LibraryHippo 2020 - Sending Email from Heroku

After getting a do-nothing web app running on Heroku, I think the riskiest requirement is having a scheduled job for LibraryHippo to check families' status and notify them. However rather than trying to satisfy that requirement, this time I'm going to try to set up email sending, mostly because it can be used as the triggered action, making it easier to test the scheduled jobs.


Flask has a plugin to make sending mail easier, Flask-Mail; I'll install it, but first I'll add a task to freeze the requirements.txt file, since I'm tired of using the Powershell syntax to do that.

def freeze(c):
    """Freeze pip's requirements.txt. Does not commit the file."""
    import pip

    result ="pip freeze")
    with open("requirements.txt", mode="w") as requirements:

Now to install the package:

pip install Flask-Mail
inv freeze
Collecting Flask-Mail
Using cached Flask-Mail-0.9.1.tar.gz (45 kB)
Requirement already satisfied: Flask in d:\sandbox\libraryhippo\venv\lib\site-packages (from Flask-Mail) (1.1.1)
Collecting blinker
Using cached blinker-1.4.tar.gz (111 kB)
Requirement already satisfied: itsdangerous>=0.24 in d:\sandbox\libraryhippo\venv\lib\site-packages (from Flask->Flask-Mail) (1.1.0)
Requirement already satisfied: Werkzeug>=0.15 in d:\sandbox\libraryhippo\venv\lib\site-packages (from Flask->Flask-Mail) (0.16.1)
Requirement already satisfied: Jinja2>=2.10.1 in d:\sandbox\libraryhippo\venv\lib\site-packages (from Flask->Flask-Mail) (2.11.1)
Requirement already satisfied: click>=5.1 in d:\sandbox\libraryhippo\venv\lib\site-packages (from Flask->Flask-Mail) (7.0)
Requirement already satisfied: MarkupSafe>=0.23 in d:\sandbox\libraryhippo\venv\lib\site-packages (from Jinja2>=2.10.1->Flask->Flask-Mail) (1.1.1)
Installing collected packages: blinker, Flask-Mail
    Running install for blinker ... done
    Running install for Flask-Mail ... done
Successfully installed Flask-Mail-0.9.1 blinker-1.4


Flask-Mail Configuration

The production LibraryHippo application uses Sendgrid as an email server, and I see no reason to deviate now. Flask-Mail must be configured to use this server. Some of the configuration should remain a secret (the password), and some could be hard-coded right in the app, but I prefer to separate the configuration from the code. I'll put the public settings in a file called configuration, which will be committed, and the sensitive ones in secrets, which I won't commit.
# Do not commit this file. It must not be shared.



Now to make Flask aware of the configuration from above and to add Flask-Mail to the application so it can send email.

The Config class is a bridge that gives Flask access to the environment variables. It

  1. provides a central location to view all configuration settings
  2. supplies sensible defaults for settings that might have some, and
  3. converts some settings from strings to their proper types, simplifying usage in the code.
import os
from dotenv import load_dotenv

basedir = os.path.abspath(os.path.dirname(__file__))
load_dotenv(os.path.join(basedir, "secrets"))
load_dotenv(os.path.join(basedir, "configuration"))

class Config(object):
    MAIL_PASSWORD = os.environ.get("MAIL_PASSWORD")
    MAIL_PORT = int(os.environ.get("MAIL_PORT") or 25)
    MAIL_SERVER = os.environ.get("MAIL_SERVER")
    MAIL_USE_TLS = os.environ.get("MAIL_USE_TLS") != "False"
    MAIL_USERNAME = os.environ.get("MAIL_USERNAME")

Then 4 lines are added to the application initialization to hook the configuration class and Flask-Mail into the application:

from config import Config

from flask import Flask
from flask_mail import Mail

app = Flask(__name__)

mail = Mail(app)

from app import routes

Finally, a new route is added to the application to trigger the email. Note that this is completely unprotected and a horrible, horrible idea for a production environment, as someone could just visit the page and spam me. But it makes for an easy test.

from app import app
from app import mail
from datetime import datetime
from flask_mail import Message

def sendmail():
    now ="%c")
    msg = Message("Mail from LibraryHippo", recipients=["[email protected]"])
    msg.body = f"test mail from LibraryHippo at {now}"
    msg.html = f"<h1>Test mail from LibraryHippo</h1><p>It's now {now}."
    return f"Sent mail at {now}"

And it works! I can trigger the route and get a success message. Nearly instantaneously, I receive the email in my inbox.

inv run
* Serving Flask app ""
* Environment: production
WARNING: This is a development server. Do not use it in a production deployment.
Use a production WSGI server instead.
* Debug mode: off
* Running on (Press CTRL+C to quit) - - [07/Feb/2020 06:08:38] "GET /sendmail HTTP/1.1" 200 -
screenshot of LibraryHippo having sent mail locally
LibraryHippo having sent mail locally
screenshot of email received from local LibraryHippo
Email received from local LibraryHippo

Deploying to Heroku

There's very little work to do to deploy to Heroku. All the new configuration settings are in the configuration file except for MAIL_PASSWORD. The Heroku web interface provides a way to set the value, but it's easier to use the Heroku command line interface:

Setting MAIL_PASSWORD and restarting ⬢ libraryhippo... done, v4

And now to deploy and test

inv deploy
remote: Compressing source files... done.
remote: Building source:
remote: -----> Python app detected
remote: -----> Need to update SQLite3, clearing cache
remote: -----> Installing python-3.8.1
remote: -----> Installing pip
remote: -----> Installing SQLite3
remote: Sqlite3 successfully installed.
remote: -----> Installing requirements with pip
# a lot of boring pip stuff
remote:        Successfully installed Click-7.0 Flask-1.1.1 Flask-Mail-0.9.1 Jinja2-2.11.1 MarkupSafe-1.1.1 Werkzeug-0.16.1 blinker-1.4 gunicorn-20.0.4 invoke-1.4.1 itsdangerous-1.1.0 python-dotenv-0.10.5
remote: -----> Discovering process types
remote:        Procfile declares types -> web
remote: -----> Compressing...
remote:        Done: 47.9M
remote: -----> Launching...
remote:        Released v5
remote: deployed to Heroku
remote: Verifying deploy... done.
3f0598d..ddf4728  lh2020 -> master
screenshot of LibraryHippo having sent mail from Heroku
LibraryHippo having sent mail from Heroku
screenshot of email received from LibraryHippo on Heroku
Email received from LibraryHippo on Heroku

Note the time discrepancy between the time that LibraryHippo reported and the time that GMail said it receive the message. I'm sending from UTC-5, and the Heroku server appears to be in UTC. It's not a problem for now, but may become a factor when scheduling jobs.


Two of nine requirements have been met.

done web app hosting
next scheduled jobs may only run in UTC
scraping library websites on users' behalf
small persistent datastore
social authentication
done sending e-mail
nearly free
job queues
custom domain name