Episode 9 - Application Examination

On this episode, we will study the structure of a Django application. Applications are the core components that make up a Django project.

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Last Episode

On the last episode, we focused on the built-in Django administrator’s site. We’ll saw what it is, how you can configure it, and how you can customize it to serve your needs.

What Is An Application?

In Django parlance, a “web application” is a Django project. All of the pieces that come together to make a website are a project. The primary components within the project are called applications. In other words, a Django project is built from one or more Django applications.

Your “web application” is a Django project composed of one more Django applications.

Application Structure

An application usually tries to capture a core concept within your system. For this episode, we will use movies as the concept we want to model.

(venv) $ ./manage.py startapp movies
(venv) $ tree movies
├── __init__.py
├── admin.py
├── apps.py
├── migrations
│   └── __init__.py
├── models.py
├── tests.py
└── views.py

admin.py: This file is where all your ModelAdmin classes live to power how the movies app will appear in the Django admin.

apps.py: This file is for the AppConfig of the application. We will discuss the AppConfig and how to use it later in this article.

migrations: This directory is where all database migrations are stored for the application. Any model changes for this app will generate a migration and created a numbered migration file in this directory.

models.py: This file is the home for all the Django Model classes in the application. The models represent all your database data.

tests.py: This file is for automated tests. We’ll cover automated tests in Django in a future article. For now, you can know that I always delete this file and replace it with a tests package. A tests package is superior because you can split out to more focused files like test_models.py to know where the appropriate tests are.

views.py: This file is where Django view functions or classes go. Views are the glue code that connect your URL routes to your database models.

That’s everything that comes with a generated app, but what other files are missing that you will commonly see in a Django application?

urls.py: This file is often used to create routes that logically group all movie related functionality. The urls.py file would power all the routes in something like www.mysite.com/movies/.

forms.py: When you use Django Form classes to interact with users, this is the file where forms are stored.

templatetags: This directory is a Python package that would include a module like movies_tags.py where you’d define any custom template tags to use when rendering your templates.

templates: This directory can store templates that the application will render. I personally prefer using a project-wide templates directory, but templates directories are commonly found, especially for third party applications that you may pull into your project.

static: For static files that you want to display like images, you can use the static directory.

management: Users can extend Django with custom commands that can be called via manage.py. Those commands are stored in this package.

locale: When doing translations and internationalization, the translation files must have a home. That’s the purpose of the locale directory.

managers.py: This file is not always used, but if your application has a lot of custom managers, then you may want to separate them from your models in this file.

Here’s what our final sample tree would look like.

(venv) $ tree movies
├── __init__.py
├── admin.py
├── apps.py
├── forms.py
├── locale
│   └── es
│       └── LC_MESSAGES
│           ├── django.mo
│           └── django.po
├── management
│   ├── __init__.py
│   └── commands
│       ├── __init__.py
│       └── do_movie_stuff.py
├── managers.py
├── migrations
│   ├── 0001_initial.py
│   └── __init__.py
├── models.py
├── static
│   └── movies
│       └── moviereel.png
├── templates
│   └── movies
│       ├── index.html
│       └── movie_detail.html
├── templatestags
│   ├── __init__.py
│   └── movies_tags.py
├── tests
│   ├── __init__.py
│   ├── test_models.py
│   └── test_views.py
├── urls.py
└── views.py

Loading applications

We’ve now seen what’s in a Django application and have an idea of an app’s composition. How does Django load applications?

Django does not do automatic discovery of Django applications within your project. If you want Django to include an app in your project, you must add the app to your INSTALLED_APPS list in the settings file.

When Django starts, it will initialize the system by doing the following:

  • Load the settings
  • Configure logging (a topic we’ll explore in the future)
  • Initialize an application registry
  • Import each package from the INSTALLED_APPS
  • Import a models module for each application
  • Invoke the ready method of every AppConfig discovered

Ecosystem Applications

An application is an important tool for grouping the different logical components in your project, but apps also serve another purpose. Apps are the basis for most of the 3rd party extensions in the Django ecosystem.

A big reason to use Django is that the framework takes a “batteries included” approach. Most of the tools that you need to build a website are baked directly into the framework. This is a vastly different approach compared to Flask which provides a relatively small API and depends heavily on third party libraries.

Even though Django includes most of the major pieces for a web application, the framework doesn’t include everything. When you want to include more features, Django apps fill in the gaps.

Apps are contained and reusable modules. Because they have a fairly standard structure, a project can integrate a new app quickly. This means you can leverage the knowledge and experience (read: battle scars) of other web developers. The apps all play by the same rules so you, as the developer, spend less time gluing the app into your project and more time benefiting from what it does.

All in all, Django applications make working with the Django ecosystem a more enjoyable experience.


On this episode, we studied the structure of a Django application.

We examined:

  • The files and usage that exists within an application
  • How an application loads when Django starts
  • Why applications are important to the Django ecosystem

Next Time

In the next episode, we will dive into the authentication system. Django’s built-in auth system comes from a powerful Django application that includes all the components you need to manage users and their permissions in your web app.

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