Twisted Mail Tutorial: Building an SMTP Client from Scratch

  1. Introduction

Introduction

This tutorial will walk you through the creation of an extremely simple SMTP client application. By the time the tutorial is complete, you will understand how to create and start a TCP client speaking the SMTP protocol, have it connect to an appropriate mail exchange server, and transmit a message for delivery.

For the majority of this tutorial, twistd will be used to launch the application. Near the end we will explore other possibilities for starting a Twisted application. Until then, make sure that you have twistd installed and conveniently accessible for use in running each of the example .tac files.

SMTP Client 1

The first step is to create the most minimal .tac file possible for use by twistd .

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from twisted.application import service

The first line of the .tac file imports twisted.application.service, a module which contains many of the basic service classes and helper functions available in Twisted. In particular, we will be using the Application function to create a new application service. An application service simply acts as a central object on which to store certain kinds of deployment configuration.

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application = service.Application("SMTP Client Tutorial")

The second line of the .tac file creates a new application service and binds it to the local name application. twistd requires this local name in each .tac file it runs. It uses various pieces of configuration on the object to determine its behavior. For example, "SMTP Client Tutorial" will be used as the name of the .tap file into which to serialize application state, should it be necessary to do so.

That does it for the first example. We now have enough of a .tac file to pass to twistd. If we run smtpclient-1.tac using the twistd command line:

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twistd -ny smtpclient-1.tac

we are rewarded with the following output:

exarkun@boson:~/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-1.tac
18:31 EST [-] Log opened.
18:31 EST [-] twistd 2.0.0 (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
18:31 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
18:31 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-1.tac...
18:31 EST [-] Loaded.

As we expected, not much is going on. We can shutdown this server by issuing ^C:

18:34 EST [-] Received SIGINT, shutting down.
18:34 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
18:34 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

SMTP Client 2

The first version of our SMTP client wasn't very interesting. It didn't even establish any TCP connections! The second version will come a little bit closer to that level of complexity. First, we need to import a few more things:

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from twisted.application import internet from twisted.internet import protocol

twisted.application.internet is another application service module. It provides services for establishing outgoing connections (as well as creating network servers, though we are not interested in those parts for the moment). twisted.internet.protocol provides base implementations of many of the core Twisted concepts, such as factories and protocols.

The next line of smtpclient-2.tac instantiates a new client factory.

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smtpClientFactory = protocol.ClientFactory()

Client factories are responsible for constructing protocol instances whenever connections are established. They may be required to create just one instance, or many instances if many different connections are established, or they may never be required to create one at all, if no connection ever manages to be established.

Now that we have a client factory, we'll need to hook it up to the network somehow. The next line of smtpclient-2.tac does just that:

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smtpClientService = internet.TCPClient(None, None, smtpClientFactory)

We'll ignore the first two arguments to internet.TCPClient for the moment and instead focus on the third. TCPClient is one of those application service classes. It creates TCP connections to a specified address and then uses its third argument, a client factory, to get a protocol instance. It then associates the TCP connection with the protocol instance and gets out of the way.

We can try to run smtpclient-2.tac the same way we ran smtpclient-1.tac, but the results might be a little disappointing:

exarkun@boson:~/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-2.tac
18:55 EST [-] Log opened.
18:55 EST [-] twistd SVN-Trunk (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
18:55 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
18:55 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-2.tac...
18:55 EST [-] Loaded.
18:55 EST [-] Starting factory <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory
              instance at 0xb791e46c>
18:55 EST [-] Traceback (most recent call last):
          File "twisted/scripts/twistd.py", line 187, in runApp
            app.runReactorWithLogging(config, oldstdout, oldstderr)
          File "twisted/application/app.py", line 128, in runReactorWithLogging
            reactor.run()
          File "twisted/internet/posixbase.py", line 200, in run
            self.mainLoop()
          File "twisted/internet/posixbase.py", line 208, in mainLoop
            self.runUntilCurrent()
        --- <exception caught here> ---
          File "twisted/internet/base.py", line 533, in runUntilCurrent
            call.func(*call.args, **call.kw)
          File "twisted/internet/tcp.py", line 489, in resolveAddress
            if abstract.isIPAddress(self.addr[0]):
          File "twisted/internet/abstract.py", line 315, in isIPAddress
            parts = string.split(addr, '.')
          File "/usr/lib/python2.4/string.py", line 292, in split
            return s.split(sep, maxsplit)
        exceptions.AttributeError: 'NoneType' object has no attribute 'split'

18:55 EST [-] Received SIGINT, shutting down.
18:55 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
18:55 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

What happened? Those first two arguments to TCPClient turned out to be important after all. We'll get to them in the next example.

