Django for Web Prototyping

Published at April 15, 2013 | Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Or how to use the benefits of Django template system during the PSD to HTML phase

There are two main approaches to start designing a new project - Photoshop mock-up or an HTML prototype. The first one is more traditional and well established in the web industry. The second one is more alternative and (maybe)modern. I remember a video of Jason Fried from 37 Signals where he talks about design and creativity. You can see it at There he explains how he stays away from the Photoshop in the initial phase to concetrate on the things that you can interact with instead of focusing on design details.

I am not planning to argue which is the better method, the important thing here is that sooner or later you get to the point where you have to start the HTML coding. Unfortunately frequently this happens in a pure HTML/CSS environment outside of the Django project and then we waste some extra amount of time to convert it to Django templates.

Wouldn't be awesome if you can give the front-end developers something that they can install/run with a simple command and still to allow them to work in the Django environment using all the benefits it provides - templates nesting and including, sekizai tags etc.

I have been planning to do this for a long time and finally it is ready and is available at Django for Prototyping. Currently the default template includes Modernizr, jQuery and jQuery UI but you can easily modify it according to your needs. I would be glad of any feedback and ideas of improvement so feel free to try it and comment.

Introduction to Django - presentation

Published at March 18, 2013 | Tagged with:

This presentation shows the basics of Django - what is inside the framework and explains the Model-View-Template system. One of the most important parts is a diagram how the request is processed and the response is generated. Shows the project and the application structure and the basic elements - Models, URLs dispatcher, Views and Templates.

Introduction to django from Ilian Iliev

Simple Site Checker and the User-Agent header

Published at Oct. 22, 2012 | Tagged with: , , , ,

Preface: Nine months ago(I can't believe it was that long) I created a script called Simple Site Checker to ease the check of sitemaps for broken links. The script code if publicly available at Github. Yesterday(now when I finally found time to finish this post it must be "A few weeks ago") I decided to run it again on this website and nothing happened - no errors, no warning, nothing. Setting the output level to DEBUG showed the following message "Loading sitemap ..." and exited.
Here the fault was mine, I have missed a corner case in the error catching mechanism i.e. when the sitemap URL returns something different from "200 OK" or "500 internal server error". Just a few second and the mistake was fix.

Problem and Solution: I ran the script again and what a surprise the sitemap URL was returning "403 Forbidden". At the same time the sitemap was perfectly accessible via my browser. After some thinking I remembered about that some security plugins block the access to the website if there is not User-Agent header supplied. The reason for this is to block the access of simple script. In my case even an empty User-Agent did the trick to delude the plugin.

                                headers={'User-Agent': USER_AGENT}))

Final words: As a result of the issue mention above one bug in simple site checker was found fixed. At the same time another issue about missing status and progress was raised, more details can be found at Github but in a few words an info message was added to each processed URL to indicate the progress.

If you have any ideas for improvement or anything else feel free to comment, create issues and/or fork the script.

Automation, Fabric and Django - presentation

Published at Oct. 3, 2012 | Tagged with: , , , , ,

As a follow up post of Automated deployment with Ubuntu, Fabric and Django here are the slides from my presentation on topic "Automation, Fabric and Django". Unfortunately there is no audio podcast but if there is interest I can add some comments about each slide as part of this post.

Automation - fabric, django and more from Ilian Iliev

If there is anything that need explanation feel free to ask.

Django project file structure

Published at Sept. 24, 2012 | Tagged with: , ,

As I promised in Automated deployment with Ubuntu, Fabric and Django I will use this post to explain the file structure that I use for my Django projects and what I benefit from it. So here is my project directory tree.

