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Custom model fields
**New in Django development version**
The `model reference`_ documentation explains how to use Django's standard
field classes -- ``CharField``, ``DateField``, etc. For many purposes, those
classes are all you'll need. Sometimes, though, the Django version won't meet
your precise requirements, or you'll want to use a field that is entirely
different from those shipped with Django.
Django's built-in field types don't cover every possible database column type --
only the common types, such as ``VARCHAR`` and ``INTEGER``. For more obscure
column types, such as geographic polygons or even user-created types such as
`PostgreSQL custom types`_, you can define your own Django ``Field`` subclasses.
Alternatively, you may have a complex Python object that can somehow be
serialized to fit into a standard database column type. This is another case
where a ``Field`` subclass will help you use your object with your models.
Our example object
Creating custom fields requires a bit of attention to detail. To make things
easier to follow, we'll use a consistent example throughout this document.
Suppose you have a Python object representing the deal of cards in a hand of
Bridge_. (Don't worry, you don't know how to play Bridge to follow this
example. You only need to know that 52 cards are dealt out equally to four
players, who are traditionally called *north*, *east*, *south* and *west*.)
Our class looks something like this::
class Hand(object):
def __init__(self, north, east, south, west):
# Input parameters are lists of cards ('Ah', '9s', etc)
self.north = north
self.east = east
self.south = south
self.west = west
# ... (other possibly useful methods omitted) ...
This is just an ordinary Python class, with nothing Django-specific about it.
We'd like to be able to do things like this in our models (we assume the
``hand`` attribute on the model is an instance of ``Hand``)::
example = MyModel.objects.get(pk=1)
print example.hand.north
new_hand = Hand(north, east, south, west)
example.hand = new_hand
We assign to and retrieve from the ``hand`` attribute in our model just like
any other Python class. The trick is to tell Django how to handle saving and
loading such an object.
In order to use the ``Hand`` class in our models, we **do not** have to change
this class at all. This is ideal, because it means you can easily write
model support for existing classes where you cannot change the source code.
.. note::
You might only be wanting to take advantage of custom database column
types and deal with the data as standard Python types in your models;
strings, or floats, for example. This case is similar to our ``Hand``
example and we'll note any differences as we go along.
.. _model reference: ../model_api/
.. _PostgreSQL custom types:
.. _Bridge:
Background theory
Database storage
The simplest way to think of a model field is that it provides a way to take a
normal Python object -- string, boolean, ``datetime``, or something more
complex like ``Hand`` -- and convert it to and from a format that is useful
when dealing with the database (and serialization, but, as we'll see later,
that falls out fairly naturally once you have the database side under control).
Fields in a model must somehow be converted to fit into an existing database
column type. Different databases provide different sets of valid column types,
but the rule is still the same: those are the only types you have to work
with. Anything you want to store in the database must fit into one of
those types.
Normally, you're either writing a Django field to match a particular database
column type, or there's a fairly straightforward way to convert your data to,
say, a string.
For our ``Hand`` example, we could convert the card data to a string of 104
characters by concatenating all the cards together in a pre-determined order --
say, all the *north* cards first, then the *east*, *south* and *west* cards. So
``Hand`` objects can be saved to text or character columns in the database.
What does a field class do?
All of Django's fields (and when we say *fields* in this document, we always
mean model fields and not `form fields`_) are subclasses of
``django.db.models.Field``. Most of the information that Django records about a
field is common to all fields -- name, help text, validator lists, uniqueness
and so forth. Storing all that information is handled by ``Field``. We'll get
into the precise details of what ``Field`` can do later on; for now, suffice it
to say that everything descends from ``Field`` and then customizes key pieces
of the class behavior.
.. _form fields: ../forms/#fields
It's important to realize that a Django field class is not what is stored in
your model attributes. The model attributes contain normal Python objects. The
field classes you define in a model are actually stored in the ``Meta`` class
when the model class is created (the precise details of how this is done are
unimportant here). This is because the field classes aren't necessary when
you're just creating and modifying attributes. Instead, they provide the
machinery for converting between the attribute value and what is stored in the
database or sent to the serializer.
Keep this in mind when creating your own custom fields. The Django ``Field``
subclass you write provides the machinery for converting between your Python
instances and the database/serializer values in various ways (there are
differences between storing a value and using a value for lookups, for
example). If this sounds a bit tricky, don't worry -- it will become clearer in
the examples below. Just remember that you will often end up creating two
classes when you want a custom field:
* The first class is the Python object that your users will manipulate.
They will assign it to the model attribute, they will read from it for
displaying purposes, things like that. This is the ``Hand`` class in our
* The second class is the ``Field`` subclass. This is the class that knows
how to convert your first class back and forth between its permanent
storage form and the Python form.
