Using PostgreSQL

Once you’ve deployed your code to a web server, you’ll be pretty stoked. I know I was. One thing you’ll need to start thinking about though is converting your SQLite database to a ‘real’ database. I say ‘real’ because SQLite is a great engine to start off with, but once you have more than 1 user, you’ll really need to have a database that can support concurrency, and can scale when you need it to.

Enter PostgreSQL. Django offers built-in database support for several different databases, but Postgres is the preferred engine.

We’ll take care of this in stages:

  1. Create the database
  2. Prep project for use of Postgres
    1. Install needed package
    2. Update to change to Postgres
    3. Run the migration locally
  3. Deploy updates to server
  4. Script it all out

Create the database

I’m going to assume that you already have Postgres installed locally. If you don’t, there are many good tutorials to walk you through it.

You’ll need three things to create a database in Postgres

  1. Database name
  2. Database user
  3. Database password for your user

For this example, I’ll be as generic as possible and choose the following:

  • Database name will be my_database
  • Database user will be my_database_user
  • Database password will be my_database_user_password

From our terminal we’ll run a couple of commands:

# This will open the Postgres Shell


# From the psql shell

CREATE DATABASE my_database;
CREATE USER my_database_user WITH PASSWORD 'my_database_user_password';
ALTER ROLE my_database_user SET client_encoding TO 'utf8';
ALTER ROLE my_database_user SET default_transaction_isolation TO 'read committed';
ALTER ROLE my_database_user SET timezone TO 'UTC'

The last 3 ALTER commands are based on Django recommendations for Postgres user.

One thing to note, before you go creating databases and users, you should make sure that they don’t already exist. The \l will list the various databases present. If this is your first time in the psql shell you’ll see three databases list:


To see a list of the users \du will display that. If this is your first time in the psql shell you’ll see one user listed:


OK … the database has been created. Next, we start updating our project to use this new database engine

Prep project for use of Postgres

Install Needed Package

The only python package needed to use Postgres is psycopg2-binary so we’ll

pip install psycopg2-binary


The DATABASES portion of the is set to use SQLite by default and will look (something) like this:

    'default': {
        'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.sqlite3',
        'NAME': 'mydatabase',

The Django documentation is really good on what changes need to be made. From the documentation we see that we need to update the DATABASES section to be something like this:

    'default': {
        'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.postgresql',
        'NAME': 'mydatabase',
        'USER': 'mydatabaseuser',
        'PASSWORD': 'mypassword',
        'HOST': '',
        'PORT': '5432',

With our database from above, ours will look like this:

    'default': {
        'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.postgresql',
        'NAME': 'my_database',
        'USER': 'my_database_user',
        'PASSWORD': 'my_database_user_password',
        'HOST': 'localhost',
        'PORT': '',

The HOST is changed to localhost and we remove the value for PORT

Once we get ready to push this to our web server we’ll want to replace the NAME, USER, and PASSWORD with environment variables, but we’ll get to that later

Run migrations

OK, we’ve got our database set up, we’ve got our settings updated to use the new database, now we can run set that database up.

All that we need to do is to:

python migrate

This will run any migrations that we had created previously on our new Postgres database.

A few things to note:

  1. You will need to create a new superuser
  2. You will need to migrate over any data from the old SQLite database1

Congratulations! You’ve migrated from SQLite to Postgres!

  1. This can be done with the datadump and dataload commands available in

Automating the deployment

We got everything set up, and now we want to automate the deployment.

Why would we want to do this you ask? Let’s say that you’ve decided that you need to set up a test version of your site (what some might call UAT) on a new server (at some point I’ll write something up about about multiple Django Sites on the same server and part of this will still apply then). How can you do it?

Well you’ll want to write yourself some scripts!

I have a mix of Python and Shell scripts set up to do this. They are a bit piece meal, but they also allow me to run specific parts of the process without having to try and execute a script with ‘commented’ out pieces.

Python Scripts

Shell Scripts

The Python script looks like this:


import requests
import os
from collections import namedtuple
from operator import attrgetter
from time import sleep

Server = namedtuple('Server', 'created ip_address name')

doat = os.environ['DIGITAL_OCEAN_ACCESS_TOKEN']

# Create Droplet
headers = {
    'Content-Type': 'application/json',
    'Authorization': f'Bearer {doat}',

data = <data_keys>
print('>>> Creating Server')'', headers=headers, data=data)
print('>>> Server Created')
print('>>> Waiting for Server Stand up')

print('>>> Getting Droplet Data')
params = (
    ('page', '1'),
    ('per_page', '10'),

get_droplets = requests.get('', headers=headers, params=params)

server_list = []

for d in get_droplets.json()['droplets']:
    server_list.append(Server(d['created_at'], d['networks']['v4'][0]['ip_address'], d['name']))

server_list = sorted(server_list, key=attrgetter('created'), reverse=True)

server_ip_address = server_list[0].ip_address
db_name = os.environ['DJANGO_PG_DB_NAME']
db_username = os.environ['DJANGO_PG_USER_NAME']
if server_ip_address != <production_server_id>:
    print('>>> Run server setup')
    os.system(f'./ {server_ip_address} {db_name} {db_username}')
    print(f'>>> Server setup complete. You need to add {server_ip_address} to the ALLOWED_HOSTS section of your file ')
    print('WARNING: Running Server set up will destroy your current production server. Aborting process')

Earlier I said that I liked Digital Ocean because of it’s nice API for interacting with it’s servers (i.e. Droplets). Here we start to see some.

