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Django and MongoDB


CLI Command examples on this page are always provided without the --application (shorthand -A) argument, assuming you’re running these commands in a connected folder (at creation or using the dotcloud connect command). For more details on connected folders, see Migrating to the CLI 0.9.

This tutorial will show how to build a minimal Django project from scratch on dotCloud, storing data in a MongoDB database.

All the code presented here is also available on GitHub, at http://github.com/jpetazzo/django-and-mongodb-on-dotcloud; moreover, you can read the instructions in two original ways:

  • using GitHub’s awesome compare view – click on each individual commit to see detailed explanations for each step;
  • or, if you prefer text mode (or offline inspection), fallback on git log --patch --reverse begin..end.

dotCloud Build File

The dotCloud Build File, dotcloud.yml, describes our stack.

We will need a Python service to run our Django code. This service allows us to expose a WSGI-compliant web application. Django can do WSGI out of the box, so that’s perfect for us.

Since our goal is to show how Django and MongoDB work together, we will also add a MongoDB service.


  type: python
  type: mongodb

The role and syntax of the dotCloud Build File is explained in further detail in the documentation, at http://docs.dotcloud.com/guides/build-file/.

Specifying Requirements

A lot of Python projects use a requirements.txt file to list their dependencies. dotCloud detects this file, and if it exists, pip will be used to install the dependencies.

We need (at least) four things here:

  • pymongo, the MongoDB client for Python;
  • django_mongodb_engine, which contains the real interface between Django and MongoDB;
  • django-nonrel, a fork of Django which includes minor tweaks to allow operation on NoSQL databases;
  • djangotoolbox, which is not strictly mandatory for Django itself, but is required for the admin site to work.

To learn more about the specific differences between “regular” Django and the NoSQL version, read django-nonrel on All Buttons Pressed.



pip is able to install code from PyPI (just like easy_install); but it can also install code from repositories like Git or Mercurial, as long as they contain a setup.py file. This is very convenient to install new versions of packages automatically without having to publish them on PyPI at each release – like in the present case.

See http://www.pip-installer.org/en/latest/requirement-format.html for details about pip and the format of requirements.txt.

Django Basic Files

Let’s pretend that our Django project is called hellodjango. We will add the essential Django files to our project. Actually, those files did not come out of nowhere: we just ran django-admin.py startproject hellodjango to generate them!


The rest of the tutorial assumes that your project is in the hellodjango directory. If you’re following those instructions to run your existing Django project on dotCloud, just replace hellodjango with the real name of your project directory, of course.

The files:


The wsgi.py file will bridge between the Python service and our Django app.

We need two things here:

  • inject the DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE variable into the environment, pointing to our project settings module;
  • setup the application callable, since that is what the dotCloud service will be looking for.


import os
os.environ['DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE'] = 'hellodjango.settings'
import django.core.handlers.wsgi
application = django.core.handlers.wsgi.WSGIHandler()

We can now push our application, by running dotcloud create djangomongo and dotcloud push (you can of course use any application name you like). A Python service and a MongoDB service will be created, the code will be deployed, and the URL of the service will be shown at the end of the build. If you go to this URL, you will see the plain and boring Django page, typical of the “just started” project.

Add Database Credentials to settings.py

Now, we need to edit settings.py to specify how to connect to our database. When you deploy your application, these parameters are stored in the dotCloud Environment File. This allows you to repeat the deployment of your application (e.g. for staging purposes) without having to manually copy-paste the parameters into your settings each time.

If you don’t want to use the Environment File, you can retrieve the same information with dotcloud info db.

The Environment File is a JSON file holding a lot of information about our stack. It contains (among other things) our database connection parameters. We will load this file, and use those parameters in Django’s settings.

See http://docs.dotcloud.com/guides/environment/ for more details about the Environment File.

hellodjango/settings.py step 1:

# Django settings for hellodjango project.

import json
import os
with open(os.path.expanduser('~/environment.json')) as f:
  env = json.load(f)

DEBUG = True

    # ('Your Name', 'your_email@example.com'),


    'default': {
        'ENGINE': 'django_mongodb_engine',
        'NAME': 'admin',

# Local time zone for this installation. Choices can be found here:
# …


We decided to use the admin database here. This was made to simplify the configuration process. While you can actually use any database name you like (MongoDB will create it automatically), MongoDB admin accounts have to authenticate against the admin database, as explained in MongoDB Security and Authentication docs. If you want to use another database, you will have to create a separate user manually, or add some extra commands to the postinstall script shown in next sections.