Writing a ``Field`` subclass
When planning your ``Field`` subclass, first give some thought to which
existing ``Field`` class your new field is most similar to. Can you subclass an
existing Django field and save yourself some work? If not, you should subclass
the ``Field`` class, from which everything is descended.
Initializing your new field is a matter of separating out any arguments that
are specific to your case from the common arguments and passing the latter to
the ``__init__()`` method of ``Field`` (or your parent class).
In our example, we'll call our field ``HandField``. (It's a good idea to call
your ``Field`` subclass ``(Something)Field``, so it's easily identifiable as a
``Field`` subclass.) It doesn't behave like any existing field, so we'll
subclass directly from ``Field``::
from django.db import models
class HandField(models.Field):
def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
kwargs['max_length'] = 104
super(HandField, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)
Our ``HandField`` accept most of the standard field options (see the list
below), but we ensure it has a fixed length, since it only needs to hold 52
card values plus their suits; 104 characters in total.
.. note::
Many of Django's model fields accept options that they don't do anything
with. For example, you can pass both ``editable`` and ``auto_now`` to a
``DateField`` and it will simply ignore the ``editable`` parameter
(``auto_now`` being set implies ``editable=False``). No error is raised in
this case.
This behavior simplifies the field classes, because they don't need to
check for options that aren't necessary. They just pass all the options to
the parent class and then don't use them later on. It's up to you whether
you want your fields to be more strict about the options they select, or
to use the simpler, more permissive behavior of the current fields.
The ``Field.__init__()`` method takes the following parameters, in this
* ``verbose_name``
* ``name``
* ``primary_key``
* ``max_length``
* ``unique``
* ``blank``
* ``null``
* ``db_index``
* ``core``
* ``rel``: Used for related fields (like ``ForeignKey``). For advanced use
* ``default``
* ``editable``
* ``serialize``: If ``False``, the field will not be serialized when the
model is passed to Django's serializers_. Defaults to ``True``.
* ``prepopulate_from``
* ``unique_for_date``
* ``unique_for_month``
* ``unique_for_year``
* ``validator_list``
* ``choices``
* ``help_text``
* ``db_column``
* ``db_tablespace``: Currently only used with the Oracle backend and only
for index creation. You can usually ignore this option.
All of the options without an explanation in the above list have the same
meaning they do for normal Django fields. See the `model documentation`_ for
examples and details.
.. _serializers: ../serialization/
.. _model documentation: ../model-api/
The ``SubfieldBase`` metaclass
As we indicated in the introduction_, field subclasses are often needed for
two reasons: either to take advantage of a custom database column type, or to
handle complex Python types. Obviously, a combination of the two is also
possible. If you're only working with custom database column types and your
model fields appear in Python as standard Python types direct from the
database backend, you don't need to worry about this section.
If you're handling custom Python types, such as our ``Hand`` class, we need
to make sure that when Django initializes an instance of our model and assigns
a database value to our custom field attribute, we convert that value into the
appropriate Python object. The details of how this happens internally are a
little complex, but the code you need to write in your ``Field`` class is
simple: make sure your field subclass uses ``django.db.models.SubfieldBase`` as
its metaclass::
class HandField(models.Field):
__metaclass__ = models.SubfieldBase
def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
# ...
This ensures that the ``to_python()`` method, documented below_, will always be
called when the attribute is initialized.
.. _below: #to-python-self-value
Useful methods
Once you've created your ``Field`` subclass and set up up the
``__metaclass__``, you might consider overriding a few standard methods,
depending on your field's behavior. The list of methods below is in
approximately decreasing order of importance, so start from the top.
Returns the database column data type for the ``Field``, taking into account
the current ``DATABASE_ENGINE`` setting.
Say you've created a PostgreSQL custom type called ``mytype``. You can use this
field with Django by subclassing ``Field`` and implementing the ``db_type()``
method, like so::
from django.db import models
class MytypeField(models.Field):
def db_type(self):
return 'mytype'
Once you have ``MytypeField``, you can use it in any model, just like any other
``Field`` type::
class Person(models.Model):
name = models.CharField(max_length=80)
gender = models.CharField(max_length=1)
something_else = MytypeField()
If you aim to build a database-agnostic application, you should account for
differences in database column types. For example, the date/time column type
in PostgreSQL is called ``timestamp``, while the same column in MySQL is called
``datetime``. The simplest way to handle this in a ``db_type()`` method is to
import the Django settings module and check the ``DATABASE_ENGINE`` setting.
For example::
class MyDateField(models.Field):
def db_type(self):
from django.conf import settings
if settings.DATABASE_ENGINE == 'mysql':
return 'datetime'
return 'timestamp'
The ``db_type()`` method is only called by Django when the framework constructs
the ``CREATE TABLE`` statements for your application -- that is, when you first
create your tables. It's not called at any other time, so it can afford to
execute slightly complex code, such as the ``DATABASE_ENGINE`` check in the
above example.
