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Handling requests timeout in Python

Being optimistic is sometimes a disadvantage. When we make calls to an API, we usually test it under ideal conditions. For example, we make sure the client behaves as expected against a real HTTP server that runs locally, in our CI or devbox.

Let's be honest, we rarely test the consequences of a faulty server in our client code. Shit happens in production, when the service is overloaded or the network becomes unreliable and flaky. Within an architecture based on micro-services, this can lead to a chain reaction that can come tumbling down like a house of cards.

In this article, I will show you the basics to handle HTTP requests timeout in Python, using:

Timeouts in requests

We all use requests. But «what is the default timeout for your HTTP calls?» may ask your ops on duty.

Don't feel bad, I didn't know either. requests takes it from urllib3 which itself take it from the standard socket module, which... does not define it, and seems to be none.

Best way to make sure you know: make it configurable.

import os

import requests
from requests.adapters import TimeoutSauce


class CustomTimeout(TimeoutSauce):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        if kwargs["connect"] is None:
            kwargs["connect"] = REQUESTS_TIMEOUT_SECONDS
        if kwargs["read"] is None:
            kwargs["read"] = REQUESTS_TIMEOUT_SECONDS
        super().__init__(*args, **kwargs)

# Set it globally, instead of specifying ``timeout=..`` kwarg on each call.
requests.adapters.TimeoutSauce = CustomTimeout

Now, any request failing to connect or read data after REQUESTS_TIMEOUT_SECONDS will raise requests.exceptions.ConnectTimeout and requests.exceptions.ReadTimeout errors. These two can be caught under requests.exceptions.Timeout.

Retry failing requests

The same way we urge on hiting the refresh button but some page does not load, you may want your program to retry some failing requests before crashing completely.

By default, requests will retry 0 times. You can specify it using max_retries:

import os

import requests


session = requests.Session()
adapter = requests.adapters.HTTPAdapter(max_retries=REQUESTS_MAX_RETRIES)
session.mount('https://', adapter)

This approach has some limitations: it will only retry failing connections or data read. If the requests made it to the server but got 503 in return (from a reverse proxy, load balancer, or whatever) then it won't retry it.

That's why I truely recommend the backoff library, which makes it super easy to retry any failing block of code using decorators. It has many cool features, it has several strategies to introduce delays betweens retries, can introduce jitter, execute callbacks on success or errors etc.

import os

import backoff
import requests


class ServerError(requests.exceptions.HTTPError):

# Re-usable decorator with exponential wait.
retry_timeout = backoff.on_exception(

def fetch_server_info(self, *args, **kwargs):
    resp = requests.get(SERVER_URL)
    if resp.status_code >= 500:
        raise ServerError("Boom!", response=resp)
    return resp.json()

Simulate Bad Network Conditions

They are several solutions out there to simulate faulty connections and timeouts. I remember that Tarek was working on Vaurien a few years back, Netflix has Chaos Monkey, and Shopify offers toxiproxy.

I found the latter convenient enough to get started and do what I had in mind. They all sit between your server and your client, and can receive commands to start or stop manipulating the pipe between the client and the upstream server.

On a recent Ubuntu, toxiproxy is available out of the box:

sudo apt-get install toxiproxy toxiproxy-cli

The service runs in the background, and its configuration is done using the CLI tool. For example, we'll run a proxy to our local API that is running on http://localhost:8888:

toxiproxy-cli create fantastic_api_dev -l localhost:22222 -u localhost:8888

Then we'll add a 5 seconds latency:

toxiproxy-cli toxic add fantastic_api_dev --toxicName latency_downstream -t latency -a latency=5000

Accessing our service at http://localhost:22222 will now take a lot longer than usual. Check out the list of available toxics for more fun :)

To remove an existing one, just do:

toxiproxy-cli toxic delete fantastic_api_dev --toxicName latency_downstream

The whole idea of such a service is to be able to introduce some network hazards in your integration tests. Basically, it consists in using the Python client library of toxiproxy:

pip install toxiproxy-python

And setup the toxics in your tests setup:

import unittest

from toxiproxy import Toxiproxy

toxiserver = Toxiproxy()
toxiserver.create(name="fantastic_api_dev", upstream="localhost:8888")

class LatencyTest(unittest.TestCase):
    def setUpClass(cls):
        cls.proxy = toxiserver.get_proxy(name="fantastic_api_dev")
        cls.proxy.add_toxic(name="latency_downstream", type="latency", attributes={"latency": 500})
        cls.proxy_url = "http://" + cls.proxy.listen

    def tearDownClass(cls):

    def test_client_raises_error(self):
        client = APIClient(server=self.proxy_url, timeout=100)
        with self.assertRaises():

See also:

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