Posts Tagged ‘django’

Django CMS to support Varnish and Akamai ESI

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Many years ago I ran into a situation with a client where the amount of traffic they were receiving was crushing their dynamically created site. Computation is always the enemy of a quick pageload, so, it is very important to do as little computation as possible when delivering a page.

While there are many ways to put together a CMS, high traffic CMS sites usually involve caching or lots of hardware. Some write static files which are much less strenuous, but, you lose some of the dynamic capabilities. Fragment caching becomes a method to make things a bit more dynamic as MasonHQ does with their page and block structure. Django-blocks was surely influenced by this or reinvented this method.

In order to get the highest performance out of a CMS with a page and block method, I had considered writing a filesystem or inode linklist that would allow the webserver to assemble the page by following the inodes on the disk to build the page. Obviously there are some issues here, but, if a block was updated by a process, it would automatically be reassembled. This emulates a write-through cache and would have provisions for dynamic content to be mixed in with the static content on disk. Assembly of the page still takes more compute cycles than a static file but is significantly less than dynamically creating the page from multiple queries.

That design seriously limits the ability to deploy the system widely. While I can control the hosting environment for personal projects, the CMS couldn’t gain wide acceptance. While Varnish is a rather simple piece of software to install, it does limit deploy-ability, but, provides a significant piece of the puzzle due to Edge Side Includes (ESI). If the CMS gets used beyond personal and small deployments, Akamai supports Edge Side Includes as well.

Rather than explain ESI, ESI Explained Simply contains about the best writeup I’ve seen to date to explain how ESI can be used.

The distinction here is using fragment caching controlled by ESI to represent different zones on the page. As a simple example, lets consider our page template contains an article and a block with the top five articles on the site. When a new post is added, we can expire the block that contains the top five articles so that it is requested on the next page fetch. Since the existing article didn’t change, the interior ESI included block doesn’t need to be purged. This allows the page to be constructed on the Edge rather than on the Origin server.

As I have worked with a number of PHP frameworks, none really met my needs so I started using Python frameworks roughly two years ago. For this CMS, I debated using Pylons or Django and ended up choosing Django. Since both can be run behind WSGI compliant servers, we’ve opened ourselves up to a number of potential solutions. Since we are running Varnish in front of our Origin server, we can run Apache2 with mod_wsgi, but, we’re not limited to that configuration. At this point, we have a relatively generic configuration the CMS can run on, but, there are many other places we can adapt the configuration for our preferences.

Some of the potential caveats:
* With Varnish or Akamai as a frontend, we need to pay closer attention to X-Forwarded-For:
* Web logs won’t exist because Varnish is serving and assembling the pages (There is a trick using ESI that could be employed if logging was critical)
* ESI processed pages with Varnish are not compressed. This is on their wishlist.

* Content can exist in multiple categories or tags
* Flexible URL mapping
* Plugin architecture for Blocks and Elements
* Content will maintain revisions and by default allow comments and threaded comments

* Template – the graphical layout of the page with minimal CMS markup
* Element – the graphical template that is used to render a Block
* Block – a module that generates the data rendered by an Element
* Page – a Page determined by a Title, Slug and elements
* Content – The actual data that rendered by a block

* Flexible enough to handle something as simple as a personal blog, but, also capable of powering a highly trafficed site.
* Data storage of common elements to handle publishing of content and comments with the ability to store information to allow threaded comments. This would allow the CMS to handle a blog application, a CMS, or, a forum.
* A method to store ancillary data in a model so that upgrades to the existing database model will not affect developed plugins.
* Block system to allow prepackaged css/templating while allowing local replacement without affecting the default package.
* Upgrades through pypy or easy_install.
* Ability to add CDN/ESI without needing to modify templates. The system will run without needing to be behind Varnish, but, its full power won’t be realized without Varnish or Akamai in front of the origin server.
* Seamless integration of affiliate referral tracking and conversion statistics

At this point, the question in my mind was whether or not to start with an existing project and adapt it or start from scratch. At this point, the closest Django CMS I could find was Django-Blocks and I do intend to look it over fairly closely, but, a cursory look showed the authors were taking it in a slightly different direction than I anticipated. I’ll certainly look through the code again, but, the way I’ve envisioned this, I think there are some fundamental points that clash.

