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Tomas Sheers
Tomas Sheers

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Flask apps, docker, and a self driving vehicle inventory system

Creating an application comprising of multiple Flask apps, deployed using docker-compose

This post is adapted from the Readme of this tutorial repo which I wrote with the intent of posting here. While reading this guide, you should refer to the source code in the repo. If you have any suggestions or improvements, please comments or create a pull request on the GitHub repo.

Typically I skip any guide that requires me to make external accounts or has any propriety dependencies, so this guide doesnโ€™t require any of that, and the end result will be deployed on local, so no need to worry about making trial accounts with cloud hosts.

This guide will consider the development of a system comprised of multiple intercommunicating micro-services. The stack of this application is one of personal preference, but there are any number of different variations, so check out the stack below before we go into further detail.

Context

Recently I was working on a large multi component application built with many flask micro services and found difficulties throughout where even in-depth google searches couldnโ€™t guide me to the correct answer. At the time I wasnโ€™t considering writing a guide about it, so I didnโ€™t make note of most of these issues, but this guide will hopefully cover all the things I wish I could have found more easily.

Stack used in this guide:

  • Python 3.7
  • Flask backends
  • SQLite3 with flask SQL Alchemy
  • Docker
  • Docker-compose
  • Postman

Prerequisites:

  • A python environment handler, because we will create multiple environments. I use Conda, but you could also using something like venv or poetry.
  • Python 3.7+
  • You need to have docker installed, this guide wonโ€™t cover that process because the docker documentation is very complete.
  • Postman - Check here
  • Some knowledge of Flask apps, SQL ORMs, and Docker.

In most cases I will go through examples assuming some prior knowledge, but in those cases I will link to external resources that cover them in more detail if relevant.

Terminology:

Having started writing this, I realised that I quickly start using terms which may mean different things to different people, so I will clarify terminology before we continue.

  • Client: The end-user who consumes the UI in their browser
  • API Client: Anything which consumes an API (internal or external)
  • Backend: A backend is any system which exposes an API to be consumed. It could be a simple Flask app, or an express app, or any many other things which arenโ€™t necessarily HTTP servers.
  • Application: An application is a collection of backends which work together, or it can refer to individual Flask apps.
  • Frontend: A system which handles the direct client interactions, so this covers the UI (like a webapp or a mobile app).
  • Component: Backends and Frontends can both be considered as Components. Components are standalone and should be tested/testable by themselves.

What will we make?

What we intend to make is a backend application consisting of multiple micro-services. Typically, one can find guides showing someone how to make any individual section of this guide, and normally, they would use a different stack including more javascript based backends, or using databases like Firestore or Dynamo.

For the purpose of this guide, we will make a simple inventory management system. Really, this could be done with just a single backend component, but we will add some additional steps to give wider coverage. I have chosen this project as it was something that developed out of the larger project I was working on and thought it would work well exposition-ally.

The additional step will be an API gateway backend which is a sort of router and authoriser of the client requests. This means our โ€˜applicationโ€™ will consist of two backend components, one being the inventory manager, and one being the api gateway. The application will expose a RESTful interface (we will get to this).

What is the scenario?

A prominent tech company has branched into the self-driving car market. In an effort to reduce emissions the company has invested in creating a network of self-driving cars, trucks, and lorries. Their clients are able to request a vehicle to go from location A to location B for a multitude of purposes. You can request a ride, or you can summon a lorry to transport cargo, among other uses.

They have already purchased and retrofitted the vehicles and are keen to pilot their project is a small city. Unfortunately, the company they contracted their booking system to fell short. We need to completely re-build their core booking and billing system. On a more positive note, with some manual magic on their side, they can continue their rollout to the pilot city with only the allocation system put in place. They want to make sure they have vehicles available when bookings are requested, and they want to make sure nothing gets doubled booked.

The scope for system that we will develop for them is for handling the inventory and allocations of three different type of continuous resource, the self-driving car, lorry, and truck.

We want to be able to register a new instance of each to represent when one has been added into circulation, and we want to be able to delete them to represent when they have been decommissioned. We then want to be able to allocate and deallocate any of them for any period of time.

While we want to expose an API for handling just this for now, we want the system, in the future, to also facilitate the booking and billing aspects of their business.

What is the scope of the inventory management system?

In this system, we consider that we have resources which relate the physical items. The resources should be able to be allocated for arbitrary durations. In this case, we will only consider one type of resource, continuous resources.

Continuous resources are items that can be allocated for any duration, starting at any time, and ending at any time. An example of this could be a bookable self-driving car. It is a continuous resource because when it is booked for a journey, it can be for any duration.

Continuous Resource

The alternative is an interval resource, which would be something like a launchpad or a runway, which may have discrete defined intervals for when they can be booked. Note that in any case, there canโ€™t be any overlap of the allocations made on a resource.

Interval Resource

System definition?

Before starting, we should define our system to some extent and define how we expect the user to be able interact with it. We do this using UML diagrams and sequence diagrams respectively.