You might wonder why we put the MongoDB connection URL in the HOST parameter! Couln’t we just put the hostname, and then also set USER, PASSWORD, and PORT? Well, we could. However, when we will want to switch to replica sets, we will have to specify multiple host/port combinations. And one convenient way to do that is to use the Standard Connection String Format.

Quite conveniently, django_mongodb_engine will just pass the database parameters to pymongo‘s Connection constructor. By using the mongodb:// URL as our HOST field, we’re actually handing it to pymongo, which will do The Right Thing.

Disable “sites” and Enable “djangotoolbox”

By default, the application django.contrib.sites won’t behave well with the Django MongoDB engine. Under the hood, it boils down to differences in primary keys, which are strings with MongoDB, and integers elsewhere. It would of course be more elegant to fix sites in the first place, but for the sake of simplicity, we will just disable it since we don’t need it for simple apps.

Also, we need djangotoolbox to make user editing in the admin site work correctly. Long story short, djangotoolbox allows us to do some JOINs on non-relational databases.

hellodjango/settings.py step 2:

# …

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

# …

Django Admin Site

We will now activate the Django administration application. Nothing is specific to dotCloud here: we just uncomment the relevant lines of code in settings.py and urls.py.

hellodjango/settings.py step 3:

# …

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

# …

hellodjango/urls.py (updated):

from django.conf.urls.defaults import patterns, include, url

# Uncomment the next two lines to enable the admin:
from django.contrib import admin

urlpatterns = patterns('',
    # Examples:
    # url(r'^$', 'hellodjango.views.home', name='home'),
    # url(r'^hellodjango/', include('hellodjango.foo.urls')),

    # Uncomment the admin/doc line below to enable admin documentation:
    # url(r'^admin/doc/', include('django.contrib.admindocs.urls')),

    # Uncomment the next line to enable the admin:
    url(r'^admin/', include(admin.site.urls)),

If we push our application now, we can go to the /admin URL, but since we didn’t call syncdb yet, the database structure doesn’t exist, and Django will refuse to do anything useful for us.

Automatically Call syncdb

To make sure that the database structure is properly created, we want to call manage.py syncdb automatically each time we push our code. On the first push, this will create the Django tables; later, it will create new tables that might be required by new models you will define.

To make that happen, we create a postinstall script. It is called automatically at the end of each push operation.


python hellodjango/manage.py syncdb --noinput

A few remarks:

  • this is a shell script (hence the #!/bin/sh shebang at the beginning), but you can also use a Python script if you like;
  • the script should be made executable, by running chmod +x postinstall before the push;
  • by default, syncdb will interactively prompt you to create a Django superuser in the database, but we cannot interact with the terminal during the push process, so we disable this thanks to --noinput.

If you push the code at this point, hitting the /admin URL will display the login form, but we don’t have a valid user yet, and the login form won’t have the usual Django CSS since we didn’t take care about the static assets yet.

Create Django Superuser

Since the syncdb command was run non-interactively, it did not prompt us to create a superuser, and therefore, we don’t have a user to login.

To create an admin user automatically, we will write a simple Python script that will use Django’s environment, load the authentication models, create a User object, set a password, and give him superuser privileges.

The user login will be admin, and its password will be password. Note that if the user already exists, it won’t be touched. However, if it does not exist, it will be re-created. If you don’t like this admin user, you should not delete it (it would be re-added each time you push your code) but just remove its privileges and reset its password, for instance.


#!/usr/bin/env python
from wsgi import *
from django.contrib.auth.models import User
u, created = User.objects.get_or_create(username='admin')
if created:
    u.is_superuser = True
    u.is_staff = True

postinstall (updated):

python hellodjango/manage.py syncdb --noinput
python mkadmin.py

At this point, if we push the code, we will be able to login, but we still lack the CSS that will make the admin site look nicer.

Handle Static and Media Assets

We still lack the CSS required to make our admin interface look nice. We need to do three things here.

