The Case of the Unusable Reusable

The Django web framework has a huge following that releases lots of simple reusable apps that can be plugged into your website. However, sometimes they are too simple, and not “plugin-able” quite enough.

Take for instance django-favorites. By itself it’s a great package that does exactly what you want–it allows a user to mark things as being a favorite. Notice that I said “things.” “Things” here means any model, because it uses the generic relationships framework that Django provides.

This is a huge win on its own because it means that I don’t have to define a new favorites model for blog posts, one for photos and another for music I’m listening too. But, there’s a downside to this as well.

How do I check to see if an item is a favorite? Well, for each blog post I select back from the database, I have to make another query to see whether or not it was a favorite or not. Alternatively, of course, I could be smarter and do a bulk query using an IN clause, making the query count only 2. But, if I wasn’t using an ORM, my SQL would use an OUTER JOIN, or a sub-query to select back whether or not it was marked a favorite for the current user.

Django can do this using the extra method for QuerySets.

Ok, so we can use extra every time we want to select back whether or not an item is a favorite, no big deal.

content_type = ContentType.objects.get_for_model(Photo) SQL = """SELECT 1 FROM favorites_favorite f WHERE f.content_type_id = %(content_type)d and f.object_id = and f.user_id = %(user_id)d """ attrs = {'content_type':, 'user_id':} entries = Photo.objects.extra(select={'is_favorite': SQL % attrs})

Except that you have to do this every time. So, you then create a custom manager for Photo that includes a check_is_favorite method, which adds the is_favorite pseudo-column and everything is good.

That is until you have to do it for Entry, and Song, and User.

The solution however is simple. Reusable apps should include a “ManagerMixin”, if it makes sense to make reusing the app as painless as possible. The django- favorites application that I’ve been using in my example would be complete in my eyes if it had something like this defined in it:

class FavoritesManagerMixin(object): """ A Mixin to add a favorite__favoritecolumn via extra """ def with_favorite_for(self, user, all=True): """ Adds a column favorite__favorite to the returned object, which indicates whether or not this item is a favorite for a user """ content_type = ContentType.objects.get_for_model(self.model) pk_field = "%s.%s" % (qn(self.model._meta.db_table), qn( favorite_sql = """(SELECT 1 FROM %(favorites_db_table)s WHERE %(favorites_db_table)s.object_id = %(pk_field)s and %(favorites_db_table)s.content_type_id = %(content_type)d and %(favorites_db_table)s.user_id = %(user_id)d) """ % {'pk_field': pk_field, \ 'db_table': qn(self.model._meta.db_table), \ 'favorites_db_table': qn(Favorite._meta.db_table), \ 'user_id':, \ 'content_type':, \ } extras = { 'select': {'favorite__favorite': favorite_sql}, } if not all: extras['where'] = ['favorite__favorite == 1'] return self.extra(**extras)

I have yet to run a bench mark against this to determine whether or not the sub-query here is less efficient than doing an OUTER JOIN. My gut says it would be, but for a first go at it, I’ll keep it like this.

Anyway, then to make use of this you create a custom manager that uses FavoritesManagerMixin as one of its base classes:

class SongManager(models.Manager, **FavoritesMixinManager**): pass class Song(models.Model): title = models.CharField(max_length=255, null=False, blank=False) artist = models.ForeignKey('Artist') album = models.ForeignKey('Album') **objects = SongManager()**

And then to make use of it, we do:

all_songs_with_favorites_marked = Song.objects.with_favorite_for(user) only_favorite_songs = Song.objects.with_favorite_for(user, all=False)

The intention of this post isn’t to point out a flaw in django-favorites, an otherwise great reusable application, BTW, but instead is meant to give a way that this idea of reusable can actually be usable.

I put my django-favorites on github. Feel free to flame me for going against what this post stands for and creating yet another “favorites” reusable app, without submitting a patch to the original, I wanted some practice in Django development.


(Generic Relations)

Relational Mapper)


— 2009-07-22