Deploying Python Applications

This post started out as details of some Django work I’ve been doing lately. But it turned out that I needed to talk about zc.buildout first, so Django will have to wait.

Lately I’ve been working on an application for work that’s using CherryPy. Why not Django, you ask (since I was going to be writing about Django…)? The first reason is that we already have code in production using CherryPy, and fewer dependencies is better. More importantly, the application I’m working with does minimal database access and has no need for what I perceive to be Django’s killer feature — dead easy administrative interfaces.

As I started building this application, I was faced with what (for me) is a common question: how do I get code from my development laptop to the server with a minimal amount of fuss? How do I actually deploy this application in a way that’s manageable in the long term?

The basic answer to this, the one that gets me by 80% of the time, is Subversion. You check the code in, you check the code out. But what about dependencies? I guess there are eggs, which are supposed to help with that. What about scripts? setuptools has some support for generating those. What about Python paths? Sigh.

It turns out that a tool originating in the Zope world, zc.buildout, provides a really attractive story for deploying Python applications. zc.buildout is a project developed by Jim Fulton of Zope Corp that “provides tools for assembling applications from multiple parts, Python or otherwise.” At its core is a text file that describes that parts that makes up the application, and the recipe each part uses to perform its actual action. Some basic recipes, like running tests or installing an egg (dependencies and all) are made available via the Cheeseshop, and creating your own is straightforward.

So if I truly believe that fewer dependencies is better (as I stated above), you might wonder how I can be advocating for a tool that is itself a dependency, and requires yet another (setuptools). I suppose I should have qualified my earlier comment: fewer dependencies that I have to think about is better. In my opinion, the best thing about zc.buildout is the fact that it relieves me from having to think about dependencies. Here’s how it works.

I include two additional files in Subversion with my project, buildout.cfg and buildout.cfg defines the buildout process for my project, which in this case just involves installing a single egg. is magic. allows me to start with a stock Python installation (no setuptools, zc.buildout or other dependencies), run bootstrap, and end up with a functioning zc.buildout system. By default it creates an eggs sub-directory, which it places the eggs for setuptools and zc.buildout in. It also creates a bin sub-directory that contains a new script, buildout. Running that script parses my buildout.cfg and installs the parts I requested.

As part of the my project’s script, I use setuptools entry points to specify that I have a script I want to make available. In this case the script just runs a simple web server, which makes testing easy. The script is specified as a dotted Python path and a callable, separated by a colon. For example, my.package:main.

zc.buildout improves on this experience by reading the script information during the buildout process and creating wrappers in the bin subdirectory it created earlier. Those wrappers are interesting because zc.buildout bakes in the eggs that my code depends on. This may be a bit of a yawn if you have a box with just one web app on it. But at Creative Commons where we have several different web apps, all with slightly different sets of dependencies, and a couple with Python version dependencies, this makes a world of difference. No more writing wrapper scripts, no more installing dependencies into site-packages. Two commands (bootstrap, then buildout) and you’re up and going.

I haven’t played with custom recipes yet, but even with simple tasks like this, zc.buildout is a great tool. Thanks, Jim! Tomorrow: zc.buildout, Django, eggs and you.

date:2006-11-07 16:50:41