Coroutines are the recommended way to write asynchronous code in Tornado. Coroutines use the Python yield keyword to suspend and resume execution instead of a chain of callbacks (cooperative lightweight threads as seen in frameworks like gevent are sometimes called coroutines as well, but in Tornado all coroutines use explicit context switches and are called as asynchronous functions).

Coroutines are almost as simple as synchronous code, but without the expense of a thread. They also make concurrency easier to reason about by reducing the number of places where a context switch can happen.


from tornado import gen

def fetch_coroutine(url):
    http_client = AsyncHTTPClient()
    response = yield http_client.fetch(url)
    # In Python versions prior to 3.3, returning a value from
    # a generator is not allowed and you must use
    #   raise gen.Return(response.body)
    # instead.
    return response.body

Python 3.5: async and await

Python 3.5 introduces the async and await keywords (functions using these keywords are also called “native coroutines”). Starting in Tornado 4.3, you can use them in place of yield-based coroutines. Simply use async def foo() in place of a function definition with the @gen.coroutine decorator, and await in place of yield. The rest of this document still uses the yield style for compatibility with older versions of Python, but async and await will run faster when they are available:

async def fetch_coroutine(url):
    http_client = AsyncHTTPClient()
    response = await http_client.fetch(url)
    return response.body

The await keyword is less versatile than the yield keyword. For example, in a yield-based coroutine you can yield a list of Futures, while in a native coroutine you must wrap the list in tornado.gen.multi. You can also use tornado.gen.convert_yielded to convert anything that would work with yield into a form that will work with await.

While native coroutines are not visibly tied to a particular framework (i.e. they do not use a decorator like tornado.gen.coroutine or asyncio.coroutine), not all coroutines are compatible with each other. There is a coroutine runner which is selected by the first coroutine to be called, and then shared by all coroutines which are called directly with await. The Tornado coroutine runner is designed to be versatile and accept awaitable objects from any framework; other coroutine runners may be more limited (for example, the asyncio coroutine runner does not accept coroutines from other frameworks). For this reason, it is recommended to use the Tornado coroutine runner for any application which combines multiple frameworks. To call a coroutine using the Tornado runner from within a coroutine that is already using the asyncio runner, use the tornado.platform.asyncio.to_asyncio_future adapter.

How it works

A function containing yield is a generator. All generators are asynchronous; when called they return a generator object instead of running to completion. The @gen.coroutine decorator communicates with the generator via the yield expressions, and with the coroutine’s caller by returning a Future.

Here is a simplified version of the coroutine decorator’s inner loop:

# Simplified inner loop of tornado.gen.Runner
def run(self):
    # send(x) makes the current yield return x.
    # It returns when the next yield is reached
    future = self.gen.send(
    def callback(f): = f.result()

The decorator receives a Future from the generator, waits (without blocking) for that Future to complete, then “unwraps” the Future and sends the result back into the generator as the result of the yield expression. Most asynchronous code never touches the Future class directly except to immediately pass the Future returned by an asynchronous function to a yield expression.

How to call a coroutine

Coroutines do not raise exceptions in the normal way: any exception they raise will be trapped in the Future until it is yielded. This means it is important to call coroutines in the right way, or you may have errors that go unnoticed:

def divide(x, y):
    return x / y

def bad_call():
    # This should raise a ZeroDivisionError, but it won't because
    # the coroutine is called incorrectly.
    divide(1, 0)

In nearly all cases, any function that calls a coroutine must be a coroutine itself, and use the yield keyword in the call. When you are overriding a method defined in a superclass, consult the documentation to see if coroutines are allowed (the documentation should say that the method “may be a coroutine” or “may return a Future”):

def good_call():
    # yield will unwrap the Future returned by divide() and raise
    # the exception.
    yield divide(1, 0)

Sometimes you may want to “fire and forget” a coroutine without waiting for its result. In this case it is recommended to use IOLoop.spawn_callback, which makes the IOLoop responsible for the call. If it fails, the IOLoop will log a stack trace:

# The IOLoop will catch the exception and print a stack trace in
# the logs. Note that this doesn't look like a normal call, since
# we pass the function object to be called by the IOLoop.
IOLoop.current().spawn_callback(divide, 1, 0)

Finally, at the top level of a program, if the `.IOLoop` is not yet running, you can start the IOLoop, run the coroutine, and then stop the IOLoop with the IOLoop.run_sync method. This is often used to start the main function of a batch-oriented program:

# run_sync() doesn't take arguments, so we must wrap the
# call in a lambda.
IOLoop.current().run_sync(lambda: divide(1, 0))

Coroutine patterns

Interaction with callbacks

To interact with asynchronous code that uses callbacks instead of Future, wrap the call in a Task. This will add the callback argument for you and return a Future which you can yield:

def call_task():
    # Note that there are no parens on some_function.
    # This will be translated by Task into
    #   some_function(other_args, callback=callback)
    yield gen.Task(some_function, other_args)

Calling blocking functions

The simplest way to call a blocking function from a coroutine is to use a ThreadPoolExecutor, which returns Futures that are compatible with coroutines:

thread_pool = ThreadPoolExecutor(4)

def call_blocking():
    yield thread_pool.submit(blocking_func, args)


The coroutine decorator recognizes lists and dicts whose values are Futures, and waits for all of those Futures in parallel:

def parallel_fetch(url1, url2):
    resp1, resp2 = yield [http_client.fetch(url1),

def parallel_fetch_many(urls):
    responses = yield [http_client.fetch(url) for url in urls]
    # responses is a list of HTTPResponses in the same order

def parallel_fetch_dict(urls):
    responses = yield {url: http_client.fetch(url)
                        for url in urls}
    # responses is a dict {url: HTTPResponse}


Sometimes it is useful to save a Future instead of yielding it immediately, so you can start another operation before waiting:

def get(self):
    fetch_future = self.fetch_next_chunk()
    while True:
        chunk = yield fetch_future
        if chunk is None: break
        fetch_future = self.fetch_next_chunk()
        yield self.flush()


Looping is tricky with coroutines since there is no way in Python to yield on every iteration of a for or while loop and capture the result of the yield. Instead, you’ll need to separate the loop condition from accessing the results, as in this example from Motor:

import motor
db = motor.MotorClient().test

def loop_example(collection):
    cursor = db.collection.find()
    while (yield cursor.fetch_next):
        doc = cursor.next_object()

Running in the background

PeriodicCallback is not normally used with coroutines. Instead, a coroutine can contain a while True: loop and use tornado.gen.sleep:

def minute_loop():
    while True:
        yield do_something()
        yield gen.sleep(60)

# Coroutines that loop forever are generally started with
# spawn_callback().

Sometimes a more complicated loop may be desirable. For example, the previous loop runs every 60+N seconds, where N is the running time of do_something(). To run exactly every 60 seconds, use the interleaving pattern from above:

def minute_loop2():
    while True:
        nxt = gen.sleep(60)   # Start the clock.
        yield do_something()  # Run while the clock is ticking.
        yield nxt             # Wait for the timer to run out.