Arduino-Powered Webcam Mount    Posted:

Earlier this month, I completed yet another journey around the biggest star in our galaxy. Some of my beloved family members thought this would be a good occasion to send me some cash, and I also got a gift card for being plain awesome at work. Even though we really do need a bigger car and whatnot, my wife insisted that I only spend this money on myself and whatever I wanted.

Little did she know the can of worms she just opened up.

I took pretty much all of the money and blew it on stuff for my electronics projects. Up to this point, my projects have all been pretty boring simply because nothing ever moved--it was mostly just lights turning on and off or changing colors. Sure, that's fun, but things really start to get interesting when you actually interact with the physical world. With the birthday money, I was finally able to buy a bunch of servos to begin living out my childhood dream of building robots.

My first project since getting all of my new toys was a motorized webcam mount. My parents bought me a Logitech C910 for my birthday because they were tired of trying to see their grandchildren with the crappy webcam that is built into my laptop. It was a perfect opportunity to use SparkFun's tutorial for some facial tracking (thanks to OpenCV) using their Pan/Tilt Servo Bracket.

It took a little while to get everything setup properly, but SparkFun's tutorial explains perfectly how you can get everything setup if you want to repeat this project.

The problem I had with the SparkFun tutorial, though, is that it basically only gives you a standalone program that does the facial tracking and displays your webcam feed. What good is that? I actually wanted to use this rig to chat with people!! That's when I set out to figure out how to do this.

While the Processing sketch ran absolutely perfect on Windows, it didn't want to work on my Arch Linux system due to some missing dependencies that I didn't know how/care to satisfy. As such, I opted to rewrite the sketch using Python so I could do the facial tracking in Linux.

This is still a work in progress, but here's the current facial tracking program which tells the Arduino where the webcam should be pointing, along with the Arduino sketch.

Now that I could track a face and move my webcam in Linux, I still faced the same problem as before: how can I use my face-tracking, webcam-moving program during a chat with my mom? I had no idea how to accomplish this. I figured I would have to either intercept the webcam feed as it was going to Skype or the Google Talk Plugin, or I'd have to somehow consume the webcam feed and proxy it back out as a V4L2 device that the Google Talk Plugin could then use.

Trying to come up with a way of doing that seemed rather impossible (at least in straight Python), but I eventually stumbled upon a couple little gems.

So the GStreamer tutorial walks you step-by-step through different ways of using a gst-launch utility, and I found this information very useful. I learned that you can use tee to split a webcam feed and do two different things with it. I wondered if it would be possible to split one webcam feed and send it to two other V4L2 devices.

Enter v4l2loopback.

I was able to install this module from Arch's AUR, and using it was super easy (you should be root for this):

modprobe v4l2loopback devices=2

This created two new /dev/video* devices on my system, which happened to be /dev/video4 and /dev/video5 (yeah... been playing with a lot of webcams and whatnot). One device, video4, is for consumption by my face-tracking program. The other, video5, is for VLC, Skype, Google+ Hangouts, etc. After creating those devices, I simply ran the following command as a regular user:

gst-launch-0.10 v4l2src device=/dev/video1 ! \
    'video/x-raw-yuv,width=640,height=480,framerate=30/1' ! \
    tee name=t_vid ! queue ! \
    v4l2sink sync=false device=/dev/video4 t_vid. ! \
    queue ! videorate ! 'video/x-raw-yuv,framerate=30/1' ! \
    v4l2sink device=/dev/video5

There's a whole lot of stuff going on in that command that I honestly do not understand. All I know is that it made it so both my face-tracking Python program AND VLC can consume the same video feed via two different V4L2 devices! A co-worker of mine agreed to have a quick Google+ Hangout with me to test this setup under "real" circumstances (thx man). It worked :D Objective reached!

I had really hoped to find a way to handle this stuff inside Python, but I have to admit that this is a pretty slick setup. A lot of things are still hardcoded, but I do plan on making things a little more generic soon enough.

So here's my little rig (why yes, I did mount it on top of an old Kool-Aid powder thingy lid):

And a video of it in action. Please excuse the subject of the webcam video, I'm not sure where that guy came from or why he's playing with my webcam.


