Firefox Sync Server in Python - Take 2

It's been more than a month since the last update on my work on Firefox Sync. Time for a quick update.

The Code

The application grew quite well and was splitted in four separate projects:
- SyncCore: contains the authentication back-ends and various utilities like the CEF logger or various WSGI helpers. - SyncReg: that's the User application. Implements: Can be used as a standalone WSGI application - SyncStorage: Contains the storage back-ends and implements (and the upcoming 1.1.) Can be used as a standalone WSGI application. - SyncServer: This is just a glue application that can be used to run in the same server both Reg and Storage servers. By default this application will run sqlite back-ends for storage and authentication, which means it can be launched with a zero-config environment.

I moved the code to bitbucket, and will clone it back to once we set dedicated repositories for the Python server there. If you want to run your own Sync server, it's still very simple. Make sure you have the latest virtualenv installed, Mercurial and Make, then run:
$ hg clone Sync

$ cd Sync

$ make build

Then you can run your server on port 5000 by using the built-in web server:
$ bin/paster serve development.ini

Of course, a real setup should be done using SSL, a real web server like Apache/mod_wsgi and MySQL for the DB. But the default setup is useful and can replace the minimal-server Toby wrote.


One thing I want to make sure is that the Python server is as fast as possible, and faster than the PHP application. Since a Python web application can reuse the same interpreter in memory, there's a lot of room for improvements like connection pooling and light memory caching. I also wanted to bench out various configurations for the DB, like using postgresql instead of mysql etc.

The team is currently working on stress testing our Sync infrastructure and the tool that we use is Grinder. Grinder is a Java tool that uses Jython for writing tests, and provides a simple console to drive it. The results Grinder return are raw results, and there's quite some work left to do if you want to generate nice reports.

I used another tool to bench the server called Funkload. It's a Python tool that uses unittest classes to run benches, and provides a functional test tool to query a web server and do some assertions like WebTest. It produces HTML reports that are containing a lot of metrics. Some I don't use because they are specific to web sites. But it's good enough to stress-test the Sync server and compare PHP and Python speed. One caveat is that it cannot be distributed. There's a project called BenchMaster that adds this feature, that I need to try.

The stress test is the same than the Grinder one, and here are some reports using various configuration :

[image][]While Python already appears to be slightly faster than PHP, those were done on my MacBook with 100 users loaded in the DB, 6000 objects each, so don't mean a lot. Just that the Python application is not borked :D .

I'll probably run Funkload in the same environment we run Grinder at Mozilla, where we have a realistic setup. I also want to have this kind of reports generated every day, so I can keep an eye on how the Python server performs. Making sure the app does not slow down when it grows is one important part of continuous integration.

Caching: Redis vs Memcached

I used Redis to do a bit of caching in the Python app, instead of Memcached like the PHP app. See my previous post for the rational.

Redis was very stable during my benches, but I have heard from some other projects that they had quite a few problems with it in production [I might post more details here in another blog post]. I still think this is the tool we should use in Sync, and I also want to experiment writing a full back-end for Sync using it. But the first version of the Sync server we will deploy on our servers will probably use Memcached since it's proven to work well right now and since I don't really need all the extra features Redis offers if the usage is restricted to volatile caching.

Continuous integration

imageI am still working alone on the Python app, but a continuous integration server is something we really want to have. I am a big fan of buildbot but I wanted to give a try at Hudson. The management interface is brilliant and I could set up a Hudson server for Sync in an hour. I eventually moved it at with other Mozilla projects from the WebDev team. It contains Pylint reports, test coverage report, and of course Chuck Norris keeps the code safe.

What's next ?

The Python app is mostly done, besides a few things to clean up. The next big step will be to bench it alongside the PHP application on realistic data, fix any problem that will rise, then work on pushing it in production. The production switch will probably happen gradually since every node is standalone. And since the rest of the team is quite busy to make sure everything is ready for the upcoming Firefox 4 final release which includes Sync natively, switching to Python is not the #1 priority right now. I expect it to happen before the end of the year though.

In the meantime once the benches are done and the code is rock-solid. I'll start to play with different back-ends. A full Redis back-end and maybe something based on Riak or Cassandra.