Real-time video processing is one of the most important applications when developing various computer vision or machine learning models. It’s useful because it allows users to quickly verify what their models can do with handy video input from their own devices, such as webcams or smartphones.

But it also presents a challenge to those of us using Streamlit, since Streamlit doesn’t natively support real-time video processing well yet through its own capabilities.

I created streamlit-webrtc, a component that enables Streamlit to handle real-time media streams over a network to solve this problem. In this in-depth tutorial, I’ll also briefly introduce you to WebRTC (check out my article here for more in-depth info on WebRTC). If you want to jump right to playing with the component here is a sample app.

Ready?

Let’s dive in.

(This tutorial requires Python >= 3.6 and a webcam.)

The problem with existing approaches

Streamlit is actively used by many developers and researchers to prototype apps backed with computer vision and machine learning models, but it can’t yet natively support real-time video processing.

One existing approach to achieve real-time video processing with Streamlit is to use OpenCV to capture video streams. However, this only works when the Python process can access the video source - in other words, only when the camera is connected to the same host the app is running on.

Due to this limitation, there have always been problems with deploying the app to remote hosts and using it with video streams from local webcams. cv2.VideoCapture(0) consumes a video stream from the first (indexed as 0) locally connected device, and when the app is hosted on a remote server, the video source is a camera device connected to the server - not a local webcam.

How WebRTC resolves this issue

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) enables web servers and clients, including web browsers, to send and receive video, audio, and arbitrary data streams over the network with low latency.

It is now supported by major browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and its specs are open and standardized. Browser-based real-time video chat apps like Google Meet are common examples of WebRTC usage.

WebRTC extends Streamlit’s powerful capabilities to transmit video, audio, and arbitrary data streams between frontend and backend processes, like browser JavaScript and server-side Python.

The WebRTC basics

The following tutorial uses knowledge about WebRTC concepts such as "Signaling", "Offer", and "Answer". The below figure provides a simple summary of how to establish a WebRTC connection.

  • WebRTC has a preparation phase called "Signaling", during which the peers exchange data called "offers" and "answers" in order to gather necessary information to establish the connection.
  • Developers choose an arbitrary method for Signaling, such as the HTTP req/res mechanism.

If you want to know more about these concepts, read this article.

Just as in the article linked above, this tutorial will use aiortc, a Python library for WebRTC, and an example from the aiortc repository as the basis for our sample project.

The basics of Streamlit's execution model

To read further, you should know about the development of Streamlit bi-directional custom components and about Streamlit's execution model. You can learn about it here.

Here is a short summary:

  • Upon each execution, the Python script is executed from top to bottom.
  • Each execution of the Python script renders the frontend view, sending data from Python to JS as arguments to the component.
  • The frontend triggers the next execution via Streamlit.setComponentValue(), sending data from JS to Python as a component value.

Integrate aiortc into a Streamlit component

In this section, to understand how to integrate a WebRTC implementation into a Streamlit custom component, we will create a minimal version of streamlit-webrtc called tiny-streamlit-webrtc, as a hands-on tutorial.

The source code of tiny-streamlit-webrtc is hosted on GitHub. Throughout this tutorial, we will refer to this repository and review each intermediate commit step-by-step to reach the final version.

It is recommended for you to clone the repository:

$ git clone https://github.com/whitphx/tiny-streamlit-webrtc.git
$ cd tiny-streamlit-webrtc

With the below command, you can check out the specific revision referenced in each section in order to see the entire codebase and to actually try running it.

$ git checkout <revision>

Install dependencies

Install the necessary packages. Note that this tutorial does not work with the latest version of aiortc (1.1.1) and 1.0.0 must be used.

$ pip install streamlit opencv-python
$ pip install aiortc==1.0.0

Setting up the project

As usual, we start with the official template of a bi-directional component. The reference tiny-streamlit-webrtc implementation is based on the revision 4b90f52.

After copying the template files, complete the rest of the setup, including the steps below.

  • Rename "my_component" to "tiny_streamlit_webrtc".
  • Run npm install in tiny_streamlit_webrtc/frontend.
  • Remove the existent code, comments, and docstrings.
  • Add necessary files such as .gitignore

Check out what this section does, with code version f6daf28.

Rolling out the first frontend implementation

Let's start writing code.

First, we will simply copy and paste some lines of code from index.html and client.js in the aiortc example into our React component, but with some fixes.

e3f70e4 is the actual edit, and you can try this version by checking out the commit, as explained above.

$ git checkout e3f70e4

The view contains only a <video /> element with autoPlay and playsInline props, as it is in the original index.html, and a button element to start the WebRTC session. The start button's onClick handler is bound to the start() method, which is copied from client.js and slightly modified to remove some lines unnecessary for this tutorial and adjust to the React class-based component style. We will do the same for negotiate() and createPeerConnection().

Let's run this component in the usual manner for Streamlit custom component development.