Auto-Generating Documentation Using Mercurial, ReST, and Sphinx    Posted:

I often find myself taking notes about various aspects of my job that I feel I would forget as soon as I moved onto another project. I've gotten into the habit of taking my notes using reStructured Text, which shouldn't come as any surprise to any of my regular visitors. On several occasions, I had some of the other guys in the company ask me for some clarification on some things I had taken notes on. Lucky for me, I had taken some nice notes!

However, these individuals probably wouldn't appreciate reading ReST markup as much as I do, so I decided to do something nice for them. I setup Sphinx to prettify my documentation. I then wrote a small Web server using Python, so people within the company network could access the latest version of my notes without much hassle.

Just like I take notes to remind myself of stuff at work, I want to do that again for this automated ReST->HTML magic--I want to be able to do this in the future! I figured I would make my notes even more public this time, so you all can enjoy similar bliss.

Platform Dependence

I am writing this article with UNIX-like operating systems in mind. Please forgive me if you're a Windows user and some of this is not consistent with what you're seeing. Perhaps one day I'll try to set this sort of thing up on Windows.

Installing Sphinx

The first step that we want to take is installing Sphinx. This is the project that Python itself uses to generate its online documentation. It's pretty dang awesome. Feel free to skip this section if you have already installed Sphinx.

Depending on your environment of choice, you may or may not have a package manager that offers python-sphinx or something along those lines. I personally prefer to install it using pip or easy_install:

$ sudo pip install sphinx

Running that command will likely respond with a bunch of output about downloading Sphinx and various dependencies. When I ran it in my sandbox VM, I saw it install the following packages:

  • pygments
  • jinja2
  • docutils
  • sphinx

It should be a pretty speedy installation.

Installing Mercurial

We'll be using Mercurial to keep track of changes to our ReST documentation. Mercurial is a distributed version control system that is built using Python. It's wonderful! Just like with Sphinx, if you have already installed Mercurial, feel free to skip to the next section.

I personally prefer to install Mercurial using pip or easy_install--it's usually more up-to-date than what you would have in your package repositories. To do that, simply run a command such as the following:

$ sudo pip install mercurial

This will go out and download and install the latest stable Mercurial. You may need python-dev or something like that for your platform in order for that command to work. However, if you're on Windows, I highly recommend TortoiseHg. The installer for TortoiseHg will install a graphical Mercurial client along with the command line tools.

Create A Repository

Now let's create a brand new Mercurial repository to house our notes/documentation. Open a terminal/console/command prompt to the location of your choice on your computer and execute the following commands:

$ hg init mydox
$ cd mydox

Configure Sphinx

The next step is to configure Sphinx for our project. Sphinx makes this very simple:

$ sphinx-quickstart

This is a wizard that will walk you through the configuration process for your project. It's pretty safe to accept the defaults, in my opinion. Here's the output of my wizard:

$ sphinx-quickstart
Welcome to the Sphinx quickstart utility.

Please enter values for the following settings (just press Enter to
accept a default value, if one is given in brackets).

Enter the root path for documentation.
> Root path for the documentation [.]:

You have two options for placing the build directory for Sphinx output.
Either, you use a directory "_build" within the root path, or you separate
"source" and "build" directories within the root path.
> Separate source and build directories (y/N) [n]: y

Inside the root directory, two more directories will be created; "_templates"
for custom HTML templates and "_static" for custom stylesheets and other static
files. You can enter another prefix (such as ".") to replace the underscore.
> Name prefix for templates and static dir [_]:

The project name will occur in several places in the built documentation.
> Project name: My Dox
> Author name(s): Josh VanderLinden

Sphinx has the notion of a "version" and a "release" for the
software. Each version can have multiple releases. For example, for
Python the version is something like 2.5 or 3.0, while the release is
something like 2.5.1 or 3.0a1.  If you don't need this dual structure,
just set both to the same value.
> Project version: 0.0.1
> Project release [0.0.1]:

