Writing your first Django app, part 1

Let’s learn by example.

Throughout this tutorial, we’ll walk you through the creation of a basic poll application.

It’ll consist of two parts:

  • A public site that lets people view polls and vote in them.
  • An admin site that lets you add, change and delete polls.

We’ll assume you have Django installed already. You can tell Django is installed by running the Python interactive interpreter and typing import django. If that command runs successfully, with no errors, Django is installed.

Where to get help:

If you’re having trouble going through this tutorial, please post a message to django-users or drop by #django on irc.freenode.net to chat with other Django users who might be able to help.

Creating a project

If this is your first time using Django, you’ll have to take care of some initial setup. Namely, you’ll need to auto-generate some code that establishes a Django project – a collection of settings for an instance of Django, including database configuration, Django-specific options and application-specific settings.

From the command line, cd into a directory where you’d like to store your code, then run the following command:

django-admin.py startproject mysite

This will create a mysite directory in your current directory.

Script name may differ in distribution packages

If you installed Django using a Linux distribution’s package manager (e.g. apt-get or yum) django-admin.py may have been renamed to django-admin. You may continue through this documentation by omitting .py from each command.

Mac OS X permissions

If you’re using Mac OS X, you may see the message “permission denied” when you try to run django-admin.py startproject. This is because, on Unix-based systems like OS X, a file must be marked as “executable” before it can be run as a program. To do this, open Terminal.app and navigate (using the cd command) to the directory where django-admin.py is installed, then run the command sudo chmod +x django-admin.py.


You’ll need to avoid naming projects after built-in Python or Django components. In particular, this means you should avoid using names like django (which will conflict with Django itself) or test (which conflicts with a built-in Python package).

django-admin.py should be on your system path if you installed Django via python setup.py. If it’s not on your path, you can find it in site-packages/django/bin, where site-packages is a directory within your Python installation. Consider symlinking to django-admin.py from some place on your path, such as /usr/local/bin.

Where should this code live?

If your background is in PHP, you’re probably used to putting code under the Web server’s document root (in a place such as /var/www). With Django, you don’t do that. It’s not a good idea to put any of this Python code within your Web server’s document root, because it risks the possibility that people may be able to view your code over the Web. That’s not good for security.

Put your code in some directory outside of the document root, such as /home/mycode.

Let’s look at what startproject created:


Doesn’t match what you see?

The default project layout recently changed. If you’re seeing a “flat” layout (with no inner mysite/ directory), you’re probably using a version of Django that doesn’t match this tutorial version. You’ll want to either switch to the older tutorial or the newer Django version.

These files are:

  • The outer mysite/ directory is just a container for your project. Its name doesn’t matter to Django; you can rename it to anything you like.
  • manage.py: A command-line utility that lets you interact with this Django project in various ways. You can read all the details about manage.py in django-admin.py and manage.py.
  • The inner mysite/ directory is the actual Python package for your project. Its name is the Python package name you’ll need to use to import anything inside it (e.g. import mysite.settings).
  • mysite/__init__.py: An empty file that tells Python that this directory should be considered a Python package. (Read more about packages in the official Python docs if you’re a Python beginner.)
  • mysite/settings.py: Settings/configuration for this Django project. Django settings will tell you all about how settings work.
  • mysite/urls.py: The URL declarations for this Django project; a “table of contents” of your Django-powered site. You can read more about URLs in URL dispatcher.
  • mysite/wsgi.py: An entry-point for WSGI-compatible webservers to serve your project. See How to deploy with WSGI for more details.

The development server

Let’s verify this worked. Change into the outer mysite directory, if you haven’t already, and run the command python manage.py runserver. You’ll see the following output on the command line:

Validating models...
0 errors found.

Django version 1.4, using settings 'mysite.settings'
Development server is running at
Quit the server with CONTROL-C.

You’ve started the Django development server, a lightweight Web server written purely in Python. We’ve included this with Django so you can develop things rapidly, without having to deal with configuring a production server – such as Apache – until you’re ready for production.

Now’s a good time to note: DON’T use this server in anything resembling a production environment. It’s intended only for use while developing. (We’re in the business of making Web frameworks, not Web servers.)

Now that the server’s running, visit with your Web browser. You’ll see a “Welcome to Django” page, in pleasant, light-blue pastel. It worked!

Changing the port

By default, the runserver command starts the development server on the internal IP at port 8000.

If you want to change the server’s port, pass it as a command-line argument. For instance, this command starts the server on port 8080:

python manage.py runserver 8080

If you want to change the server’s IP, pass it along with the port. So to listen on all public IPs (useful if you want to show off your work on other computers), use:

python manage.py runserver

Full docs for the development server can be found in the runserver reference.

Database setup

Now, edit mysite/settings.py. It’s a normal Python module with module-level variables representing Django settings. Change the following keys in the DATABASES 'default' item to match your database connection settings.