UML:

We can describe our system with the following diagram. It allows us to clearly visualise each component and the respective links between our components. The UML doesn't state anything about the content of the interfaces.

Simple UML

Basic sequence diagram:

We can describe how the API client interacts with our system using the sequence diagram below. Note that any internal complexities are hidden, all we care about it how the API client interacts with the application

Basic Sequence Diagram

Advanced sequence diagram:

From an internal development perspective it can be useful to see more information that doesnโ€™t need to be exposed to the API client, we can do that with the following diagram:

Basic Sequence Diagram

Swagger:

We can define the interface of our application by creating a swagger definition. A swagger definition is a file or collection of files which define the endpoints, methods, content, and responses that can be expected by interacting with our application. Swagger definitions are then use by API client while they develop the integration between their component and the application. Swagger can also be used for validation of request content and even for auto-generation of code.

Our system is a basic CRUD (create, read, update, delete) app with some additional validations, so our applications swagger should be quite simple (Maybe I'll add this later).

Development:

We will start by developing the inventory management application, and then work outwards to the gateway system. If you work is an agile team, you will know this is the wrong approach. What we are doing here is called โ€˜horizontal slicingโ€™, when what you would do in an agile environment is โ€˜vertical slicingโ€™.

Horizontal slicing is the practice of splitting development into technical layers. Such as splitting a project by frontend, backend, database layer. Horizontal slicing requires all slices to be completed before the client can use the software.

Vertical slicing is the practice of splitting by functionality. In practise this means small parts of each technical layer will be developed together, allowing functionality to be available sooner, at the sacrifice of having incomplete technical layers.

So while I acknowledge that this isnโ€™t the optimum approach, it is a much easier way to handle development from a technical perspective.

So the development will goes a follows:

Inventory management flask app -> API gateway application -> Combined deployment

Inventory Management App (InvSys):

Start by creating a new directory in our project directory, we will call it invsys, short for inventory system. cd into this directory, because all development in this section will be done in invsys. You should create a new python environment for this component so it can be self contained with its own dependencies tracked.

This application is a Flask app which exposes an API for creating the resources (car, truck, lorry) and creating allocations for the instances.

So we create a file called application.py which we will use to create a function that will create our application. Why a function to create the app instead of just instantiating the app at module level? Well if we want a dynamic configuration, such as to create a test app or a production app, then it is helpful to be able to pass parameters or configs while creating the app. If we define the app at module level, without a function to create it, it is harder to handle dynamic configurations.

A dummy flask app could look like the following:

# application.py

from flask import Flask, Response

def create_application() -> Flask:
    app = Flask(__name__)

    @app.route("/", methods=["GET"])
    def dummy():
        return Response("This is InvSys")

    return app

if __name__==โ€œ__main__โ€:
    app = create_application()
    app.run(host=โ€œ127.0.0.1โ€, port=5000, debug=True)

Before running this, youโ€™ll notice that we import the flask module, so in your new python environment for invsys, install Flask using pip install flask, else you will get an ImportError like โ€œImportError: No module named flaskโ€.

If you run this using python application.py, you should now be able to put 127.0.0.1:5000 in your browser and see This is InvSys.

By installing Flask we have added a dependency to this component, and as it should be self contained and reproducible with consistent dependencies, we should track this dependancy. We will do this by making a requirements.txt file which will list each dependancy and their version. You can do this manually by adding Flask==1.1.1 to your requirements.txt, but I often cheat by running the command pip freeze > requirements.txt, which will list all the dependencies (in your hopefully clean python environment) and put them into the requirements.txt file (this will include any nested dependencies).

# requirements.txt

Flask==1.1.1

This dummy application by itself isn't very useful, so before we start developing the actual application, let's define it. We know that the purpose is to have resources that can be allocated, with 3 different types of resources. For each resource type, we want the following endpoints (we're being RESTful to an extent):

  • POST /{resource_type} - to create an instance of the resource
  • GET /{resource_type} - to get all instances of a given resource type
  • GET /{resource_type}/ - get a specific instance
  • DELETE /{resource_type}/ - delete a specific instance of a resource
  • POST /{resource_type}//allocations - create an allocation for this resource instance
  • GET /{resource_type}//allocations - get all allocations for this resource instance
  • GET /{resource_type}//allocations/ - get a specific allocation
  • DELETE /{resource_type}//allocations/ - delete the allocation

Note: the resource_type is static, there are only 3 of them and there is no way to add more of them using this interface, while the resource_ids and allocation_ids are dynamic and can be created using this interface.

Now we could go ahead and add a url rule for each of these to to application like such:

from flask import Flask, jsonify

def create_application() -> Flask:
    app = Flask(__name__)

    @app.route("/<resource_type>", methods=['POST'])
    def create_resource_instance(resource_type):
        # Here we will create the resource instance
        return jsonify({}), 201

    # Continue making routes for all the other endpoint/method combinations
    ...

    return app

If we were to do this though, our applications.py file would become very large very quickly. Additionally, we'd then need some way to distinguish the flows for creating interval resources and continuous resources (if interval resources were to be added at some point). Instead, we could make the application more modular by using Flask Blueprints. Blueprints allow us to better organise and split our application.