First, we will edit settings.py to specify STATIC_ROOT, STATIC_URL, MEDIA_ROOT, and MEDIA_URL.

MEDIA_ROOT will point to /home/dotcloud/data. By convention, the data directory will persist across pushes. This is important: You don’t want to store media (user uploaded files...) in current or code, because those directories are wiped out at each push.

We decided to point STATIC_ROOT to /home/dotcloud/volatile, since the static files are “generated” at each push. We could have put them in current but to avoid conflicts and confusions we chose a separate directory.

The next step is to instruct Nginx to map /static and /media to those directories in /home/dotcloud/data and /home/dotcloud/volatile. This is done through a Nginx configuration snippet. You can do many interesting things with custom Nginx configuration files; http://docs.dotcloud.com/guides/nginx/ gives some details about that.

The last step is to add the collectstatic management command to our postinstall script. Before calling it, we create the required directories, just in case.

hellodjango/settings.py step 4:

# …

# Absolute filesystem path to the directory that will hold user-uploaded files.
# Example: "/home/media/media.lawrence.com/media/"
MEDIA_ROOT = '/home/dotcloud/data/media/'

# URL that handles the media served from MEDIA_ROOT. Make sure to use a
# trailing slash.
# Examples: "http://media.lawrence.com/media/", "http://example.com/media/"
MEDIA_URL = '/media/'

# Absolute path to the directory static files should be collected to.
# Don't put anything in this directory yourself; store your static files
# in apps' "static/" subdirectories and in STATICFILES_DIRS.
# Example: "/home/media/media.lawrence.com/static/"
STATIC_ROOT = '/home/dotcloud/volatile/static/'

# URL prefix for static files.
# Example: "http://media.lawrence.com/static/"
STATIC_URL = '/static/'

# URL prefix for admin static files -- CSS, JavaScript and images.
# Make sure to use a trailing slash.
# Examples: "http://foo.com/static/admin/", "/static/admin/".
ADMIN_MEDIA_PREFIX = '/static/admin/'

# …


location /media/ { root /home/dotcloud/data ; }
location /static/ { root /home/dotcloud/volatile ; }

postinstall (updated again):

python hellodjango/manage.py syncdb --noinput
python mkadmin.py
mkdir -p /home/dotcloud/data/media /home/dotcloud/volatile/static
python hellodjango/manage.py collectstatic --noinput

After pushing this last round of modifications, the CSS for the admin site (and other static assets) will be found correctly, and we have a very basic (but functional) Django project to build on!

Wait for MongoDB to Start

At this point, if you try to push the app with a different name (e.g. dotcloud push), you will see database connection errors. Let’s see why, and how to avoid that!

On dotCloud, you get your own MongoDB instance. This is not just a database inside an existing MongoDB server: it is your own MongoDB server. This eliminates access contention and side effects caused by other users. However, it also means that when you deploy a MongoDB service, you will have to wait a little bit while MongoDB pre-allocates some disk storage for you. This takes about one minute.

If you did the tutorial step by step, you probably did not notice that, since there was probably more than one minute between your first push, and your first attempt to use the database. But if you try to push all the code again, it will try to connect to the database straight away, and fail.

To avoid connection errors (which could happen if we try to connect to the server before it’s done with space pre-allocation), we add a small helper script, waitfordb.py, which will just try to connect every 10 seconds. It exists as soon as the connection is successful. If the connection fails after 10 minutes, it aborts (as a failsafe feature).

postinstall (final update):

python waitfordb.py
python hellodjango/manage.py syncdb --noinput
python mkadmin.py
mkdir -p /home/dotcloud/data/media /home/dotcloud/data/static
python hellodjango/manage.py collectstatic --noinput


#!/usr/bin/env python
from wsgi import *
from django.contrib.auth.models import User
from pymongo.errors import AutoReconnect
import time
deadline = time.time() + 600
while time.time() < deadline:
        print 'Successfully connected to database.'
    except AutoReconnect:
        print 'Could not connect to database. Waiting a little bit.'
    except ConfigurationError:
        print 'Could not connect to database. Waiting a little bit.'
print 'Could not connect to database after 10 minutes. Something is wrong.'

With this last step, our Django deployment can be reproduced as many times as required (for staging, development, production, etc.) without requiring special manual timing!