  • ENGINE – Either 'django.db.backends.postgresql_psycopg2', 'django.db.backends.mysql', 'django.db.backends.sqlite3' or 'django.db.backends.oracle'. Other backends are also available.

  • NAME – The name of your database. If you’re using SQLite, the database will be a file on your computer; in that case, NAME should be the full absolute path, including filename, of that file. If the file doesn’t exist, it will automatically be created when you synchronize the database for the first time (see below).

    When specifying the path, always use forward slashes, even on Windows (e.g. C:/homes/user/mysite/sqlite3.db).

  • USER – Your database username (not used for SQLite).

  • PASSWORD – Your database password (not used for SQLite).

  • HOST – The host your database is on. Leave this as an empty string if your database server is on the same physical machine (not used for SQLite).

If you’re new to databases, we recommend simply using SQLite by setting ENGINE to 'django.db.backends.sqlite3' and NAME to the place where you’d like to store the database. SQLite is included as part of Python 2.5 and later, so you won’t need to install anything else to support your database.


If you’re using PostgreSQL or MySQL, make sure you’ve created a database by this point. Do that with “CREATE DATABASE database_name;” within your database’s interactive prompt.

If you’re using SQLite, you don’t need to create anything beforehand - the database file will be created automatically when it is needed.

While you’re editing settings.py, set TIME_ZONE to your time zone. The default value is the Central time zone in the U.S. (Chicago).

Also, note the INSTALLED_APPS setting toward the bottom of the file. That holds the names of all Django applications that are activated in this Django instance. Apps can be used in multiple projects, and you can package and distribute them for use by others in their projects.

By default, INSTALLED_APPS contains the following apps, all of which come with Django:

These applications are included by default as a convenience for the common case.

Each of these applications makes use of at least one database table, though, so we need to create the tables in the database before we can use them. To do that, run the following command:

python manage.py syncdb

The syncdb command looks at the INSTALLED_APPS setting and creates any necessary database tables according to the database settings in your settings.py file. You’ll see a message for each database table it creates, and you’ll get a prompt asking you if you’d like to create a superuser account for the authentication system. Go ahead and do that.

If you’re interested, run the command-line client for your database and type \dt (PostgreSQL), SHOW TABLES; (MySQL), or .schema (SQLite) to display the tables Django created.

For the minimalists

Like we said above, the default applications are included for the common case, but not everybody needs them. If you don’t need any or all of them, feel free to comment-out or delete the appropriate line(s) from INSTALLED_APPS before running syncdb. The syncdb command will only create tables for apps in INSTALLED_APPS.

Creating models

Now that your environment – a “project” – is set up, you’re set to start doing work.

Each application you write in Django consists of a Python package, somewhere on your Python path, that follows a certain convention. Django comes with a utility that automatically generates the basic directory structure of an app, so you can focus on writing code rather than creating directories.

Projects vs. apps

What’s the difference between a project and an app? An app is a Web application that does something – e.g., a Weblog system, a database of public records or a simple poll app. A project is a collection of configuration and apps for a particular Web site. A project can contain multiple apps. An app can be in multiple projects.

Your apps can live anywhere on your Python path. In this tutorial, we’ll create our poll app right next to your manage.py file so that it can be imported as its own top-level module, rather than a submodule of mysite.

To create your app, make sure you’re in the same directory as manage.py and type this command:

python manage.py startapp polls

That’ll create a directory polls, which is laid out like this:


This directory structure will house the poll application.

The first step in writing a database Web app in Django is to define your models – essentially, your database layout, with additional metadata.


A model is the single, definitive source of data about your data. It contains the essential fields and behaviors of the data you’re storing. Django follows the DRY Principle. The goal is to define your data model in one place and automatically derive things from it.

In our simple poll app, we’ll create two models: polls and choices. A poll has a question and a publication date. A choice has two fields: the text of the choice and a vote tally. Each choice is associated with a poll.

These concepts are represented by simple Python classes. Edit the polls/models.py file so it looks like this:

from django.db import models

class Poll(models.Model):
    question = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    pub_date = models.DateTimeField('date published')

class Choice(models.Model):
    poll = models.ForeignKey(Poll)
    choice = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    votes = models.IntegerField()

The code is straightforward. Each model is represented by a class that subclasses django.db.models.Model. Each model has a number of class variables, each of which represents a database field in the model.

Each field is represented by an instance of a Field class – e.g., CharField for character fields and DateTimeField for datetimes. This tells Django what type of data each field holds.

The name of each Field instance (e.g. question or pub_date ) is the field’s name, in machine-friendly format. You’ll use this value in your Python code, and your database will use it as the column name.