$ cd tiny_streamlit_webrtc/frontend/
$ npm start
$ streamlit run tiny_streamlit_webrtc/__init__.py

After opening the app with a web browser, open the developer tools, and click the "Start" button. You can see the offer is generated and printed in the console as below.

This is printed via this line. Please follow the steps leading up to it. This code is equivalent to the code in the original example before sending the offer to the Python server. Yes, this case is different from the original example. How can we send the offer to the Python process?

(You also see your webcam become active since navigator.mediaDevices.getUserMedia() requests its use.)

Send offer from JS to Python

streamlit-webrtc makes use of Streamlit.setComponentValue() for this purpose. We will learn about it in this section.

7b7dd2d is the next update. Use git checkout 7b7dd2d to check out it.

With this change, the offer is sent from the frontend to the server as a component value.

const offerJson = offer.toJSON()
Streamlit.setComponentValue({
  offerJson,
})

The offer can be read on the server-side as below.

component_value = _component_func(key=key, default=None)
if component_value:
    offer_json = component_value["offerJson"]

Let's run this version and confirm the offer is displayed after clicking the "Start" button, which means the offer is received by the Python process and shown with st.write() here.

Server-side implementation with asyncio

Now the offer is received on the server-side, so let's implement the code to process it. Just as we did with the frontend, let's copy and paste from the example server.py to our streamlit_webrtc/__init__.py, like this, which is copied from offer() coroutine in the example server.py.

Note that a video transformer is temporarily omitted from the track event listener like this to focus on the WebRTC part for now. It now just passes through the input track to the output.

However, as you can see, this code contains async and await and does not work in a function. So, we have to wrap this part in a coroutine like this.

Please run this version: a6f7cc0 and confirm the answer is displayed following the offer from here. That means the server-side pc object has processed the offer and generated the answer.

What we have to do next is send it back to the frontend.

Send back the answer from Python to JS

To do this, streamlit-webrtc simply relies on Streamlit's data sending mechanism from Python to JavaScript as below.

_component_func(key=key, answer=answer)

However, one problem arises. We’ve already called component_value = _component_func(...) and obtained the offer from it. After that, we generated the answer. So, how can we set the argument to the already called _component_func() again?

Simply calling the second _component_func() as below does not work, because in the Streamlit app, different _component_func() calls are recognized as different instances of the component.

component_value = _component_func()
offer = component_value["offer"]
answer = generate_answer(offer)  # Pseudo code
_component_func(answer=answer)  # This does not work!
invalid_answering.py

To resolve this problem, we have to introduce a hack: SessionState and st.experimental_rerun(). With these tools, we can rerun the script to call a _component_func() in the same line again and hold a variable over the runs to feed it to the _component_func() in the second and later executions.

SessionState has been discussed in this forum topic and the source is available on this page in Gist.

st.experimental_rerun() seems, as its name implies, to be an experimental API and not documented yet. It has been discussed in this GitHub issue and can now be used.

Please see this version of the server-side code, where SessionState and st.experimental_rerun() are used to feed the generated answer to the component.

This illustrates how it works.

Another important thing here is that the key argument is no longer optional but must be explicitly provided like this. As the answer is fed as an argument to _component_func() and its value changes over the runs, key is necessary as a stable identifier of the component instance.

If key is None, Streamlit identifies the component instance based on arguments other than key, so Streamlit cannot trace the identity of the component instance over the runs as the answer changes.

Note that this if-clause is added to invoke st.experimental_rerun() only the first time the server-side process gets the offer from the frontend. This may also be achieved by resetting the component value on the frontend once the offer is passed to Python.

With this version: aa2ab49, you can see the answer is provided as a field of the args prop like this on the frontend. Let's confirm it with the browser's devtools.

Implement processAnswer()

Now we have the answer on the frontend. Let's implement the rest of the frontend code like this.

This code is copied from the part following receiving the answer in the example client.js and fixed to adjust to ours.

Introduce a thread running over script executions

It seems we have done all things we have to do, but no video appears when you click the "Start" button with this version: 7fbf0eb.

The problem resides on the server-side. The server-side WebRTC code from aiortc runs on an event loop, which is implicitly started with asyncio.run() here now. An event loop is created on which aiortc functions rely throughout one Streamlit script execution. But this event loop will be trashed in the next script execution and the aiortc can no longer keep working.

To resolve this problem, we will fork a thread and create an event loop inside it to run aiortc functions. And the thread object is stored in the SessionState to be maintained over the multiple Streamlit script executions.

See this version of the code: 093f81b. This webrtc_worker() function is forked as a thread here. Inside this thread, a new event loop is created and the process_offer() coroutine is running on it - which was invoked by asyncio.run() in the previous revisions of this code. With this change, queue.Queue is introduced to get the answer object in the main thread, which is now generated in the forked thread.

