Django best practices I. Different environments, different settings files and Git.

Previously, I wrote a series of posts about how to deploy a Django app on Heroku, together with some best practices.

But not everyone uses Heroku!

Therefore, I’ll write about how to build a Django project from scratch, focusing on the project structure, internationalization and localization configuration, models, managers, views, forms and templates.

In this first post, I’ll write about how to start a Django project with different environments for production, testing and developing, how to configure different setting files for each environment, and how to set Git to manage your project versions.

This posts assumes you have Python and Virtualenv previously installed. If you use Mac OS X and you need to install them, check this post.

Start a Django project

First, we need to create a directory for your project.

$ mkdir myfolderproject

$ cd myfolderproject

This directory will contain both the virtual environment and the Django application. We create a new virutal environment, called myenv:

$ virtualenv myenv

$ source myenv/bin/activate

where the second line activates the virtual environment. Anytime, you can exit the virtual environment typing deactivate.

In order to install Django, we will use the django-toolbelt, which includes the following packages:

– django

– psycopg2

– gunicorn (WSGI server)

– dj-database-url (a Django configuration helper)

– dj-static (a Django static file server)

With your virtual environment active:

$ pip install django-toolbelt

By the time I wrote this post, the version of Django installed was Django 1.6.1.

Finally, let’s create the Django project:

$ startproject myproject .

The dot at the end indicates that the app will be installed without creating an additional folder.


One importand and useful thing is to have different virtual environments for developing, production and testing. Inside myprojectfolder, create a requirements folder with the requirements files for developing, testing and production:

$ mkdir requirements

$ touch requirements/{common.txt,dev.txt,prod.txt,test.txt}

First, we will write the packages on the actual environment (which will be used for production) to the common.txt file:

$ pip freeze > requirements/common.txt

And then, add the following line to the other .txt files:

-r common.txt

followed by the packages needed for that environment. This line tells pip to include the dependencies in that file. Here, there are some examples of packages and the environment in which they usually belong:

Common: djangodjango-ajaxicedjango-paginationdjango-tastypieSouth

Dev: django-debug-toolbar

Prod: gunicornpsycopg2

Test: coveragenose

After setting your requirements, create another virtual environment for developing and for testing.

$ virtualenv devenv

$ virtualenv testenv

Activate each of them and install the dependencies indicated in each requirement file. For example, for the developing environment:

$ source devenv/bin/activate

$ pip install -r requirements/dev.txt

Django settings

Open your file and change or add the following lines to configure the static files:

BASE_DIR = os.path.dirname(os.path.abspath(__file__))
DEBUG = False
STATIC_URL = ‘/static/’
STATIC_ROOT = ‘staticfiles’
    os.path.join(BASE_DIR, ‘static’),

Edit this file with your production database configuration. For more information on how to set PostgreSQL on your computer and on Heroku take a look at this post.

Create two different setting files for development and testing, located at the same level of


These files will contain the settings that are specific to this environment, but also import all the global settings (which in this case is the file Write, in each of these files:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

from .settings import *

DEBUG = True


Note: the dot before settings is not a typo 🙂 And after these lines, redefine the Database parameters for your development and testing environments. Again, if you are using PostgreSQL check this post.

To use each file correctly, we need to indicate it to the corresponding virtual envirnoment. For the development environment, append this to your bin/activate script:



In the script bin/activate of the virtual environment for testing:



OS X Mavericks Error: When working with these virtual environments, if you run

$ python validate

you might see an error with something like:

Referenced from: myvirtualenv/lib/python2.7/site-packages/psycopg2/

Reason: image not found

To solve this error, open the bin/activate script and add the following line:

export DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=/Library/PostgreSQL/9.*/lib

where you should replace * for your PostgreSQL version.


A very importan tool to use is Git. However, the myprojectfolder folder contains some extra files that we don’t want in our repository. Go inside the myprojectfolder, and create the file .gitignore.

$ touch .gitignore

Open it and write:






This indicates Git to ignore your virtual environments, all the compiled files created by python and the static directory where the static files will be stored. Feel free to change this file with the files or folders you want to ignore.

Then, we initialize a new Git repository and save our changes:

$ git init

$ git add .

$ git commit -m “First commit of my django project”

+1 if the post was useful! 🙂 Thanks!

Check the second part of this post: Django best practices II: Project structure and HTML5 Boilerplate implementation


Please, add +Marina Mele in your comments. This way I will get a notification email and I will answer you as soon as possible! :-)