Python Enhancement Proposals

PEP 3145 – Asynchronous I/O For subprocess.Popen

Asynchronous I/O For subprocess.Popen
(James) Eric Pruitt, Charles R. McCreary, Josiah Carlson
Standards Track



In its present form, the subprocess.Popen implementation is prone to dead-locking and blocking of the parent Python script while waiting on data from the child process. This PEP proposes to make subprocess.Popen more asynchronous to help alleviate these problems.

PEP Deferral

Further exploration of the concepts covered in this PEP has been deferred at least until after PEP 3156 has been resolved.

PEP Withdrawal

This can be dealt with in the bug tracker. A specific proposal is attached to [11].


A search for “python asynchronous subprocess” will turn up numerous accounts of people wanting to execute a child process and communicate with it from time to time reading only the data that is available instead of blocking to wait for the program to produce data [1] [2] [3]. The current behavior of the subprocess module is that when a user sends or receives data via the stdin, stderr and stdout file objects, dead locks are common and documented [4] [5]. While communicate can be used to alleviate some of the buffering issues, it will still cause the parent process to block while attempting to read data when none is available to be read from the child process.


There is a documented need for asynchronous, non-blocking functionality in subprocess.Popen [6] [7] [2] [3]. Inclusion of the code would improve the utility of the Python standard library that can be used on Unix based and Windows builds of Python. Practically every I/O object in Python has a file-like wrapper of some sort. Sockets already act as such and for strings there is StringIO. Popen can be made to act like a file by simply using the methods attached to the subprocess.Popen.stderr, stdout and stdin file-like objects. But when using the read and write methods of those options, you do not have the benefit of asynchronous I/O. In the proposed solution the wrapper wraps the asynchronous methods to mimic a file object.

Reference Implementation

I have been maintaining a Google Code repository that contains all of my changes including tests and documentation [9] as well as blog detailing the problems I have come across in the development process [10].

I have been working on implementing non-blocking asynchronous I/O in the subprocess module as well as a wrapper class for subprocess.Popen that makes it so that an executed process can take the place of a file by duplicating all of the methods and attributes that file objects have.

There are two base functions that have been added to the subprocess.Popen class: Popen.send and Popen._recv, each with two separate implementations, one for Windows and one for Unix-based systems. The Windows implementation uses ctypes to access the functions needed to control pipes in the kernel 32 DLL in an asynchronous manner. On Unix based systems, the Python interface for file control serves the same purpose. The different implementations of Popen.send and Popen._recv have identical arguments to make code that uses these functions work across multiple platforms.

When calling the Popen._recv function, it requires the pipe name be passed as an argument so there exists the Popen.recv function that passes selects stdout as the pipe for Popen._recv by default. Popen.recv_err selects stderr as the pipe by default. Popen.recv and Popen.recv_err are much easier to read and understand than Popen._recv('stdout' ...) and Popen._recv('stderr' ...) respectively.

Since the Popen._recv function does not wait on data to be produced before returning a value, it may return empty bytes. Popen.asyncread handles this issue by returning all data read over a given time interval.

The ProcessIOWrapper class uses the asyncread and asyncwrite functions to allow a process to act like a file so that there are no blocking issues that can arise from using the stdout and stdin file objects produced from a subprocess.Popen call.


[ python-Feature Requests-1191964 ] asynchronous Subprocess 036524.html
[2] (1, 2)
Daily Life in an Ivory Basement : /feb-07/problems-with-subprocess
[3] (1, 2)
How can I run an external command asynchronously from Python? - Stack Overflow command-asynchronously-from-python
18.1. subprocess - Subprocess management - Python v2.6.2 documentation
18.1. subprocess - Subprocess management - Python v2.6.2 documentation
Issue 1191964: asynchronous Subprocess - Python tracker
Module to allow Asynchronous subprocess use on Windows and Posix platforms - ActiveState Code
subprocess.rst - subprocdev - Project Hosting on Google Code
subprocdev - Project Hosting on Google Code
Python Subprocess Dev
[11] – Idle: use pipes instead of sockets to talk with user subprocess


Last modified: 2022-01-21 11:03:51 GMT