While there may be other ways, I would think the best way to split the blueprints would be one for interval resources, and one for continuous resources. So in this case we will only have one blueprint, just for the continuous resources, but it allows us to make the code more flexible for future development. This reason alone isn't enough for using the Blueprint, because in development you often hear that making code future proof can be a waste of time, so there is another reason we will get to.

Inside our invsys directory we will make a blueprints directory with an __init__.py, and make a file called continuous_resource_blueprint.py.

At this point your overall project directory should resemble this:

.
โ””โ”€โ”€ invsys
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
    โ””โ”€โ”€ blueprints
     ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
     ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_blueprint.py

I will mention two ways of handling the Blueprint with regard to the 3 resource types.

First, we could just create a static Blueprint which has the resource type as a dynamic element in the url, then each route function will need to validate the resource type (perhaps using a decorator), it could look something like this:

# blueprints/continuous_resource_blueprint.py

from flask import Blueprint, jsonify

blueprint = Blueprint('ContinuousResourceBlueprint', __name__)

@blueprint.route('/<resource_type>', methods=['POST'])
def create_continuous_resource(resource_type):
    # Create the resource somehow
    return jsonify({}), 201

# Do the same for all the other endpoints
...

And then in our application.py we would register the Blueprint like so:

# application.py

from flask import Flask, jsonify
from blueprints.continuous_resource_blueprint import blueprint as continuous_resource_blueprint

def create_application() -> Flask:
    app = Flask(__name__)
    app.register_blueprint(continuous_resource_blueprint)
    return app

While this would work just fine, you'd need to somewhere define acceptable resource types, either in the environment for flexibility, or in some config.

If we know that the resource types are unlikely to change, then it would be nice for them to be clearly stated in the application.py. One way to do that would be using creating Blueprints using a function which states the resource type using closures.

Before looking at the blueprint, if we look at the new applications.py file, it would look more like this:

from flask import Flask
from blueprints.continuous_resource_blueprint import create_continuous_resource_blueprint

def create_app() -> Flask:
    app = Flask(__name__)

    # Register continuous resource blueprints
    app.register_blueprint(
        create_continuous_resource_blueprint(
            blueprint_name="CarsBlueprint", # The name, used by flask when using the url_for function
            resource_type="Car", # The resource type
            resource_prefix="cars" # The base of the url for this resource type
        ),
        url_prefix='/api'
    )

    # Then do the same for lorry and truck
    ...

    return app

The benefit of the above snippet is that by looking at my application.py one can clearly see that the application has a continuous resource of type Car with the base url of /cars.

Note in the above snippet, I've added the url_prefix to the registered blueprint. This means to access any of our urls in the blueprint, we need to put /api first like, /api/cars/resources. I do this to allow my backends to expose simple UIs using endpoints that don't have the /api prefix. For example I might route / to return a simple UI showing our inventory in this application, but we won't cover that. In other applications you might see prefixes like /api/v1 and then they will create a new blueprint with the prefix /api/v2 if they change the functionality of the service or are forced to add some backwards incompatible change.

In our continuous_resource_blueprint.py we would then implement something like this:

from flask import Blueprint

def create_continuous_resource_blueprint(blueprint_name: str, resource_type: str, resource_prefix: str) -> Blueprint:
    """
    blueprint_name: name of the blueprint, used by Flask for routing
    resource_type: name of the specific type of interval resource, such as Car or Lorry
    resource_prefix: the plural resource to be used in the api endpoint, such as cars, resulting in "/cars"
    """
    blueprint = Blueprint(blueprint_name, __name__)

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["POST"])
    def create_resource():
        return jsonify({}), 201

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["GET"])
    def get_resources():
        return jsonify({}), 201

    # We then do this for all the other endpoints we listed
    ...

    return blueprint

So we have the general setup of the Flask app and the blueprints for handling our three continuous resources. You'll note that the above snippet isn't using the resource_type parameter for anything, and this is because we have been neglecting an essential part of this component.

How and where do we store the resources and allocations?

Well, I said in the introduction that we were going to use SQLAlchemy, so that was a spoiler. We will store the allocations and resources in an SQLite3 database and use SQLAlchemy as an ORM for accessing the database. More specifically we will use flask-SQLAlchemy which you can install using pip install flask-SQLAlchemy, remember, you will need to update your requirements.txt file with this new dependancy.

As is typical in this guide, I will show you two ways to handle the database related logic, with the latter being my preferred approach in this scenario, but we will get to this shortly as there is some setup and common work that needs to be done first.

Firstly, how do we actually use and initialise the database?

In single file flask applications, you will typically see something like this in guides:

# application.py

from flask import Flask
from flask_sqlalchemy import SQLAlchemy

app = Flask(__name__)
app.config['SQLALCHEMY_DATABASE_URI'] = "sqlite:///mydatabase.db"
db = SQLAlchemy(app)

# Create the models (we'll get to this after)
with app.app_context():
    db.create_all()

# Then afterwards we register routes or blueprints that we have imported
...

But in doing this we create a problem. Our routes/models/blueprints are in other files, and they might need access to the database to make objects and commit changes. So in this file you will be importing those modules, and in those modules you would need to import the database from this file, which creates a circular import problem.

