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Introduction to ASGI


In order to make full use of Piccolo in a web application, you'll need to use it with an async routing framework.

There are a few options, including Sanic, Quart, and Starlette.

As the number of frameworks grows, there's an increasing need for some level of standardisation, allowing different components to work together in clearly defined ways.

With synchronous frameworks, a community standard called WSGI specifies how an application talks to a web server. This meant you could combine any WSGI web framework, with any WSGI web server, using any WSGI middleware.

WSGI doesn't work for async frameworks though, because it ties a single request to a single response. For async applications, such a web sockets, a single request can result in multiple responses over time.

To solve this problem, ASGI (Asynchronous Server Gateway Interface) was proposed.


An ASGI application is just a callable, which accepts three arguments - scope, receive, and send.

class ASGIApp():

    async def __call__(self, scope, receive, send):
        message = await receive()
        await send({
            "type": "http.response.start",
            "status": 200,
            "headers": []
        await send({
            'type': 'http.response.body',
            'body': bytes('hello world', 'utf-8')

app = ASGIApp()

The scope argument tells the ASGI app about the connection. For a HTTP connection, this will include things like headers, the path, query parameters etc.

The receive and send arguments are how the ASGI app receives/sends data.

Declaring your ASGI app as a class allows you to configure it using a constructor. If you don't need to configure your app, you can declare it as a function instead.

async def app(scope, receive, send):
    message = await receive()
    await send({
        "type": "http.response.start",
        "status": 200,
        "headers": []
    await send({
        'type': 'http.response.body',
        'body': bytes('hello world', 'utf-8')

ASGI Middleware

Middleware modifies the scope passed to ASGI apps, or can do things like return a 403 error if no auth token is provided.

class ASGIMiddleware():
    def __init__(self, asgi_app):
        self.asgi_app = asgi_app

    async def __call__(self, scope, send, receive):
        # We have to copy the scope before modifying it to prevent changes
        # from leaking upstream:
        new_scope = dict(scope)
        new_scope['some_param'] = True
        await self.asgi_app(new_scope, send, receive)

app = ASGIMiddleware(ASGIApp)

ASGI all the way down

What's interesting about an ASGI application is every component of that app is also ASGI. Routing is ASGI, middleware is ASGI, views are ASGI. Want to embed another ASGI app, built with a totally different framework, within your ASGI app? No problem.

With WSGI, frameworks often didn't achieve this level of modularity / composability. For example, Django views and middleware aren't WSGI - only the top level app is.

ASGI servers

There are already three great ASGI servers - Uvicorn, Hypercorn, and Daphne.

Any of them will do fine. In my own testing, I got marginally better performance out of Hypercorn, though this could change over time.

Hypercorn makes a great development server, because it can automatically reload the server when it detects changes to your application (in the same was the Django dev server does).

hypercorn --uvloop --reload --b localhost:8000 views:app

ASGI frameworks

Quart and Starlette already support ASGI.

Sanic can now run under a ASGI server.

Django Channels is another ASGI framework, which brings asynchronous capabilities (web sockets, HTTP2) to Django. The author of Django Channels, Andrew Godwin, was also the author of the ASGI spec.

Which one should I use?

Quart seeks to be compatible with Flask, a popular WSGI framework. If this is important to you, then it's a sensible choice. The API will be familiar, meaning you don't have to relearn concepts, and many Flask extensions will also still work.

Django Channels is perfect if you want to add some async to a Django project.

Starlette is my current favourite for new projects which don't require Django or Flask interoperability. It also feels the most like a pure ASGI framework. Every component is ASGI, so it delivers on the promise of composability and modularity that I find so appealing. It can be used as a framework in its own right, or you can use it as a source of building blocks, and build your own framework on top of it (Responder is one example).


ASGI is an important pillar in the world of async Python. I'll show some examples in the future incorporating Piccolo with an ASGI framework.

Posted on: 7 Dec 2018

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