Ryan Harrison My blog, portfolio and technology related ramblings

Python - RESTful server with Flask

The Flask library for Python is a great microframework for setting up simple web servers. Larger sites or REST interfaces might want to tend towards the Django framework instead, but I’ve found Flask excellent for putting together small sites or a couple endpoints with next to no effort. The API is very Pythonic so of course you can get up and running with very few lines of code. I currently use Flask for the backend API services for this site - which powers the search page, contact page and automated Jekyll builds using Github hooks.


To install and start using Flask, just use pip:

$ pip install Flask

Simple Example

The most basic endpoint looks like:

from flask import Flask
app = Flask(__name__)

def hello_world():
    return 'Hello, World!'

We imported the main Flask class and created a new instance passing in the name of the current module as an identifier (so Flask knows where to look for static files and templates). A simple function, which in this case just returns a String, can be decorated with route to define the URL which will trigger the function.

Running on a development server

There are a couple ways to run the above example. The first is the way recommended by the Flask team:

$ export FLASK_APP=hello.py
$ flask run
* Running on

This is fine on Linux boxes (you can also use set instead of export on Windows), but setting an environment variable on Windows is a bit of a pain, so instead you can start the server via code. Apparently this might cause issues with live reload, but Flask starts up so quickly it’s not too much of an issue:

if __name__ == '__main__':

You can then navigate to http://localhost:5000 and you will see the return value of the hello_world function. You can easily return HTML or a JSON objects as needed depending on what services you wish to build.

Handling GET Requests

I have focused mainly on using Flask to create basic RESTful web endpoints instead of serving HTML - which Flask can do very well using the Jinja2 templating engine. The below snippet shows how to create a simple endpoint to handle GET requests to retrieve a user by their unique id. The returned object from our dummy service is converted into a JSON response via the built in jsonify function:

from Flask import jsonify

# here the user_id parameter is restricted to an int type
@app.route('/user/<int:user_id>', methods=['GET'])
def get_user(user_id):
    # get the user from some service etc
    user = user_service.find_user(user_id)
    return jsonify(user) # return the user as a JSON object

Handling POST Requests

The below snippet shows how we can handle a POST request, taking in a JSON object and returning a response from our service:

from flask import request

@app.route('/user/' methods=['POST'])
def save_user():
    # retrieve the json from the request
    new_user = request.get_json(silent=True)
    created_user = user_service.create_user(new_user)
    # return the newly created user as a json object
    return jsonify(created_user)

As you can see, setting up simple endpoints is very quick and easy using Flask. The framework also offers a ton of other useful features including:

  • built-in development server and debugger
  • integrated unit testing support
  • RESTful request dispatching
  • Jinja2 templating
  • support for secure cookies (client side sessions)
  • great documentation

Flask website

Quickstart guide