The file name suffix for source files. Commonly, this is either ".txt"
or ".rst".  Only files with this suffix are considered documents.
> Source file suffix [.rst]:

One document is special in that it is considered the top node of the
"contents tree", that is, it is the root of the hierarchical structure
of the documents. Normally, this is "index", but if your "index"
document is a custom template, you can also set this to another filename.
> Name of your master document (without suffix) [index]:

Please indicate if you want to use one of the following Sphinx extensions:
> autodoc: automatically insert docstrings from modules (y/N) [n]:
> doctest: automatically test code snippets in doctest blocks (y/N) [n]:
> intersphinx: link between Sphinx documentation of different projects (y/N) [n]:
> todo: write "todo" entries that can be shown or hidden on build (y/N) [n]:
> coverage: checks for documentation coverage (y/N) [n]:
> pngmath: include math, rendered as PNG images (y/N) [n]:
> jsmath: include math, rendered in the browser by JSMath (y/N) [n]:
> ifconfig: conditional inclusion of content based on config values (y/N) [n]:

A Makefile and a Windows command file can be generated for you so that you
only have to run e.g. `make html' instead of invoking sphinx-build
> Create Makefile? (Y/n) [y]:
> Create Windows command file? (Y/n) [y]: n

Finished: An initial directory structure has been created.

You should now populate your master file ./source/index.rst and create other documentation
source files. Use the Makefile to build the docs, like so:
   make builder
where "builder" is one of the supported builders, e.g. html, latex or linkcheck.

If you followed the same steps I did (I separated the source and build directories), you should see three new files in your mydox repository:

  • build/
  • Makefile
  • source/

We'll do our work in the source directory.

Get Some ReST

Now is the time when we start writing some ReST that we want to turn into HTML using Sphinx. Open some file, like first_doc.rst and put some ReST in it. If nothing comes to mind, or you're not familiar with ReST syntax, try the following:

This Is My First Document

Yes, this is my first document.  It's lame.  Deal with it.

Save the file (keep in mind that it should be within the source directory if you used the same settings I did). Now it's time to add it to the list of files that Mercurial will pay attention to. While we're at it, let's add the other files that were created by the Sphinx configuration wizard:

$ hg add
adding ../Makefile
adding first_doc.rst
adding index.rst
$ hg st
A Makefile
A source/
A source/
A source/index.rst

Don't worry that we don't see all of the directories in the output of hg st--Mercurial tracks files, not directories.

Automate HTML-ization

Here comes the magic in automating the conversion from ReST to HTML: Mercurial hooks. We will use the precommit hook to fire off a command that tells Sphinx to translate our ReST markup into HTML.

Edit your mydox/.hg/hgrc file. If the file does not yet exist, go ahead and create it. Add the following content to it:

precommit.sphinxify = ~/bin/

I've opted to call a Bash script instead of using an inline Python call. Now let's create the Bash script, ~/bin/

cd $HOME/mydox
sphinx-build source/ docs/

Notice that I used the $HOME environment variable. This means that I created the mydox directory at /home/myusername/mydox. Adjust that line according to your setup. You'll probably also want to make that script executable:

$ chmod +x ~/bin/

Three, Two, One...

You should now be at a stage where you can safely commit changes to your repository and have Sphinx build your HTML documentation. Execute the following command somewhere under your mydox repository:

$ hg ci -m "Initial commit"

If your setup is anything like mine, you should see some output similar to this:

$ hg ci -m "Initial commit"
Making output directory...
Running Sphinx v0.6.4
No builder selected, using default: html
loading pickled environment... not found
building [html]: targets for 2 source files that are out of date
updating environment: 2 added, 0 changed, 0 removed
reading sources... [100%] index
looking for now-outdated files... none found
pickling environment... done
checking consistency... /home/jvanderlinden/mydox/source/first_doc.rst:: WARNING: document isn't included in any toctree
preparing documents... done
writing output... [100%] index
writing additional files... genindex search
copying static files... done
dumping search index... done
dumping object inventory... done
build succeeded, 1 warning.
$ hg st
? docs/.buildinfo
? docs/.doctrees/environment.pickle
? docs/.doctrees/first_doc.doctree
? docs/.doctrees/index.doctree
? docs/_sources/first_doc.txt
? docs/_sources/index.txt
? docs/_static/basic.css
? docs/_static/default.css
? docs/_static/doctools.js
? docs/_static/file.png
? docs/_static/jquery.js
? docs/_static/minus.png
? docs/_static/plus.png
? docs/_static/pygments.css
? docs/_static/searchtools.js
? docs/first_doc.html
? docs/genindex.html
? docs/index.html
? docs/objects.inv
? docs/search.html
? docs/searchindex.js

