Administer All The Things

In the previous Understand Django article, we used models to see how Django stores data in a relational database. We covered all the tools to bring your data to life in your application. In this article, we will focus on the built-in tools that Django provides to help us manage that data.

What Is The Django Admin?

When you run an application, you’ll find data that needs special attention. Maybe you’re creating a blog and need to create and edit tags or categories. Perhaps you have an online shop and need to manage your inventory. Whatever you’re building, you’ll probably have to manage something.

How can you manage that data?

  • If you’re a programmer, you can probably log into your server, fire up a Django management shell, and work with data directly using Python.
  • If you’re not a programmer, well, I guess you’re out of luck! Nope, that’s not true!

Django includes a web administrative interface that can help programmers and non-programmers alike. This administrative interface is usually called the Django admin, for short.

Like so many other extensions in the Django ecosystem, the admin site is a Django application. The site is so commonly used that it is pre-configured when you run the startproject command.

The Django admin gives you a quick ability to interact with your models. As you will see shortly, you can register a model with the admin site. Once the model is registered, you can use the site interface to perform CRUD operations on the data.

CRUD is an acronym that describes the primary functions of many websites. The acronym stands for:

  • Create - A website can create data (i.e., insert data into the database)
  • Read - Users can see the data
  • Update - Data can be updated by users
  • Delete - A user can delete data from the system

If you think about the actions that you take on a website, most actions will fall into one of those four categories.

The admin site provides tools for doing all of those operations. There are a few main pages that you can navigate when working in a Django admin site that direct where the CRUD operations happen.

  1. Admin index page - This page will show all the models, grouped by the Django application they originate from, that are registered with the admin.
  2. Model list page - The list page shows rows of data from a model (i.e., a database table). From this page, an administrator can perform actions on multiple database records like deleting a set of records in a single operation.
  3. Add model page - The admin provides a page where new model instances can be created using automatically generated forms based on the model’s fields.
  4. Model change page - The change page lets you update an existing model instance (i.e., a database table row). From this page, you can also delete a model instance.

If you inspect this small set of pages, you’ll notice that every part of the CRUD acronym can occur in this admin site. The power to create and destroy is in your hands. 😈

Now that we understand what is in the admin site, let’s focus on how to add your models to the admin.

Before doing that, I’d like to note a security issue before moving on. When using startproject, Django will put the admin site at /admin/ by default. Change this. The starter template conveniently sets up the admin site for you, but this default URL makes it easy for script kiddies to try to attack your admin site to gain access. Putting your admin site on a different URL won’t fully protect your site (because you should never rely on “security through obscurity”), but it will help avoid a large amount of automated attacks.

Register A Model With The Admin

To make the admin site show your model data, we need to update admin.py. On a new application created with startapp, you’ll find that the admin.py file is largely empty. We need to provide a bit of glue so that the admin knows about a model.

The admin site expects a ModelAdmin class for every model that you want to see displayed within the site.

Let’s consider a crude modeling of a book.

# application/models.py
from django.db import models

class Book(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=256)

Now we can create a ModelAdmin class for the Book model.

# application/admin.py
from django.contrib import admin

from .models import Book

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    pass

There are a couple of important items to observe with this admin.py file.

  1. The BookAdmin is a subclass of admin.ModelAdmin.
  2. The BookAdmin is registered with the admin site by using the admin.register decorator.

Now that we have a model registered with the admin site, how do we view it? Fire up your trusty development server with runserver and visit the URL that used to be /admin/ (because you did change to something different from /admin/, right? Right!?).

On this page, you’ll encounter a login screen. We haven’t worked through the authentication system yet, but, for now, we can understand that only user accounts that have a staff level permission can log in.

Django provides a command that will let us create a user account with staff level permission and all other permissions. Like Linux operating systems, the user account with all permissions is called a superuser. You can create a superuser account with the createsuperuser command.

$ ./manage.py createsuperuser
Username: matt
Email address: matt@somewhere.com
Password:
Password (again):
Superuser created successfully.

With a superuser account available, you’re ready to log in to the admin site. Because you’ll be using a superuser account, you will have permission to see every model that is registered with the admin site.

Once you’ve logged in, you can view the Book model’s admin page. Poke around! Create a book with the “Add Book” button. View the list page. Edit the book. Delete the book. You can see that with a tiny amount of work on your part, Django gives you a full CRUD interface for interacting with your model.

We added the most simple ModelAdmin possible. The body of the class was a pass instead of any attributes. Django gives us a ton of options to let us control how our admin pages for Book will behave. Let’s go on a tour of some commonly used admin attributes.

Customizing Your Admin

Like many other parts of Django, the framework uses class level attributes to define the behavior of a class. Unlike forms and models where class level attributes are mostly fields that you’re defining for yourself, ModelAdmin classes provide values for attributes that are well defined in the documentation. These attributes act as hooks that let you customize the behavior of your admin pages.

Making effective admin pages is primarily about using these attributes so that the ModelAdmin class will do what you want. As such, mastering the Django admin site is all about mastering the ModelAdmin options that are listed in the documentation. That list is long, but don’t be discouraged! I think that you can get about 80% of the value out of the Django admin by knowing only a handful of the options.

