23.7. Other Integration Topics
In this book, the term integration has largely meant mixing Python with components written in C or C++ (or other C-compatible languages) in extending and embedding modes. But from a broader perspective, integration also includes any other technology that lets us mix Python components into larger systems. This last section briefly looks at a handful of integration technologies beyond the C API tools we've seen in this part of the book.
23.7.1. Jython: Java Integration
We met Jython in Chapter 18 but it is worth another mention in the context of integration at large. As we saw earlier, Jython supports two kinds of integration:
In other words, Jython allows Python to be both extended and embedded in Java, much like the C integration strategies we've seen in this part of the book. By adding a simpler scripting language to Java applications, Jython serves many of the same roles as the C integration tools we've studied. With the addition of the Jython system, Python may be integrated with any C-compatible program by using C API tools, as well as any Java-compatible program by using Jython.
Although Jython provides a remarkably seamless integration model, Python code runs slower in the Jython implementation, and its reliance on Java class libraries and execution environments introduces Java dependencies that may be a concern in some Python-oriented development scenarios. See Chapter 18 for more Jython details; for the full story, read the documentation available online at http://www.jython.org.
23.7.2. IronPython: C#/.NET Integration
Much like Jython, the emerging IronPython implementation of the Python language promises to provide seamless integration between Python code and software components written for the .NET framework. Although .NET is a Microsoft Windows initiative, the Mono open source implementation of .NET for Linux provides .NET functionality in a cross-platform fashion. Like Jython, IronPython compiles Python source code to the .NET systems bytecode format and runs programs on the system's runtime engine. As a result, integration with external components is similarly seamless.
Also like Jython, the net effect is to provide Python as an easy-to-use scripting language for C#/.NET-base applications, and a rapid development tool that complements C#. For more details on IronPython, as well as its alternatives such as Python.NET, do a web search on Google.com or visit Python's home page at http://www.python.org.
23.7.3. COM Integration on Windows
We briefly discussed Python's support for the COM object model on Windows when we explored Active Scripting in Chapter 18, but it's really a general integration tool that is useful apart from the Internet too.
Recall that COM defines a standard and language-neutral object model with which components written in a variety of programming languages may integrate and communicate. Python's PyWin32 Windows extension package tools allow Python programs to implement both server and client in the COM interface model.
As such, it provides a powerful way to integrate Python programs with programs written in other COM-aware languages such as Visual Basic, Delphi, Visual C++, PowerBuilder, and even other Python programs. Python scripts can also use COM calls to script popular Microsoft applications such as Word and Excel, since these systems register COM object interfaces of their own.
On the downside, COM implies a level of dispatch indirection and is a Windows-only solution at this writing. As a result, it is not as fast or as portable as some of the lower-level integration schemes we've studied in this part of the book (linked-in, in-process, and direct calls between Python and C-compatible language components). For nontrivial use, COM is also considered to be a large system, and further details about it are well beyond the scope of this book.
For more information on COM support and other Windows extensions, refer to Chapter 18 in this book, and to O'Reilly's Python Programming on Win32, by Mark Hammond and Andy Robinson. That book also describes how to use Windows compilers to do Python/C integration in much more detail than is possible here; for instance, it shows how to use Visual C++ tools to compile and link Python C/C++ integration layer code. The basic C code behind low-level extending and embedding on Windows is the same as shown in this book, but compiling and linking details vary.
23.7.4. CORBA Integration
There is also much open source support for using Python in the context of a CORBA-based application. CORBA stands for the Common Object Request Broker; it's a language-neutral way to distribute systems among communicating components, which speak through an object model architecture. As such, it represents another way to integrate Python components into a larger system.
Python's CORBA support includes the public domain systems OmniORB, ILU, and fnorb (see http://www.python.org or do a web search for pointers). The OMG (Object Management Group, responsible for directing CORBA growth) has also played host to an effort to elect Python as the standard scripting language for CORBA-based systems. Python is an ideal language for programming distributed objects, and it is being used in such a role by many companies around the world.
Like COM, CORBA is a large systemtoo large for us to even scratch the surface in this text. For more details, search Python's web site for CORBA-related materials.
23.7.5. Other Languages
In the public domain, you'll also find direct support for mixing Python with other compiled languages. For example, the f2py and PyFort systems provide integration with FORTRAN code, and other tools provide access to languages such as Delphi and Objective-C. The PyObjC project, for instance, aims to provide a bridge between Python and Objective-C, the most important usage of which is writing Cocoa GUI applications on Mac OS X in Python. Search the Web for details on other language-integration tools.