If you see something like that, you're in good shape. Go ahead and take a look at your new mydox/docs/index.html file in the Web browser of your choosing.

Not very exciting, is it? Notice how your first_doc.rst doesn't appear anywhere on that page? That's because we didn't tell Sphinx to put it there. Let's do that now.

Customizing Things

Edit the mydox/source/index.rst file that was created during Sphinx configuration. In the section that starts with .. toctree::, let's tell Sphinx to include everything we ReST-ify:

.. toctree::
   :maxdepth: 2


That should do it. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't really want to include the output HTML, images, CSS, JS, or anything in my documentation repository. It would just take up more space each time we change an .rst file. Let's tell Mercurial to not pay attention to the output HTML--it'll just be static and always up-to-date on our filesystem.

Create a new file called mydox/.hgignore. In this file, put the following content:

syntax: glob

Save the file, and you should now see something like the following when running hg st:

$ hg st
M source/index.rst
? .hgignore

Let's include the .hgignore file in the list of files that Mercurial will track:

$ hg add .hgignore
$ hg st
M source/index.rst
A .hgignore

Finally, let's commit one more time:

$ hg ci -m "Updating the index to include our .rst files"
Running Sphinx v0.6.4
No builder selected, using default: html
loading pickled environment... done
building [html]: targets for 1 source files that are out of date
updating environment: 0 added, 1 changed, 0 removed
reading sources... [100%] index
looking for now-outdated files... none found
pickling environment... done
checking consistency... done
preparing documents... done
writing output... [100%] index
writing additional files... genindex search
copying static files... done
dumping search index... done
dumping object inventory... done
build succeeded.

Tada!! The first_doc.rst should now appear on the index page.

Serving Your Documentation

Who seriously wants to have HTML files that are hard to get to? How can we make it easier to access those HTML files? Perhaps we can create a simple static file Web server? That might sound difficult, but it's really not--not when you have access to Python!

#!/usr/bin/env python
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

from BaseHTTPServer import HTTPServer
from SimpleHTTPServer import SimpleHTTPRequestHandler

def main():
        server = HTTPServer(('', 80), SimpleHTTPRequestHandler)
    except KeyboardInterrupt:

if __name__ == '__main__':

I created this simple script and put it in my ~/bin/ directory, also making it executable. Once that's done, you can navigate to your mydox/docs/ directory and run the script. Since I called the script, I just do this:

$ cd ~/mydox/docs
$ sudo

This makes it possible for you to visit http://localhost/ on your own computer, or to use your computer's IP in place of localhost to access your documentation from a different computer on your network. Pretty slick, if you ask me.

I suppose there's more I could add, but that's all I have time for tonight. Enjoy!


Using Django to Design Your Database Schema    Posted:

Last night I had a buddy of mine ask me how I would approach a particular database design problem. I get similar questions quite often from my peers--suggests there is something important lacking from the database classes out there. Instead of answering him directly, I decided to come up with this tutorial for using Django to design your database schema.

For those of you new to Django, this article might seem a bit advanced. In time I will have more introductory-level Django tutorials, but I hope this one is easy enough.

Create a Django Project

The first step is to create a Django project. If you already have a project that you can play with, you can skip this step. To create a project, go to a place where you want to keep your code (like C:\projects or /home/me/projects) in a command prompt/terminal and run the following command: startproject myproject

This will create a new directory in your current location called myproject (you can replace myproject with whatever you'd like so long as you're consistent). This new directory will contain a few files:


If you get an error message when running the above command, you might not have Django installed properly. See Step-by-Step: Installing Django for details on installing Django.

