Synapse Architecture

When viewed as a library, not just an application, Synapse is made of up a few core components and concepts.

Library Architecture

The Synapse library is broken out in a hierarchical fashion. The root of the library contains application level code, such as the implementations of the Cortex, Axon, Cryotank, as well as the Telepath client and server components. There are also a set of common helper functions ( and exceptions ( There are several submodules available as well:

Command implementations for the Cmdr CLI tool
Data files stored in the library.
The lib module contains many of the primitives used by applications in order to implement them.
The lookup module contains various lookup definitions.
The models directory contains the core Synapse data model definitions.
The servers module contains servers use to start and run Synapse applications.
This is test code. It also contains a useful helper synapse.tests.utils which defines our base test class.
The tools module contains various tools used to interact with the Synapse ecosystem.

Object hierarchies

There is one base class that many objects inherit from, the Base ( class. The Base class provides a few useful components (including, but not limited too):

  • A way to do asynchronous object construction by override the __anit__ method. This method is executed inside the python ioloop, allowing the object construction to do async function calls. An implementer still needs to call await s_base.Base.__anit__(self) first in order to ensure that the Base is setup properly.
  • A way to register object teardown methods and perform object teardowns via the onfini() and fini(). These allow us to keep more granular control over how things are shut down and resources are released, versus relying solely on the garbage collector to handle teardowns properly. Often times, order matters, so we need to be sure that things are torn down cleanly. These routines can be registered during __anit__.
  • Base objects are made via await the call to the Base.anit() function. If the __anit__ function completed then the anitted attribute on the object will be True, otherwise it will be False.
  • Context manager support. The Base object has native async context manager support, and upon exiting the context it will call fini() to do teardown. This pattern is convenient since it allows us to freely create Base classes without having to remember to always have to tear them down.
  • The Base contains helpers for implementing an observable design pattern, where functions can be registered as event handlers, and events can be fired on the object at will. This can be very powerful for signaling across disparate components which would be otherwise too heavy to have explicit callbacks for.
  • The Base contains helpers for executing asyncio coroutines on the ioloop. This is most commonly done via the schedCoroTask routine. This will schedule the coroutine to run on the ioloop, register the task with the Base and return the asyncio future. During Base fini, any coroutines still executing will be cancelled. This makes it very easy to schedule free-running coroutines from any Base class.

There are a few very important classes which use the Base object:

  • The Synapse Cell. This is a batteries included primitive for running an application.
  • The Telepath Daemon. This serves as a RPC server component.
  • The Telepath Proxy. This serves as a RPC client component.

The Cell ( is a Base implementation which has several components available to it:

  • It is a Base, so it benefits from all the components a Base has.
  • It contains support for configuration directives at start time, so a cell can have well defined configuration options availble to it.
  • It has persistent storage available via two different mechanisms, a LMDB slab for arbitrary data that is local to the cell, and a Hive for key-value data storage that can be remotely read and written.
  • It handles user authentication and authorization via user data stored in the Hive.
  • The Cell is Telepath aware, and will start his own Daemon that allows remote access. By default, the Cell has a PF Unix socket available for access, so local telepath access is trivial.
  • Since the Cell is Telepath aware, there is a base CellApi that implements his RPC routines. Cell implementers can easily sublcass the CellApi class to add additional RPC routines.
  • The Cell also contains hooks for easily starting a Tornado webserver. This allows us to trivially add web API routes to an object.
  • The Cell contains a Boss which can be used to remotely enumerate and cancel managed coroutines.

Since the cell contains so much core management functionality, adding functionality to the Synapse Cell allows all applications using a Cell to be immediately extended to take advantage of that functionality without having to revisit multiple different implementations to update them. For this reason, our core application components (the Axon, Cortex, and CryoCell) all implement the Cell class. For example, if we add a new user management capability, that is now available to all those applications, as well as any others Cell implementations.

The application level components themselves have servers in the synapse.servers module, but there is also a generic server for starting any cell, synapse.servers.cell. These servers will create the Cell, and also add any additional RPC or HTTP API listening servers as necessary. Those are the preferred ways to run an application implemented via a Cell.

Telepath RPC

The Telepath RPC protocol is a lightweight RPC protocol used in Synapse. The server component, the previously mentioned Daemon, is used to share objects. An object may or may not be Telepath aware. In the case that it is not aware, all of its methods are exposed via Telepath. Objects which are Telepath aware, such as the Cell, implement an API interface that allows much more fine grained control over the the methods which are remotely available.

The base Telepath client is the Proxy class, this is used to connect to the Daemon. The Proxy intercepts attribute lookups to make and set remote method helpers at runtime, and sends those requests to the Daemon to be serviced. A very brief example of this is the following:

import synapse.telepath as s_telepath

url = 'tcp://user:secret@'

async with await s_telepath.openurl(url) as proxy:

    # Make attribute called "someMethod" on the proxy
    # then send a task to the server called "someMethod"
    # with the argument of somearg=1234
    resp = proxy.someMethod(somearg=1234)
    # The resp is the result of calling the someMethod argument on
    # the object named someObject on the daemon.

A few notes about Telepath:

  • Telepath remote call arguments and server responses must be able to be serialized using the msgpack protocol.
  • Telepath supports generator protocols; so a server API may be a synchronous or asynchronous generator. From the proxy perspective, these are both considered asynchronous generators.
  • The Telepath Proxy contains some helpers that allow is to be used from non-async code. These helpers run their API calls through the currently running ioloop, and will cause the client to make an ioloop if one is not currently running.
  • Remote calls that raise exceptions on the server will have that exception serialized and sent back to the Proxy. The Proxy will then raise an exception to the caller.
  • Methods calls prefixed with a underscore (_somePrivatMethod() for example) will be rejected by the Daemon. This does allow us to protect private methods on shared objects.