You can use an optional first positional argument to a Field to designate a human-readable name. That’s used in a couple of introspective parts of Django, and it doubles as documentation. If this field isn’t provided, Django will use the machine-readable name. In this example, we’ve only defined a human-readable name for Poll.pub_date. For all other fields in this model, the field’s machine-readable name will suffice as its human-readable name.

Some Field classes have required elements. CharField, for example, requires that you give it a max_length. That’s used not only in the database schema, but in validation, as we’ll soon see.

Finally, note a relationship is defined, using ForeignKey. That tells Django each Choice is related to a single Poll. Django supports all the common database relationships: many-to-ones, many-to-manys and one-to-ones.

Activating models

That small bit of model code gives Django a lot of information. With it, Django is able to:

  • Create a database schema (CREATE TABLE statements) for this app.
  • Create a Python database-access API for accessing Poll and Choice objects.

But first we need to tell our project that the polls app is installed.


Django apps are “pluggable”: You can use an app in multiple projects, and you can distribute apps, because they don’t have to be tied to a given Django installation.

Edit the settings.py file again, and change the INSTALLED_APPS setting to include the string 'polls'. So it’ll look like this:

    # Uncomment the next line to enable the admin:
    # 'django.contrib.admin',
    # Uncomment the next line to enable admin documentation:
    # 'django.contrib.admindocs',

Now Django knows to include the polls app. Let’s run another command:

python manage.py sql polls

You should see something similar to the following (the CREATE TABLE SQL statements for the polls app):

CREATE TABLE "polls_poll" (
    "id" serial NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
    "question" varchar(200) NOT NULL,
    "pub_date" timestamp with time zone NOT NULL
CREATE TABLE "polls_choice" (
    "id" serial NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
    "poll_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "polls_poll" ("id") DEFERRABLE INITIALLY DEFERRED,
    "choice" varchar(200) NOT NULL,
    "votes" integer NOT NULL

Note the following:

  • The exact output will vary depending on the database you are using.
  • Table names are automatically generated by combining the name of the app (polls) and the lowercase name of the model – poll and choice. (You can override this behavior.)
  • Primary keys (IDs) are added automatically. (You can override this, too.)
  • By convention, Django appends "_id" to the foreign key field name. (Yes, you can override this, as well.)
  • The foreign key relationship is made explicit by a REFERENCES statement.
  • It’s tailored to the database you’re using, so database-specific field types such as auto_increment (MySQL), serial (PostgreSQL), or integer primary key (SQLite) are handled for you automatically. Same goes for quoting of field names – e.g., using double quotes or single quotes. The author of this tutorial runs PostgreSQL, so the example output is in PostgreSQL syntax.
  • The sql command doesn’t actually run the SQL in your database - it just prints it to the screen so that you can see what SQL Django thinks is required. If you wanted to, you could copy and paste this SQL into your database prompt. However, as we will see shortly, Django provides an easier way of committing the SQL to the database.

If you’re interested, also run the following commands:

Looking at the output of those commands can help you understand what’s actually happening under the hood.

Now, run syncdb again to create those model tables in your database:

python manage.py syncdb

The syncdb command runs the SQL from sqlall on your database for all apps in INSTALLED_APPS that don’t already exist in your database. This creates all the tables, initial data and indexes for any apps you’ve added to your project since the last time you ran syncdb. syncdb can be called as often as you like, and it will only ever create the tables that don’t exist.

Read the django-admin.py documentation for full information on what the manage.py utility can do.

Playing with the API

Now, let’s hop into the interactive Python shell and play around with the free API Django gives you. To invoke the Python shell, use this command:

python manage.py shell

We’re using this instead of simply typing “python”, because manage.py sets the DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE environment variable, which gives Django the Python import path to your settings.py file.

Bypassing manage.py

If you’d rather not use manage.py, no problem. Just set the DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE environment variable to mysite.settings and run python from the same directory manage.py is in (or ensure that directory is on the Python path, so that import mysite works).

For more information on all of this, see the django-admin.py documentation.

Once you’re in the shell, explore the database API:

>>> from polls.models import Poll, Choice   # Import the model classes we just wrote.

# No polls are in the system yet.
>>> Poll.objects.all()

# Create a new Poll.
# Support for time zones is enabled in the default settings file, so
# Django expects a datetime with tzinfo for pub_date. Use timezone.now()
# instead of datetime.datetime.now() and it will do the right thing.
>>> from django.utils import timezone
>>> p = Poll(question="What's new?", pub_date=timezone.now())

# Save the object into the database. You have to call save() explicitly.
>>> p.save()

# Now it has an ID. Note that this might say "1L" instead of "1", depending
# on which database you're using. That's no biggie; it just means your
# database backend prefers to return integers as Python long integer
# objects.
>>> p.id

# Access database columns via Python attributes.
>>> p.question
"What's new?"
>>> p.pub_date
datetime.datetime(2012, 2, 26, 13, 0, 0, 775217, tzinfo=<UTC>)

