Device Server

Microscope has been designed from the start to support remote devices where each device is on its own separate server. These separate servers may be in different computers or they can be different daemons (or services) in the same computer. In this architecture, a program that wants to control the device becomes a client and connects to the device server. A program that controls multiple devices, such as Cockpit, connects to multiple servers one per device. This client-server architecture to control a microscope has a series of advantages:

  • having each device on its own separate daemon means that each runs on its own Python process and so are not blocked by Python GIL

  • enables distribution of devices with hard requirements over multiple computers. This is typically done when there are too many cameras acquiring images at high speed and IO becomes a bottleneck.

  • possible to have devices with incompatible requirements, e.g., a camera that only works in Linux with a deformable mirror that only works in Windows.

The device-server program

The device-server program is part of the Microscope installation. It can started from the command line with a configuration file defining the devices to be served, like so:

# alternatively, if scripts were not installed:
python3 -m microscope.device_server PATH-TO-CONFIGURATION-FILE

where the configuration file is a Python script that declares the devices to be constructed and served on its DEVICES attribute via device definitions. A device definition is created with the microscope.device_server.device() function. For example:

# Serve two test cameras, each on their own process.
from microscope.device_server import device
from microscope.simulators import SimulatedCamera

    device(SimulatedCamera, host="", port=8000),
    device(SimulatedCamera, host="", port=8001)

The example above creates two device servers, each on their own python process and listening on different ports. If the class requires arguments to construct the device, these must be passed as separate keyword arguments, like so:

from microscope.device_server import device
from microscope.simulators import SimulatedFilterWheel

    # The device will be constructed with `SimulatedFilterWheel(**conf)`
    # i.e., `SimulatedFilterWheel(positions=6)`
        conf={"positions": 6},

Instead of a device type, a function can be passed to the device definition. Reasons to do so are: configure the device before serving it; specify their URI; force a group of devices in the same process (see Composite Devices); and readability of the configuration when conf gets too complex. For example:

# Serve a cameras and a filter wheel
from microscope.device_server import device
from microscope.simulators import SimulatedCamera

def construct_camera() -> typing.Dict[str, Device]:
    camera = SimulatedCamera()
    camera.set_setting("display image number", False)
    return {"DummyCamera": camera}

# Will serve PYRO:DummyCamera@
    device(construct_camera, host="", port=8000),

Connect to remote devices

The Microscope device server makes use of Pyro4, a Python package for remote method invocation of Python objects. One can use the Pyro proxy, the remote object, as if it was a local instance of the device itself and Pyro takes care of locating the right object on the right computer and execute the method. Creating the proxy is simply a matter of knowing the device server URI:

import Pyro4

proxy = Pyro4.Proxy("PYRO:SomeLaser@")
# use proxy as if it was an instance of the SomeLaser class

The device server will take care of anything special. If the remote device is a Controller, the device server will use automatically create proxies for the individual devices it controls.

Pyro configuration

Pyro4 configuration is the singleton Pyro4.config. If there’s any special configuration wanted, this can be done on the device-server configuration file:

import Pyro4
import microscope.device_server
# ...

# Pyro4.config is a singleton, these changes to config will be
# used for all the device servers.  This needs to be done after
# importing microscope.device_server
Pyro4.config.COMPRESSION = True


Importing microscope.device_server will already change the Pyro configuration, namely it sets the SERIALIZER to use the pickle protocol. Despite the security implications associated with it, pickle is the fastest of the protocols and one of the few capable of serialise numpy arrays which are camera images.

Floating Devices

A floating device is a device that can’t be specified during object construction, and only after initialisation can it be identified. This happens in some cameras and is an issue when more than one such device is present. For example, if there are two Andor CMOS cameras present, it is not possible to specify which one to use when constructing the AndorSDK3 instance. Only after the device has been initialised can we query its ID, typically the device serial number, and check if we obtained the one we want. Like so:

wanted = "20200910" # serial number of the wanted camera
camera = AndorSDK3()
if camera.get_id() != wanted:
    # We got the other camera, so try again
    next_camera = AndorSDK3()
    # Only shutdown the first camera after getting the next or we
    # might get the same wrong camera again.
    camera = next_camera

In the interest of keeping each camera on their own separate process, the above can’t be used. To address this, the device definition must specify uid if the device class is a floating device. Like so:

    device(AndorSDK3, "", 8000, uid="20200910"),
    device(AndorSDK3, "", 8001, uid="20130802"),

The device server will then construct each device on its own process, and then serve them on the named port. Two implication come out of this. The first is that uid must be specified, even if there is only such device present on the system. The second is that all devices of that class must be present.

Composite Devices

A composite device is a device that internally makes use of another device to function. These are typically not real hardware, they are an abstraction that merges multiple devices to provide something augmented. For example, ClarityCamera is a camera that returns a processed image based on the settings of AuroxClarity. Another example is the StageAwareCamera which is a dummy camera that returns a subsection of an image file based on the stage coordinates in order to mimic navigating a real sample.

If the multiple devices are on the same computer, it might be worth have them share the same process to avoid the inter process communication. This is achieved by returning multiple devices on the function that constructs. Like so:

def construct_composite_device(
    device1 = SomeDevice()
    composite_device = DeviceThatNeedsOther(device1)
    return {
        "Device1" : device1,
        "CompositeDevice": composite_device,

# Will serve both:
#   PYRO:Device1@
#   PYRO:CompositeDevice@
    device(construct_composite_device, "", 8000)