anything related to the user interface within threads that load, send, or delete email. Instead, the main GUI thread continues responding to user interface events and updates, and uses a timer-based event to watch a queue for exit callbacks to be added by threads, using thread tools implemented earlier in the book. Upon receipt, the GUI thread pulls the callback off the queue and dispatches it to modify the GUI (e.g., to display a fetched message, update the mail index list, or close an email composition window).

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