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Cached fields for Django
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README.rst

Django Cached Field

Introduction

Using Django ORM and Celery, cache expensive-to-calculate attributes.

Installation

You can make things easy on yourself:

pip install django-cached-field

Or, for a manual installation, you can clone the repo and install it using python and setup.py:

git clone git://github.com/aquameta/django-cached-field.git
cd django-cached-field/
python setup.py install

Tested with django 1.3.1, celery 2.3.1, and django-celery 2.3.3, but I would entertain other minimums if someone was willing to test them.

Configuration

Two settings changes are pretty much required for things to work: make sure it's a registered app, make sure celery sees its tasks file:

INSTALLED_APPS += ['django_cached_field',]
CELERY_IMPORTS += ['django_cached_field.tasks',]

One change is optional: whether recalculation should happen when flagged as stale (default) or be left to the next time the attribute is accessed. This is useful for optimizing testing environments where you don't care that your cached values are invalid or that the expense of calculation is applied to a user. Note that, in this situation, you wouldn't need celery.

CACHED_FIELD_EAGER_RECALCULATION = True # or False for testing environments

This is a global option, so individual exceptions should instead be handled by passing the and_recalculate argument to the flag_FIELD_as_stale call.

Example

Say you have a CTO who believes everything belongs in the database and a slow method on one of your models:

class Lamppost(models.Model):
    # ...
    @property
    def slow_full_name(self):
        ackermann(5, 2)
        return 'The %s %s of %s' % (self.weight, self.first_name, self.country)

Ugh; too slow. Let's cache that (but not with, say, a dedicated caching system). We'll want a few tools. Celery <http://celeryproject.org/> with django-celery <http://github.com/ask/django-celery> will need to be set up and humming along smoothly. Then we'll add in our cached field and rename our method appropriately:

from django_cached_field import CachedIntegerField

class Lamppost(models.Model):
    # ...
    slow_full_name = CachedTextField(null=True)

    def calculate_slow_full_name(self):
        ackermann(5, 2)
        return 'The %s %s of %s' % (self.weight, self.first_name, self.country)

(Yeah, calculate_* is just a convention. I clearly haven't given up the rails ghost, but you can pass in your own method name with calculation_method_name.)

Next, migrate your db schema to include the new cached field using south, or roll your own. Note that at least two fields will be added to this table, cached_slow_full_name of type text, slow_full_name_recalculation_needed of type boolean, probably defaulting to true, and possibly slow_full_name_expires_after of type datetime, if we pass temporal_triggers=True into the field declaration (more on that later).

Already that's kinda better. lamppost.slow_full_name may take a while the first time it gets called for a given record, but from then on, it'll be nigh instant. Of course, at this point, it will never change after that first call.

The remaining important piece of the puzzle is to invalidate our cache using flag_slow_full_name_as_stale. It is probably changed in some views.py (this example code could be more clever about noticing if the relevant values are updated):

@render_to('lamppost/edit.html')
def edit(request, lamppost_id):
    lamppost = Lamppost.objects.get(pk=lamppost_id)
    if request.METHOD == 'POST':
        form = LamppostForm(request.POST)
        if form.is_valid():
            form.save()
            form.instance.flag_slow_full_name_as_stale()
            return HttpResponseRedirect(
                reverse('lamppost_view', args=(lamppost.pk,)))
    else:
        form = LamppostForm()
    return {'form': form, 'lamppost': lamppost}

This is the hardest part as the developer. Caching requires you hunt down every place the value could be changed and calling that flag_slow_full_name_as_stale method. Is country assigned a random new value every morning at cron'o'clock? That flag had best be stale by cron'o'one. Do you calculate weight based on the sum of all associated pigeons? Hook into the pigeons landing. And takeoff. And everything that changes an individual pigeon's weight. As Abraham Lincoln said, "There are only two hard problems in programming: naming, cache invalidation and off-by-one errors."

One possible invalidation scheme you might want to use is expiration dates. We know the pigeons on our lamppost are going to die and turn into ghosts, right:

class Pigeon(models.Model):
    death_day = models.DateField()

    def die(self):
        self.weight = 0
        self.save()

And rather than bother the pigeon-death-handling system, we'll take note of their death as they land:

class Lamppost(models.Model):
    #...
    def notice_pigeon_landing(self, pigeon):
        earliest = self.pigeon_set.all().aggregate(
            models.Min('death_date'))['death_date']
        self.expire_slow_full_name_after(earliest)

Or maybe you only want the cache to ever be valid for 30 minutes, lest They have too easy a time of tracking your thoughts. So, yeah, you get the idea.

Caveats

  • Race condition if you flag a field as stale in a db transaction that takes longer to complete than the celery job takes to be called (so commit your transactions before invalidating the cache).
  • All ORM methods (e.g. order_by, filter) can only access this field through cached_FIELD.
  • recalculate_FIELD uses .update(cached_FIELD= to set the value. Don't expect .save to be called.
  • flag_FIELD_as_stale uses .update, as well.
  • This may break if you try to add this mixin to a field class that multiply-inherits (I'm currently grabbing an arbitrary, non-CachedFieldMixin class and making the real field with it).
  • The FIELD_recalculation_needed field is accessed by regex in at least one place, so problems will result from user fields that match the same pattern.

TODO

  • Figure out if we can turn temporal_triggers into a celery job that happens once at the given time.
  • All my tests are in the project I pulled this out of, but based on models therein. I don't have experience making tests for standalone django libraries. Someone wanna point me to a tutorial?
  • Recalculation task will not adapt to recalculation_needed_field_name option
  • Replace use of _recalculation_needed regex with class-level registry of cached fields.
  • Fix race condition with https://github.com/davehughes/django-transaction-signals ?
  • Or maybe with https://github.com/chrisdoble/django-celery-transactions ?
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