Basics tutorial

A basic tutorial introduction to gRPC in Python.

Basics tutorial

A basic tutorial introduction to gRPC in Python.

This tutorial provides a basic Python programmer’s introduction to working with gRPC.

By walking through this example you’ll learn how to:

  • Define a service in a .proto file.
  • Generate server and client code using the protocol buffer compiler.
  • Use the Python gRPC API to write a simple client and server for your service.

It assumes that you have read the Introduction to gRPC and are familiar with protocol buffers. You can find out more in the proto3 language guide and Python generated code guide.

Why use gRPC?

Our example is a simple route mapping application that lets clients get information about features on their route, create a summary of their route, and exchange route information such as traffic updates with the server and other clients.

With gRPC we can define our service once in a .proto file and generate clients and servers in any of gRPC’s supported languages, which in turn can be run in environments ranging from servers inside a large data center to your own tablet — all the complexity of communication between different languages and environments is handled for you by gRPC. We also get all the advantages of working with protocol buffers, including efficient serialization, a simple IDL, and easy interface updating.

Example code and setup

The example code for this tutorial is in grpc/grpc/examples/python/route_guide. To download the example, clone the grpc repository by running the following command:

$ git clone -b v1.64.0 --depth 1 --shallow-submodules

Then change your current directory to examples/python/route_guide in the repository:

$ cd grpc/examples/python/route_guide

You also should have the relevant tools installed to generate the server and client interface code - if you don’t already, follow the setup instructions in Quick start.

Defining the service

Your first step (as you’ll know from the Introduction to gRPC) is to define the gRPC service and the method request and response types using protocol buffers. You can see the complete .proto file in examples/protos/route_guide.proto.

To define a service, you specify a named service in your .proto file:

service RouteGuide {
   // (Method definitions not shown)

Then you define rpc methods inside your service definition, specifying their request and response types. gRPC lets you define four kinds of service method, all of which are used in the RouteGuide service:

  • A simple RPC where the client sends a request to the server using the stub and waits for a response to come back, just like a normal function call.

    // Obtains the feature at a given position.
    rpc GetFeature(Point) returns (Feature) {}
  • A response-streaming RPC where the client sends a request to the server and gets a stream to read a sequence of messages back. The client reads from the returned stream until there are no more messages. As you can see in the example, you specify a response-streaming method by placing the stream keyword before the response type.

    // Obtains the Features available within the given Rectangle.  Results are
    // streamed rather than returned at once (e.g. in a response message with a
    // repeated field), as the rectangle may cover a large area and contain a
    // huge number of features.
    rpc ListFeatures(Rectangle) returns (stream Feature) {}
  • A request-streaming RPC where the client writes a sequence of messages and sends them to the server, again using a provided stream. Once the client has finished writing the messages, it waits for the server to read them all and return its response. You specify a request-streaming method by placing the stream keyword before the request type.

    // Accepts a stream of Points on a route being traversed, returning a
    // RouteSummary when traversal is completed.
    rpc RecordRoute(stream Point) returns (RouteSummary) {}
  • A bidirectionally-streaming RPC where both sides send a sequence of messages using a read-write stream. The two streams operate independently, so clients and servers can read and write in whatever order they like: for example, the server could wait to receive all the client messages before writing its responses, or it could alternately read a message then write a message, or some other combination of reads and writes. The order of messages in each stream is preserved. You specify this type of method by placing the stream keyword before both the request and the response.

    // Accepts a stream of RouteNotes sent while a route is being traversed,
    // while receiving other RouteNotes (e.g. from other users).
    rpc RouteChat(stream RouteNote) returns (stream RouteNote) {}

Your .proto file also contains protocol buffer message type definitions for all the request and response types used in our service methods - for example, here’s the Point message type:

// Points are represented as latitude-longitude pairs in the E7 representation
// (degrees multiplied by 10**7 and rounded to the nearest integer).
// Latitudes should be in the range +/- 90 degrees and longitude should be in
// the range +/- 180 degrees (inclusive).
message Point {
  int32 latitude = 1;
  int32 longitude = 2;

Generating client and server code

Next you need to generate the gRPC client and server interfaces from your .proto service definition.

First, install the grpcio-tools package:

$ pip install grpcio-tools

Use the following command to generate the Python code:

$ python -m grpc_tools.protoc -I../../protos --python_out=. --pyi_out=. --grpc_python_out=. ../../protos/route_guide.proto

Note that as we’ve already provided a version of the generated code in the example directory, running this command regenerates the appropriate file rather than creates a new one. The generated code files are called and and contain:

  • classes for the messages defined in route_guide.proto
  • classes for the service defined in route_guide.proto
    • RouteGuideStub, which can be used by clients to invoke RouteGuide RPCs
    • RouteGuideServicer, which defines the interface for implementations of the RouteGuide service
  • a function for the service defined in route_guide.proto
    • add_RouteGuideServicer_to_server, which adds a RouteGuideServicer to a grpc.Server

Generating gRPC interfaces with custom package path

To generate gRPC client interfaces with a custom package path, you can use the -I parameter along with the grpc_tools.protoc command. This approach allows you to specify a custom package name for the generated files.

Here’s an example command to generate the gRPC client interfaces with a custom package path:

$ python -m grpc_tools.protoc -Igrpc/example/custom/path=../../protos \
  --python_out=. --grpc_python_out=. \

The generated files will be placed in the ./grpc/example/custom/path/ directory:

  • ./grpc/example/custom/path/
  • ./grpc/example/custom/path/

With this setup, the generated file will correctly import the protobuf definitions using the custom package structure, as shown below:

import grpc.example.custom.path.route_guide_pb2 as route_guide_pb2

By following this approach, you can ensure that the files will call each other correctly with respect to the specified package path. This method allows you to maintain a custom package structure for your gRPC client interfaces.

