Friday, April 09, 2010

An intro to Thrift

What is thrift - a software framework for scalable cross language service development. It combines software stack with a code generation engine to build services that work efficiently and seamlessly between C++, Java, Python, Ruby, Erlang, Perl, Smalltalk etc.

Thrift allows you to define data types and service interfaces in a simple definition file. Taking the definition file as input the thrift compiler generates code that can be used to easily build RPC clients and servers that communicate seamlessly across programming languages.

You can find all this stuff at

My intention here is to provide a step by step guide to installing and building simple services in java/php using thrift. Since till date there is no proper tutorial, this should be helpful.

To download thrift, you can either get it from or do

$ svn co thrift
$ cd thrift

Installation steps

$ ./
$ ./configure
$ make
$ make install

thrift depends on c++ boost libraries. To install boost libraries on ubuntu do

$ sudo apt-get install libboost-dev libboost-doc libboost-thread-dev libboost-python-dev


$ sudo apt-get install libboost-*

One problem i ran into while doing "sudo make install" was

Error: JAVA_HOME is not defined correctly.
We cannot execute java

The solution to this is

$ su
$ <enter password>
$ export JAVA_HOME=/path/to/jdk
$ export ANT_HOME=/path/to/ant
$ export PATH=$JAVA_HOME/bin:$ANT_HOME/bin:$PATH
$ make install

It would install the required libraries for all supported languages.

Now lets try writing a very simple service using thrift and use php/java clients to communicate with the service.

First we need to create a thrift definition file.

$ mkdir test # create a separate working directory
$ cd test
$ vim time.thrift # paste the following code in time.thrift

namespace java tserver.gen  // define namespace for java code
namespace php tserver  // define namespace for php code

typedef i64 Timestamp

service TimeServer {  // define the service you want to implement
  Timestamp time(),   // define the funcionalities the service would provide.
            string date(),
            i64 multiply(1:i32 num1, 2:i32 num2),
Namespaces are the places where code would be generated - what we call package in java.

Create a separate directory to store source files

$ mkdir src
$ cd src
$ vim

Create a java source file for implementing the functions that we had defined in the time.thrift file. The name of the file is the Service name (as defined in the thrift file) followed by "Impl". Provide the body of the functions in this file.

package server;

import java.util.*;
import org.apache.thrift.*;
import tserver.gen.*;

class TimeServerImpl implements TimeServer.Iface
  public long time() throws TException
    long time = System.currentTimeMillis();
    System.out.println("Current time : "+time);
    return time;

  public String date() throws TException
    Calendar now = Calendar.getInstance();
    String dt = now.get(Calendar.YEAR)+"-"+(now.get(Calendar.MONTH)+1)+"-"+now.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH)+" "+now.get(Calendar.HOUR_OF_DAY)+":"+now.get(Calendar.MINUTE)+":"+now.get(Calendar.SECOND);
    System.out.println(" date : "+dt);
    return dt;

  public long multiply(int num1, int num2) throws TException
    System.out.println("Got : "+num1+", "+num2);
    return num1*num2;

$ vim

Create a file for providing the service. This program simply has a main function which binds the service to a particular port and makes the server ready to accept connections and provide response. This code will generally remain constant unless you want to provide additional functionality at server level.

package server;

import org.apache.thrift.protocol.*;
import org.apache.thrift.protocol.TBinaryProtocol.*;
import org.apache.thrift.server.*;
import org.apache.thrift.transport.*;
import tserver.gen.*;

public class Server
  private void start()
      TServerSocket serverTransport = new TServerSocket(7911);
      TimeServer.Processor processor = new TimeServer.Processor(new TimeServerImpl());
      Factory protFactory = new TBinaryProtocol.Factory(true, true);
      TServer server = new TThreadPoolServer(processor, serverTransport, protFactory);
      System.out.println("Starting server on port 7911 ...");
    }catch(TTransportException e)

  public static void main(String[] args)
    Server srv = new Server();

$ vim

And create a client which will connect to the server on the specified port and call the provided functions.
package client;

import org.apache.thrift.*;
import org.apache.thrift.protocol.*;
import org.apache.thrift.transport.*;

import tserver.gen.TimeServer.Client;

public class TimeClient {
  private void start(){
    TTransport transport;
    try {
      transport = new TSocket("localhost", 7911);
      TProtocol protocol = new TBinaryProtocol(transport);
      // this client depends on the client class in the gen-java/tserver/gen/ file
      // public static class Client implements TServiceClient, Iface
      Client client = new Client(protocol);;
      long time = client.time();
      System.out.println("Time from server:" + time);
      String dt =;
      System.out.println("Got date from server: "+dt);
      long res = client.multiply(30,100);
      System.out.println("Multiply from server: "+res);
    } catch (TTransportException e) {
    } catch (TException e) {

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    TimeClient c = new TimeClient();
Now lets move ahead and generate the thrift code. And compile everything.