There is one drawback of forking a thread - the streamlit run command does not stop when you hit Ctrl+c. This is because the forked thread remains even after the main thread is terminated.

To forcefully terminate the process, send it SIGKILL as below.

$ ps aux | grep python | grep streamlit  # Find the process ID
whitphx         19118  11.2  0.6  4759304  99928 s003  S+    5:27PM   0:02.06 /path/to/venv/bin/python3.8 /path/to/venv/bin/streamlit run tiny_streamlit_webrtc/__init__.py
$ kill -9 19118  # Send SIGKILL to the process specified with the ID

To fix it, the daemon option of the forked thread is set to True like this. With this flag, the script stops correctly when necessary.

A thread can be flagged as a “daemon thread”. The significance of this flag is that the entire Python program exits when only daemon threads are left.
"Thread Objects" (Python.org)

Component height adjustment

Let's try out the current version: fc48060. Now, WebRTC works and the video appears with this component! However, the displayed video is cropped and the lower part of it is hidden like below.

To fix it, we have to call Streamlit.setFrameHeight() when the size of <video /> element changes. Although it is automatically called when the props are updated, the element resize is not associated with props updates but with starting video streaming.

Now attach onCanPlay event handler on the <video /> element and call Streamlit.setFrameHeight() from it like this. (While using ResizeObserver may be the right way to observe DOM element resizes, we use the onCanPlay event here as a substitute, for simplicity's sake.)

Cool! Now it works correctly. 🎉1a57a97 is this version.

Now all the core parts for WebRTC are complete. We’ll implement the rest in the following sections.

Implementing your own video filter

First, let's try to implement some video filters. 3ba703d is an example with a simple edge extractor, copied from the sample code of aiortc.

Implement a stop button

Refer to the aiortc example to create a stop button to gracefully stop the stream. 13a38c1 is the current version.

The execution model of streamlit-webrtc

We have followed the steps to develop a minimal Streamlit component utilizing WebRTC to stream video.

As we’ve seen in this component, we chose a design in which the computer vision code is running in a callback in the forked thread, triggered by new frame arrivals from the input stream, independent of Streamlit's script execution timings. It looks a little bit weird the first time you see it, but it's necessary and natural when dealing with real-time streams.

Let's see it from a more abstract view. When processing frames coming from real-time streams, the streams are additional event sources other than user interactions through the frontend view. In normal Streamlit apps, all the events triggering Python script executions are only sourced from the frontend and they are nicely encapsulated by Streamlit.

With its execution model, then, developers can write the apps in a clean world where there are no callbacks and no (or little) side effects. In turn, if we want to handle the streams with good performance, we have to explicitly handle the events sourced from the streams like frame generations, which breaks the elegant encapsulation, causing callbacks and events to appear in the script.

What tiny-streamlit-webrtc lacks

Though we’ve created a small subset of streamlit-webrtc, tiny-streamlit-webrtc, it still lacks many important features streamlit-webrtc has. Here we will review some of them.

Parameters input from Streamlit components

One of the biggest benefits of using Streamlit is interactive controls such as sliders and radio buttons. With computer vision and machine learning models, these controls are very useful to change the parameters during execution.

Because the computer vision code is running in the forked thread with this component, we have to pass the values obtained from Streamlit widgets to the CV code over the threads. But it is not difficult, like here in the streamlit-webrtc sample.

With tiny-streamlit-webrtc, you can do this by adding a public property to VideoTransformTrack and read and write it from each thread, just like the sample code linked above. Please try it if you are interested, and be careful about thread safety when you pass complex values.

Frame drops

We’ve used edge extraction as an example in the tutorial. However, if you replace it with more computationally expensive filters like deep neural networks, you will see the displayed video slows down. You can test it simply by putting time.sleep(1) in VideoTransformTrack.recv().

This is because VideoTransformTrack.recv() processes all the input frames one by one - if it delays, generating the output frames is also delayed.

To solve this problem, VideoTransformTrack.recv() has to drop some input frames and pick the latest one each time it runs. In streamlit-webrtc, it's done here when async_transform option is set as True.

Extendability

In tiny-streamlit-webrtc, the video transformation is hard-coded inside VideoTransformTrack.recv(), but of course, this is bad design as a library. To be reusable, it should expose an injectable interface through which developers can implement arbitrary kinds of video transformation, encapsulating details such as VideoTransformTrack.recv() and WebRTC-related code.

With streamlit-webrtc, developers can implement their own video transformations by creating a class extending VideoTransformerBase class like this and this.

Key takeaways

Streamlit is a nifty framework with a useful library, but it doesn’t handle real-time video processing well on its own.

WebRTC makes Streamlit even more awesome by enabling server-side processes and clients to send and receive data streams over the network with low latency.

Have an amazing project in mind to use WebRTC for? Share it with us in the comments or message me.


Credits

Reviewed by Yu Tachibana (@z_reactor)