Create An Application

Once you have a Django project setup, you should create a new application.

Note: If you're using Windows, you will probably need to omit the ./ on the ./ commands. I will include them here for everyone else who's using Linux or a Mac.

cd myproject
./ startapp specialapp

This will create a new directory in your myproject directory. This new directory will contain three files:,, and We are only concerned with the file in this article.

Create Your Models

Models are usually a direct representation of what your database will be. Django makes creating these models extremely easy, and Python's syntax makes them quite readable. The Django framework asks for models to be defined in the file that was created in the last step. Here's an example (for my buddy who prompted the creation of this article):

 1 from django.db import models
 3 class Component(models.Model):
 4     item_number = models.CharField(max_length=20)
 5     name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
 6     size = models.CharField(max_length=10)
 7     quantity = models.IntegerField(default=1)
 8     price = models.DecimalField(max_digits=8, decimal_places=2)
10 class Project(models.Model):
11     name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
12     components = models.ManyToManyField(Component)
13     instructions = models.TextField()

(for more information about models, see the Django Model API Reference)

I don't know about you, but that code seems pretty straightforward to me. I'll spare you all the details about what's going on (that can be a future article).

Install Your New Application

Once you have your models setup, we need to add our specialapp to our list of INSTALLED_APPS in order for Django to register these models. To do that, open up in your myproject directory, go to the bottom of the file, until you see something like

2     'django.contrib.auth',
3     'django.contrib.contenttypes',
4     'django.contrib.sessions',
5     'django.contrib.sites',
6 )

When you find that, add your specialapp to the list

2     'django.contrib.auth',
3     'django.contrib.contenttypes',
4     'django.contrib.sessions',
5     'django.contrib.sites',
6     'specialapp'
7 )

Setup Your Database

Now you need to let Django know what kind of database you're using. Django currently supports MySQL, SQLite3, PostgreSQL, and Oracle natively, but you can get third-party tools that allow you to use other database (like SQL Server).

Still in your, go to the top until you see DATABASE_ENGINE and DATABASE_NAME. Set that to whatever type of database you are using:

1 DATABASE_ENGINE = 'sqlite3'
2 DATABASE_NAME = 'myproject.db'

Save your and go back to your command prompt/terminal.

Get Django's Opinion For Your Schema

Make sure you're in your myproject directory and run the following command:

./ sqlall specialapp

This command will examine the models that we created previously and will generate the appropriate SQL to create the tables for your particular database. For SQLite, we get something like this for output:

 2 CREATE TABLE "specialapp_component" (
 3       "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
 4       "item_number" varchar(20) NOT NULL,
 5       "name" varchar(50) NOT NULL,
 6       "size" varchar(10) NOT NULL,
 7       "quantity" integer NOT NULL,
 8       "price" decimal NOT NULL
 9 )
10 ;
11 CREATE TABLE "specialapp_project" (
12       "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
13       "name" varchar(50) NOT NULL,
14       "instructions" text NOT NULL
15 )
16 ;
17 CREATE TABLE "specialapp_project_components" (
18       "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
19       "project_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "specialapp_project" ("id"),
20       "component_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "specialapp_component" ("id"),
21       UNIQUE ("project_id", "component_id")
22 )
23 ;

Notice how Django does all sorts of nifty things, like wrapping the table creation queries in a transaction, setting up indexes, unique keys, and defining relationships between tables. The output also offers a solution to the original problem my buddy had: an intermediate table that just keeps track of relationships between projects and components (the specialapp_project_components table).

Notice that the SQL above may not work with database servers other than SQLite.