The First part of the script uses my Digital Ocean Token and some input parameters to create a Droplet via the Command Line. The sleep(90) allows the process to complete before I try and get the IP address. Ninety seconds is a bit longer than is needed, but I figure, better safe than sorry … I’m sure that there’s a way to call to DO and ask if the just created droplet has an IP address, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

After we create the droplet AND is has an IP address, we get it to pass to the bash script



# Create the server on Digital Ocean
export SERVER=$1

# Take secret key as 2nd argument
if [[ -z "$1" ]]
    echo "ERROR: No value set for server ip address1"
    exit 1

echo -e "\n>>> Setting up $SERVER"
ssh root@$SERVER /bin/bash << EOF
    set -e

    echo -e "\n>>> Updating apt sources"
    apt-get -qq update

    echo -e "\n>>> Upgrading apt packages"
    apt-get -qq upgrade

    echo -e "\n>>> Installing apt packages"
    apt-get -qq install python3 python3-pip python3-venv tree supervisor postgresql postgresql-contrib nginx

    echo -e "\n>>> Create User to Run Web App"
    if getent passwd burningfiddle
      echo ">>> User already present"
      adduser --disabled-password --gecos "" burningfiddle
      echo -e "\n>>> Add newly created user to www-data"
      adduser burningfiddle www-data

    echo -e "\n>>> Make directory for code to be deployed to"

    if [[ ! -d "/home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle" ]]
        mkdir /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle
        echo ">>> Skipping Deploy Folder creation - already present"

    echo -e "\n>>> Create VirtualEnv in this directory"
    if [[ ! -d "/home/burningfiddle/venv" ]]
      python3 -m venv /home/burningfiddle/venv
        echo ">>> Skipping virtualenv creation - already present"

    # I don't think i need this anymore
    echo ">>> Start and Enable gunicorn"
    systemctl start gunicorn.socket
    systemctl enable gunicorn.socket



All of that stuff we did before, logging into the server and running commands, we’re now doing via a script. What the above does is attempt to keep the server in an idempotent state (that is to say you can run it as many times as you want and you don’t get weird artifacts … if you’re a math nerd you may have heard idempotent in Linear Algebra to describe the multiplication of a matrix by itself and returning the original matrix … same idea here!)

The one thing that is new here is the part

ssh root@$SERVER /bin/bash << EOF

A block like that says, “take everything in between EOF and run it on the server I just ssh’d into using bash.

At the end we run 3 shell scripts:


Let’s review these scripts

The script copies several files needed for the nginx service:

  • gunicorn.service
  • gunicorn.sockets
  • nginx.conf

It then sets up a link between the available-sites and enabled-sites for nginx and finally restarts nginx


export SERVER=$1
export sitename=burningfiddle
scp -r ../config/gunicorn.service root@$SERVER:/etc/systemd/system/
scp -r ../config/gunicorn.socket root@$SERVER:/etc/systemd/system/
scp -r ../config/nginx.conf root@$SERVER:/etc/nginx/sites-available/$sitename

ssh root@$SERVER /bin/bash << EOF

  echo -e ">>> Set up site to be linked in Nginx"
  ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/$sitename /etc/nginx/sites-enabled
  echo -e ">>> Restart Nginx"
  systemctl restart nginx
  echo -e ">>> Allow Nginx Full access"
  ufw allow 'Nginx Full'


The script copies environment variables. There are packages (and other methods) that help to manage environment variables better than this, and that is one of the enhancements I’ll be looking at.

