Tag Archives: django

Two Frameworks

The past couple of months have found me working diligently on work stuff, but also consistently dropping an hour a day on my current side project.  It just so happens that the side project and my actual work share the same language (Python) and framework (Django).  This has been nice because it’s given my brain a moment to relax with regards to learning new material,  but at the same time I feel stagnate.

Django is my framework of choice.   I know it inside and out, can bend it to my will, and work extremely fast in it.  However I’m not blind to the fact that the popularity of the old monolithic frameworks(Rails, Django, Cake, etc) for new projects is waning.  People these days are starting new projects with a service oriented architecture in mind.  They’re using Node.js with Express on the backend for an API, and then Angular on the front end to create a nice single page app.  I’ve done this sort of development before extensively, but I’m out of practice.  So I’ve come to a fork in the road.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that I can only hold two frameworks in my mind at one time. It doesn’t matter if they are written in different languages or not (those seem to stick with me easier for some reason), but two frameworks is the max I can handle.  So my choices are as follows:  1) Learn Android, 2) Get good at Node.

I’ve made one Android app before when I worked at a marketing firm.  It was fun.  I enjoyed not doing web stuff for once.  I found Java overly verbose,  but as long as you stayed within the “modern Java” lines it was fine.  As for Node, I already know it but I’m just out of practice.  I feel like it would be valuable to become an expert in but sometimes I feel burnt out on the web.

After a lot of deliberation, I think I’m going to move forward with Android development by making an Android app for RedemFit.  It’ll give me a chance to break out of Web development for awhile and hopefully will become something I enjoy doing as much as web.

Shuttering Side Projects

Over the past few years I’ve slowly accumulated some big side projects. They weren’t done for clients, but just for myself. At some point maintenance of these side projects isn’t fun anymore and hinders the creative juices. I have other things I want to work on, but having these other zombie side projects feels too much like an albatross around my neck.

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to shut down two of my large side projects: BookCheaply and Smooth Bulletin. I really believe both of these projects could do someone some good, but they were both learning projects for me and I don’t see them moving forward anymore. Effective immediately I’m disabling their Apache configs, backing up their DBs, TARing it all together, and putting it somewhere safe. I’ll keep access to the Git repos, but eventually I’ll clone a copy of those out too and archive them. If I don’t get them out of the way completely, I feel like I’ll want to work on them too much.

Shuttering these projects marks a transition for me, where I move from using Python and Django on side projects to Node.js, Express, and Angular. While apprehensive about abandoning my go-to stack for side projects, I’m excited to learn the nooks and crannies of Node (and I still use Python/Django for my day job anyways).

Here’s to the future!

Smooth Bulletin

Integration Testing With Django and Lettuce: Getting Started

The Ruby on Rails community has long been a proponent of Behavior Driven Development(BDD) and has a great ecosystem around it supporting that testing methodology. From Cucumber to Capybara, RoR developers have it made when it comes to BDD. But what about Django? What about Python? Django and Python don’t have access to Cucumber or Capybara, but what we do have is a fantastic port of Cucumber called Lettuce.

What is Behavior Driven Development

Before we can get started talking about Lettuce and all the cool things you can do with it, we first need to talk about BDD.

Behavior-driven development combines the general techniques and principles of TDD with ideas from domain-driven design and object-oriented analysis and design to provide software developers and business analysts with shared tools and a shared process to collaborate on software development. (Wikipedia)

BDD arose out of the need for the business side of software and the engineering side of software to communicate more effectively. Prior to BDD, it was a lot more difficult to communicate the business requirements of a project to developers. Sure there were spec documents, but those still needed to be translated into a language the computer can understand. With BDD, tests and acceptance criteria are more accessible to everybody involved. Dan North suggested a few guidelines for BDD, and then the development community took it from there.

  • Tests should be grouped into user stories. Essentially narratives about the expected functionality.
  • Stories should have a title. The title should be clear and explicit.
  • There should be a short narrative at the beginning of the story, that explains who the primary stakeholder of the story is, what effect the story should have, and what business value the stakeholder derives from this from this effect.
  • Scenarios(tests) should follow the format of first describing the initial conditions for the scenario, then which event(s) triggers the start of the scenario, and finally what the expected outcome of the scenario should be.
  • All of these steps should be written out in natural language, preferably using the Gherkin syntax.

An example feature using Gherkin.