To avoid this circular import problem, we just put the database in a separate file. In the same directory as your application.py, create a new file called database.py which should look like this:

# database.py

from flask_sqlalchemy import SQLAlchemy

db = SQLAlchemy()

Then from our application.py and our routes and blueprints, we can import the db object from this module with no circular dependancy issues.

Our application.py could now look like this instead:

from flask import Flask
from database import db

def create_app(db_uri: str) -> Flask:
    app = Flask(__name__)
    app.config['SQLALCHEMY_DATABASE_URI'] = db_uri
    # We still need to initialise the db with the flask app, but we can do this after the object has been initialised by using init_app
    db.init_app(app)

    with app.app_context():
        db.create_all()

    # Here we would then register our blueprints or routes
    ...

    return app

The common aspect will be the models. These are our classes which represent the tables, and the subsequent columns and relationships in the database.

Because we are being generic, we only need two tables. One to represent a continuous resource, and one to represent a continuous resource allocation.

In the invsys directory create a subdirectory called models with an __init__.py and then inside our models directory we will create two new files, continuous_resource.py and continuous_resource_allocation.py.

Your invsys directory should now look like this:

.
โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
โ”œโ”€โ”€ database.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ blueprints
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_blueprint.py
โ””โ”€โ”€ models
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource.py
    โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation.py

Lets look at the continuous_resource.py first. The ContinuousResource model represents a car/lorry/truck, so each we need a column for the resource type, the resource name (a specific unique identifier which is human readable) and a uuid (also unique, but just a 36 digit uuid, which is somewhat a duplication in purpose as the name column, but the uuid will be used when working with the endpoints). We will add a created datetime column too.

From a ContinuousResource, it will be useful to be able to access all the allocation related to this resource, so we create an allocations relationship.

# continuous_resource.py

from database import db
import datetime

class ContinuousResource(db.Model):
    __tablename__ = "continous_resources" # Specified instead of using the default

    id = db.Column(db.String(36), primary_key=True, unique=True)
    name = db.Column(db.String(36), primary_key=True, unique=True) # Eg Car1
    resource_type = db.Column(db.String(36), primary_key=True) # Car/Lorry/Truck
    created = db.Column(db.DateTime, nullable=False, default=datetime.datetime.utcnow)

    # Children
    allocations = db.relationship("ContinuousResourceAllocation", back_populates="resource", lazy=True)

Now we look at the continuous_resource_allocation.py. We can define a ContinuousResourceAllocation as an object with a from_datetime, and a to_datetime. Then in some cases, the allocation might want to be considered as from_infinity or to_infinity, so we will add a boolean column for those two options, and make all four of these columns nullable. Therefore you could create an allocation from now until infinity to indicate an indefinite maintenance period for this resource making it un-allocatable. Again we can add the resource type, an id, and some additional columns like a description, or an allocation type (like a "booking", or "maintenance"). Finally, we will add a json dump column for storing any additional data about the allocation, and we can add a property method to return the dictionary representation, called 'dump'.

To finalise the relationship between the two models, we pass the resource_id of the related ContinuousResource as a ForeignKey column, and then make the 'resource' relationship.

# continuous_resource_allocation.py

from database import db
import datetime

class ContinuousResourceAllocation(db.Model):
    __tablename__ = "continuous_resource_allocations"

    id = db.Column(db.String(36), primary_key=True, unique=True)
    resource_type = db.Column(db.String(36), primary_key=True)
    created = db.Column(db.DateTime, nullable=False, default=datetime.datetime.utcnow)
    from_infinity = db.Column(db.Boolean, default=False)
    to_infinity = db.Column(db.Boolean, default=False)
    from_datetime = db.Column(db.DateTime, nullable=True)
    to_datetime = db.Column(db.DateTime, nullable=True)
    allocation_type = db.Column(db.String(20))
    description = db.Column(db.String(100), nullable=True)
    json_dump = db.Column(db.String(200), nullable=True)

    # Parents
    resource_id = db.Column(db.ForeignKey('continuous_resources.id'))
    resource = db.relationship('ContinuousResource', foreign_keys=resource_id)

    @property
    def dump(self) -> dict:
        try:
            return json.loads(self.json_dump)
        except:
            return {}

We have our models, now what?

Well our blueprint doesn't actually do anything yet, it just defines our endpoints and methods, so we have to tell each of our endpoint route functions what to do with the database. Now before, I mentioned there were two ways of doing this.

Lets look at the first way where in our blueprint, we consume the models and database directly.