Enhancing The Intermediate Table

After my buddy reviewed this article, he asked a very interesting and valid question: What if a project needs 3 of one component? In response, I offer the following models (this requires a modern version of Django--it doesn't work on Django 0.96.1 or earlier):

 1 from django.db import models
 3 class Component(models.Model):
 4     item_number = models.CharField(max_length=20)
 5     name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
 6     size = models.CharField(max_length=10)
 7     quantity = models.IntegerField(default=1)
 8     price = models.DecimalField(max_digits=8, decimal_places=2)
10 class Project(models.Model):
11     name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
12     components = models.ManyToManyField(Component, through='ProjectComponent')
13     instructions = models.TextField()
15 class ProjectComponent(models.Model):
16     project = models.ForeignKey(Project)
17     component = models.ForeignKey(Component)
18     quantity = models.PositiveIntegerField()
20     class Meta:
21         unique_together = ['project', 'component']

Running ./ sqlall specialapp now generates the following SQL:

 2 CREATE TABLE "specialapp_component" (
 3     "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
 4     "item_number" varchar(20) NOT NULL,
 5     "name" varchar(50) NOT NULL,
 6     "size" varchar(10) NOT NULL,
 7     "quantity" integer NOT NULL,
 8     "price" decimal NOT NULL
 9 )
10 ;
11 CREATE TABLE "specialapp_project" (
12     "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
13     "name" varchar(50) NOT NULL,
14     "instructions" text NOT NULL
15 )
16 ;
17 CREATE TABLE "specialapp_projectcomponent" (
18     "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
19     "project_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "specialapp_project" ("id"),
20     "component_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "specialapp_component" ("id"),
21     "quantity" integer unsigned NOT NULL,
22     UNIQUE ("project_id", "component_id")
23 )
24 ;
25 CREATE INDEX "specialapp_projectcomponent_project_id" ON "specialapp_projectcomponent" ("project_id");
26 CREATE INDEX "specialapp_projectcomponent_component_id" ON "specialapp_projectcomponent" ("component_id");

As you can see, most of the SQL is the same. The main difference is that the specialapp_project_components table has become specialapp_projectcomponent and it now has a quantity column. This can be used to keep track of the quantity of each component that a project requires. You can add however many fields you want to this new intermediate table's model.

Using This SQL

There are several ways you can use the SQL generated by Django. If you want to make your life really easy, you can have Django create the tables for you directly. Assuming that you have specified all of the appropriate database information in your file, you can simply run the following command:

./ syncdb

This will execute the queries generated earlier directly on your database, creating the tables (if they don't already exist). Please note that this command currently will not update your schema if the table exists but is missing a column or two. You must either do that manually or drop the table in question and then execute the syncdb command.

Another option, if you want to keep your DDL(Data Definition Language) in a separate script (maybe if you want to keep it in some sort of version control) is something like:

./ sqlall specialapp > specialapp-ddl-080813.sql

This just puts the output of the sqlall command into a file called specialapp-ddl-080813.sql for later use.

Benefits of Using Django To Create Your Schema

  • Simple: I personally find the syntax of Django models to be very simple and direct. There is a comprehensive API that explains and demonstrates what Django models are capable of.
  • Fast: Being that the syntax is so simple, I find that it makes designing and defining your schema much faster than trying to do it with raw SQL or using a database administration GUI.
  • Understandable: Looking at the model code in Django is not nearly as intimidating as similar solutions in other frameworks (think about Java Persistence API models).
  • Intelligent: Using the same model code, Django can generate proper Data Definition Language SQL for several popular database servers. It handles indexes, keys, relationships, transactions, etc. and can tell the difference between server types.

Downfalls of Using Django To Create Your Schema

  • The Table Prefix: Notice how all of the tables in the SQL above were prefixed with specialapp_. That's Django's safe way of making sure models from different applications in the same Django project do not interfere with each other. However, if you don't plan on using Django for your end project, the prefix could be a major annoyance. There are a couple solutions:
    • A simple "search and replace" before executing the SQL in your database
    • Define the db_table option in your models
  • Another Technology: Django (or even Python) may or may not be in your organization's current development stack. If it's not, using the methods described in this article would just become one more thing to support.

Other Thoughts

I first thought about doing the things mentioned in this application when I was working on a personal Java application. I like to use JPA when developing database-backed applications in Java because it abstracts away a lot of the database operations. However, I don't like coming up with the model classes directly, so I usually reverse engineer them from existing database tables.