Feature: Authentication
    In order to protect private information
    As a registered user
    I want to log in to the admin portal
    Scenario: I enter my password correctly
        Given the user "Jack" exists with password "password"
        And I am at "/login/"
        When I fill in "Login" with "Jack"
        And I fill in "Password" with "password"
        And I press "Login"
        Then I should be at "/portal/"
        And I should see "Welcome to the admin portal"

So now that we know the gist of BDD, why would you want to use it? There are probably more reasons than the 3 I’m going to list, but I found these to justify my use of BDD in most cases.

  1. It’s easy for business minded people to understand what you’re trying to test.
  2. It’s easier to translate complicated business requirements into tests.
  3. Some things are easier to explain in natural language.

Alright, now we’re done with the background information. Let’s get rolling on some testing.

Getting Started

To follow the rest of this article, you’re going to need the following:

  • A little Python experience
  • A little Django experience
  • Extremely basic knowledge of regular expressions
  • Knowledge of how to set up a virtual environment using virtualenv (I also use virtualenvwrapper to make my life a bit easier)
  • Firefox – Yes, I know you don’t need Firefox to do this, but its probably the easiest to use with Selenium.

On the bright side, no previous testing experience required!

The best place to start with all this getting the virtual environment set up.

jacks$ mkvirtualenv learning_lettuce

After that, lets get Django installed.

(learning_lettuce)jack:repos jacks$ pip install django

And now we’ll need to create a new Django project.

(learning_lettuce)jack:repos jacks$ django-admin.py startproject learning_lettuce
(learning_lettuce)jack:repos jacks$ cd learning_lettuce/
(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ ls -la
total 8
drwxr-xr-x   4 jacks  staff  136 Jun 19 07:50 .
drwxrwxrwx  28 jacks  staff  952 Jun 19 07:50 ..
drwxr-xr-x   6 jacks  staff  204 Jun 19 07:50 learning_lettuce
-rw-r--r--   1 jacks  staff  259 Jun 19 07:50 manage.py

At this point, I also like to CHMOD manage.py so I can execute it without calling Python directly.

(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ chmod +x manage.py
(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ ./manage.py runserver
Validating models...
0 errors found
June 19, 2013 - 06:53:29
Django version 1.5.1, using settings 'learning_lettuce.settings'
Development server is running at
Quit the server with CONTROL-C.

If you can run the server and see the image below, then we can proceed.
Django Powered!

Now that we have Django set up, lets go ahead and create the app we’ll be testing in.

(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ ./manage.py startapp blog

And then go ahead and add the blog app to INSTALLED_APPS in your settings.py file.

    # Authored

Also, lets configure our project to use SQLite3.

    'default': {
        'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.sqlite3',
        'NAME': 'learning_lettuce.db',

Now that we have a Django project and one app set up, its time to take a break and talk about Lettuce.


No, not the vegetable you add to salads. I’m talking about the the BDD testing framework for Python (http://www.lettuce.it). Lettuce is basically a port of a BDD testing framework from the RoR community called Cucumber. The Lettuce website contains extensive documentation and is a great source for learning best practices with it. It’s worth noting however, that at the time of this writing the Lettuce website is undergoing some design changes. They’re incomplete and have made it pretty hard to extract information from the site. Hopefully by the time you need it for reference it’s back to being usable again.

Alright, back to work. Lets install Lettuce, Selenium, and Nose and then freeze a requirements file so we can replicate this environment if we ever need to.

(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ pip install lettuce selenium django-nose
(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ pip freeze > requirements.txt
(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ cat requirements.txt 

You’ll also need to add Lettuce to INSTALLED_APPS in your settings.py file.

    # 3rd party
    # Authored

So now that you have Lettuce installed, lets see that it actually works.

(learning_lettuce)jack:learning_lettuce jacks$ ./manage.py harvest
Django's builtin server is running at
could not find features at ./blog/features

Great, Lettuce worked! It didn’t find any tests to run, but thats ok. At least we’ve verified that we installed everything correctly.

Your First Test

Before you can test anything, you should probably have some content to test on. So let’s quickly wire up a simple view in the blog app.

# blog/views.py
from django.http import HttpResponse
def quick_test(request):
	return HttpResponse("Hello testing world!");
# learning_lettuce/urls.py
from django.conf.urls import patterns, include, url
from blog.views import quick_test
urlpatterns = patterns('',
    url(r'^quick-test/$', quick_test),

Great! Now when you go to you should see “Hello testing world!”.

The next step is to create a folder inside of the blog app called “features”. And inside of that create a file called “test.feature”. It’s worth noting that Lettuce doesn’t actually care what your file is named, so long as the extension is “.feature”. In “test.feature”, add the following:

Feature: Test
	As someone new to testing
	So I can learn behavior driven development
	I want to write some scenarios
	Scenario: I can view the test page
		Given I am at "/quick-test/"
		Then I should see "Hello testing world!"

