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Django REST framework how to structure your app

I finally got to a great project, where I could utilise the powers of Django. One of the requirements of the project was to expose everything through API as well as having nice user UI + Administration with all that stuff like versioning, object level permissions and some special endpoints which do some summaries and such.

I have built several API (micro)services using flask or hug, which I warmly recommends, but for this project, I already knew it's going to be big and if I went with any of these, I would basically reimplement what is already present in Django. Hence I went with that and looked for a nice API library with that.

Django REST framework (aka DRF - terribly long name!) seems as an extremely obvious choice here. It is not very often when you have basically one option and that options is just awesome. I am not going to describe advantages of DRF, you can easily find that elsewhere, but I would like to share some thoughts I've learned and also what I had a hard time to find.

Understanding DRF

Don't make the same mistake as I did and read Classy DRF first! Why the hell was this on a second page of google (xkcd truthiness)? I can trust no one.

I was quite scared when first browsing through DRF documentation. It is great, but compared to Django still needs some work to be done - but who would be that silly to compare it to best documentation of OSS projects? I think the main problem was that there just wasn't that many examples. One reason may be the fact it is still quite new project (at least the third version) and hence it is slowly getting better and better.

Anyway, as you can see in that Classy DRF page, it is not that complicated. You just have some cool magical (generics) views, which automagically works with Django's models and safes some boilerplate code. Then there are serializers, which take some fields or models and turn them (or creates them from) into forms, JSON or whatever format. This is 90% of DRF features I needed...

Structuring your project (API vs. UI)

Django is quite opinionated how you should structure your app. When you add API using DRF, it goes as something something like:

myproject/  
    manage.py
    myproject/
        __init__.py
        urls.py
        wsgi.py
        settings.py
    my_app/
        __init__.py
        models.py
        views.py
        urls.py
        serializers.py
        permissions.py
        templates/
            my_app/
                base.html
                list.html
                detail.html
        static/
        tests/
            test_api.py
            test_ui.py
            test_common.py

As you can see, when I started adding API stuff, the my_app folder started to be quite big and incomprehensible, since additional files were there such as serializers.py, api_views.py to separate views from regular UI views, permissions.py, different test_*.py for UI views and API views, things got mixed and only after few days I had already lost control...

Hence, I decided for a following structure:

myproject/  
    manage.py
    myproject/
        __init__.py
        urls.py
        wsgi.py
        settings.py
    my_app/
        __init__.py
        models.py
        views.py
        urls.py
        serializers.py
        permissions.py
        templates/
            my_app/
                base.html
                list.html
                detail.html
        static/
        test.py
    api/
      my_app/
        __init__.py
        views.py
        urls.py
        serializers.py
        permissions.py
        test_api.py

by using this structure, I nicely decoupled UI and normal functionality from API. Of course it is really just a matter of choice. I simply feel that this is easier to maintain (especially when having more than one app as above) without any significant drawbacks.

Views not bounded to any model

When I build microservices which do stuff, there is usually no model in mind. Simply execute some functions with some parameters. This thinking seems to be quite off when working with DRF. It's power really comes mostly when used with models, otherwise you should just use regular views or/and flask or hug.

But I had to add some functionality which really didn't worked with model (in a CRUD meaning), but e.g. did something like:

query all objects, get some information about each, wrangle it a bit and create a something like TSV on S3

For that, apparently, you should use either function based views or views.APIView. It has some shortcomings though, since DRF cannot guess a lot from these views and you have to e.g. add serializers to it manually (which make sense of course).

That's all for now, but I am sure I am going to write some additional notes as I am moving forward with this project.