coroutines: pipelines and data flow

This part of the series will introduce the concept of “pipes” using coroutines. We’ll write a naive implementation of tail -f, and enhance it with a filter, then broadcast the results.


  1. You’re using python 2.7.x
  2. You’re familiar with coroutines. otherwise, read - coroutines: introduction.


coroutines can be used to set up pipes, by chaining multiple coroutines together and pushing data from a producer to consumers.

[producer] --> [consumer coroutine] --> [consumer coroutine] --> ...

The producer has an end-point consumer (sink), which consumes the produced data:

def producer(target):
while True:
item = produce_an_item()
if not item:


def consumer():
while True:
item = (yield) # receive an item
except GeneratorExit: # handle .close()

# now, run the producer and send the consumer.

tail -f

tail is a program on Unix and Unix-like systems used to display the tail end of a text file or piped data.

The --follow flag (-f for short) cause tail to output appended data as the file grows.

We will emulate the same behavior with a line producer. The producer will read lines from a given file, and send each line to a consumer that prints them.

from io import SEEK_END
from time import sleep

def follow(fd, target):, SEEK_END) # read to the end of the file
while True:
line = fd.readline().strip()

if not line:
sleep(0.1) # wait a little bit before trying again


Now, we’ll define a coroutine decorator that bootstraps coroutines:

from functools import wraps

def coroutine(f):
def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
cr = f(*args, **kwargs)
return cr
return wrapper

Then create a print coroutine that consumes lines and prints them to stdout:

def printer():
while True:

And now lets hook everything together:

from sys import argv

# read path from argv
with open(argv[1], 'r') as f:
follow(f, printer())

Here we go. we’ve got a nice implementation of tail -f.

Adding a filter

Let’s say we want to add a filter to our solution that behaves like grep.

from re import compile
# in python 2.x, there's no "re type" import.
re_type = type(compile(""))

def filter(expression, target):
if isinstance(expression, basestring):
expression = compile(expression)

if not isinstance(expression, re_type):
raise ValueError("expression should be a string or a compiled regex")

while True:
# this is called on every .send() call
text = (yield)

We’ll leverage the current design and only print lines that start with the word hello.

from sys import argv

# read path from argv
with open(argv[1], 'r') as f:
follow(f, filter("^hello", printer()))

The former works like so: [follow] --> [filter] --> [printer]


Lets say we want to broadcast produced results, we can create a broadcast coroutine:

def broadcast(*targets):
while True:
text = (yield)
for target in targets:

Now, we’ll create another coroutine that cleans nasty words:

from re import compile

def cleaner(pattern, target):
expression = compile(pattern)

def clean(match):
text =
# transform fuck -> f**k
return text[0] + ('*' * (len(text) - 2)) + text[-1]

while True:
text = expression.sub(clean, (yield))

And hook everything together:

with open(argv[1], 'r') as f:
follow(f, broadcast(filter("^hello", printer()),
filter("fuck", cleaner("fuck", printer()))))

You’ve probably noticed we’ve created our filter multiple times. Maybe a better approach would be to send a compiled expression to both cleaner and filter coroutines.

Moreover, we’re creating multiple printer coroutines. Instead of creating separate pipes for each filter, we can create one instance of printer and branch back when we need to print.

Let’s fix these issues -

printer_routine = printer()
nasty_regex = re.compile("fuck")

with open(argv[1], 'r') as f:
follow(f, broadcast(filter("^hello",

All the code you’ve seen in this blog is available as a GitHub Gist as well.

Final thoughts

coroutines provide more powerful data routing possibilities than simple iterators.

If you’ve built a collection of simple data processing components, you can glue them together into complex arrangements of pipes, branches, merging, etc.

What’s next?

Go ahead and read the next part of the series, coroutines: basic building blocks for concurrency.