Converting a Django project for zc.buildout

By | June 17, 2010

Jacob Kaplan-Moss has written an article on using zc.buildout to develop a django application. My goal is slightly different: I want to deploy an entire django project, with numerous dependencies, using zc.buildout. The documentation seems scarce, so I’m trying to keep track of each step as I go, in the hopes that it may be useful to someone someday.

I have an existing Django project that I’m having trouble deploying and sharing with other developers. It’s located in a private github repository. So my goal is not only to manage a Django project, but to manage an already mature project. This is, of course, harder than starting from scratch.

I do my development on Arch Linux, which is currently running Python 2.6 (and 3.1, but Django isn’t supported, so I’m using 2.6 for this project). I have git version 1.7.1, and my project is using Django version 1.2.1.

Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I started by doing some exploring. I created an empty directory and ran:

to install the buildout bootstrap. I then created a very simple buildout.cfg file based on the djangorecipe example:

I then ran:

Suddenly, my directory containing only two files ( and buildout.cfg) looked like this:

Jacob’s article has an excellent description of all these files. The main question for me was “where does my source go?” This example shows that the project source code goes in my_project. Djangorecipe had created the following structure in that directory:

The and files both have from my_project.settings import * calls, and then customize some variables. My habit has always been to have a in my .gitignore and include from import * in my main For my project I had to decide whether to stick with my old habits, or modify my setup to be parallel to the djangorecipe version.

I see that djangorecipe has a way to select the settings to use for a given buildout, but if buildout.cfg is under version control, wouldn’t that make selecting settings a pain? And if each developer has a different database setup, would we require a different settings module for each developer? In my experience, it is better to do things the way the examples in the documentation say it should be done, because they know what they’re doing and I don’t. But in this case, I decided to keep my layout as is. I can always change it later.

The thing I wanted to learn from that experiment was where my source goes; apparently it goes in a folder with my project’s name at the same level as buildout.cfg and Looks like I’m going to have to move my code around in my project’s version control.

First I checked out a new branch, because that is the thing to do in git. Specifically because I want it to be easy to go back to the status quo if I decide, halfway through the process, that buildout is a pain to configure.

The first thing I want to do is move all my files into a new subdirectory with my project’s name, so buildout can have the top of the git tree for it’s own files:

The git mv command essentially says “move anything that isn’t my_project into my_project“. The -k switch says “just ignore it if it isn’t under version control.” This left my and a few .pyc files in the main directory, since those files are in .gitignore, so I cleaned those up manually. Finally, I committed the changes, so the move happened in one place.

Now it’s time to start creating a new buildout, this time in the version controlled directory. I ran the wget command to get, and I copied the buildout.cfg from my exploration directory. Then I ran the bootstrap and bin/buildout commands to see what happened. It did the same thing before, except for providing a django: Skipping creating of project: my_project since it exists. That’s what I wanted. Running git status showed several patterns that needed to be added to my .gitignore:

I also had to change the .gitignore file to ignore my_project/static/uploads instead of just static/uploads.

At this point, I decided to commit and buildout.cfg:

Now, I know I’m missing dozens of dependencies, but I wanted to see what happens if I run bin/django. My understanding is that this is supposed to be a wrapper similar to, but using the buildout’s django environment. It failed, telling me that the development file didn’t exist. I modified the buildout.cfg to add settings = settings to the django recipe. Then I ran bin/django again, and nothing had changed.

Whenever you change buildout.cfg, you have to also run bin/buildout to create the new environment (rant: I hate compile steps!).

I was worried that my custom management commands (in my case, for py.test testing, and running south migrations) would not show up, but there they were, listed in the help output that bin/django provided. This is especially surprising, since I have not installed south inside the buildout yet! It appears that bin/django is a drop-in replacement for

Next, I ran bin/django shell expecting to enter dependency hell. Not yet! Instead, I got the error “no module named my_project.settings”. Looking at the bin/django script, it is trying to prepend the project name to the project. I have a habit of not including an in my project directory, preferring to think of a django project as a collection of apps, rather than an independent project. I don’t want to write from my_project.my_app import something, because then the apps are no longer reusable. In my world, the project is not a package. Apparently, djangorecipe thinks it is. So touch my_project/ had to happen, since I definitely don’t want to start hacking the recipe at this point!

Now I have “no module named ” errors for each of my INSTALLED_APPS. Because I list my apps as “x” instead of “myproject.x”. To fix this, I added extra-paths = my_project, which inserts the project directory into the path.

Then I ran bin/django shell and bin/django runserver only to discover that everything was working! Apparently my buildout had not installed to a private environment, and was still accessing the default site-packages on my system. Not quite what I wanted. I thought zc.buildout created an isolated environment, much like virtualenv, only portable across systems. My mistake.

zc.buildout does not create an isolated sandboxed environment by default.

I had to do a lot of google searching to come to this conclusion. There are many statements out there that suggest that zc.buildout can and does create an isolated environment, but none of them turned out to be true. zc.buildout is all about reproducibility, while virtualenv is about isolation They are not competing products, and the ideal environment uses both of them.

So I removed all the temp files and directories (including the hidden .installed.cfg) that buildout had created for me and started over to install them to a virtualenv:

I temporarily removed IPython from the eggs because it was refusing to download. The server must be down. This time, when I run the bin/django shell, I get a proper dependency error for psycopg2. Looks like I’m finally on the right track. I also had to add several directories virtualenv had created to my .gitignore.

Before buildout, I had a rather complicated file that installed all my dependencies using a combination of easy_install, git checkout, hg checkout, etc. I started with the easy_install stuff; stuff that can be installed from Pypi. I created a new eggs part in my buildout. The entire file now looked like this:

Trying to run bin/buildout now causes a “Text file busy” error. At this point, I’m seriously considering that buildout is more of a pain than a help. It’s poorly documented and broken (some might say poorly documented IS broken). And I know I have an even harder task coming up when I have to patch a git clone.

But, I’m obstinate and I persevered. Google was quick to confirm my hypothesis that virtualenv and buildout were both trying to access the “bin/python” file. The solution was to change the interpreter = python line in my recipe; I called the buildout interpreter” py”.

This time, when I ran bin/django shell I got an error pertaining to a module that needs to be installed from git. Time to look for a git recipe! Here’s how it eventually looked:

I also had to add django-mailer to my parts in the [buildout] section, and arranged the [django] extra-paths section as follows:

I had a second git repository to apply, and this one was messy because the code on the project was not working and my was applying a patch to it. I was considering whether I had to hack the git recipe to support applying patches when I realized a much simpler solution was to fork it on github. So I did that, applied my patch, and rejoiced at how simple it was.

Finally, I had to install an app from a mercurial repository (because we can’t all use the One True DVCS, can we?) I found MercurialRecipe, but no examples as to how to use it. It’s not terribly difficult:

With all my dependencies set up, I was finally able to run bin/django shell without any errors.

Now I have to figure out how to make this thing work in production, but that’s another post. I hope it works flawlessly on my co-developer’s Mac. Hopefully the pain will be less painful than the old pain. This was a huge amount of work, several hours went into it, and I won’t know for a while if it was worth it.

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