The structure

|-- bin
|-- include
|-- lib
|-- local
|-- src
   |-- .git
   |-- .gitignore
   |-- required_packages.txt
   |-- media
   |-- static
   |-- <project_name>
   |   |-- <project_name>
   |   |   |--
   |   |   |-- settings
   |   |   |   |--
   |   |   |   |-- <environment_type>.py
   |   |   |   |--
   |   |   |-- templates
   |   |   |--
   |   |   |--
   |   |--
   |   |--
   |-- <project_name>.development.nginx.local.conf
   |-- <project_name>.< environment_type>.nginx.uwsgi.conf
   |-- <project_name>.< environment_type>.uwsgi.conf


At the top I have a directory named as the project and virtual environment inside of it. The benefit from it is complete isolation of the project from the surrounding projects and python packages installed at OS level and ability to install packages without administrator permissions. It also provides an easy way to transfer the project from one system to another using a requirements file.
The src folder is where I keep everything that is going to enter the version control project source, requirements files, web server configuration etc.
My default .gitignore is made to skip the pyc-files, the PyDev files and everything in the static and media directories.
The media directory is where the MEDIA_ROOT settings point to, respectively static is for the STATIC_ROOT.
All required packages with their version are placed in required_packages.txt so we can install/update them with a single command in the virtual environment.
In a directory with the name of the project is where the python code resides. Inside it the project structure partly follows the new project layout introduced in Django 1.4.
The big difference here is the settings part. It is moved as a separate module where all common/general settings are place in

. We have one file for each possible environment(development, staging, production) with the environment specific settings like DEBUG and TEMPLATE_DEBUG. In are placed the settings specific for the machine where the project is running. This file should not go into the repository as this is where the access database password and API keys should reside.
I having one local Nginx configuration file because I use the webserver to serve the static files when working locally this is the <project_name>.development.nginx.local.conf.
For each environment there is also a couple of configuration files - one for the web server(<project_name>.< environment_type>.nginx.uwsgi.conf) and one for the uwsgi(<project_name>.< environment_type>.uwsgi.conf). I make symbolic links pointing to these files so any changes made are automatically pushed/pulled via version control, I only have to reload the configuration. There is no option to change something in the configuration at one station and to forget to transfer it to the rest.


  • Complete isolation from other projects using virtual environment
  • Easy to transfer and update packages on other machines thanks to the pip requirements file
  • Media/static files outside the source directory for higher security
  • Web server/uWSGI configuration as part of the repository for easier and error proof synchronization

Probably it have some downside(I can not think any of these now but you never know) so if you think that this can be improved feel free to share your thoughts. Also if there is anything not clear enough, just ask me, I will be happy to clear it.

Automated deployment with Ubuntu, Fabric and Django

Published at Sept. 18, 2012 | Tagged with: , , , , , ,

A few months ago I started to play with Fabric and the result was a simple script that automates the creation of a new Django project. In the last months I continued my experiments and extended the script to a full stack for creation and deployment of Django projects.

As the details behind the script like the project structure that I use and the server setup are a bit long I will keep this post only on the script usage and I will write a follow up one describing the project structure and server.

So in a brief the setup that I use consist of Ubuntu as OS, Nginx as web server and uWSGI as application server. The last one is controlled by Upstart. The script is available for download at GitHub.
In a wait for more detailed documentation here is a short description of the main tasks and what they do:


  • Creates a new virtual environment
  • Installs the predefined packages(uWSGI, Django and South))
  • Creates a new Django project from the predefined template
  • Creates different configuration files for development and production environment
  • Initializes new git repository
  • Prompts the user to choose a database type. Then installs database required packages, creates a new database and user with the name of the project and generates the local settings file
  • Runs syncdb(if database is selected) and collectstatic


  • installs the required packages such as Nginx, PIP, GCC etc
  • prompts for a database type and install it
  • reboots the server as some of the packages may require it

Once you have a ready server and a project just use this the following task to deploy it to the server. Please have in mind that it should be used only for initial deployment.


  • Creates a new virtual environment
  • Clones the project from the repository
  • Installs the required packages
  • Creates symbolic links to the nginx/uwsgi configuration files
  • Asks for database engine, creates new DB/User with the project name and updates the settings file
  • Calls the update_project task


  • Updates the source code
  • Installs the required packages(if there are new)
  • Runs syncdb, migrate and collect static
  • Restart the Upstart job that runs the uWSGI and the Nginx server

The script is still in development so use it on your own risk. Also it reflects my own idea of server/application(I am planning to describe it deeper in a follow up post) setup but I would really like if you try it and give a feedback. Feel free to fork, comment and advice.