Some database column types accept parameters, such as ``CHAR(25)``, where the
parameter ``25`` represents the maximum column length. In cases like these,
it's more flexible if the parameter is specified in the model rather than being
hard-coded in the ``db_type()`` method. For example, it wouldn't make much
sense to have a ``CharMaxlength25Field``, shown here::
# This is a silly example of hard-coded parameters.
class CharMaxlength25Field(models.Field):
def db_type(self):
return 'char(25)'
# In the model:
class MyModel(models.Model):
# ...
my_field = CharMaxlength25Field()
The better way of doing this would be to make the parameter specifiable at run
time -- i.e., when the class is instantiated. To do that, just implement
``__init__()``, like so::
# This is a much more flexible example.
class BetterCharField(models.Field):
def __init__(self, max_length, *args, **kwargs):
self.max_length = max_length
super(BetterCharField, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)
def db_type(self):
return 'char(%s)' % self.max_length
# In the model:
class MyModel(models.Model):
# ...
my_field = BetterCharField(25)
Finally, if your column requires truly complex SQL setup, return ``None`` from
``db_type()``. This will cause Django's SQL creation code to skip over this
field. You are then responsible for creating the column in the right table in
some other way, of course, but this gives you a way to tell Django to get out
of the way.
``to_python(self, value)``
Converts a value as returned by your database (or a serializer) to a Python
The default implementation simply returns ``value``, for the common case in
which the database backend already returns data in the correct format (as a
Python string, for example).
If your custom ``Field`` class deals with data structures that are more complex
than strings, dates, integers or floats, then you'll need to override this
method. As a general rule, the method should deal gracefully with any of the
following arguments:
* An instance of the correct type (e.g., ``Hand`` in our ongoing example).
* A string (e.g., from a deserializer).
* Whatever the database returns for the column type you're using.
In our ``HandField`` class, we're storing the data as a VARCHAR field in the
database, so we need to be able to process strings and ``Hand`` instances in
import re
class HandField(models.Field):
# ...
def to_python(self, value):
if isinstance(value, Hand):
return value
# The string case.
p1 = re.compile('.{26}')
p2 = re.compile('..')
args = [p2.findall(x) for x in p1.findall(value)]
return Hand(*args)
Notice that we always return a ``Hand`` instance from this method. That's the
Python object type we want to store in the model's attribute.
**Remember:** If your custom field needs the ``to_python()`` method to be
called when it is created, you should be using `The SubfieldBase metaclass`_
mentioned earlier. Otherwise ``to_python()`` won't be called automatically.
``get_db_prep_value(self, value)``
This is the reverse of ``to_python()`` when working with the database backends
(as opposed to serialization). The ``value`` parameter is the current value of
the model's attribute (a field has no reference to its containing model, so it
cannot retrieve the value itself), and the method should return data in a
format that can be used as a parameter in a query for the database backend.
For example::
class HandField(models.Field):
# ...
def get_db_prep_value(self, value):
return ''.join([''.join(l) for l in (value.north,
value.east, value.south, value.west)])
``get_db_prep_save(self, value)``
Same as the above, but called when the Field value must be *saved* to the
database. As the default implementation just calls ``get_db_prep_value``, you
shouldn't need to implement this method unless your custom field need a special
conversion when being saved that is not the same as the used for normal query
parameters (which is implemented by ``get_db_prep_value``).
``pre_save(self, model_instance, add)``
This method is called just prior to ``get_db_prep_save()`` and should return
the value of the appropriate attribute from ``model_instance`` for this field.
The attribute name is in ``self.attname`` (this is set up by ``Field``). If
the model is being saved to the database for the first time, the ``add``
parameter will be ``True``, otherwise it will be ``False``.
You only need to override this method if you want to preprocess the value
somehow, just before saving. For example, Django's ``DateTimeField`` uses this
method to set the attribute correctly in the case of ``auto_now`` or
If you do override this method, you must return the value of the attribute at
the end. You should also update the model's attribute if you make any changes
to the value so that code holding references to the model will always see the
correct value.
``get_db_prep_lookup(self, lookup_type, value)``
Prepares the ``value`` for passing to the database when used in a lookup (a
``WHERE`` constraint in SQL). The ``lookup_type`` will be one of the valid
Django filter lookups: ``exact``, ``iexact``, ``contains``, ``icontains``,
``gt``, ``gte``, ``lt``, ``lte``, ``in``, ``startswith``, ``istartswith``,
``endswith``, ``iendswith``, ``range``, ``year``, ``month``, ``day``,
``isnull``, ``search``, ``regex``, and ``iregex``.