When you poked around on the Book pages, you probably noticed that the listing of books is quite bland. The default list looks something like a list of links that show Book object (#). We can change the look and utility of this page with a few different settings.

Let’s start with list_display. This ModelAdmin attribute controls which fields will appear on the list page. With our book model example, we could add the title to the page.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    list_display = ('id', 'title')

Django will make whatever is listed first into the link that a user can click to view the admin detail page for a model record. In this example, I’m using the id field as the link, but I could have used a single element tuple of ('title',) to make the page show only the titles with the titles being the links.

Sometimes you will have a type of model where you only want to see a subset of the records. Suppose that the Book model has a category field.

# application/models.py

class Book(models.Model):
    class Category(models.IntegerChoices):
        SCI_FI = 1
        FANTASY = 2
        MYSTERY = 3
        NON_FICTION = 4

    title = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    category = models.IntegerField(
        choices=Category.choices, default=Category.SCI_FI)

By using the list_filter attribute, we can give the admin list page the ability to filter to the category that we want.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    list_display = ('id', 'title')
    list_filter = ('category',)

The option will put a sidebar on the right side of the admin page. In that sidebar, you would see the categories that I included in the Category choices class. If I click on the “Fantasy” link, then my browser will navigate to /admin/application/book/?category__exact=2 and will only display database rows that have a matching category.

This isn’t the only kind of filtering that the admin can do. We can also filter in time with the date_hierarchy field. Next, let’s give the model a published_date.

# application/models.py

class Book(models.Model):
    class Category(models.IntegerChoices):
        SCI_FI = 1
        FANTASY = 2
        MYSTERY = 3
        NON_FICTION = 4

    title = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    category = models.IntegerField(
        choices=Category.choices, default=Category.SCI_FI)
    published_date = models.DateField(default=datetime.date.today)

We can can also change the ModelAdmin to use the new field.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)

By including the date_hierarchy attribute, the list page will contain some new user interface elements. Across the top of the page will be selectors to help filter down to the right time range. This is a very useful way to look through your database table.

We can still go farther. Perhaps we want all of the books to be sorted by their titles. Even if the ordering attribute is not set on the model’s meta options, the ModelAdmin has its own ordering attribute.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)
    ordering = ("title",)

With this setting, all of the books on the page will be ordered by the title. The ordering attribute will add an appropriate ORDER BY clause to the database query via the admin-generated ORM QuerySet.

The final convenient list page option that I want to highlight is the search_fields option.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)
    ordering = ("title",)
    search_fields = ("author",)

With this option, this list page will add a search bar to the top of the page. In the example, I added the ability to search based on the author of the book.

When you search, your resulting URL could look like /admin/application/book/?q=tolkien. Django will do a case insensitive search on the field. The QuerySet would be something like:

search_results = Book.objects.filter(author__icontains="tolkien")

The results wouldn’t compete well compared to a dedicated search engine, but getting a decent search feature for a single line of code is awesome!

The ModelAdmin also includes some useful settings to modify the behavior of the detail page of particular database records.

For instance, let’s assume that the Book model has a ForeignKey to track an editor.

# application/models.py
from django.contrib.auth.models import User

class Book(models.Model):
    class Category(models.IntegerChoices):
        SCI_FI = 1
        FANTASY = 2
        MYSTERY = 3
        NON_FICTION = 4

    title = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    category = models.IntegerField(
        choices=Category.choices, default=Category.SCI_FI)
    published_date = models.DateField(default=datetime.date.today)
    editor = models.ForeignKey(
        User,null=True, blank=True, on_delete=models.CASCADE)

On the admin page for an individual book, the editor field will be a dropdown by default. This field will include every User record in your application. If you have a popular site with thousands or millions of users, the page would be crushed under the weight of loading all those user records into that dropdown.

Instead of having a useless page that you can’t load, you can use raw_id_fields.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)
    ordering = ("title",)
    raw_id_fields = ("editor",)
    search_fields = ("author",)

By using raw_id_fields, the admin changes from using a dropdown to using a basic text input which will display the foreign key of the user record. Seeing a foreign key number is visually less useful than seeing the actual name selected in a dropdown, but the raw_id_fields option adds two features to alleviate this.

  1. A search icon is present. If users click on the icon, a popup window appears to let the user search for a record in a dedicated selection interface.
  2. If the record already has a foreign key for the field, then the string representation of the record will display next to the icon.

Another option that can be useful is the prepopulated_fields option. Back in our discussion of URLs, we talked about slug fields. Slugs are often used to make pleasant URLs for detail pages showing an individual model instance. Let’s add a SlugField to the Book model.

# application/models.py

class Book(models.Model):
    class Category(models.IntegerChoices):
        SCI_FI = 1
        FANTASY = 2
        MYSTERY = 3
        NON_FICTION = 4

    title = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    slug = models.SlugField()
    author = models.CharField(max_length=256)
    category = models.IntegerField(
        choices=Category.choices, default=Category.SCI_FI)
    published_date = models.DateField(default=datetime.date.today)
    editor = models.ForeignKey(
        User, null=True, blank=True, on_delete=models.CASCADE)

What is the benefit of prepopulated_fields? By using this option, we can instruct the admin site to populate the slug field based on the title of the book. Here’s the update to the ModelAdmin.

