More Python features that I really like

Another thing that makes using Python pleasing is decorators. A decorator is a wrapper for a function (or method) that takes a function (or method) as an argument and returns a new function (or…) which is then bound to the name for the original function.

The newly-decorated function can then do things like checking the called arguments before invoking the original un-decorated function.

Django provides decorators for authentication so that you can wrap a view function with a check for client credentials before deciding whether to return the original response or a deny access.

In this manner Django’s authentication decorators encourage orthogonal code: the logic for displaying a view is separated from the logic for deciding whether you should be permitted to see the view’s output. By keeping them separate, it becomes simpler to re-use the authentication logic and apply it to other views.

Suppose you have a view that accepts a Django request object and checks whether the user is signed in:

def administration_page(request):
    if request.user.is_authenticated():
        return HttpResponse("Welcome, dear user.")
    else:
        return HttpResponseRedirect("/signin/")

With a decorator you can simplify and clarify things:

@login_required
def administration_page(request):
    return HttpResponse("Welcome, dear user.")

For older versions of Python (pre 2.4) which don’t understand the @ operator one must explicitly decorate the view function like so:

def administration_page(request):
    return HttpResponse("Welcome, dear administrator.")

administration_page = login_required(administration_page)

Note in the example that the original administration_page function is passed to the decorator. The @ syntax in the first example makes that implicit but the two are equivalent.

The implementation of a decorator is interesting. It takes the function itself as an argument and returns a new function which does the actual checking. Here is how the decorator used above might do its stuff:

def login_required(view_function):
    def decorated_function(request):
        if request.user.is_authenticated():
            return view_function(request)
        else:
            return HttpResponseRedirect("/signin/")

    return decorated_function

The actual implementation of Django’s login_required decorator is considerably less idiotic. Python’s functools module has helpers for writing well-behaved decorators.

Because functions in Python are themselves objects the decorator can accept a function reference, construct a new function that checks for authentication and then return a reference to that new function.

Simples!

(Simples gets less simples when you want to write a decorator that accepts configuration arguments because you then need either another layer of nested function definitions or a class whose instances can be called directly, but I’m going to ignore you for a bit and wow is that Concorde…?)

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