Before thinking about the things discussed in this article, I created the tables by hand, making several modifications to the schema before I was satisfied with my JPA models. This proved to be quite bothersome and time-consuming.

After using Django to develop my tables, the JPA models turned out to be a lot more reliable, and they were usually designed properly from the get-go. I haven't created tables manually ever since.

If you find yourself designing database schemas often, and you find that you have to make several changes to your tables before you/the project requirements are satisfied, you might consider using Django to do the grunt work. It's worked for me, and I'm sure it will work for you too.

Good luck!


Step-by-Step: Installing Django    Posted:

Being the Django and Python zealot that I am, I often find myself trying to convert those around me to this awesome development paradigm. Once I break them, these people often ask me a lot of questions about Django. Over the past few months I've noticed that one of the biggest sticking points for people who are new to Django is actually getting it up and running to begin with. In response, this is the first in a series of articles dedicated to getting Django up and running.

What is Django?

The Django Web site describes Django as "a high-level Python Web framework that encourages rapid development and clean, pragmatic design." Basically, Django is just about the most amazing thing for Web development. I have tinkered with several different Web technologies, but nothing seems to even come close to what Django can do for me.

What is Python?

Python is a programming language used in numerous aspects of computing these days. It has a very simple yet powerful syntax. It's an easy language for beginners to pick up, but it provides adequate levels of power for the more experienced developers out there. If you have never programmed anything before, or you have dabbled with something like BASIC, Python should be fairly straightforward. If you are a programming veteran, but have only worked with languages like C, C++, Java, etc, you might struggle a bit with the syntax of the language. It's not difficult to overcome the differences in a couple hours of hands-on development.

Let's get started.

Installing Python...

Having Python installed is critical--Django does not work without Python. I'm guessing that you're relatively familiar with the procedures for installing software packages on your particular operating system. However, I will share a few notes to point you in the proper direction if you're lost. If nothing else, just head over to the Python download page to download anything you need to install Python. I whole-heartedly recommend using the latest stable version of Python for Django, but you should be able to get by with as early a version as 2.3.

...On Windows

Simply grab the latest version of the Python installer. It is currently version 2.5.2. Once the installer has downloaded successfully, just run through the installation wizard like any other setup program.

...On Mac OS X

Recent Mac OS X computers come with Python pre-installed. To determine whether or not you actually have it, launch the Terminal (Applications > Utilities > Terminal) and type python -c "import sys; print sys.version". If Python is already installed, you will see the version you have installed. If you have a version that is less than 2.3, you should download the newest version. If you don't have Python installed, you will get a "command not found" error. If you're in this boat, just download the latest version of the Python Universal installer and install it.

...On Linux

Most Linux distributions also have Python pre-installed. Just like with Mac OS X, you can check to see by opening up a terminal/konsole session and running the command python -c "import sys; print sys.version". If you have Python installed, you will see its version. If you get an error message when running that command, or you have a version earlier than 2.3, you need to download and install the latest version of Python.

If you're running a Debian-based distribution (like Ubuntu, sidux, MEPIS, KNOPPIX, etc), you can probably use sudo apt-get install python to get Python. If you're running an RPM-based Distribution, you can probably use something like Yum or YaST to install Python.

A sure-fire way to install Python on any Linux system, however, is to install from source. If you need to do this, you simply:

  1. download the source for the latest version of Python
  2. extract it: tar jxf Python-2.5.2.tar.bz2
  3. go into the newly-extracted directory: cd python-2.5.2
  4. configure it: ./configure
  5. compile it: make
  6. install it: make install

(I've only installed Python from source one time, so I might be wrong)

Setting Up Your PYTHONPATH...

Generally speaking, if you didn't have Python installed before starting this tutorial, you will need to setup your PYTHONPATH environment variable. This is a variable that lets Python know where to find useful things (like Django).