As I already have much of the database model written for an older PHP CMS that I wrote, I’m addressing some of the shortcomings I ran across with that design and modifying the models to be a little more generic. While I am sure there are proprietary products that currently utilize ESI, I believe my approach is unique and flexible enough to power everything from a blog to a site or forums or even a classified ads site.

Why do you use an Object Relational Mapping (ORM) System in Development?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Here’s a programmer that is saying goodbye to ORMs at Hatful of Hollow.

And another site offering a tutorial of sorts dealing with ORMs Why should you use an ORM.

While both have their points, both have missed a fundamental benefit that an ORM hands you.

Most of my development is in Pylons. Django’s ORM and template language can do the same thing. A programmer that has used PHP/Smarty to develop large scale systems will likely resist ORMs. After working with a team to develop 90k+ lines of PHP/Smarty over a six year period, making the shift required a paradigm shift.

Let’s consider the following structure. We have a cp_ticket table and a cp_ticket_detail table. A Ticket can have multiple detail records. The output we wish to have is:

ticket id, ticket header information
         ticket detail line
         ticket detail line #2
ticket id, ticket header information
         ticket detail line
         ticket detail line #2
         ticket detail line #3
ticket id, ticket header information
         ticket detail line
         ticket detail line #2

Our model:

class cp_ticket(DeclarativeBase):
    __tablename__ = 'cp_ticket'

    ticket_id = Column(mysql.MSBigInteger(20, unsigned = True), primary_key=True, autoincrement = True)
    priority = Column(mysql.MSEnum('1','2','3','4','5'), default = '3')

    ticket_detail = relation('cp_ticket_detail', order_by='cp_ticket_detail.ticket_detail_id')

class cp_ticket_detail(DeclarativeBase):
    __tablename__ = 'cp_ticket_detail'

    ticket_id = Column(mysql.MSBigInteger(20, unsigned = True), ForeignKey('cp_ticket.ticket_id'), default = '0')
    ticket_detail_id = Column(mysql.MSBigInteger(20, unsigned = True), primary_key=True, autoincrement = True)
    stamp = Column(mysql.MSTimeStamp, PassiveDefault('CURRENT_TIMESTAMP'))
    detail = Column(mysql.MSLongText, default = '')

Our query to pass to our template:

        tickets = meta.Session.query(cp_ticket).filter(cp_ticket.client_id==1).all()

Compared with the query as you would write it without an ORM:

select * from cp_ticket,cp_ticket_detail where client_id=1 and cp_ticket.ticket_id=cp_ticket_detail.ticket_id;

Both are doing the same fundamental thing, but, the ORM maps the results almost identical to the way we want to display the data. This makes template design easy.

Using Mako, we use the following code to display the results:

<table border="1">
 <tr><th>Ticket ID</th><th>Status</th><th>Detail</th></tr>
%for ticket in
  %for detail in ticket.ticket_detail:
  % endfor
% endfor

To do the same thing without using an ORM, you need to revert to a control break structure similar to the following:

for ticket in tickets:
  if (current_ticket != ticket.ticket_id):
    #new row, print the header
    print "<tr><td>first piece</td></tr>"
    current_ticket = ticket.ticket_id
  # print our detail row
  print "<tr><td></td><td>stamp and detail</td></tr>"

Control Break structures require you to be able to set a variable within your template language. Some template languages don’t allow that. If your template language (in any language) can’t do variable assignments in the template, guess where your html generation logic needs to go?

With an ORM, the template contains your display logic. Your webmaster/design team can modify the template without having to modify html contained within your code. The loops are simple to understand and designers usually have little problem avoiding the lines that start with %.

Sure, you could wrap much of this logic in your template to do the control-break structure, but, as you get more complex data, deciding how to display the data requires a define or some other functionality.

An ORM adds some insulation to the process, but, the result is a much easier page structure when displaying related data. Granted there are some performance hits and SQLAlchemy appears to create some queries that are not optimal, unless there is a tremendous performance hit, I think the benefits of the ORM for developing a web application are tremendous.

Once you move into an environment where you are dealing with multiple developers, having a defined schema with comments is much easier than using reflection to figure out what the meaning of a status field as enum(‘U’,’A’,’P’,’C’,’R’,’S’).

However, as the original poster mentions, you can do raw SQL within SQLAlchemy and do all of your work with reflection as he has done with his ORM^H^H^H, abstraction. If he’s still using SQLAlchemy, he can selectively decide when to use it and when to avoid it.