23.7.6. Network-Based Integration Protocols
Finally, there is also support in the Python world for Internet-based data transport protocols, including SOAP, XML-RPC, and even basic HTTP. Some of these support the notion of Python as an implementation language for web services. These are distributed models, generally designed for integration across a network, rather than in-process calls. XML-RPC is supported by a standard library module in Python, but search the Web for more details on these protocols.
23.7.7. Integration Versus Optimization
Given so many integration options, choosing among them can be puzzling. For instance, when should you choose something like COM over writing C extension modules? As usual, it depends on why you're interested in mixing external components into your Python programs in the first place.
Basically, frameworks such as Jython, IronPython, COM, and CORBA allow Python scripts to leverage existing libraries of software components, and they do a great job of addressing goals such as code reuse and integration. However, they say almost nothing about optimization: integrated components are not necessarily faster than the Python equivalents.
On the other hand, Python extension modules and types coded in a compiled language such as C serve two roles: they too can be used to integrate existing components, but they also tend to be a better approach when it comes to boosting system performance. In closing, here are a few words of context.
184.108.40.206. Framework roles
Frameworks such as COM and CORBA can perhaps be understood as alternatives to the Python/C integration techniques we met in this part of the book. For example, packaging Python logic as a COM server makes it available for something akin to embeddingmany languages (including C) can access it using the COM client-side interfaces we met in Chapter 18. And as we saw earlier, Jython allows Java to embed and run Python code and objects through a Java class interface.
Furthermore, frameworks allow Python scripts to use existing component libraries: standard Java class libraries in Jython, COM server libraries on Windows, and so on. In such a role, the external libraries exposed by such frameworks are more or less analogous to Python extension modules. For instance, Python scripts that use COM client interfaces to access an external object are acting much like importers of C extension modules (albeit through the COM indirection layer).
220.127.116.11. Extension module roles
Python's C API is designed to serve in many of the same roles. As we've seen, C extension modules can serve as code reuse and integration tools tooit's straightforward to plug existing C and C++ libraries into Python with SWIG. In most cases, we simply generate and import the glue code created with SWIG to make almost any existing compiled library available for use in Python scripts.
In fact, as we saw in the preceding chapter, it's so easy to plug in libraries with SWIG that extensions are usually best coded first as simple C/C++ libraries and later wrapped for use in Python with SWIG. Adding a COM layer to an existing C library may or may not be as straightforward, but it will clearly be less portableCOM is currently a Windows-only technology. Moreover, Python's embedding API allows other languages to run Python code, much like client-side interfaces in COM.
One of the primary reasons for writing C extension modules in the first place, though, is optimization: key parts of Python applications may be implemented or recoded as C or C++ extension modules to speed up the system at large (as in the last chapter's stack examples). Moving such components to compiled extension modules not only improves system performance, but also is completely seamlessmodule interfaces in Python look the same no matter what programming language implements the module.
18.104.22.168. Picking an integration technology
By contrast, Jython, COM, and CORBA do not deal directly with optimization goals at all; they serve only to integrate. For instance, Jython allows Python scripts to automatically access Java libraries, but it generally mandates that non-Python extensions be coded in the Java language that is itself usually interpreted and is no speed demon. COM and CORBA focus on the interfaces between components and leave the component implementation language ambiguous by design. Exporting a Python class as a COM server, for instance, can make its tools widely reusable on Windows but has little to do with performance improvement.
Because of their different focus, frameworks are not quite replacements for the more direct Python/C extension modules and types we've studied in these last two chapters, and they are less direct (and hence likely slower) than Python's C embedding API. It's possible to mix-and-match approaches, but the combinations are rarely any better than their parts. For example, although C libraries can be added to Java with its native call interface, it's neither a secure nor a straightforward undertaking. And while C libraries can also be wrapped as COM servers to make them visible to Python scripts on Windows, the end result will probably be slower and no less complex than a more directly linked-in Python extension module.
As you can see, there are a lot of options in the integration domain. Perhaps the best parting advice I can give you is simply that different tools are meant for different tasks. C extension modules and types are ideal at optimizing systems and integrating libraries, but frameworks offer other ways to integrate componentsJython for mixing in Java tools, COM for reusing and publishing objects on Windows, and so on. As always, your mileage may vary.