Monday, August 2, 2010

Flying with Django on Google App Engine

Google App Engine is a powerful tool for web developers. I am sure that it is useful and every developer should taste it =) Python was the first programming language supported by App Engine, and is a programming language with a lot of web frameworks. So, you can use some of these frameworks on Google App Engine. In a series of three blog posts, I will show how to use three Python web frameworks on App Engine: Django, Flask and web2py (not necessarily in this order).

The first framework is Django, the most famous of all Python frameworks and maybe is used the most.

Django models is the strongest Django feature. It is a high level database abstraction layer with a powerful object-relational mapper, it supports a lot of relational database management systems, but App Engine doesn’t use a relational database. The database behind App Engine is called BigTable, which is a distributed storage system for managing structured data, designed to scale to a very large size (Reference: Bigtable: A Distributed Storage System for Structured Data). It is not based on schemas, tables, keys or columns, it is like a big map indexed by a row key, column key and a timestamp. We can not use native version of Django models with Bigtable, because the Django models framework was not designed for non relational databases.

So, what can we do? There is a Django fork, the django-nonrel project, which aims to bring the power of the Django model layer to non-relational databases. I will use the djangoappengine sub-project to build the sample application of this post, that will be deployed on Google App Engine :)

The sample application is the default: a blog. A very simple blog, with only a form protected by login (using Django built-in authentication system instead of Google Accounts API) and a public page listing all blog posts. It is very easy and simple to do, so let’s do it.

First, we have to setup our environment. According the djangoappengine project documentation, we need to download 4 zip files and put it together. First, I downloaded the django-testapp file, extract its contents and renamed the project directory from django-testapp to blog_gae. After this step, I downloaded the other files and put it inside the blog_gae directory. Here is the final project structure:

“django” directory is from the django-nonrel zip file, “djangoappengine” directory is from djangoappengine zip file and “djangotoolbox” directory is from djangotoolbox zip file. Look that is provided an app.yaml file, ready to be customized. I just changed the application id inside this file. The final code of the file is the following:
application: gaeseries
version: 1
runtime: python
api_version: 1

default_expiration: '365d'

- url: /remote_api
  script: $PYTHON_LIB/google/appengine/ext/remote_api/
  login: admin

- url: /_ah/queue/deferred
  script: djangoappengine/deferred/
  login: admin

- url: /media/admin
  static_dir: django/contrib/admin/media/

- url: /.*
  script: djangoappengine/main/
I will use one version for each part of the series, so it is the first version because it is the first part =D In, we just uncomment the app django.contrib.auth line inside the INSTALLED_APPS tuple, because we want to use the built-in auth application instead of the Google Accounts API provided by App Engine.

All settings are ok now, it is time to create the core application. In the Django project, we will use the core application to manage models and serve some views. We just start it using the following command:
% python startapp core
It is a famous Django command, that creates the application structure, which is a Python package containing 3 Python modules: models, tests and views. Now we have to create the Post model. Here is the code of file:
from django.db import models
from django.contrib.auth.models import User

class Post(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length = 200)
    content = models.TextField()
    date = models.DateTimeField(auto_now_add = True)
    user = models.ForeignKey(User)
Now we just need to “install” the core application putting it on INSTALLED_APPS tuple in file and Django will be ready to play with BigTable. :) We will use the django.contrib.auth app, so let’s run a manage command to create a superuser:
% python createsuperuser
After create the superuser, we need to setup login and logout URLs, and make two templates. So, in file, put two mappings to login and logout views. The file will look like this:
from django.conf.urls.defaults import *

urlpatterns = patterns('',
    ('^$', 'django.views.generic.simple.direct_to_template',
     {'template': 'home.html'}),

    ('^login/$', 'django.contrib.auth.views.login'),
    ('^logout/$', 'django.contrib.auth.views.logout'),
Here is the registration/login.html template:
{% extends "base.html" %}

{% block content %}

<p>Fill the form below to login in the system ;)</p>

{% if form.errors %}
<p>Your username and password didn't match. Please try again.</p>
{% endif %}

<form method="post" action="{% url django.contrib.auth.views.login %}">{% csrf_token %}
    <td>{{ form.username.label_tag }}</td>
    <td>{{ form.username }}</td>
    <td>{{ form.password.label_tag }}</td>
    <td>{{ form.password }}</td>

<input type="submit" value="login" />
<input type="hidden" name="next" value="{{ next }}" />

{% endblock %}
And registration/logged_out.html template:
{% extends "base.html" %}

{% block content %}
    Bye :)
{% endblock %}
See the two added lines in highlight. In file, add three lines:
LOGIN_URL = '/login/'
LOGOUT_URL = '/logout/'
And we are ready to code =) Let’s create the login protected view, where we will write and save a new post. To do that, first we need to create a Django Form, to deal with the data. There are two fields in this form: title and content, when the form is submitted, the user property is filled with the current logged user and the date property is filled with the current time. So, here is the code of the ModelForm:
class PostForm(forms.ModelForm):
    class Meta:
        model = Post
        exclude = ('user',)

    def save(self, user, commit = True):
        post = super(PostForm, self).save(commit = False)
        post.user = user

        if commit:

        return post
Here is the file, with the two views (one “mocked up”, with a simple redirect):
from django.contrib.auth.decorators import login_required
from django.shortcuts import render_to_response
from django.template import RequestContext
from django.http import HttpResponseRedirect
from django.core.urlresolvers import reverse
from forms import PostForm

def new_post(request):
    form = PostForm()
    if request.method == 'POST':
        form = PostForm(request.POST)
        if form.is_valid():
            return HttpResponseRedirect(reverse('core.views.list_posts'))
    return render_to_response('new_post.html',
            locals(), context_instance=RequestContext(request)

def list_posts(request):
    return HttpResponseRedirect('/')
There is only two steps to do to finally save posts on BigTable: map a URL for the views above and create the new_post.html template. Here is the mapping code:
('^posts/new/$', 'core.views.new_post'),
('^posts/$', 'core.views.list_posts'),
And here is the template code:
{% extends "base.html" %}

{% block content %}
    <form action="{% url core.views.new_post %}" method="post" accept-charset="utf-8">
        {% csrf_token %}
        {{ form.as_p }}
        <p><input type="submit" value="Post!"/></p>
{% endblock %}
Now, we can run on terminal ./ runserver and access the URL http://localhost:8000/posts/new on the browser, see the form, fill it and save the post :D The last one step is list all posts in http://localhost:8000/posts/. The list_posts view is already mapped to the URL /posts/, so we just need to create the code of the view and a template to show the list of posts. Here is the view code:
def list_posts(request):
    posts = Post.objects.all()
    return render_to_response('list_posts.html',
            locals(), context_instance=RequestContext(request)
And the list_posts.html template code:
{% extends "base.html" %}

{% block content %}
    {% for post in posts %}
    <dt>{{ post.title }} (written by {{ post.user.username }})</dt>
    <dd>{{ post.content }}</dd>
    {% endfor %}
{% endblock %}
Finished? Not yet :) The application now is ready to deploy. How do we deploy it? Just one command:
% python deploy
Done! Now, to use everything that we have just created on App Engine remote server, just create a super user in that server and enjoy:
% python remote createsuperuser
You can check this application flying on Google App Engine: (use demo for username and password in login page).

You can check this application code out in Github: