How to serve static files

Django itself doesn’t serve static (media) files, such as images, style sheets, or video. It leaves that job to whichever Web server you choose.

The reasoning here is that standard Web servers, such as Apache, lighttpd and Cherokee, are much more fine-tuned at serving static files than a Web application framework.

With that said, Django does support static files during development. You can use the django.views.static.serve() view to serve media files.

See also

If you just need to serve the admin media from a nonstandard location, see the --adminmedia parameter to runserver.

The big, fat disclaimer

Using this method is inefficient and insecure. Do not use this in a production setting. Use this only for development.

For information on serving static files in an Apache production environment, see the Django mod_python documentation.

How to do it

Here’s the formal definition of the serve() view:

def serve(request, path, document_root, show_indexes=False)

To use it, just put this in your URLconf:

(r'^site_media/(?P<path>.*)$', 'django.views.static.serve',
        {'document_root': '/path/to/media'}),

...where site_media is the URL where your media will be rooted, and /path/to/media is the filesystem root for your media. This will call the serve() view, passing in the path from the URLconf and the (required) document_root parameter.

Given the above URLconf:

  • The file /path/to/media/foo.jpg will be made available at the URL /site_media/foo.jpg.
  • The file /path/to/media/css/mystyles.css will be made available at the URL /site_media/css/mystyles.css.
  • The file /path/bar.jpg will not be accessible, because it doesn't fall under the document root.

Of course, it's not compulsory to use a fixed string for the 'document_root' value. You might wish to make that an entry in your settings file and use the setting value there. That will allow you and other developers working on the code to easily change the value as required. For example, if we have a line in that says:

STATIC_DOC_ROOT = '/path/to/media'

...we could write the above URLconf entry as:

from django.conf import settings
(r'^site_media/(?P<path>.*)$', 'django.views.static.serve',
        {'document_root': settings.STATIC_DOC_ROOT}),

Be careful not to use the same path as your ADMIN_MEDIA_PREFIX (which defaults to /media/) as this will overwrite your URLconf entry.

Directory listings

Optionally, you can pass the show_indexes parameter to the serve() view. This is False by default. If it's True, Django will display file listings for directories.

For example:

(r'^site_media/(?P<path>.*)$', 'django.views.static.serve',
        {'document_root': '/path/to/media', 'show_indexes': True}),

You can customize the index view by creating a template called static/directory_index.html. That template gets two objects in its context:

  • directory -- the directory name (a string)
  • file_list -- a list of file names (as strings) in the directory

Here's the default static/directory_index.html template:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "">
<html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
    <meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
    <meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en-us" />
    <meta name="robots" content="NONE,NOARCHIVE" />
    <title>Index of {{ directory }}</title>
    <h1>Index of {{ directory }}</h1>
    {% for f in file_list %}
    <li><a href="{{ f }}">{{ f }}</a></li>
    {% endfor %}
Changed in Django 1.0.3: Prior to Django 1.0.3, there was a bug in the view that provided directory listings. The template that was loaded had to be called static/directory_listing (with no .html extension). For backwards compatibility with earlier versions, Django will still load templates with the older (no extension) name, but it will prefer the directory_index.html version.

Limiting use to DEBUG=True

Because URLconfs are just plain Python modules, you can use Python logic to make the static-media view available only in development mode. This is a handy trick to make sure the static-serving view doesn't slip into a production setting by mistake.

Do this by wrapping an if DEBUG statement around the django.views.static.serve() inclusion. Here's a full example URLconf:

from django.conf.urls.defaults import *
from django.conf import settings

urlpatterns = patterns('',
    (r'^articles/2003/$', 'news.views.special_case_2003'),
    (r'^articles/(?P<year>\d{4})/$', 'news.views.year_archive'),
    (r'^articles/(?P<year>\d{4})/(?P<month>\d{2})/$', 'news.views.month_archive'),
    (r'^articles/(?P<year>\d{4})/(?P<month>\d{2})/(?P<day>\d+)/$', 'news.views.article_detail'),

if settings.DEBUG:
    urlpatterns += patterns('',
        (r'^site_media/(?P<path>.*)$', 'django.views.static.serve', {'document_root': '/path/to/media'}),

This code is straightforward. It imports the settings and checks the value of the DEBUG setting. If it evaluates to True, then site_media will be associated with the django.views.static.serve view. If not, then the view won't be made available.

Of course, the catch here is that you'll have to remember to set DEBUG=False in your production settings file. But you should be doing that anyway.