Creating the server

First let’s look at how you create a RouteGuide server. If you’re only interested in creating gRPC clients, you can skip this section and go straight to Creating the client (though you might find it interesting anyway!).

Creating and running a RouteGuide server breaks down into two work items:

  • Implementing the servicer interface generated from our service definition with functions that perform the actual “work” of the service.
  • Running a gRPC server to listen for requests from clients and transmit responses.

You can find the example RouteGuide server in examples/python/route_guide/

Implementing RouteGuide has a RouteGuideServicer class that subclasses the generated class route_guide_pb2_grpc.RouteGuideServicer:

# RouteGuideServicer provides an implementation of the methods of the RouteGuide service.
class RouteGuideServicer(route_guide_pb2_grpc.RouteGuideServicer):

RouteGuideServicer implements all the RouteGuide service methods.

Simple RPC

Let’s look at the simplest type first, GetFeature, which just gets a Point from the client and returns the corresponding feature information from its database in a Feature.

def GetFeature(self, request, context):
    feature = get_feature(self.db, request)
    if feature is None:
        return route_guide_pb2.Feature(name="", location=request)
        return feature

The method is passed a route_guide_pb2.Point request for the RPC, and a grpc.ServicerContext object that provides RPC-specific information such as timeout limits. It returns a route_guide_pb2.Feature response.

Response-streaming RPC

Now let’s look at the next method. ListFeatures is a response-streaming RPC that sends multiple Features to the client.

def ListFeatures(self, request, context):
    left = min(request.lo.longitude, request.hi.longitude)
    right = max(request.lo.longitude, request.hi.longitude)
    top = max(request.lo.latitude, request.hi.latitude)
    bottom = min(request.lo.latitude, request.hi.latitude)
    for feature in self.db:
        if (
            feature.location.longitude >= left
            and feature.location.longitude <= right
            and feature.location.latitude >= bottom
            and feature.location.latitude <= top
            yield feature

Here the request message is a route_guide_pb2.Rectangle within which the client wants to find Features. Instead of returning a single response the method yields zero or more responses.

Request-streaming RPC

The request-streaming method RecordRoute uses an iterator of request values and returns a single response value.

def RecordRoute(self, request_iterator, context):
    point_count = 0
    feature_count = 0
    distance = 0.0
    prev_point = None

    start_time = time.time()
    for point in request_iterator:
        point_count += 1
        if get_feature(self.db, point):
            feature_count += 1
        if prev_point:
            distance += get_distance(prev_point, point)
        prev_point = point

    elapsed_time = time.time() - start_time
    return route_guide_pb2.RouteSummary(
Bidirectional streaming RPC

Lastly let’s look at the bidirectionally-streaming method RouteChat.

def RouteChat(self, request_iterator, context):
    prev_notes = []
    for new_note in request_iterator:
        for prev_note in prev_notes:
            if prev_note.location == new_note.location:
                yield prev_note

This method’s semantics are a combination of those of the request-streaming method and the response-streaming method. It is passed an iterator of request values and is itself an iterator of response values.

Starting the server

Once you have implemented all the RouteGuide methods, the next step is to start up a gRPC server so that clients can actually use your service:

def serve():
    server = grpc.server(futures.ThreadPoolExecutor(max_workers=10))
    route_guide_pb2_grpc.add_RouteGuideServicer_to_server(RouteGuideServicer(), server)

The server start() method is non-blocking. A new thread will be instantiated to handle requests. The thread calling server.start() will often not have any other work to do in the meantime. In this case, you can call server.wait_for_termination() to cleanly block the calling thread until the server terminates.

Creating the client

You can see the complete example client code in examples/python/route_guide/

Creating a stub

To call service methods, we first need to create a stub.

We instantiate the RouteGuideStub class of the route_guide_pb2_grpc module, generated from our .proto.

channel = grpc.insecure_channel('localhost:50051')
stub = route_guide_pb2_grpc.RouteGuideStub(channel)

Calling service methods

For RPC methods that return a single response (“response-unary” methods), gRPC Python supports both synchronous (blocking) and asynchronous (non-blocking) control flow semantics. For response-streaming RPC methods, calls immediately return an iterator of response values. Calls to that iterator’s next() method block until the response to be yielded from the iterator becomes available.

Simple RPC

A synchronous call to the simple RPC GetFeature is nearly as straightforward as calling a local method. The RPC call waits for the server to respond, and will either return a response or raise an exception:

feature = stub.GetFeature(point)

An asynchronous call to GetFeature is similar, but like calling a local method asynchronously in a thread pool:

feature_future = stub.GetFeature.future(point)
feature = feature_future.result()
Response-streaming RPC

Calling the response-streaming ListFeatures is similar to working with sequence types:

for feature in stub.ListFeatures(rectangle):
Request-streaming RPC

Calling the request-streaming RecordRoute is similar to passing an iterator to a local method. Like the simple RPC above that also returns a single response, it can be called synchronously or asynchronously:

route_summary = stub.RecordRoute(point_iterator)
route_summary_future = stub.RecordRoute.future(point_iterator)
route_summary = route_summary_future.result()
Bidirectional streaming RPC

Calling the bidirectionally-streaming RouteChat has (as is the case on the service-side) a combination of the request-streaming and response-streaming semantics:

for received_route_note in stub.RouteChat(sent_route_note_iterator):

Try it out!

Run the server:

$ python

From a different terminal, run the client:

$ python