# Change values by changing the attributes, then calling save().
>>> p.question = "What's up?"
>>> p.save()

# objects.all() displays all the polls in the database.
>>> Poll.objects.all()
[<Poll: Poll object>]

Wait a minute. <Poll: Poll object> is, utterly, an unhelpful representation of this object. Let’s fix that by editing the polls model (in the polls/models.py file) and adding a __unicode__() method to both Poll and Choice:

class Poll(models.Model):
    # ...
    def __unicode__(self):
        return self.question

class Choice(models.Model):
    # ...
    def __unicode__(self):
        return self.choice

It’s important to add __unicode__() methods to your models, not only for your own sanity when dealing with the interactive prompt, but also because objects’ representations are used throughout Django’s automatically-generated admin.

Why __unicode__() and not __str__()?

If you’re familiar with Python, you might be in the habit of adding __str__() methods to your classes, not __unicode__() methods. We use __unicode__() here because Django models deal with Unicode by default. All data stored in your database is converted to Unicode when it’s returned.

Django models have a default __str__() method that calls __unicode__() and converts the result to a UTF-8 bytestring. This means that unicode(p) will return a Unicode string, and str(p) will return a normal string, with characters encoded as UTF-8.

If all of this is gibberish to you, just remember to add __unicode__() methods to your models. With any luck, things should Just Work for you.

Note these are normal Python methods. Let’s add a custom method, just for demonstration:

import datetime
from django.utils import timezone
# ...
class Poll(models.Model):
    # ...
    def was_published_recently(self):
        return self.pub_date >= timezone.now() - datetime.timedelta(days=1)

Note the addition of import datetime and from django.utils import timezone, to reference Python’s standard datetime module and Django’s time-zone-related utilities in django.utils.timezone, respectively. If you aren’t familiar with time zone handling in Python, you can learn more in the time zone support docs.

Save these changes and start a new Python interactive shell by running python manage.py shell again:

>>> from polls.models import Poll, Choice

# Make sure our __unicode__() addition worked.
>>> Poll.objects.all()
[<Poll: What's up?>]

# Django provides a rich database lookup API that's entirely driven by
# keyword arguments.
>>> Poll.objects.filter(id=1)
[<Poll: What's up?>]
>>> Poll.objects.filter(question__startswith='What')
[<Poll: What's up?>]

# Get the poll that was published this year.
>>> from django.utils import timezone
>>> current_year = timezone.now().year
>>> Poll.objects.get(pub_date__year=current_year)
<Poll: What's up?>

>>> Poll.objects.get(id=2)
Traceback (most recent call last):
DoesNotExist: Poll matching query does not exist.

# Lookup by a primary key is the most common case, so Django provides a
# shortcut for primary-key exact lookups.
# The following is identical to Poll.objects.get(id=1).
>>> Poll.objects.get(pk=1)
<Poll: What's up?>

# Make sure our custom method worked.
>>> p = Poll.objects.get(pk=1)
>>> p.was_published_recently()

# Give the Poll a couple of Choices. The create call constructs a new
# choice object, does the INSERT statement, adds the choice to the set
# of available choices and returns the new Choice object. Django creates
# a set to hold the "other side" of a ForeignKey relation
# (e.g. a poll's choices) which can be accessed via the API.
>>> p = Poll.objects.get(pk=1)

# Display any choices from the related object set -- none so far.
>>> p.choice_set.all()

# Create three choices.
>>> p.choice_set.create(choice='Not much', votes=0)
<Choice: Not much>
>>> p.choice_set.create(choice='The sky', votes=0)
<Choice: The sky>
>>> c = p.choice_set.create(choice='Just hacking again', votes=0)

# Choice objects have API access to their related Poll objects.
>>> c.poll
<Poll: What's up?>

# And vice versa: Poll objects get access to Choice objects.
>>> p.choice_set.all()
[<Choice: Not much>, <Choice: The sky>, <Choice: Just hacking again>]
>>> p.choice_set.count()

# The API automatically follows relationships as far as you need.
# Use double underscores to separate relationships.
# This works as many levels deep as you want; there's no limit.
# Find all Choices for any poll whose pub_date is in this year
# (reusing the 'current_year' variable we created above).
>>> Choice.objects.filter(poll__pub_date__year=current_year)
[<Choice: Not much>, <Choice: The sky>, <Choice: Just hacking again>]

# Let's delete one of the choices. Use delete() for that.
>>> c = p.choice_set.filter(choice__startswith='Just hacking')
>>> c.delete()

For more information on model relations, see Accessing related objects. For more on how to use double underscores to perform field lookups via the API, see Field lookups. For full details on the database API, see our Database API reference.

When you’re comfortable with the API, read part 2 of this tutorial to get Django’s automatic admin working.