This script captures the values of various environment variables (one at a time) and then passes them through to the server. It then checks to see if these environment variables exist on the server and will place them in the /etc/environment file

export SERVER=$1


ssh root@$SERVER /bin/bash << EOF
        echo "DJANGO_SECRET_KEY=$DJANGO_SECRET_KEY" >> /etc/environment
        echo ">>> Skipping DJANGO_SECRET_KEY - already present"

        echo "DJANGO_PG_PASSWORD=$DJANGO_PG_PASSWORD" >> /etc/environment
        echo ">>> Skipping DJANGO_PG_PASSWORD - already present"

        echo "DJANGO_PG_USER_NAME=$DJANGO_PG_USER_NAME" >> /etc/environment
        echo ">>> Skipping DJANGO_PG_USER_NAME - already present"

    if [[ "\$DJANGO_PG_DB_NAME" != "$DJANGO_PG_DB_NAME" ]]
        echo "DJANGO_PG_DB_NAME=$DJANGO_PG_DB_NAME" >> /etc/environment
        echo ">>> Skipping DJANGO_PG_DB_NAME - already present"

    if [[ "\$DJANGO_DEBUG" != "$DJANGO_DEBUG" ]]
        echo "DJANGO_DEBUG=$DJANGO_DEBUG" >> /etc/environment
        echo ">>> Skipping DJANGO_DEBUG - already present"

The calls two scripts itself:

set -e
# Deploy Django project.
export SERVER=$1

The final two scripts!

The script uploads the files to the deploy folder of the server while the script move all of the files to where then need to be on the server and restart any services.


set -e

echo -e "\n>>> Copying Django project files to server."
if [[ -z "$SERVER" ]]
    echo "ERROR: No value set for SERVER."
    exit 1
echo -e "\n>>> Preparing scripts locally."
rm -rf ../../deploy/*
rsync -rv --exclude 'htmlcov' --exclude 'venv' --exclude '*__pycache__*' --exclude '*staticfiles*' --exclude '*.pyc'  ../../BurningFiddle/* ../../deploy

echo -e "\n>>> Copying files to the server."
ssh root@$SERVER "rm -rf /root/deploy/"
scp -r ../../deploy root@$SERVER:/root/

echo -e "\n>>> Finished copying Django project files to server."

And finally,


# Install Django app on server.
set -e
echo -e "\n>>> Installing Django project on server."
if [[ -z "$SERVER" ]]
    echo "ERROR: No value set for SERVER."
    exit 1
echo $SERVER
ssh root@$SERVER /bin/bash << EOF
  set -e

  echo -e "\n>>> Activate the Virtual Environment"
  source /home/burningfiddle/venv/bin/activate

  cd /home/burningfiddle/

  echo -e "\n>>> Deleting old files"
  rm -rf /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle

  echo -e "\n>>> Copying new files"
  cp -r /root/deploy/ /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle

  echo -e "\n>>> Installing Python packages"
  pip install -r /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle/requirements.txt

  echo -e "\n>>> Running Django migrations"
  python /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle/ migrate

  echo -e "\n>>> Creating Superuser"
  python /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle/ createsuperuser --noinput --username bfadmin --email || true

  echo -e "\n>>> Load Initial Data"
  python /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle/ loaddata /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle/fixtures/pages.json

  echo -e "\n>>> Collecting static files"
  python /home/burningfiddle/BurningFiddle/ collectstatic

  echo -e "\n>>> Reloading Gunicorn"
  systemctl daemon-reload
  systemctl restart gunicorn


echo -e "\n>>> Finished installing Django project on server."

Preparing the code for deployment to Digital Ocean

OK, we’ve got our server ready for our Django App. We set up Gunicorn and Nginx. We created the user which will run our app and set up all of the folders that will be needed.

Now, we work on deploying the code!

Deploying the Code

There are 3 parts for deploying our code:

  1. Collect Locally
  2. Copy to Server
  3. Place in correct directory

Why don’t we just copy to the spot on the server we want o finally be in? Because we’ll need to restart Nginx once we’re fully deployed and it’s easier to have that done in 2 steps than in 1.

Collect the Code Locally

My project is structured such that there is a deploy folder which is on the Same Level as my Django Project Folder. That is to say

We want to clear out any old code. To do this we run from the same level that the Django Project Folder is in

rm -rf deploy/*

This will remove ALL of the files and folders that were present. Next, we want to copy the data from the yoursite folder to the deploy folder:

rsync -rv --exclude 'htmlcov' --exclude 'venv' --exclude '*__pycache__*' --exclude '*staticfiles*' --exclude '*.pyc'  yoursite/* deploy

Again, running this form the same folder. I’m using rsync here as it has a really good API for allowing me to exclude items (I’m sure the above could be done better with a mix of Regular Expressions, but this gets the jobs done)

Copy to the Server

We have the files collected, now we need to copy them to the server.

This is done in two steps. Again, we want to remove ALL of the files in the deploy folder on the server (see rationale from above)

ssh root@$SERVER "rm -rf /root/deploy/"

Next, we use scp to secure copy the files to the server

scp -r deploy root@$SERVER:/root/

Our files are now on the server!

Installing the Code

We have several steps to get through in order to install the code. They are:

  1. Activate the Virtual Environment
  2. Deleting old files
  3. Copying new files
  4. Installing Python packages
  5. Running Django migrations
  6. Collecting static files
  7. Reloading Gunicorn

Before we can do any of this we’ll need to ssh into our server. Once that’s done, we can proceed with the steps below.