SMTP Client 3

Version three of our SMTP client only changes one thing. The line from version two:

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smtpClientService = internet.TCPClient(None, None, smtpClientFactory)

has its first two arguments changed from None to something with a bit more meaning:

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smtpClientService = internet.TCPClient('localhost', 25, smtpClientFactory)

This directs the client to connect to localhost on port 25. This isn't the address we want ultimately, but it's a good place-holder for the time being. We can run smtpclient-3.tac and see what this change gets us:

exarkun@boson:~/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-3.tac
19:10 EST [-] Log opened.
19:10 EST [-] twistd SVN-Trunk (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
19:10 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
19:10 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-3.tac...
19:10 EST [-] Loaded.
19:10 EST [-] Starting factory <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory
              instance at 0xb791e48c>
19:10 EST [-] Enabling Multithreading.
19:10 EST [Uninitialized] Traceback (most recent call last):
          File "twisted/python/log.py", line 56, in callWithLogger
            return callWithContext({"system": lp}, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/log.py", line 41, in callWithContext
            return context.call({ILogContext: newCtx}, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/context.py", line 52, in callWithContext
            return self.currentContext().callWithContext(ctx, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/context.py", line 31, in callWithContext
            return func(*args,**kw)
        --- <exception caught here> ---
          File "twisted/internet/selectreactor.py", line 139, in _doReadOrWrite
            why = getattr(selectable, method)()
          File "twisted/internet/tcp.py", line 543, in doConnect
            self._connectDone()
          File "twisted/internet/tcp.py", line 546, in _connectDone
            self.protocol = self.connector.buildProtocol(self.getPeer())
          File "twisted/internet/base.py", line 641, in buildProtocol
            return self.factory.buildProtocol(addr)
          File "twisted/internet/protocol.py", line 99, in buildProtocol
            p = self.protocol()
        exceptions.TypeError: 'NoneType' object is not callable

19:10 EST [Uninitialized] Stopping factory
          <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory instance at
          0xb791e48c>
19:10 EST [-] Received SIGINT, shutting down.
19:10 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
19:10 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

A meagre amount of progress, but the service still raises an exception. This time, it's because we haven't specified a protocol class for the factory to use. We'll do that in the next example.

SMTP Client 4

In the previous example, we ran into a problem because we hadn't set up our client factory's protocol attribute correctly (or at all). ClientFactory.buildProtocol is the method responsible for creating a protocol instance. The default implementation calls the factory's protocol attribute, adds itself as an attribute named factory to the resulting instance, and returns it. In smtpclient-4.tac, we'll correct the oversight that caused the traceback in smtpclient-3.tac:

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smtpClientFactory.protocol = protocol.Protocol

Running this version of the client, we can see the output is once again traceback free:

exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-4.tac
19:29 EST [-] Log opened.
19:29 EST [-] twistd SVN-Trunk (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
19:29 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
19:29 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-4.tac...
19:29 EST [-] Loaded.
19:29 EST [-] Starting factory <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory
              instance at 0xb791e4ac>
19:29 EST [-] Enabling Multithreading.
19:29 EST [-] Received SIGINT, shutting down.
19:29 EST [Protocol,client] Stopping factory
          <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory instance at
          0xb791e4ac>
19:29 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
19:29 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

But what does this mean? twisted.internet.protocol.Protocol is the base protocol implementation. For those familiar with the classic UNIX network services, it is equivalent to the discard service. It never produces any output and it discards all its input. Not terribly useful, and certainly nothing like an SMTP client. Let's see how we can improve this in the next example.

SMTP Client 5

In smtpclient-5.tac, we will begin to use Twisted's SMTP protocol implementation for the first time. We'll make the obvious change, simply swapping out twisted.internet.protocol.Protocol in favor of twisted.mail.smtp.ESMTPClient. Don't worry about the E in ESMTP. It indicates we're actually using a newer version of the SMTP protocol. There is an SMTPClient in Twisted, but there's essentially no reason to ever use it.

smtpclient-5.tac adds a new import:

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from twisted.mail import smtp

All of the mail related code in Twisted exists beneath the twisted.mail package. More specifically, everything having to do with the SMTP protocol implementation is defined in the twisted.mail.smtp module.

