Thursday, January 31, 2008

Impressions on Django (II): Development environment

On my previous post, I explained some basic ideas on how Django works. The post explained, mostly the programming model which is a clever implementation of the classical Model-View-Controller pattern. Not that new. But compared to other web development environments I worked with (PHP, Zope/Plone or plain mod_python), Django is a clear improvement because is both simple and pragmatical.

The programming model is something that has a direct impact on how you design the product, but there are other factors that determine how easy a developer can develop within a platform. In this post I arge about such factors, how Django afects the development workflow.

Editing and controlling source code

Compared to Zope, another python web application environment I've been fighting against, Django is a clear step forward to control your work.

First of all, the developer has the control of the source. Files are stored on the file system! It may seem an obvious assertion, but, if you have been using Zope you will know why I am so happy with that: Zope forces you to store all the code into a large binary file which acts as virtual filesystem. You cannot use a regular version control system such subversion to control your changes. ...and worst, it forces you to input code in web forms!! Argh!! Django ends with such a nightmare. Files are back to the file system and to your preferred editor.


Still Django applications are modular in the same sense that Zope: you can combine several applications (modules) on a single site. For example, the administration interface is an application itself that can be used to edit any model of any installed application. You can disable it or enable it as a whole or for specific models. There is also an authentication application that can be used to transversally control the access to your application features. Every other application can use the authentication application to obtain information about validated users and to limit the access to certain features depending on the user profile. Session management and per-session storage, RSS feeds, SiteMap files, data mining interface... they all come for free, provided as applications. Besides the included applications, a nice application repository is available.

Debug cycle and exploration

Debugging your code is also very straight forward. While developing with Django, you are deploying a development Web Server not related to Apache, that you start from the console, and it is not visible from the outside. This enables each developer having her own instance of the web site. No administration passwords are needed and reloading is easier. Every message you print you'll get it in the console so it is ideal for debugging by tracing compared to using plain mod_python which runs on the apache server and you are to monitor the apache error log. Also, when some code fails with an exception, Django constructs a very handy web page with a lot of information: the back-trace enriched with code context, parameters and local variables inspection, all the environment values, the request values... All that available in a collapsible error web page. Lately I've been tempted of importing a failing python code into Django just to get such a big amount of information.

Also by running './ shell' you get a python shell executed in the same conditions your code will be. Indeed the '' script has very useful subcommands to infer model definitions from existing databases, to see database definitions from models, to import and export test data fixtures...

The next post

So yes, Django is a mod_python with gears and a Zope without the fat. However, while I don't regret choosing Django, it is not that perfect. On my next post, the last one on those first impressions on Django series, I will explain the problems we found while using the framework. The limitations we found and how it could be (is being) improved.

Well, maybe not the next post. Some other topics have appeared while writing this series of posts and they are likely to require an entry.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Impressions on Django (I)

During the last months, I've been involved in a project on (text) information retrieval. The project required to develop a web interface over a python core and we chose Django as framework. Other option was using plain mod_python as we did for EfficiencyGuardian. But some time ago, in the context of the SIMAC project, Xavier Oliver, who was the responsible of implementing BOCA, CLAM Annotator's collaborative back-end, used Django and he was very enthusiastic on how rapid he had all the web working. So I wanted to give it a try for our current work. Here I am posting my first impressions as newbie django user. What Django has to offer?

Database abstraction

The most important part of Django is a persistent object model which maps python objects into database entities giving you a nice abstraction on the database layer. By defining such model classes, you get an object oriented programming interface to query and change related database tables, and even navigating and joining through relations as they were regular connected objects.

I normally dislike too transparent interfaces when they deal with efficiency sensible things such as database access. But Django states very clearly when and how such access is done allowing you to control it but using a high level object oriented idiom.

Administration interface

You can enable an existing administration module for your site. That is a web interface to create, edit and remove your model objects. You can control the way they are edited by adding extra properties to the model classes attributes.

Attributes have more types than real SQL types. Fields can be, for example, URL's, emails, telephone numbers or zip codes, and Django gives you for free custom validation and custom administration interfaces for them.

The administration interface also considers table relations providing, for instance, web interfaces for choosing related objects by foreign key and buttons to add a new related objects.

Application logic

Often, as in our case, the administration interface is pretty close to what the final application will be. But direct manipulation of a model is not enough for most web applications. Normally you need some additional application logic: Which functionalities are presented to the user, and which is the user dialog with the system to perform such functionalities.

Three elements are combined to build up such application logic in Django: URL mappings, views and page templates. URL mappings map regular expressions of requesting URL into calls to python functions. Such pỳthon functions are the views which perform the needed actions on the system and construct an output web page. Views usually inject python data into an HTML skeleton, the page template, to generate the response web page.

Django provides some convenience views to create, update, delete and listing model objects, also supporting common features such as pagination, date based browsing, validation and destructive action confirmation.

The next entry

Here i explained the basics of Django execution model. On the next entry i'll write some impressions on Django as development environment compared to other environments i used for web development such as Zope, mod_python and vanilla PHP.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Qt 3 and Qt4 relicensed as GPL v3

I read in Thiago Maceira's blog that Trolls have relicensed Qt3 and Qt4 as GPL v3.

I still had no time to analyze how this will affect clam. Relicensing CLAM has proven to be a hard political and burocratic problem, but a transition from GPL v2 to GPL v3 is easier since we have the 'or later' notice, so we have the door open to that controversial upgrade. Definitely, trolls' move to v3 is something that will boost the adoption scene.

A nice lateral consequence of this affects directly to one CLAM application, SMSTools, which still uses Qt3, and not Qt4 (althought Zack Welch started a temptative Qt4 port). Until now, Qt3 didn't enjoyed the same nice dual licensing Qt4 has. Former Qt3 licensing was a modified GPL that had problems on using Qt3 for non-unix platforms such as windows. So with Qt3 relicensing we can now freely distribute SMSTools precompiled binaries for Windows.

Update: I read in the official announcement that they didn't droped GPLv2, they just added a third license to the existing dual licensing so you can use one of three licensing schemes: non-free, GPLv2 and GPLv3. Definitely they want to make developers live easier, not just by building excellent API's.

Friday, January 18, 2008

BiBTeX Tooltip in html WiKo output

I was busy yesterday on providing better BiBTeX support for the HTML output in WiKo. I was adding bibliography tooltips. They were an original suggestion from Pau Arumi, and i agree with him that they will be very handy for reading an article in electronic format. The former html bibliography page is still available: just click instead of hovering.

To have it working, you should download the latest wiko version, install 'python-bibtex' debian/ubuntu package and appending to your css style sheet the latest statements of this css concerning 'bibref' class.

Then, just place any bibtex files on the same folder the wiki files are and refer a bibliography entry in the wiki files as '@cite:SomeBibtexId'. By 'WiKonpiling' you'll get both normal LaTeX bibliography and this html equivalent.

Take a look on the final feel at this chapter of my master thesis.