Routing is the mechanism which allows our application to call different parts according to the requested URL. Until now only saw applications that always give the same response to any requested URL.


The requested URL contains a PATH_INFO which is passed to our WSGI application via the environment dictionary. We can write our application as a giant case switch to match a specific PATH_INFO to a specific behavior:

def giant_wsgi_case_app(environ, start_response):
    status = '200 OK'  # HTTP Status
    # HTTP Headers
    headers = [('Content-type', 'text/plain; charset=utf-8')]
    start_response(status, headers)
    # The returned object is going to be printed
    if environ['PATH_INFO'] == '/hello':
        return [b"Hello World"]
    elif environ['PATH_INFO'] == '/bye':
        return [b"Good bye"]
    elif ...
        start_response('404 Not Found', headers)
        return [b"Not found"]

This would be very un-pythonic and cumbersome to extend. Essentially, this problem is solved by all web framework with some kind of a routing middleware. But before we examine how it is done by some of the most famous WSGI frameworks, we implement a primitive routing middleware on our own.

Exercise 4#

A small improvement would be to replace the giant if ... elif ... else with a dictionary and map a PATH_INFO to a callable. The middleware should use this mapping to call the correct WSGI callable.

def not_found(environ, start_response):
    start_response('404 Not Found', [('Content-Type', 'text/plain')])
    return [b'404 Not Found']

def hello_world(environ, start_response):
    start_response('200 OK', [('Content-Type', 'text/plain')])
    return [b"Hello World!\n"]

def greet_user(environ, start_response):
    start_response('200 OK', [('Content-Type', 'text/plain')])
    user = environ.get('USER')
    return ["Welcome {}!\n".format(user).encode()] # response must contain bytes

URLS = {
    "/": hello_world,
    "/greeter": greet_user,

def app(environ, start_response):
    handler = URLS.get(environ.get('PATH_INFO')) or not_found
    return handler(environ, start_response)

While this solution is pretty primitive it is understand and extend. Essentially, many WSGI framework have some kind of a Mapping class which is responsible for this mechanism. For example, in Django one defines in a list of patters, which are a regular expression and callable view. Here is an example from the most venerable Django polls tutorial:

from django.conf.urls import url

from . import views

app_name = 'polls'
urlpatterns = [
    url(r'^$', views.IndexView.as_view(), name='index'),
    url(r'^(?P<pk>\d+)/$', views.DetailView.as_view(), name='detail'),

The url items are then matched by django.urls.resolvers.ResolverMatch A similar approach is also taken by the more modern aiohttp (an honorable reference, even though it's not a WSGI framework):

from aiohttp import web

app = web.Application()
app.router.add_get('/', handle)

Pyramid does this too:

with Configurator() as config:
     config.add_route('hello', '/hello/{name}')
     config.add_view(hello_world, route_name='hello')
     app = config.make_wsgi_app()

Here add_route creates an association between a route_name and a pattern. add_view connects the callable hello_world with the route just created.

Flask and Bottle have an implicit way of adding route items to the Mapping:

from flask import Flask
app = Flask(__name__)

def hello():
    return "Hello World!"

app.route adds the wrapped callable to the internal mapping inside the Flask instance. In a later part of this course, we will examine later how this decorator works.

Working with URL parameters#

So far, we have a simple routing middleware. But it can't work with parameters, as seen in the Django and Pyramid examples above. A middleware can modify the response or the environment. Modifying the latter, we can pass new objects via the environment dictionary to the callable.

Exercise 5#

Modify the main app matching mechanism to use regular expression groups, to match certain URL parts as groups. These groups are the URL args, the application can make use of. For example, calling /hello/ should return hello wolrd!. Calling /hello/frank should return /hello/frank!.

def hello(environ, start_response):
    """Like the example above, but it uses the name specified in the URL."""
    # get the name from the url if it was specified there.
    args = environ['myapp.url_args']
    if args:
        subject = escape(args[0])
        subject = 'World'

    start_response('200 OK', [('Content-Type', 'text/html')])
    return ['''Hello {}!'''.format(subject).encode()]
urls = [
    (r'^$', index),
    (r'hello/?$', hello),
    (r'hello/(.+)/$', hello),

def application(environ, start_response):
    path = environ.get('PATH_INFO', '').lstrip('/')
    for regex, callback in urls:
        match =, path)
        if match:
            environ['myapp.url_args'] = match.groups()
            return callback(environ, start_response)

    return not_found(environ, start_response)