Next we remove a line we added in smtpclient-4.tac:

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smtpClientFactory.protocol = protocol.Protocol

And add a similar one in its place:

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smtpClientFactory.protocol = smtp.ESMTPClient

Our client factory is now using a protocol implementation which behaves as an SMTP client. What happens when we try to run this version?

exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-5.tac
19:42 EST [-] Log opened.
19:42 EST [-] twistd SVN-Trunk (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
19:42 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
19:42 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-5.tac...
19:42 EST [-] Loaded.
19:42 EST [-] Starting factory <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory
              instance at 0xb791e54c>
19:42 EST [-] Enabling Multithreading.
19:42 EST [Uninitialized] Traceback (most recent call last):
          File "twisted/python/log.py", line 56, in callWithLogger
            return callWithContext({"system": lp}, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/log.py", line 41, in callWithContext
            return context.call({ILogContext: newCtx}, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/context.py", line 52, in callWithContext
            return self.currentContext().callWithContext(ctx, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/context.py", line 31, in callWithContext
            return func(*args,**kw)
        --- <exception caught here> ---
          File "twisted/internet/selectreactor.py", line 139, in _doReadOrWrite
            why = getattr(selectable, method)()
          File "twisted/internet/tcp.py", line 543, in doConnect
            self._connectDone()
          File "twisted/internet/tcp.py", line 546, in _connectDone
            self.protocol = self.connector.buildProtocol(self.getPeer())
          File "twisted/internet/base.py", line 641, in buildProtocol
            return self.factory.buildProtocol(addr)
          File "twisted/internet/protocol.py", line 99, in buildProtocol
            p = self.protocol()
        exceptions.TypeError: __init__() takes at least 2 arguments (1 given)

19:42 EST [Uninitialized] Stopping factory
          <twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory instance at
          0xb791e54c>
19:43 EST [-] Received SIGINT, shutting down.
19:43 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
19:43 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

Oops, back to getting a traceback. This time, the default implementation of buildProtocol seems no longer to be sufficient. It instantiates the protocol with no arguments, but ESMTPClient wants at least one argument. In the next version of the client, we'll override buildProtocol to fix this problem.

SMTP Client 6

smtpclient-6.tac introduces a twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory subclass with an overridden buildProtocol method to overcome the problem encountered in the previous example.

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class SMTPClientFactory(protocol.ClientFactory): protocol = smtp.ESMTPClient def buildProtocol(self, addr): return self.protocol(secret=None, identity='example.com')

The overridden method does almost the same thing as the base implementation: the only change is that it passes values for two arguments to twisted.mail.smtp.ESMTPClient's initializer. The secret argument is used for SMTP authentication (which we will not attempt yet). The identity argument is used as a to identify ourselves Another minor change to note is that the protocol attribute is now defined in the class definition, rather than tacked onto an instance after one is created. This means it is a class attribute, rather than an instance attribute, now, which makes no difference as far as this example is concerned. There are circumstances in which the difference is important: be sure you understand the implications of each approach when creating your own factories.

One other change is required: instead of instantiating twisted.internet.protocol.ClientFactory, we will now instantiate SMTPClientFactory:

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smtpClientFactory = SMTPClientFactory()

Running this version of the code, we observe that the code still isn't quite traceback-free.

exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-6.tac
21:17 EST [-] Log opened.
21:17 EST [-] twistd SVN-Trunk (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
21:17 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
21:17 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-6.tac...
21:17 EST [-] Loaded.
21:17 EST [-] Starting factory <__builtin__.SMTPClientFactory instance
              at 0xb77fd68c>
21:17 EST [-] Enabling Multithreading.
21:17 EST [ESMTPClient,client] Traceback (most recent call last):
          File "twisted/python/log.py", line 56, in callWithLogger
            return callWithContext({"system": lp}, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/log.py", line 41, in callWithContext
            return context.call({ILogContext: newCtx}, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/context.py", line 52, in callWithContext
            return self.currentContext().callWithContext(ctx, func, *args, **kw)
          File "twisted/python/context.py", line 31, in callWithContext
            return func(*args,**kw)
        --- <exception caught here> ---
          File "twisted/internet/selectreactor.py", line 139, in _doReadOrWrite
            why = getattr(selectable, method)()
          File "twisted/internet/tcp.py", line 351, in doRead
            return self.protocol.dataReceived(data)
          File "twisted/protocols/basic.py", line 221, in dataReceived
            why = self.lineReceived(line)
          File "twisted/mail/smtp.py", line 1039, in lineReceived
            why = self._okresponse(self.code,'\n'.join(self.resp))
          File "twisted/mail/smtp.py", line 1281, in esmtpState_serverConfig
            self.tryTLS(code, resp, items)
          File "twisted/mail/smtp.py", line 1294, in tryTLS
            self.authenticate(code, resp, items)
          File "twisted/mail/smtp.py", line 1343, in authenticate
            self.smtpState_from(code, resp)
          File "twisted/mail/smtp.py", line 1062, in smtpState_from
            self._from = self.getMailFrom()
          File "twisted/mail/smtp.py", line 1137, in getMailFrom
            raise NotImplementedError
        exceptions.NotImplementedError:

21:17 EST [ESMTPClient,client] Stopping factory
          <__builtin__.SMTPClientFactory instance at 0xb77fd68c>
21:17 EST [-] Received SIGINT, shutting down.
21:17 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
21:17 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

What we have accomplished with this iteration of the example is to navigate far enough into an SMTP transaction that Twisted is now interested in calling back to application-level code to determine what its next step should be. In the next example, we'll see how to provide that information to it.

SMTP Client 7

SMTP Client 7 is the first version of our SMTP client which actually includes message data to transmit. For simplicity's sake, the message is defined as part of a new class. In a useful program which sent email, message data might be pulled in from the filesystem, a database, or be generated based on user-input. smtpclient-7.tac, however, defines a new class, SMTPTutorialClient, with three class attributes (mailFrom, mailTo, and mailData):

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class SMTPTutorialClient(smtp.ESMTPClient): mailFrom = "tutorial_sender@example.com" mailTo = "tutorial_recipient@example.net" mailData = '''\ Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2004 10:14:39 -0800 From: Tutorial Guy <tutorial_sender@example.com> To: Tutorial Gal <tutorial_recipient@example.net> Subject: Tutorate! Hello, how are you, goodbye. '''

This statically defined data is accessed later in the class definition by three of the methods which are part of the SMTPClient callback API. Twisted expects each of the three methods below to be defined and to return an object with a particular meaning. First, getMailFrom:

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def getMailFrom(self): result = self.mailFrom self.mailFrom = None return result

This method is called to determine the reverse-path, otherwise known as the envelope from, of the message. This value will be used when sending the MAIL FROM SMTP command. The method must return a string which conforms to the RFC 2821 definition of a reverse-path. In simpler terms, it should be a string like "alice@example.com". Only one envelope from is allowed by the SMTP protocol, so it cannot be a list of strings or a comma separated list of addresses. Our implementation of getMailFrom does a little bit more than just return a string; we'll get back to this in a little bit.

The next method is getMailTo:

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def getMailTo(self): return [self.mailTo]

getMailTo is similar to getMailFrom. It returns one or more RFC 2821 addresses (this time a forward-path, or envelope to). Since SMTP allows multiple recipients, getMailTo returns a list of these addresses. The list must contain at least one address, and even if there is exactly one recipient, it must still be in a list.

The final callback we will define to provide information to Twisted is getMailData:

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def getMailData(self): return StringIO.StringIO(self.mailData)

This one is quite simple as well: it returns a file or a file-like object which contains the message contents. In our case, we return a StringIO since we already have a string containing our message. If the contents of the file returned by getMailData span multiple lines (as email messages often do), the lines should be \n delimited (as they would be when opening a text file in the "rt" mode): necessary newline translation will be performed by SMTPClient automatically.

There is one more new callback method defined in smtpclient-7.tac. This one isn't for providing information about the messages to Twisted, but for Twisted to provide information about the success or failure of the message transmission to the application:

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def sentMail(self, code, resp, numOk, addresses, log): print 'Sent', numOk, 'messages'

Each of the arguments to sentMail provides some information about the success or failure of the message transmission transaction. code is the response code from the ultimate command. For successful transactions, it will be 250. For transient failures (those which should be retried), it will be between 400 and 499, inclusive. For permanent failures (this which will never work, no matter how many times you retry them), it will be between 500 and 599.

SMTP Client 8

Thus far we have succeeded in creating a Twisted client application which starts up, connects to a (possibly) remote host, transmits some data, and disconnects. Notably missing, however, is application shutdown. Hitting ^C is fine during development, but it's not exactly a long-term solution. Fortunately, programmatic shutdown is extremely simple. smtpclient-8.tac extends sentMail with these two lines:

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from twisted.internet import reactor reactor.stop()

The stop method of the reactor causes the main event loop to exit, allowing a Twisted server to shut down. With this version of the example, we see that the program actually terminates after sending the message, without user-intervention:

exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$ twistd -ny smtpclient-8.tac
19:52 EST [-] Log opened.
19:52 EST [-] twistd SVN-Trunk (/usr/bin/python2.4 2.4.1) starting up
19:52 EST [-] reactor class: twisted.internet.selectreactor.SelectReactor
19:52 EST [-] Loading smtpclient-8.tac...
19:52 EST [-] Loaded.
19:52 EST [-] Starting factory <__builtin__.SMTPClientFactory instance
              at 0xb791beec>
19:52 EST [-] Enabling Multithreading.
19:52 EST [SMTPTutorialClient,client] Sent 1 messages
19:52 EST [SMTPTutorialClient,client] Stopping factory
          <__builtin__.SMTPClientFactory instance at 0xb791beec>
19:52 EST [-] Main loop terminated.
19:52 EST [-] Server Shut Down.
exarkun@boson:~/doc/mail/tutorial/smtpclient$

SMTP Client 9

One task remains to be completed in this tutorial SMTP client: instead of always sending mail through a well-known host, we will look up the mail exchange server for the recipient address and try to deliver the message to that host.

In smtpclient-9.tac, we'll take the first step towards this feature by defining a function which returns the mail exchange host for a particular domain:

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def getMailExchange(host): return 'localhost'

Obviously this doesn't return the correct mail exchange host yet (in fact, it returns the exact same host we have been using all along), but pulling out the logic for determining which host to connect to into a function like this is the first step towards our ultimate goal. Now that we have getMailExchange, we'll call it when constructing our TCPClient service:

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smtpClientService = internet.TCPClient( getMailExchange('example.net'), 25, smtpClientFactory)

We'll expand on the definition of getMailExchange in the next example.

SMTP Client 10

In the previous example we defined getMailExchange to return a string representing the mail exchange host for a particular domain. While this was a step in the right direction, it turns out not to be a very big one. Determining the mail exchange host for a particular domain is going to involve network traffic (specifically, some DNS requests). These might take an arbitrarily large amount of time, so we need to introduce a Deferred to represent the result of getMailExchange. smtpclient-10.tac redefines it thusly:

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def getMailExchange(host): return defer.succeed('localhost')

defer.succeed is a function which creates a new Deferred which already has a result, in this case 'localhost'. Now we need to adjust our TCPClient-constructing code to expect and properly handle this Deferred:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

def cbMailExchange(exchange): smtpClientFactory = SMTPClientFactory() smtpClientService = internet.TCPClient(exchange, 25, smtpClientFactory) smtpClientService.setServiceParent(application) getMailExchange('example.net').addCallback(cbMailExchange)

An in-depth exploration of Deferreds is beyond the scope of this document. For such a look, see the Deferred Reference. However, in brief, what this version of the code does is to delay the creation of the TCPClient until the Deferred returned by getMailExchange fires. Once it does, we proceed normally through the creation of our SMTPClientFactory and TCPClient, as well as set the TCPClient's service parent, just as we did in the previous examples.

SMTP Client 11

At last we're ready to perform the mail exchange lookup. We do this by calling on an object provided specifically for this task, twisted.mail.relaymanager.MXCalculator:

1 2 3 4

def getMailExchange(host): def cbMX(mxRecord): return str(mxRecord.name) return relaymanager.MXCalculator().getMX(host).addCallback(cbMX)

Because getMX returns a Record_MX object rather than a string, we do a little bit of post-processing to get the results we want. We have already converted the rest of the tutorial application to expect a Deferred from getMailExchange, so no further changes are required. smtpclient-11.tac completes this tutorial by being able to both look up the mail exchange host for the recipient domain, connect to it, complete an SMTP transaction, report its results, and finally shut down the reactor.

Index

Version: 13.2.0