Django for Flask users

I’m using Django for a serious project for the first time. I had played with Django a couple of times before, but I’m a long-time Flask fanboy and I invariably gave up in frustration (“why would anyone ever need separate files for settings, urls, and views?!”). Well, turns out Django is pretty cool if you want to put a bunch of apps under the same umbrella. Now, the official tutorial is a bit too verbose if you’re impatient. And if you’re used to Flask’s minimalism, you will get impatient with Django at times. So, here a few potentially useful pointers (largely for my own future consultation).

To get started, just pip install Django, run django-admin startproject mysite, then run python startapp myapp. (Replace mysite and myapp by whatever names you want.) This should create the essential files and directories you’ll need.

making urls work

In Flask you create your views and map your urls all at once:

def index():
    return 'Hello World!'

This is about as simple as it gets (unless you want to get really minimalist).

In Django you can’t do that. You have to define your views in one place and map your urls elsewhere. The usual way to do it is to define your views in your (aptly named) myapp/ file, like this:

from django.http import HttpResponse

def index(request):
    return HttpResponse('Hello World!')

Unlike in Flask you can’t just do return 'Hello World!' - the returned object cannot be a string, so we need to import HttpResponse. Also unlike in Flask, we must feed the request to the function - there is no global request object in Django, so we need to pass it around explicitly (more about this in a moment).

Now on to mapping urls. This requires changing two different files. The first is your mysite/ file, wherein you’ll put this:

from django.conf.urls import url

urlpatterns = [url(r'^myapp/', include('myapp.urls'))]

This piece of code tells mysite (the big project inside which your various apps will live) to defer to myapp (one of your various apps) whenever someone hits http://blablabla/myapp/. (That r'^myapp/ thing is a regular expression that matches any url that contains myapp/.)

So, mysite/ is a big dispatcher: it’ll check the url and send the request to the appropriate app. Here we only have one app (myapp), but if you’re using Django you’ll likely have several apps, in which case the urlpatterns list will contain several url() objects.

Now, myapp must be prepared to receive the baton. For that to happen your myapp/ file (not your mysite/ file!) must look like this:

from django.conf.urls import url
from . import views

urlpatterns = [url(r'^$', views.index, name = 'index')]

Here we have another regex: r'^$. This will capture any requests that end in myapp/. (If the request got this far then it must contain myapp/, so you don’t need to repeat it in the regex here.) We’re telling myapp that any such requests should be handled by the view function named index - which you defined before, in your myapp/ file (see above).

So, myapp/ is a secondary dispatcher: it’ll check the url and send the request to the appropriate view. Here we only have one view (the app’s index page), but in real life you’ll have several views, in which case the urlpatterns list will contain several url() objects.

That’s it. If you run python runserver and then open in your browser you should be greeted by the Hello World! message.

If you really want to you can have a single-file Django project: check this. But if your project is so small that you can have a single file then maybe you’d be better off using Flask or CherryPy or some other minimalist web framework.

request and session

Accessing request and session data in Flask is a no brainer. There is a global request object and a global session object and, well, you just do whatever you want to do with them.

from flask import request
from flask import session

def hello():
    if request.method == 'POST':
        user_input = request.form['user_input']
        session['foo'] = 'bar'
    elif request.method == 'GET':
        session['foo'] = 'macarena'
    return session['foo']

In Django, as I mentioned before, there is no global request object - you need to explicitly pass request around to work with it. There is no global session object either. Instead, session is an attribute of request. This is how the above snippet translates into Django:

from django.http import HttpResponse

def hello(request):
    if request.method == 'POST':
        user_input = request.POST['user_input']
        request.session['foo'] = 'bar'
    elif request.method == 'GET':
        request.session['foo'] = 'macarena'
    return HttpResponse(request.session['foo'])

So, session becomes request.session and request.form becomes request.POST.


You must tell Django where to look for templates. Open mysite/, locate the TEMPLATES list and edit DIRS.

        'BACKEND': 'django.template.backends.django.DjangoTemplates',
        'DIRS': ['/path/to/my/templates/folder/',
        'APP_DIRS': True,
        'OPTIONS': {
            # ...

There are a few syntax differences between Jinja2 (Flask’s default templating language) and Django’s templating language (DTL). For instance, to access the first element of mylist it’s {% mylist[0] %} in Jinja2 but {% mylist.0 %} in DTL. But most of the syntax is identical. Template inheritance works the same way, with {% extends 'parent.html' %} and {% block blockname %}{% endblock $}. Same with loops, if/elses, and variables: {% for bla in blablabla %}{% endfor %}, {% if something %}{% elif somethingelse %}{% else %}{% endif %}, {{ some_variable }}. If you’re porting something from Flask to Django there is a chance your templates will work just as they are.

You need to change your views though. In Flask you render a template and pass variables to it like this:

from flask import render_template

def hello():
    return render_template('mytemplate.html', 
                           some_var = 'foo', 
                           other_var = 'bar')

In Django you do it like this:

from django.shortcuts import render

def hello(request):
    return render(request,
                  {'some_var' = 'foo', 
                   'other_var' = 'bar'})

So, in Django you must pass the request object to render the template. And your template variables must be passed as a dict.


In both Flask and Django you can use something like pyodbc or pymssql to connect to your databases. But you can put a layer of abstraction on top of that. In Flask there is Flask-SQLAlchemy. Here’s their quickstart snippet:

from flask import Flask
from flask_sqlalchemy import SQLAlchemy

app = Flask(__name__)
app.config['SQLALCHEMY_DATABASE_URI'] = 'sqlite:////tmp/test.db'
db = SQLAlchemy(app)

class User(db.Model):
    id = db.Column(db.Integer, primary_key=True)
    username = db.Column(db.String(80), unique=True)
    email = db.Column(db.String(120), unique=True)

    def __init__(self, username, email):
        self.username = username = email

    def __repr__(self):
        return '<User %r>' % self.username

In Django the connection and the models go into separate scripts. You set up the connection by adding an entry to the DATABASES dict in your mysite/ file:


    # ... your other db connections ...

    'my_database_name': {
        'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.sqlite3', 
        'NAME': 'my_database_name',
        'USER': 'my_username',
        'PASSWORD': 'my_password',
        'HOST': '',
        'PORT': 'my_port'}

Then, in your myapp/, you define your models.

from django.db import models

class User(models.Model):
    id = models.IntegerField()
    username = models.CharField(max_length = 80)
    email = models.CharField(max_length = 120)

You don’t have to use any models though. If you prefer to run raw SQL queries you can do it like this:

from django.db import connections

cursor = connections['my_database_name'].cursor()
cursor.execute('SELECT * FROM sometable')
results = cursor.fetchall()

Just as you would do with pyodbc (except that here you don’t need to .commit() after every database modification).


I’m just trying to get you past the initial rage over all the boilerplate code Django requires. :-) This is all just about syntax - I’m merely “translating” Flask to Django. If you’re serious about Django you should invest some time in learning Django’s semantics. Their official tutorial is a good place to start. Have fun!