...On Windows

  • Open up your System Properties (Win+Break or right click on "My Computer" on your desktop and select Properties)
  • Go to the "Advanced" tab
  • Click the "Environment Variables" button
  • If you have permission to change system variables, click the "New" button in the bottom pane. Otherwise, create the PYTHONPATH variable for your user account using the "New" button in the top (User variables for [username]) pane.
  • Set the variable name to PYTHONPATH
  • Set the variable value to C:\Python25\Lib\site-packages (replace C:\Python25\ with whatever it is on your system if needed)
  • Save it

You may also need to add the python executable to your PATH. If you can successfully run python from a command prompt window, you don't need to worry about it.

If you can't run python from a command prompt, follow the procedure above, but use the PATH variable instead of PYTHONPATH. PATH most likely already exists, so you just need to append/prepend the existing value with something like C:\Python25\ (again, this might need to change depending on where you installed Python)

...On Mac OS X

Your PYTHONPATH should already be setup for you.

...On Linux

Usually you just need to edit your ~/.bash_rc script to setup your PYTHONPATH environment variable. Go ahead and open that up in your preferred text editor and make sure there's something in it like:

export PYTHONPATH=/usr/lib/python2.5/site-packages:$PYTHONPATH

Save any changes necessary and run the following command:

source ~/.bash_rc

This will take care of updating your current session with any changes you made to your ~/.bash_rc.

Installing Django

Once you have Python and have verified that you have version 2.3 or later, you are ready to install Django. Currently, the latest stable release is 0.96.1, but this is grossly out-dated. Django 1.0 will be released on September 2nd 2008, so the "unstable" copy of Django is pretty close to what 1.0 will have to offer. There are some incredibly useful improvements in the unstable version that I don't think I could do without anymore, so that's what I'll talk about installing here.

First, you need to have a subversion client. On Windows, the most popular one is called TortoiseSVN. On Mac OS X, I have played with a few, but I think Versions is a pretty decent one. Linux also has several to choose from, but if you're using Linux, you're probably going to use the command line anyway (right?).

For brevity, I will just use the subversion commands necessary to accomplish this task (instead of discussing all GUI interfaces to subversion).

The exact location that Django should be installed differs from system to system, but here are some guidelines for typical setups:

  • Windows: C:\Python25\Lib\site-packages
  • Linux: /usr/lib/python2.5/site-packages
  • Mac OS X: /Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.5/lib/python2.5/site-packages

If you want a definite location, run the following command:

python -c "from distutils.sysconfig import get_python_lib; print get_python_lib()"

Once you know that location, go there in your command prompt or terminal session. Then execute this command svn co django. You will see loads of output, showing all of the files that you are downloading as you install Django.

As soon as that process completes, you should run python -c "import django" to make sure everything worked properly. If the command doesn't display an ImportError, you're good. Otherwise, you need to try again.

Getting Access to Django Scripts...

Once you can successfully import django, you might want to make sure you can run the script that comes with Django.

...On Windows

This process is very similar to what we did with the PYTHONPATH environment variable earlier.

  • Open your System Properties again
  • Go to the Advanced tab
  • Click the Environment Variables button
  • Find your PATH environment variable (either for your user or system-wide)
  • Make sure that the variable value contains something like C:\Python25\Lib\site-packages\django\bin
  • Save any changes
  • Open a fresh command prompt
  • Try to run If you're successful, you're ready to get started with Django. Otherwise, you need to fix your path to django/bin or just call the script using an absolute path when needed.

...On Mac OS X

You can run a command similar to this:

sudo ln -s /Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.5/lib/python2.5/site-packages/django/bin/ /usr/local/bin

...On Linux

If you have "root" privileges on your Linux system, you can execute a command like:

sudo ln -s /usr/lib/python2.5/site-packages/django/bin/ /usr/local/bin

If you don't have "root" privileges, you can setup your own /usr/local/bin:

mkdir ~/bin

Make sure your ~/.bash_rc contains something like:

export PATH=$HOME/bin:$PATH

Then update your current session with any changes you made to ~/.bash_rc by running this command:

source ~/.bash_rc

And that should do it! Now you should be ready to get started with Django.

Feel free to leave a comment if you're having problems installing Django. Good luck!

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