$ thrift --gen java time.thrift
$ vim build.xml

Write a simple build.xml to build these files
<project name="tserver" default="tserver" basedir=".">
<description>Time Server Tutorial</description>

<property name="src" location="src" />
<property name="gen" location="gen-java" />
<property name="build" location="build" />
<property name="cpath" location="/usr/local/lib/libthrift.jar:/usr/local/lib/slf4j-api-1.5.11.jar" />

<target name="init">
<tstamp />
<mkdir dir="${build}"/>

<target name="compile" depends="init">
<javac srcdir="${gen}" destdir="${build}" classpath="${cpath}" >  
<compilerarg value="-Xlint:deprecation"/> 
<javac srcdir="${src}" destdir="${build}" classpath="${cpath}:${gen}" >   
<compilerarg value="-Xlint:deprecation"/> 

<target name="tserver" depends="compile">
<jar jarfile="tserver.jar" basedir="${build}"/>

<target name="clean">
<delete dir="${build}" />
<delete file="tserver.jar" />

If you will check out the build file, you will see that the classpath contains slf4j-api-x.y.z.jar file. Download these files from and put two files (slf4j-api-x.y.z.jar and slf4j-simple-x.y.z.jar) from the archive in the /usr/local/lib directory to satisfy the required dependencies.

To complile the file run ant and create two files runClient and runServer to run the server and clients.

$ ant
$ cat runClient
java -cp tserver.jar:/usr/local/lib/libthrift.jar:/usr/local/lib/slf4j-api-1.5.11.jar:/usr/local/lib/slf4j-simple-1.5.11.jar client.TimeClient
$ cat runServer
java -cp tserver.jar:/usr/local/lib/libthrift.jar:/usr/local/lib/slf4j-api-1.5.11.jar:/usr/local/lib/slf4j-simple-1.5.11.jar server.Server

On compiling you will get the tserver.jar file created.

Now run the server and the client

$ ./runServer
Starting server on port 7911 ...

$ ./runClient
Time from server:1270726146716
Got date from server: 2010-4-8 16:59:6
Multiply from server: 3000

Now lets try building a client in php. First we will generate the thrift-code for php and then write the client to interact with the java server.

$ thrift --gen php time.thrift
$ mkdir php # create a directory to store your php client source code.
$ cd php
$ vim PhpClient.php


//location of thrift php libraries
$GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'] = './lib';

require_once $GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'].'/Thrift.php';
require_once $GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'].'/protocol/TBinaryProtocol.php';
require_once $GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'].'/transport/TSocket.php';
require_once $GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'].'/transport/THttpClient.php';
require_once $GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'].'/transport/TBufferedTransport.php';

$GEN_DIR = '../gen-php';
require_once $GEN_DIR.'/time/TimeServer.php';
require_once $GEN_DIR.'/time/time_types.php';

try {
  $socket = new TSocket('localhost', 7911);
  $transport = new TBufferedTransport($socket, 1024, 1024);
  $protocol = new TBinaryProtocol($transport);
  // this client depends on the client class in the gen-php/time/TimeServer.php file
  // class TimeServerClient implements TimeServerIf
  $client = new TimeServerClient($protocol);


  $time = $client->time();
  print "time frm server = $time\n";
  $res = $client->multiply(100,5000);
  print "multiply frm server = $res\n";

} catch (TException $tx) {
  print 'TException: '.$tx->getMessage()."\n";
As you can see, in the code, the thrift library for php is included in the lib directory inside the php directory.
Create the lib directory and copy the required library files from thrift installation directory to the lib directory.

$ mkdir lib
$ cp -r /path/to/thrift/lib/php/src/* lib/

Now try running your php client. Remember to fire up your java server.

$ php -q PhpClient.php

You may get tons of errors "failed opening './lib/packages/time/time_types.php' for inclusion". For this you will need to edit the generated php files. The time_types.php file is in the generated directory "gen-php".

$ vim ../gen-php/time/TimeServer.php

Add the following lines

include_once '../gen-php/time/time_types.php';
//include_once $GLOBALS['THRIFT_ROOT'].'/packages/time/time_types.php';

now "php -q PhpClient.php" works...


Anonymous said...

can u tell me what does code generation engine do in Thrift?
do u know the componnets of THRIFT?rpl soon

Anonymous said...

Great one. The example was crisp and made me understand everything so easily.

Thanks a lot. Keep it up.