Custom Python Client Objects

To provide an “upgraded” and more finely-tuned user experience for certain kinds of dataset, Tiled can be configured to use custom Python objects. This is transparent and automatic from the point view of the user.

In the Python client, when a user accesses a given item, Tiled inspects the item to decide what type of object to use to represent it. In simple cases, this is just based on the structure_family: "array" goes to tiled.client.array.ArrayClient; "table" goes to tiled.client.dataframe.DataFrameClient; "container" goes to tiled.clide.container.Container. Those classes then manage further communication with Tiled server to access their contents.

Each item always has exactly one structure_family, and it’s always from a fixed list. In addition, it may have a list of specs, labels which are meant to communicate some more specific expectations about the data that may or may not have meaning to a given client. If a client does not recognize some spec, it can still access the metadata and data and performed Tiled’s essential functions. If it does recognize a spec, it can provide an upgraded user experience.


Suppose data labeled with the xdi spec is guaranteed to have a metadata dictionary containing the following two entries:


When the Tiled client encounters this type of data, we would like to hand the user a custom Python object that includes the information in the string representation displayed by the Python interpreter (or Jupyter notebook).

import tiled.client.dataframe

class XDIDatasetClient(tiled.client.dataframe.DataFrameClient):
    "A custom DataFrame client for DataFrames that have XDI metadata."

    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        super().__init__(*args, **kwargs)
        # Optional sanity check to ensure this cannot be accidentally
        # registered for use with data that is not a table.
        assert self.item["attributes"]["structure_family"] == "table"

    def __repr__(self):
        md = self.metadata["XDI"]
        return f'<{x.item["id"]} {md["Element"]["Symbol"]} {md["Element"]["Edge"]}>'


An Aside of Python __repr__

Python calls __repr__ to obtain a string representation of it for interactive display as in:

>>> my_object

It is conventional to include angle brackets <> when the string is not valid Python code, as opposed to

>>> 1

where the string representation is the exactly the code you would run to reproduce that object.

You may want to override __str__ in addition, which determines what is returned by str(...) and displayed by print(...). If you override __str__ but not __repr__, then __repr__ falls back to __str__.

Now we want to configure Tiled to this class whenever it encounters
data labeled with the `xdi` spec. We'll register it manually for development
and testing. Then we'll see how to configure it seamlessly for the user.

from tiled.client.container import DEFAULT_STRUCTURE_CLIENT_DISPATCH
from tiled.client import from_uri

custom["xdi"] = XDIDatasetClient
client = from_uri("https://...", structure_clients=custom)

Test by accessing a dataset and checking the type:


Python entry points allow Tiled to efficiently scan the software environment for third-party packages that provide custom Tiled clients. (Crucially, for speed, it does not need to import a package to discover what if any custom Tiled clients it includes. The entry points declarations can be read statically.) To register a custom Tiled client from a third party package, add this to the

        "tiled.special_client": [
            "xdi = my_package.my_module:XDIDatasetClient",

On the left side of the = is the spec name, and on the right is the import path to the custom object we want Tiled to use. Beware the somewhat unusual syntax, in particular the colon between the final module and the object.

Re-install the package after adding or editing the entry points. Notice that even in “editable” installations (i.e. pip install -e ...) a re-install step is needed to register the entry point.

Then, Tiled should be able to automatically discover the custom class with no change in the user’s process:

from tiled.client import from_uri

client = from_uri("https://...")

When Tiled see an xdi spec, it will query the entry points for a client registered with that spec. It will discover the custom Python package, import the relevant class, and use it.


A given item may have multiple specs (or none). It always has exactly one structure family. It’s possible that clients have been registered for multiple specs in the in the list. Tiled walks the spec list in order and uses the first one that it recognizes. If it recognizes none of the specs, or if there are no specs, it falls back to using the structure family. Specs should generally be sorted from most specific to least specific, so that Tiled uses the most finely-tuned client object available.

More Possibilities and Design Guidelines

There are many other useful things we could do with a custom client that is purpose-built for a specific kinds of data and/or metadata. We can add convenience properties to quickly access certain metadata.

class CustomClient(...):
    def element(self):
        return self.metadata["XDI"]["Element"]["Symbol"]

We can add convenience methods that read certain sections of the data and perhaps do light computation on the way out.

class CustomClient(...):
    def energy(self):
        # Read energy column
        return self["energy"][:] * UNIT_CONVERSION

We offer two guidelines to help your custom clients compose well with Tiled and with other scientific Python libraries.

  1. In your subclass, add methods, attributes, and properties, but do not change the behavior of the existing methods, attributes, and properties in the base class. This is a well-known principle in software design generally, and it is especially crucial here. If a user runs code in a software environment where the library with the custom objects happens to be missing, we want the user to immediate notice the missing methods, not get confusingly different results from the “standard” method and the customized one. In addition, it is helpful if the “vanilla” Tiled documentation and user knowledge transfers to the custom classes with additions but no confusing changes.

  2. If something custom will do I/O (i.e. download metadata or data from the server) make it method, not a property. Properties that do “surprise” I/O may block over a slow network and can be very confusing. The same guideline applies if the property performs more just very light computation.