# application/admin.py

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)
    ordering = ("title",)
    prepopulated_fields = {"slug": ("title",)}
    raw_id_fields = ("editor",)
    search_fields = ("author",)

Now when we want to add a new book in the admin, Django will use some JavaScript to update the slug field dynamically as we type the title!

To this point, every attribute that we’ve added to the admin is static configuration. What do you do if you want to vary how the admin pages behave based on something dynamic?

Thankfully, the Django team thought of that too. All of the options that we’ve examined have an equivalent method you can override that is prefixed with get_. For instance, if we want to control what fields users see on the list page based on who they are, we would implement get_list_display. In that method, we would return a tuple based on the user’s access level.

One final attribute to consider is called inlines. I don’t reach for this option often, but it’s a convenient way to see other models that are related to a particular model.

Suppose our sample application has reviews for books. We could add a model like:

# application/models.py

class Review(models.Model):
    book = models.ForeignKey(Book, on_delete=models.CASCADE)
    rating = models.IntegerField()
    comment = models.TextField()

To show other models on a detail page, we need to create an inline class and include it with the ModelAdmin. The result looks like:

# application/admin.py
from django.contrib import admin

from .models import Book, Review

class ReviewInline(admin.TabularInline):
    model = Review

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    inlines = [ReviewInline]
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)
    ordering = ("title",)
    raw_id_fields = ("editor",)
    prepopulated_fields = {"slug": ("title",)}
    search_fields = ("author",)

By adding the inline class to the list of inlines, the detail page will show any reviews that are associated with a book. Additionally, you could create new reviews from the detail page since the admin will include a few blank forms by default.

We’ve covered many options of the ModelAdmin class that you can use to customize your admin experience with common functions that many admin tools require. What about the uncommon functions? For extra customization, we can use admin actions.

Taking Action In The Admin

When you want to do work related to specific records in your database, Django provides some techniques to customize your site and provide those capabilities. These customizations are called actions and they appear on the list page above the list of records.

In the default admin site, there is an action that let’s administrators delete records. If you select some rows with the checkboxes on the left hand side, select “Delete selected <object type>”, then click “Go”, you will be presented with a page that asks for confirmation about deleting the rows you picked.

The same kind of flow could be applied for any actions that you want to perform on database records. We can do this by adding a method on our ModelAdmin.

The method must follow this interface:

@admin.register(MyModel)
class MyModelAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    actions = ['do_some_action']

    def do_some_action(
            self,
            request: HttpRequest,
            queryset: QuerySet
        ) -> Optional[HttpResponse]:
        # Do the work here.
        ...

The queryset will represent the set of model records that the user selected. If the method returns None, then the user will be returned to the same admin page. If the method returns an HttpResponse, then the user will see that response (which is what happens with the delete confirmation page of the delete action). Whatever you do between the method being called and the method returning is up to you.

Maybe our sample book application could set a book to premiere on the site as an important new available title. In this hypothetical scenario, we might have code that unsets any older premiere book or sends out emails to people who have expressed interest when new premieres are announced.

For this scenario, we could add an action that would do these things.

# application/admin.py

def update_premiere(book):
    """Pretend to update the book to be a premiere.

    This function is to make the demo clear.
    In a real application, this could be a manager method instead
    which would update the book and trigger the email notifications
    (e.g., `Book.objects.update_premiere(book)`).
    """
    print(f"Update {book.title} state to change premiere books.")
    print("Call some background task to notify interested users via email.")

@admin.register(Book)
class BookAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    actions = ["set_premiere"]
    date_hierarchy = "published_date"
    inlines = [ReviewInline]
    list_display = ("id", "title")
    list_filter = ("category",)
    ordering = ("title",)
    raw_id_fields = ("editor",)
    prepopulated_fields = {"slug": ("title",)}
    search_fields = ("author",)

    def set_premiere(self, request, queryset):
        if len(queryset) == 1:
            book = queryset[0]
            update_premiere(book)

Django will use the name of the method to set the label for the dropdown on the list page. In this case, the action label will be “Set premiere”.

We were able to extend the admin and hook into the page’s user interface by defining a method and declaring it as an action. This is a powerful system to give administrators control and allow them to operate in custom ways on the data in their applications.

Summary

In this article, we looked at the built-in Django administrator’s site. This powerful extension gives us the ability to create, view, edit, and delete rows from database tables associated with your application’s models.

We’ve covered:

  • What the Django admin site is and how to set it up
  • How to make your models appear in the admin
  • How to customize your admin pages quickly with options provided by the ModelAdmin class
  • How to create extra actions that enable you to do work on your model records

Next time we will cover the anatomy of a Django application. A Django project is composed of many applications. We will explore:

  • The conventional structure of a Django app
  • How Django identifies and loads applications
  • Why applications are crucial for the Django ecosystem

If you’d like to follow along with the series, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter where I announce all of my new content. If you have other questions, you can reach me online on Twitter where I am @mblayman.