Our continuous_resource_blueprint.py could start to look like this (Note: we aren't returning anything yet from our endpoint functions, we'll get to that):

from flask import Blueprint
from database import db
from models.continuous_resource import ContinuousResource
import uuid

def create_continuous_resource_blueprint(blueprint_name: str, resource_type: str, resource_prefix: str) -> Blueprint:
    """
    blueprint_name: name of the blueprint, used by Flask for routing
    resource_type: name of the specific type of interval resource, such as Car or Lorry
    resource_prefix: the plural resource to be used in the api endpoint, such as cars, resulting in "/cars"
    """
    blueprint = Blueprint(blueprint_name, __name__)

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["POST"])
    def create_resource():
        new_resource = ContinuousResource(id=str(uuid.uuid4()), **request.get_json()) # We assume request has everything we need in it for now
        db.session.add(new_resource)
        db.session.commit()
        return jsonify({}), 201

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["GET"])
    def get_resources():
        resources = ContinuousResource.query.filter_by(resource_type=resource_type)
        return jsonify({}), 201

    # We then do this for all the other endpoints we listed
    ...

    return blueprint

If you look at the above snippet, you will see that we mention the database and models directly. For some applications this is fine, but imagine that we later decide to change what sort of database we are using. Or we change our ORM. This means all our database references in our blueprints and routes will need updating. This means our blueprints are 'coupled' with our databasing.

The second approach attempts to decouple the blueprints from the by using a concept know as DAOs (data access objects) or DALs (data access layers).

We will create a DAO which will be used to handle any related databasing for continuous resources (including allocations). The DAO will encapsulate the database logic. Therefore if we want to migrate database, we just need to update the DAO and nothing that consumes the DAO will need to be touched.

Perhaps you are thinking, "Why would you need to migrate databases?". Well, for now our models are sufficient. But imagine that it turns out our API clients like to dump large amounts of json in our allocation 'json_dump' column, and perhaps in the future they might want to be able to retrieve allocations based on certain data in that column. In that case, it might make sense to change our database from SQL to something like MongoDB which handles json more natively. Our DAO gives us the flexibility to adapt to how our service is consumed with no real additional development cost.

In invsys we will create a new directory called daos with an __init__.py, and then a dao file called continuous_resource_dao.py.

Our directory now looks like this:

.
โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
โ”œโ”€โ”€ database.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ blueprints
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_blueprint.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ daos
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_dao.py
โ””โ”€โ”€ models
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource.py
    โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation.py

Our DAO is just a class containing static methods for each database related query

# continuous_resource_dao.py

from database import db
from typing import List
from models.continuous_resource import ContinuousResource
import uuid

class ContinuousResourceDao:
    @staticmethod
    def create_resource(resource_type, name) -> ContinuousResource:
        resource = ContinuousResource(
            id=str(uuid.uuid4()),
            resource_type=resource_type,
            name=name
        )
        db.session.add(resource)
        db.session.commit()
        return resource

    @staticmethod
    def get_resources(resource_type) -> List[ContinuousResource]:
        return ContinuousResource.query.filter_by(resource_type=resource_type)

    # There will be more functions for each other query
    ...

And then in our blueprint, we use the DAO instead of the direct database accesses

# continuous_resource_blueprint.py

from flask import Blueprint, request, jsonify
from daos.continuous_resource_dao import ContinuousResourceDao

def create_continuous_resource_blueprint(blueprint_name: str, resource_type: str, resource_prefix: str) -> Blueprint:
    """
    blueprint_name: name of the blueprint, used by Flask for routing
    resource_type: name of the specific type of interval resource, such as Car
    resource_prefix: the plural resource to be used in the api endpoint, such as cars, resulting in "/cars"
    """
    blueprint = Blueprint(blueprint_name, __name__)

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["POST"])
    def create_resource():
        resource = ContinuousResourceDao.create_resource(
            resource_type=resource_type,
            name=request.get_json(force=True)['name']
        )
        return jsonify({}), 201

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["GET"])
    def get_resources():
        resources = ContinuousResourceDao.get_resources(resource_type=resource_type)
        return jsonify({}), 200

        # Then all the other endpoints
        ...

    return blueprint

You might be thinking, "What is the point of creating a DAO to decouple the database layer from the routes, if you then return from the DAO an object coupled with the database?". Its a valid question, our DAO returns model instances (or lists thereof), which means we technically haven't decoupled. Fortunately, the objects that we return have the same interface as any custom one we would make, so for now this doesn't cause any issues. In the future, if you were to decide that you wanted to use MongoDB, then you would need to have your DAO spawn intermediate objects with the same interface, but this shouldn't affect anything that consumes the DAO.

Ok, so we have covered the blueprints, the routing of endpoints, the databasing and DAOs, but we still aren't actually returning anything. Each endpoint function should end up with a model object or list of model objects. If you create a resource, you will have a ContinuousResource instance, if you create an allocation, you will have ContinuousResourceAllocation instance, if you get all resources, you will have a list of ContinuousResources.

We can't directly return these objects in our API. Our API returns json. So instead we can create dictionary representations of these objects, and allow Flask to return them as json using the jsonify function. So each object needs serialiser.

We can create a new directory called serialisers with an __init__.py, and we will create a serialiser for each model. So we create continuous_resource_serialiser.py and continuous_resource_allocation_serialiser.py.