Rapid Application Development using Turbogears and Django

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

For the last 14 months we’ve been developing an application to replace 90000 lines of PHP code. Rewriting the application from scratch to support I18N and many of the enhancements it needed was deemed to be a better long term solution.

When that project was first started, I spent a month with Django and a month with Turbogears writing the same test application so that I could compare the development cycle. Both have matured and I needed to do a rapid turnaround on another project. I decided to give Django another look since it had hit version 1.0 and had added quite a few features that were missing in my preliminary evaluation. What follows is a discussion of the major points from both of the frameworks.

Turbogears has excellent form handling. Except for the Forms Wizard in Django, working with forms is much easier in Turbogears. Validation of the form and the resulting database update methods are much cleaner in Turbogears. Django, while slightly more complex in handling form input, does handle things with a single function which might enhance readability in a large project.

Database handling through SQL Alchemy in Turbogears is much better than the database methods in Django. Yes, you can use SQL Alchemy in Django now, but, their default ORM has plenty of room for improvement.

Turbogears is true MVC. Their terminology and methods are true to the paradigm set forth by Smalltalk. Django is MVC, but they call it MTV, Model, Template, View. The differences are slight and the developers of both have made good decisions. Adapting to either project’s methods is quick and not a hindrance.

Django’s definitely wins with Authentication/Authorization. Methods to handle registration, user creation, login and forgotten passwords are built in and wrapped with very nice templates that can be overridden. For Turbogears, repoze.who and repoze.what have been pulled from Plone and put into place. While Turbogears works with repoze, the decisions made and the lack of full support behind it make it difficult to implement.

Django feels faster. Comparing 14 months of development in Turbogears on an application to an application written in Django this week, the template engine, database access and pageload time seemed faster. Django is a lighter weight framework and you are closer to the data. Turbogears puts a little more insulation in which makes some coding easier at the expense of performance.

Maintainability of code would have to go to Turbogears. IBM once stated that the maximum number of bugfree lines of code that could be written was 23. With Turbogears, much of the heavy lifting is handled by widgets and decorators and your model resulting in a smaller codebase. Django requires more code to do the same task unless you utilize some of the snippets. Turbogears makes certain assumptions and has wrapped many of the libraries that make development easy in the default installation. Django’s default installation lacks those decisions, but, you are not prevented from establishing your own middleware. If you were developing a number of Django projects, you would pick and choose snippets that would replicate the decisions that Turbogears has already made.

URL Mapping is much easier to implement with Django. While routes support in Turbogears is present, Django’s regexp mapping is much easier to manipulate.

Community, hands down, Django wins. With a much larger installed base, bugs are found and fixed much more quickly. While Turbogears was founded on loftier principles, execution and follow through are lacking. Development is done when it is needed by a client project in the core group of developers. There is a definite air of condescension when the project developers handle questions from potential developers. With Django, there are people of all experience levels willing to help on, IRC, and thorough documentation that far exceeds most of the open source documentation out there.

Documentation, again, Django. Well organized, well thought out and well documented examples on Django’s part show dedication to having a framework that is well understood and well used. Turbogears recently moved to Sphinx, but, documentation generated from poorly documented code still means poor documentation. The tutorials and examples have been improving, but, they have a long way to go.

Genshi and Mako are supported fairly well with Turbogears and are both very good engines. Jinja is also supported which is a bit faster than Genshi and is powerful and very easy to work with. Django’s template language is also very flexible, powerful and easy to work with. Django had some definite advantages with a simpler language, but, neither Django or Turbogears stood out as a clear winner.

If you were looking to write an extremely heavy database or form involved site, I think Turbogears would be a good solution. If you choose Turbogears, be prepared to delve into the code when you are faced with problems. Bugs are not dealt with very promptly even though upgrades are pushed out. Be prepared to patch upgraded packages or hold certain packages once you move into production.

On the other hand, if you are writing a less complicated application, Django would be a good choice.

All told, the application developed this week in Django took about 12 hours and had I been working with Django for the last 14 months, I would estimate the project to have taken roughly 8 hours. Developed in Turbogears, I probably could have written it in 6 hours. PHP, to mimic all of the functionality would have taken 14-16 hours even using one of the numerous frameworks.

There is a definite advantage to using a framework and Python frameworks do appear to offer Rapid Application Development even over most of the PHP frameworks. For me, new development will probably be done in Django unless there is a strong case to use Turbogears.

* Turbogears 2.0
* Django
* Django Snippets

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