Deprecating Layabout

Deprecating Layabout

Since Layabout launched last year it has been downloaded 5,755 times, gotten 16 stars on GitHub, been used by a Portuguese startup to teach a Haskell workshop, and received a Twitter shout-out from @roach, one of the core contributors to the official Python Slack client. During that time the official client library also got a lot better! So much better, in fact, that I've decided to deprecate Layabout.

When?

Layabout is officially deprecated on January 1st, 2020 along with Python 2 (finally 😉). I'll be rolling out documentation changes and adding deprecation warnings in a final release within the next week or so. Technically Layabout will continue to function as long as the API interface supported by the 1.0 Slack library is supported, but you should transition off of it as soon as you are able. I recommend using the 2.0 Slack library instead.

Why?

In May, Rodney Urquhart and contributors rewrote the slackclient library from the ground up in a way that closely matched some of the design decisions I made when creating Layabout. When I announced Layabout I included a quick example of using the framework to build an echo client that would repeat all messages in a given channel. To understand why Layabout no longer provides substantial benefit, let's compare that example written with Layabout to the same application using the 2.0 Slack client.

""" An echo client written using Layabout. """
from layabout import Layabout

app = Layabout()


@app.handle("message")
def echo(slack: "slackclient.SlackClient", event: dict) -> None:
    """ Echo all messages seen by the app except our own. """
    if event.get("subtype") != "bot_message":
        slack.rtm_send_message(event["channel"], event["text"])


if __name__ == "__main__":
    app.run()
""" An echo client written using the official slackclient library. """
import os
from slack import RTMClient


@RTMClient.run_on(event="message")
async def echo(**payload) -> None:
    """ Echo all messages seen by the app except our own. """
    data = payload["data"]
    web_client = payload["web_client"]

    if data["subtype"] != "bot_message":
        web_client.chat_postMessage(
            channel=data["channel"], text=data["text"], thread_ts=data["thread_ts"]
        )


if __name__ == "__main__":
    slack_token = os.environ["SLACK_API_TOKEN"]
    rtm_client = RTMClient(token=slack_token)
    rtm_client.start()

The Layabout example is a little more terse, but neither is a lot of code. They both leverage a decorator pattern for callback registration and support type annotations. The official library also adds async support. It should be relatively straightforward to translate a Layabout application to using the offical library.

Event-oriented decorator API

At the time that I wrote Layabout, the slackclient library provided more of a low-level API, so Layabout functioned as a refinement on reading from the WebSocket connection in a loop. It seems Rodney and I both agreed that the decorator pattern is much more convenient for callback registry. The only important thing that the official library does differently is give you a payload dictionary rather than individual arguments. Both a slack instance and an event are included in that payload, so this is a minor change.

Async

The rewrite of the slackclient library brought with it clever, optional support for Python's async/await syntax. At the time I was writing Layabout I wanted to add support for that myself, but the only available API was synchronous. Interacting with the Slack API via WebSockets lends itself naturally to an asynchonous approach. In my opinion, using the offical library will give a big advantage over Layabout here. If you've structured your Layabout callbacks well and haven't done necessarily synchronous operations, then you should be fine here.

Type annotations

Like Layabout, the slackclient library now has type annotations, which I think are a fantastic addition to Python. If you choose to add a type checker like mypy or Pyre to your toolkit, you can get the benefit of optional static analysis. Layabout no longer provides an extra service since this is supported by the slackclient library directly.

What's Missing?

There are three main pieces of functionality that Layabout still provides that aren't available with the official slackclient library.

  1. The * event

    Layabout supported registering a function to trigger on all events with @app.handle("*"). This was primarily useful in debugging, but I think you can achieve similar results by setting the logging level to logging.DEBUG.

  2. Auto-loading environment variables

    Dealing with credentials is always a pain in the butt, so I designed Layabout to automatically load the Slack API token from $LAYABOUT_TOKEN by default. Or, with app.run(connector=EnvVar("WHATEVER") you could load the token from $WHATEVER environment variable you pleased.

  3. The run until option

    With Layabout you could use app.run(until=...) to provide an arbitary function which would trigger an exit from the application's core loop. I added this to enable cleaner testing with fewer mocks. However, bots are usually meant to be long-running applications, so I'm not sure this was ever useful enough to justify its existence.

These are all handy features, but I don't think any of them are consequential enough to be worth keeping Layabout around. If, going forward, you miss these features, they're probably better suited to be suggestions or pull requests to the official library now.

Thanks

If you used Layabout, thank you. I hope you got as much joy out of it as a user as I got in writing it. I would also like to thank these fine folks for their contributions in getting Layabout off the ground and helping maintain it.