Directory now looks like this:

.
โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
โ”œโ”€โ”€ database.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ blueprints
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_blueprint.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ daos
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_dao.py
โ”œโ”€โ”€ models
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation.py
โ””โ”€โ”€ serialisers
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation_serialiser.py
    โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_serialiser.py

The serialiser takes an instance of the object and returns a dictionary with serialisable data types. So in our serialisers we need to convert datetimes into strings else we will encounter problems using jsonify. Note as our 'serialisers' are returning dictionaries, they aren't serialisers in the truest form. There are some modules for Flask that can be used to define Serialiser classes based on the Model classes, but this doesn't work very well with the flexibility of our DAO. It also couples the database objects with their external representation, which is something to avoid.

# continuous_resource_serialiser.py

class ContinuousResourceSerialiser:
    @staticmethod
    def serialise(resource) -> dict:
        return {
            'id': resource.id,
            'name': resource.name,
            'resource_type': resource.resource_type,
            'created': resource.created.strftime("%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S")
        }

and:

# continuous_resource_allocation_serialiser.py

class ContinuousResourceAllocationSerialiser:
    @staticmethod
    def serialise(allocation) -> dict:
        return {
            'id': allocation.id,
            'resource_type': allocation.resource_type,
            'resource_id': allocation.resource_id,
            'from_infinity': allocation.from_infinity,
            'to_infinity': allocation.to_infinity,
            'from_datetime': (
                allocation.from_datetime.strftime("%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S")
                if allocation.from_datetime
                else None
            ),
            'to_datetime': (
                allocation.to_datetime.strftime("%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S")
                if allocation.to_datetime
                else None
            ),
            'allocation_type': allocation.allocation_type,
            'description': allocation.description,
            'dump': allocation.dump
        }

Now in our blueprint we serialise our model instances before returning them.

# continuous_resource_blueprint.py

from flask import Blueprint, request, jsonify
from daos.continuous_resource_dao import ContinuousResourceDao
from serialisers.continuous_resource_serialiser import ContinuousResourceSerialiser

def create_continuous_resource_blueprint(blueprint_name: str, resource_type: str, resource_prefix: str):
    """
    blueprint_name: name of the blueprint, used by Flask for routing
    resource_type: name of the specific type of interval resource, such as boy bay or payload bay
    resource_prefix: the plural resource to be used in the api endpoint, such as bot_bay, resulting in "/bot_bays"
    """
    blueprint = Blueprint(blueprint_name, __name__)

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["POST"])
    def create_resource():
        resource = ContinuousResourceDao.create_resource(
            resource_type=resource_type,
            name=request.get_json(force=True)['name']
        )
        return ContinuousResourceSerialiser.serialise(resource), 201

    @blueprint.route(f'/{resource_prefix}', methods=["GET"])
    def get_resources():
        return jsonify([
            ContinuousResourceSerialiser.serialise(resource)
            for resource in ContinuousResourceDao.get_resources(resource_type=resource_type)
        ]), 200

Note that we use 201 as a status code if something has been created, and 200 in cases where the request is OK but nothing is created.

You'll need to fill in the blanks for all the other endpoints I've glossed other (look at the source code in the repo).

We will have a look together now at the function for creating a new allocation, because this function needs to validate that the allocation can be made.

For creating allocations we will have a route resembling:

@blueprint.route(f'/{resource_type}/<resource_id>/allocations', methods=['POST'])
def create_resource_allocation(resource_id):
    ...

In this create_resource_allocation function, we should have the characteristics of the allocation in the payload body, and what we intend to do is disqualify the allocation. Our function will check conditions to see if we can reject this request due to overlaps or other conditions, and if we fail to disqualify it, we will then create the allocation record.

@blueprint.route(f'/{resource_type}/<resource_id>/allocations', methods=['POST'])
def create_resource_allocation(resource_id):
    # Clean the inputs

    # Get all existing allocations related to this resource id

    # Check each existing allocation and if there is overlap, reject this request

    # Create the allocation if it passed the above checks
    ...

So written like that, it is quite clear what we have to do. But when we consider that our allocation is defined by four nullable values, it means our function will end up being quite long consisting our multiple if-elif-else statements. I won't put the actual function here, but you can look at it in continuous_resource_blueprint.py Line 58.

Assuming you have created everything we've mentioned above and filled in the blanks, or that you have cloned the repository. If you run python application.py you should now be able to target the application to create resources and allocations with populated responses.

If you open Postman and POST a new car instance to 127.0.0.1:5000/api/cars, you should get a response containing the request body and the new uuid.

Post Car Postman Screenshot

We can retrieve the car using GET 127.0.0.1:5000/api/cars.

Get Cars Postman Screenshot

You can post an allocation:

Post Allocation Postman Screenshot

This works just fine, but it assumes you have the python environment set up correctly. We can avoid this issue by running the application in a Docker container. What we need to do is create a Dockerfile, which will be used to create a docker image of our application, and then you can use docker to run the image in a container.