The road to hell is paved with regular expressions ...

Published at July 31, 2012 | Tagged with: , ,

... or what is the cost of using regular expressions for simple tasks

Regular expressions are one of the most powerful tools in computing I have ever seen. My previous post about Django compressor and image preloading is a good example how useful they might be. The only limit of their use is your imagination. But "with great power, comes great responsibility" or in this case a great cost. Even the simplest expressions can be quite heavy compared with other methods.

The reason to write about this is a question recently asked in a python group. It was about how to get the elements of a list that match specific string. My proposal was to use comprehension list and simple string comparison while other member proposed using a regular expression. I was pretty sure that the regular expression is slower but not sure exactly how much slower so I made a simple test to find out.

import re
import timeit

my_list = ['abc-123', 'def-456', 'ghi-789', 'abc456', 'abc', 'abd']

def re_check():
    return [i for i in my_list if re.match('^abc$', i)]

t = timeit.Timer(re_check)
print 're_check result >>', re_check()
print "%.2f usec/pass" % (1000000 * t.timeit(number=100000)/100000)

def simple_check():
    return [i for i in my_list if i=='abc']

t = timeit.Timer(simple_check)
print 'simple_check result >>', simple_check()
print "%.2f usec/pass" % (1000000 * t.timeit(number=100000)/100000)

The results was 23.99 vs 1.41 usec/pass respectively for regular expression vs direct comparison i.e. the regexp was 17 times slower. The difference from the example above may be OK in some cases but it rises with the size of the list. This is a simple example how something really quick on local version may take significant time on production and even to broke your application.

So, should you learn and use regular expressions?
Yes! Absolutely!

They are powerful and useful. They will open your mind and allow you to do things you haven't done before. But remember that they are a double-edge razor and should be used cautiously. If you can avoid it with other comparison(one or more) just run a quick test to see whether it will be faster. Of course if you can not avoid it you can also think about caching the results.

Django compressor and image preloading

Published at July 30, 2012 | Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Preface: Have you noticed how on some websites when you click on a link that opens a lightbox or any overlay for first time it takes some time to display the border/background/button images. Not quite fancy, right?
This is because the load of this images starts at the moment the overlay is rendered on the screen. If this is your first load and these images are not in your browser cache it will take some time for the browser to retrieve them from the server.

Solution: The solution for this is to preload the images i.e. to force the browser to request them from the server before they are actually used. With a simple javascript function and a list of the images URLs this is a piece of cake:

$.preLoadImages = function() {
    var args_len = arguments.length;
    for (var i=0; i < args_len; i++) {
        var cacheImage = document.createElement('img');
        cacheImage.src = arguments[i];

$.preLoadImages('/img/img1.png', '/img/img2.png')
Please have in mind that the code above uses the jQuery library. Specialty: Pretty easy, but you have to hardcode the URLs of all images. Also if you are using Django compressor then probably you are aware that it adds extra hash to the URLs of the images in the compressed CSS files. The hash depends from the COMPRESS_CSS_HASHING_METHOD settings and can not be avoided. It is pretty useful cause it forces the client browser to reload the images every time when something has been changed. unfortunately our hardcoded list of URLs does not have this hash. So wouldn't it be much simpler if instead of hardcoding URLs we just read them from the CSS files? Solution 2:
$.preLoadImages = function() {
    $.get($('link[rel="stylesheet"]')[0].href, function(data){
        r = /url\(['|"]?(\S+\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|png)[^'(]*)['|"]?\)/ig;
        while (match = r.exec(data)){
                var cacheImage = document.createElement('img');
                cacheImage.src = match[1];


Now with the help of regular expressions we can read the image URLs directly from the CSS file together with the hash part. Please note the zero index in the css file selector, if your main CSS is not the first declared style-sheet then you will have to change the index according to its position.

I hope you will find this solutions simple and useful. As always feel free to comment, share and propose code improvements.

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