Python – How Python web frameworks, WSGI and CGI fit together


I have a Bluehost account where I can run Python scripts as CGI. I guess it's the simplest CGI, because to run I have to define the following in .htaccess:

Options +ExecCGI
AddType text/html py
AddHandler cgi-script .py

Now, whenever I look up web programming with Python, I hear a lot about WSGI and how most frameworks use it. But I just don't understand how it all fits together, especially when my web server is given (Apache running at a host's machine) and not something I can really play with (except defining .htaccess commands).

How are WSGI, CGI, and the frameworks all connected? What do I need to know, install, and do if I want to run a web framework (say or CherryPy) on my basic CGI configuration? How to install WSGI support?

Best Answer

How WSGI, CGI, and the frameworks are all connected?

Apache listens on port 80. It gets an HTTP request. It parses the request to find a way to respond. Apache has a LOT of choices for responding. One way to respond is to use CGI to run a script. Another way to respond is to simply serve a file.

In the case of CGI, Apache prepares an environment and invokes the script through the CGI protocol. This is a standard Unix Fork/Exec situation -- the CGI subprocess inherits an OS environment including the socket and stdout. The CGI subprocess writes a response, which goes back to Apache; Apache sends this response to the browser.

CGI is primitive and annoying. Mostly because it forks a subprocess for every request, and subprocess must exit or close stdout and stderr to signify end of response.

WSGI is an interface that is based on the CGI design pattern. It is not necessarily CGI -- it does not have to fork a subprocess for each request. It can be CGI, but it doesn't have to be.

WSGI adds to the CGI design pattern in several important ways. It parses the HTTP Request Headers for you and adds these to the environment. It supplies any POST-oriented input as a file-like object in the environment. It also provides you a function that will formulate the response, saving you from a lot of formatting details.

What do I need to know / install / do if I want to run a web framework (say or cherrypy) on my basic CGI configuration?

Recall that forking a subprocess is expensive. There are two ways to work around this.

  1. Embedded mod_wsgi or mod_python embeds Python inside Apache; no process is forked. Apache runs the Django application directly.

  2. Daemon mod_wsgi or mod_fastcgi allows Apache to interact with a separate daemon (or "long-running process"), using the WSGI protocol. You start your long-running Django process, then you configure Apache's mod_fastcgi to communicate with this process.

Note that mod_wsgi can work in either mode: embedded or daemon.

When you read up on mod_fastcgi, you'll see that Django uses flup to create a WSGI-compatible interface from the information provided by mod_fastcgi. The pipeline works like this.

Apache -> mod_fastcgi -> FLUP (via FastCGI protocol) -> Django (via WSGI protocol)

Django has several "django.core.handlers" for the various interfaces.

For mod_fastcgi, Django provides a runfcgi that integrates FLUP and the handler.

For mod_wsgi, there's a core handler for this.

How to install WSGI support?

Follow these instructions.

For background see this