In the invsys directory create a file called Dockerfile. Our Dockerfile will look like this:

# Dockerfile

FROM python:3.7-alpine
COPY requirements.txt /
RUN pip install -r /requirements.txt
COPY . /app
WORKDIR /app
EXPOSE 5001
CMD [ "python", "application.py" ]

We use FROM python:3.7-alpine as our base as it has the correct python version, and the alpine images are relatively small compared to non-alpine images (a few megabyes as opposed to a few hundred megabytes). We COPY requirements.txt / which makes the file available in our docker image, and then install it using RUN pip install -r /requirements.txt. We then copy the rest of our source code into a subdirectory called app with COPY . /app. Using WORKDIR /app means the next commands will be executed in that directory. We EXPOSE 5001 to expose port 5001, which is the port defined in our application.py. Then finally we state the command to run the application, which is CMD [ "python", "application.py" ].

When you run an the application without Docker, it will create a database in the invsys directory called red.db (in our if __name__=='__main__' in application.py, we pass sqlite:///red.db as the db_uri, and if it doesn't exist, SQLAlchemy creates it for us). Which means when you create your Docker image, you will already have your database in your image with any existing data in it. So avoid this by adding a .dockerignore file to your directory, containing red.db. Now when you build your image, there will be a fresh database. For this project we aren't concerned about database persistence and volumes.

Now that we have a Dockerfile (and our .dockerignore), we can build the image using docker build -t invsys ., which will build an image called invsys based off of the Dockerfile in our current directory (.).

Then you can deploy your application using docker run -p 5001:5001 invsys and target it the same way as before using Postman. The -p 5001:5001 is for routing the docker machine port to the port of our container.

Gateway Application

Why do we need one?

  • The Gateway allows us to present a single interface to access our micro-services. From a technical perspective it means the API client only needs to target a single host and single port instead of communicating with multiple services running on different ports and hosts. So for one, it adds convenience.
  • Another benefit is to orchestrate the authentication and authorisation of requests. Authentication is typically handled by an external system, but then the Gateway will communicate with that system to confirm requests are authenticated before internally routing them to the correct micro-services.
  • The Gateway can also handle authorisation, which is determining whether requests have permissions to access certain resources. In many cases, like the invsys system we developed above, we don't take into consideration which client is consuming the service. By making our services client-agnostic, we allow them to focus on their specific purpose which makes them more maintainable, more discrete, and more reusable. So our Gateway can then integrate middleware that determines which resources belong to which clients, which itself might done by integrating another micro-service for handling client accounts and resources.

What will ours do?

We want our gateway to just route requests to our invsys service. Nothing else will be integrated, but by doing this you will see how to consume one service from another service, and when you can do it for one, you can do it for many.

Lets do it

Inside our main project directory, create a new directory called gateway. cd into this directory. We will create another Flask application here, though it will be much simpler. Create an application.py again, create another fresh python environment and install Flask again. Create a requirements.txt again. Your overall project directory structure should look like this:

.
โ”œโ”€โ”€ gateway
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
โ””โ”€โ”€ invsys
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ Dockerfile
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ database.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ blueprints
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_blueprint.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ daos
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_dao.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ models
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation.py
    โ””โ”€โ”€ serialisers
        โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
        โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation_serialiser.py
        โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_serialiser.py

Again, before developing the application, lets define it a bit further.

Definition

For demonstration purposes, we will only handle two of the invsys endpoints for routing. So our application will accept requests to:

  • POST /api/{resource_type}
  • GET /api/{resource_type}

We expect our application to receive the request from the API client, forward the payload or query strings to invsys, then forward the response from invsys back to the API client.

For now, due to the minimal requirements, we will skip using Blueprints and develop directly in our application.py. You'll also notice that we have no need currently for any database. So no models or DAOs. We won't need serialisers because we are just forwarding responses.

Development

Our application.py can have its routes defined in the following way:

# application.py

from flask import Flask

def create_application():
    app = Flask(__name__)

    @app.route('/api/<resource_type>', methods=['POST'])
    def post_resource(resource_type):
        ...

    @app.route('/api/<resource_type>', methods=['GET'])
    def get_resources(resource_type):
        ...

    return app

To forward our requests, we will use the requests module, which can install using pip install requests. Remember to add this to your requirements.txt.

Looking at our post_resource function first, we want to take the payload from the incoming request and forward it to the instance of our invsys. If we have deployed invsys on 127.0.0.1 then we could use:

import requests

data = ... # from request
resource_type = ... # from endpoint
response = requests.post(f"http://127.0.0.1:5000/api/{resource_type}", data)

But by doing this, our application source code becomes coupled with how and where we deploy invsys. So instead, we can post to http://invsys:5000/api/... and ensure that our network is set up to route invys -> 127.0.0.1 or to whichever ip it is hosted on.

