What's up with Gunicorn

Rebeca Sarai · January 12, 2019

Originally published on medium

I’ve been working as a software developer for almost two years now, dealing with big frameworks like Django and React (not actually a framework, but let’s go with that). These web frameworks come with a set of coding components and a set of basic structuring tools that help simplify web development. This week I realize that although these tools provide me a great advantage on the coding side, they also make me lost a little of perspective about what was going on underneath the surface. To get some perspective back, this week I decided to study some basic things related to web development.


Gunicorn is a shortened for Green Unicorn.


It’s one of many Web Server Gateway Interface (WSGI) implementations and it’s commonly used to run Python web applications. This particular implementation is important because it is a stable, commonly-used part of web app deployments and is used by some big Python applications around the world, such as Instagram.


On the practical side, WSGI is a specification that describes how a web server communicates with web applications. However, in the old days, when Python was created other patterns were used. Everything started with Gregory Trubetskoy trying to get rid of the chains of Visual Basic to add Python to his project, he was able to embed the Python interpreter on an Apache web server and called mod_python. This method worked for a few years, but summing up the fact that it was not a standard specification, security vulnerabilities were discovered and the development stalled it was necessary for the community to develop a consistent way to execute Python code for web applications.

Therefore in December of 2003, the Python Web Server Gateway Interface v1.0 was created to propose a standard interface between web servers and Python web applications or frameworks, to promote web application portability across a variety of web servers. The goal was to imitate one specific behavior of Java. Like Python, Java has a wide variety of web application frameworks available in order to make these different frameworks to run in any server, the Java’s “servlet” API was implemented. Resulting in any applications written with any Java web application framework is able to run in any web server that supports the servlet API.

The original PEP 333 also says:

…Thus, WSGI must be easy to implement… Thus, simplicity of implementation on both the server and framework sides of the interface is absolutely critical to the utility of the WSGI interface, and is therefore the principal criterion for any design decisions.

Focusing on simplicity the specification has two sides: the “server” or “gateway” side, and the “application” or “framework” side.

Stack Python](https://www.fullstackpython.com/wsgi-servers.html)

The server-side invokes a callable object that is provided by the application side. The specifics of how that object is provided are up to the server or gateway. A nice thing that’s worth mentioning is that the term “callable” refers to an object with a __call__ method if you never heard about this a good source of information about the subject is the book Fluent Python.

Django’s primary deployment platform is WSGI{.markup–anchor .markup–p-anchor}. Again, the key concept is the callable object, it’s commonly provided as an object named application{.markup–code .markup–p-code}in a Python module accessible to the server, usually: <project_name>/wsgi.py.

WSGI config for boilerplate project.
It exposes the WSGI callable as a module-level variable named ``application``.
For more information on this file, see
import os
from django.core.wsgi import get_wsgi_application
os.environ.setdefault("DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE", "project_name.settings")
application = get_wsgi_application()

This file exposes an application variable so that a WSGI server can use the application as a hook for running the web app.

Stack Python](https://www.fullstackpython.com/wsgi-servers.html)

Gunicorn Architecture

Back to gunicorn. Gunicorn implements the PEP 3333, therefore it is able to run Python web applications that implement the application interface. For example, if you write a web application with a web framework such as Django, Flask or Bottle, then your application implements the WSGI specification.

The Gunicorn has a simple architecture, based on the pre-fork worker model. This means that there is a central master process that manages a set of worker processes. The master is a simple loop that listens for various process signals and reacts accordingly, it never knows anything about individual clients, but it manages the list of running workers by listening for signals to increase or decrease the number of running workers. All requests and responses are handled completely by worker processes, this is the reason for the pre in pre-fork, the processes are forked before a request comes in. One more thing, the workers can be synchronous or asynchronous, and are very efficient only needing 4–12 worker processes to handle hundreds or thousands of requests per second. About the number of workers the Gunicorn documentation says the following:

Always remember, there is such a thing as too many workers. After a point your worker processes will start thrashing system resources decreasing the throughput of the entire system.

Running Gunicorn

When Gunicorn is installed, a gunicorn command is available which starts the Gunicorn server process.

So for a typical Django project, invoking gunicorn would look like:

gunicorn myproject.wsgi

This will start one process running one thread listening on On my project, I use gunicorn to start up our web dynos on Heroku, the configurations are in a file called Procfile:

web: gunicorn .wsgi --limit-request-line 8188 --log-file -

Did I make a mistake? Please consider sending a pull request.