Look at all that plain english! Even without me telling you anything, you can probably figure out what we’re trying to test. But let me break it down for you.

  • Line 1: This loosely describes what all of the scenarios below are testing. Think of it as a way to logically group tests together.
  • Lines 2-4: This is the narrative. It explains why you’re testing in the first place.
  • Line 6: The title of your scenario. This describes what you are specifically testing in this instance.
  • Lines 7-8: These are called “steps”. Steps are how you test your scenario. Each step maps to a method in your code.

Alright, so now that you have your first test written, run it using “./manage.py harvest”. You should see the following:
Learning Lettuce - Unimplemented Steps
Look at all that beautiful output! But what does it all mean?! It’s telling you that Lettuce attempted to run one scenario, and that the two steps within that scenario aren’t implemented yet (remember, each step maps to a method in your code). And because Lettuce is great, it gives you some code to help you implement those two steps.

The Terrain File

Lettuce keeps all of it’s settings and configuration is a file called terrain.py in the root of your Django project. It’s here that we’re going to configure the test database, Firefox, and Selenium. Go ahead and create a terrain.py file in the root of your Django project, and drop the following in it.

from django.core.management import call_command
from django.test.simple import DjangoTestSuiteRunner
from lettuce import before, after, world
from logging import getLogger
from selenium import webdriver
	from south.management.commands import patch_for_test_db_setup
logger = getLogger(__name__)
logger.info("Loading the terrain file...")
def setup_database(actual_server):
	This will setup your database, sync it, and run migrations if you are using South.
	It does this before the Test Django server is set up.
	logger.info("Setting up a test database...")
	# Uncomment if you are using South
	# patch_for_test_db_setup()
	world.test_runner = DjangoTestSuiteRunner(interactive=False)
	world.created_db = DjangoTestSuiteRunner.setup_databases(world.test_runner)
	call_command('syncdb', interactive=False, verbosity=0)
	# Uncomment if you are using South
	# call_command('migrate', interactive=False, verbosity=0)
def teardown_database(actual_server):
	This will destroy your test database after all of your tests have executed.
	logger.info("Destroying the test database ...")
	DjangoTestSuiteRunner.teardown_databases(world.test_runner, world.created_db)
def setup_browser():
	world.browser = webdriver.Firefox()
def teardown_browser(total):

In your settings.py file, you’re going to need some additions too.

# Nose
TEST_RUNNER = 'django_nose.NoseTestSuiteRunner'
# Lettuce

We use the Nose test runner because it’s faster than Django’s default test runner, and we change the server port for running tests so it doesn’t collide with our development server. At this point if you run `./manage.py harvest` again, you’ll still get notices for unimplemented steps, but you’ll also see Firefox open and close real quick. That means we’ve done our job correctly.

Your First Step Definition

Alright, lets make something happen. If you look at the output from the harvest command, you’ll see that it gave you some code to help you implement the new steps that you wrote. Go ahead and copy that code into the bottom of the terrain.py file (and make sure to import ‘step’ at the top). Now, re-run ./manage.py harvest. You should get the following output.
Lettuce - Failing ouput
So why did our steps fail? If you look that the code that was generated for you, there is a line that essentially says “False is equal to some string”. This is obviously not true, so our step fails. So why don’t we make the test pass? We’re going to change a few things:

  • Change the decorator – We want this step to match even if we use other Gherkin keywords like “when”, “and”, and “then”.
  • Change the function name and args – “group1″ isn’t very descriptive
  • Write the code – We need this to do something, and right now it doesn’t!
@step(u'I am at "([^"]*)"')
def i_am_at_url(step, url):

Now if you run ./manage.py harvest command again your tests will still fail, but this time for a different reason. The reason is the url that we’re passing into the step definition isn’t well formed. We were hoping to be able to pass relative urls in, but we can’t. So go ahead and modify the step in your scenario to look like this.

Given I am at ""

Run ./manage.py harvest again. You’ll see one passing test and one failing test!
Lettuce - Passing and failing

To make the next step pass, we need to make our web page a bit more formal. Go ahead and create a folder called “templates” inside of the “blog” app. Inside that folder, add a file called “base.html” and populate it with:

		<title>Learning Lettuce!</title>
	<body id='content'>
		{% block content %}{% endblock %}

Now create a file called “blog.html” inside the same folder. Give it the following content:

{% extends "base.html" %}
{% block content %}
Hello testing world!
{% endblock %}

You’ll also need to update the view:

from django.shortcuts import render_to_response
def quick_test(request):
	return render_to_response("blog.html", {})

And you’ll need to update your settings file.

## Add this at the top of settings.py
import os.path
root = os.path.dirname(__file__).replace('\\','/')
## Make your TEMPLATE_DIRS variable look like this
    root + "/../blog/templates/",

Now that our template is more formalized, lets update the step definition in “terrain.py”.

@step(u'I should see "([^"]*)"')
def i_should_see_content(step, content):
	if content not in world.browser.find_element_by_id("content").text:
		raise Exception("Content not found.")

This code explains itself pretty easily. We check to see if the content that is passed in via the step exists inside the body of the page. This has a few drawbacks:

  • What if we don’t want to check the body? What if we want to check a different element?
  • What if the content isn’t visible? (CSS hidden)

Since this is a simple example, we’re going to ignore these issues for now and just run our tests.
Lettuce - Passing tests!
Passing tests!

Next Steps

Now that you have passing steps, you’re well on your way to writing serious integration tests for your code. But there is still a lot more to learn. The next article in this series will cover using Lettuce Webdriver to handle common step definitions, tables, scenario outlines, and much much more.

All code related to this post can be found at https://github.com/vital101/Learning-Lettuce

Lettuce Tags

Lettuce is a BDD (Behavior Driven Development) testing tool for Python based on the excellent Cucumber project. It has most of the same features that Cucumber has, and has proven invaluable in my projects. I discovered an undocumented feature the other day called “Tags”. Cucumber has them, so I also assumed that Lettuce had them. Tags allow you to selectively skip or run scenarios. For instance:

Feature: Some Feature
	Scenario: This is scenario 1
		Given I do stuff
		And I see stuff
		Then I am stuff
	Scenario: This is scenario 2
		Given I do more stuff
		And I see more stuff
		Then I am more stuff

You can use tags in many ways.

lettuce --tag=mytag # Run only scenarios with this tag
lettuce --tag=-mytag # Don't run scenarios with this tag
./manage.py harvest --tag=mytag # Django/Lettuce way of using tags.

Saving within a post_save signal in Django

One of the more useful features of the Django framework is it’s extensive signaling capabilities. The ORM throws off a handful of signals every time a model is initialized, modified, saved, or deleted. They include:

  • pre_init
  • post_init
  • pre_save
  • post_save
  • pre_delete
  • post_delete
  • m2m_changed
  • class_prepared

I tend to use the post_save signal fairly often as a good way to get around overriding the default save method on models. Recently though I ran into an issue where I was hitting the “maximum recursion depth exceeded” error when I was saving the current model from within the post_save signal. If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. You save once, then save again in the signal and then it triggers the signal again. BOOM, infinite loop.

To get around the saving within a post_save signal problem, you just need to disconnect the post_save signal before you call save. After save, you can re-connect it.

from django.db.models import signals
signals.post_save.disconnect(some_method, sender=SomeModel)
signals.post_save.connect(some_method, sender=SomeModel)

Programmatically Adding Users to Groups in Django

I recently needed to add a large number of users to a permission group in Django. I had a hard time finding a way to do this in the documentation, so I thought I’d share my solution.

from django.contrib.auth.models import Group, User
g = Group.objects.get(name='My Group Name')
users = User.objects.all()
for u in users:

Easy as pie. I originally attempted to do this from the perspective of a user, but as it turns out, doing it from the group perspective is much easier.

Copying Django Model Objects

Django’s ORM is top notch. It provides facilities to do almost anything you can think of with a database, and if it doesn’t, it still lets you execute arbitrary SQL to your hearts content. I’ve been developing Django for close to 2 years now, and still discover facets of it that I never knew existed. For instance, I had a need to duplicate a row in a table, but give it a different primary key. After a quick Google search, I discovered that Django allows you to do the following to copy instantiated model objects.

my_model = MyModel.objects.get(pk=4)
my_model.id = None

There are a few caveats with doing things this way.

  • Unique Constraints – If you have any unique constraints on the model, the save will not pass validation and fail.
  • ManyToMany Fields – If you need new copies of ManyToMany field values, you’ll need to handle this yourself.

That being said, in many cases duplicating a model instance is as easy as changing it’s ID and saving.

Update All PIP Packages

Revisiting an old Python + Django project made me realize that I needed to upgrade it’s PIP packages. Unfortunately, PIP doesn’t provide a way out of the box to update all of your installed packages at once. To update all of the PIP packages at once, use the following script.

import pip
from subprocess import call
for dist in pip.get_installed_distributions():
    call("pip install --upgrade " + dist.project_name, shell=True)

For more detail, check out this question on Stack Overflow.