So our application can start to look like this:

# application.py

from flask import Flask, request, Response
from typing import List, Tuple
import json
import requests

def create_application():
    app = Flask(__name__)

    @app.route('/api/<resource_type>', methods=['POST'])
    def post_resource(resource_type):
        # Get the payload from our incoming request
        payload = request.get_json(force=True)

        # Forward the payload to the relevant endpoint in invsys
        response = requests.post(f'http://invsys:5000/api/{resource_type}', data=json.dumps(payload))

        # Forward the response back to the client
        # We create a Response object by deconstructing our response from above
        return Response(response.content, response.status_code, get_proxy_headers(response))

    @app.route('/api/<resource_type>', methods=['GET'])
    def get_resources(resource_type):
        # There is no payload and no querystrings for this endpoint in invsys
        response = requests.get(f'http://invsys:5000/api/{resource_type}')

        # Forward the response back to the client
        # We create a Response object by deconstructing our response from above
        return Response(response.content, response.status_code, get_proxy_headers(response))

    return app

def get_proxy_headers(response) -> List[Tuple]:
    # A function to get the needed headers from the requests response
    excluded_headers = ['content-encoding', 'content-length', 'transfer-encoding', 'connection']
    headers = [
        (name, value)
        for (name, value) in response.raw.headers.items()
        if name.lower() not in excluded_headers
    ]
    return headers

And that is all there is to it for our gateway application. We will add the same Dockerfile, but expose port 5001 instead. In our application.py, and we will set port 5001 in our if __name__=='__main__' block.

We can't simply deploy this application using just python application.py because you need an instance of invsys running, and you need your network set up to route invsys to the correct ip address.

Fortunately, docker can help us with this.

Composing our system

We have two flask apps. Invsys and Gateway. We want them both to be deployed, and we want Gateway to be able to send requests to Invsys using invsys instead of a specific IP.

Docker-compose is a tool that allows us to define the deployment of multiple containers, and has the added benefit of making each container targetable using the container name. All we need to is create a docker-compose.yaml in our main project directory, which now looks like this:

.
โ”œโ”€โ”€ docker-compose.yaml
โ”œโ”€โ”€ gateway
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ Dockerfile
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
โ””โ”€โ”€ invsys
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ Dockerfile
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ application.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ database.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ blueprints
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_blueprint.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ daos
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_dao.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ models
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource.py
    โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation.py
    โ”œโ”€โ”€ requirements.txt
    โ””โ”€โ”€ serialisers
        โ”œโ”€โ”€ __init__.py
        โ”œโ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_allocation_serialiser.py
        โ””โ”€โ”€ continuous_resource_serialiser.py

And our docker-compose.yaml looks like this:

# docker-compose.yaml

version: '2'
services:
    gateway:
        build: gateway
        ports:
            - "5001:5001"
    invsys:
        build: invsys

We have defined two services. One for Gateway and one for Invsys. The key we use as the name of the service is the name used to target that service in the network. As we are naming our Invsys service as invsys, any requests from our application that target invsys will be routed to the correct ip for that service. We are using the build flag in each case, which means the tool will search for the gateway and invsys subdirectories and use their Dockerfiles to build the image. The port flag is the same as the one used in the docker run command, it routes the external docker machine port to the internally exposed port of our containers. You'll notice that we haven't added a port mapping for invsys and this is because we want to force requests to go through the gateway. If you wanted to be able to target invsys directly too, you would just need to add ports: - "5000:5000".

You can now deploy the application by running docker-compose up. Using docker-compose, your application likely won't be hosted on 127.0.0.1, so you can get the correct ip using docker-machine ip (you might need to run docker-machine start first, and even eval $(docker-machine env default) to set your docker machine config correctly). Then in Postman you can test your requests on {correct_ip}:5001/api/cars which should target Gateway and route the requests to InvSys. You can end your deployment using CTRL-c. If you want to deploy in the background, use docker-compose -d up and to end your deployment use docker-compose down.

With our application deployed, we can post a new car via the gateway (Note the host and port of the request)

Post car through gateway Postman screenshot

Whats next?

We have built the inventory system and developed the base of the gateway. The next step for the backend application would be to look at the booking systems and billing systems. The booking system could determine which vehicle to select for a given criteria, and it could then determine the lengths of the allocations before consuming the inventory backend internally instead of letting the client consume the inventory backend directly. The billing system could determine the price of the booking and then integrate external payment providers.

You could have one frontend admin UI which consumes the gateway to create resources and look at allocations, and then you could have another client-specific frontend UI which consumes the booking engine.

Showing a potential admin flow:
Future Application Admin UML

Showing a potential user flow:
Future Application User UML

And from there, you would need some sort of external integration with the vehicle providers or garages. But this is beyond our scope.

Deploying on local without Docker

While this guide is focused on deploying with Docker, you are able to deploy on local without it too. Set up your network to route invsys -> 127.0.0.1 by updating your /etc/hosts file with an extra line like 127.0.0.1 invsys. You can then open two terminal windows. In the first, cd to invsys and then run python application.py, and in the other terminal window, do the same but in the gateway directory. Then with Postman you can target either backend on 127.0.0.1. Docker is for more than just deploying though, so this sub-section is just an aside for those interested.

Other things to consider

This guide has glossed over a few things:

  • Each backend should be unit tested.
  • Pretty much every decision made in this guide could have been made in a different way with the same end result.

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