Above we created our virtual environment in a folder called venv located in /home/yoursite/. We’ll want to activate it now (1)

source /home/yoursite/venv/bin/activate

Next, we change directory into the yoursite home directory

cd /home/yoursite/

Now, we delete the old files from the last install (2):

rm -rf /home/yoursite/yoursite

Copy our new files (3)

cp -r /root/deploy/ /home/yoursite/yoursite

Install our Python packages (4)

pip install -r /home/yoursite/yoursite/requirements.txt

Run any migrations (5)

python /home/yoursite/yoursite/ migrate

Collect Static Files (6)

python /home/yoursite/yoursite/ collectstatic

Finally, reload Gunicorn

systemctl daemon-reload
systemctl restart gunicorn

When we visit our domain we should see our Django Site fn


Getting your Domain to point to Digital Ocean Your Server

I use Hover for my domain purchases and management. Why? Because they have a clean, easy to use, not-slimy interface, and because I listed to enough Tech Podcasts that I’ve drank the Kool-Aid.

When I was trying to get my Hover Domain to point to my Digital Ocean server it seemed much harder to me than it needed to be. Specifically, I couldn’t find any guide on doing it! Many of the tutorials I did find were basically like, it’s all the same. We’ll show you with GoDaddy and then you can figure it out.

Yes, I can figure it out, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been. That’s why I’m writing this up.

Digital Ocean

From Droplet screen click ‘Add a Domain’

Add 2 ‘A’ records (one for www and one without the www)

Make note of the name servers


In your account at change your Name Servers to Point to Digital Ocean ones from above.


DNS … does anyone really know how it works?1 I just know that sometimes when I make a change it’s out there almost immediately for me, and sometimes it takes hours or days.

At this point, you’re just going to potentially need to wait. Why? Because DNS that’s why. Ugh!

Setting up directory structure

While we’re waiting for the DNS to propagate, now would be a good time to set up some file structures for when we push our code to the server.

For my code deploy I’ll be using a user called burningfiddle. We have to do two things here, create the user, and add them to the www-data user group on our Linux server.

We can run these commands to take care of that:

adduser --disabled-password --gecos "" yoursite

The first line will add the user with no password and disable them to be able to log in until a password has been set. Since this user will NEVER log into the server, we’re done with the user creation piece!

Next, add the user to the proper group

adduser yoursite www-data

Now we have a user and they’ve been added to the group we need them to be added. In creating the user, we also created a directory for them in the home directory called yoursite. You should now be able to run this command without error

ls /home/yoursite/

If that returns an error indicating no such directory, then you may not have created the user properly.

Now we’re going to make a directory for our code to be run from.

mkdir /home/yoursite/yoursite

To run our Django app we’ll be using virtualenv. We can create our virtualenv directory by running this command

python3 -m venv /home/yoursite/venv

Configuring Gunicorn

There are two files needed for Gunicorn to run:

  • gunicorn.socket
  • gunicorn.service

For our setup, this is what they look like:

# gunicorn.socket

Description=gunicorn socket


# gunicorn.service

Description=gunicorn daemon

ExecStart=/home/yoursite/venv/bin/gunicorn \
          --access-logfile - \
          --workers 3 \
          --bind unix:/run/gunicorn.sock \


For more on the details of the sections in both gunicorn.service and gunicorn.socket see this article.

Environment Variables

The only environment variables we have to worry about here (since we’re using SQLite) are the DJANGO_SECRET_KEY and DJANGO_DEBUG

We’ll want to edit /etc/environment with our favorite editor (I’m partial to vim but use whatever you like

vim /etc/environment

In this file you’ll add your DJANGO_SECRET_KEY and DJANGO_DEBUG. The file will look something like this once you’re done:


Setting up Nginx

Now we need to create our .conf file for Nginx. The file needs to be placed in /etc/nginx/sites-available/$sitename where $sitename is the name of your site. fn

The final file will look (something) like this fn

server {
    listen 80;

    location = /favicon.ico { access_log off; log_not_found off; }
    location /static/ {
        root /home/yoursite/yoursite/;

    location / {
        include proxy_params;
        proxy_pass http://unix:/run/gunicorn.sock;

The .conf file above tells Nginx to listen for requests to either or and then route them to the location /home/yoursite/yoursite/ which is where our files are located for our Django project.

With that in place all that’s left to do is to make it enabled by running replacing $sitename with your file

ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/$sitename /etc/nginx/sites-enabled

You’ll want to run

nginx -t

to make sure there aren’t any errors. If no errors occur you’ll need to restart Nginx

systemctl restart nginx

The last thing to do is to allow full access to Nginx. You do this by running

ufw allow 'Nginx Full'
  1. Probably just Julia Evans