Your method must be prepared to handle all of these ``lookup_type`` values and
should raise either a ``ValueError`` if the ``value`` is of the wrong sort (a
list when you were expecting an object, for example) or a ``TypeError`` if
your field does not support that type of lookup. For many fields, you can get
by with handling the lookup types that need special handling for your field
and pass the rest of the ``get_db_prep_lookup()`` method of the parent class.
If you needed to implement ``get_db_prep_save()``, you will usually need to
implement ``get_db_prep_lookup()``. If you don't, ``get_db_prep_value`` will be
called by the default implementation, to manage ``exact``, ``gt``, ``gte``,
``lt``, ``lte``, ``in`` and ``range`` lookups.
You may also want to implement this method to limit the lookup types that could
be used with your custom field type.
Note that, for ``range`` and ``in`` lookups, ``get_db_prep_lookup`` will receive
a list of objects (presumably of the right type) and will need to convert them
to a list of things of the right type for passing to the database. Most of the
time, you can reuse ``get_db_prep_value()``, or at least factor out some common
For example, the following code implements ``get_db_prep_lookup`` to limit the
accepted lookup types to ``exact`` and ``in``::
class HandField(models.Field):
# ...
def get_db_prep_lookup(self, lookup_type, value):
# We only handle 'exact' and 'in'. All others are errors.
if lookup_type == 'exact':
return self.get_db_prep_value(value)
elif lookup_type == 'in':
return [self.get_db_prep_value(v) for v in value]
raise TypeError('Lookup type %r not supported.' % lookup_type)
``formfield(self, form_class=forms.CharField, **kwargs)``
Returns the default form field to use when this field is displayed
in a model. This method is called by the `helper functions`_
``form_for_model()`` and ``form_for_instance()``.
All of the ``kwargs`` dictionary is passed directly to the form field's
``__init__()`` method. Normally, all you need to do is set up a good default
for the ``form_class`` argument and then delegate further handling to the
parent class. This might require you to write a custom form field (and even a
form widget). See the `forms documentation`_ for information about this, and
take a look at the code in ``django.contrib.localflavor`` for some examples of
custom widgets.
Continuing our ongoing example, we can write the ``formfield()`` method as::
class HandField(models.Field):
# ...
def formfield(self, **kwargs):
# This is a fairly standard way to set up some defaults
# while letting the caller override them.
defaults = {'form_class': MyFormField}
return super(HandField, self).formfield(**defaults)
This assumes we're imported a ``MyFormField`` field class (which has its own
default widget). This document doesn't cover the details of writing custom form
.. _helper functions: ../forms/#generating-forms-for-models
.. _forms documentation: ../forms/
Returns a string giving the name of the ``Field`` subclass we are emulating at
the database level. This is used to determine the type of database column for
simple cases.
If you have created a ``db_type()`` method, you don't need to worry about
``get_internal_type()`` -- it won't be used much. Sometimes, though, your
database storage is similar in type to some other field, so you can use that
other field's logic to create the right column.
For example::
class HandField(models.Field):
# ...
def get_internal_type(self):
return 'CharField'
No matter which database backend we are using, this will mean that ``syncdb``
and other SQL commands create the right column type for storing a string.
If ``get_internal_type()`` returns a string that is not known to Django for
the database backend you are using -- that is, it doesn't appear in
``django.db.backends.<db_name>.creation.DATA_TYPES`` -- the string will still
be used by the serializer, but the default ``db_type()`` method will return
``None``. See the documentation of ``db_type()`` above_ for reasons why this
might be useful. Putting a descriptive string in as the type of the field for
the serializer is a useful idea if you're ever going to be using the
serializer output in some other place, outside of Django.
.. _above: #db-type-self
``flatten_data(self, follow, obj=None)``
.. admonition:: Subject to change
Although implementing this method is necessary to allow field
serialization, the API might change in the future.
Returns a dictionary, mapping the field's attribute name to a
flattened string version of the data. This method has some internal
uses that aren't of interest to use here (mostly having to do with
forms). For our purposes, it's sufficient to return a one item
dictionary that maps the attribute name to a string.
This method is used by the serializers to convert the field into a string for
output. You can ignore the input parameters for serialization purposes,
although calling ``Field._get_val_from_obj(obj)`` is the best way to get the
value to serialize.
For example, since our ``HandField`` uses strings for its data storage anyway,
we can reuse some existing conversion code::
class HandField(models.Field):
# ...
def flatten_data(self, follow, obj=None):
value = self._get_val_from_obj(obj)
return {self.attname: self.get_db_prep_value(value)}
Some general advice
Writing a custom field can be a tricky process, particularly if you're doing
complex conversions between your Python types and your database and
serialization formats. Here are a couple of tips to make things go more
1. Look at the existing Django fields (in
``django/db/models/fields/``) for inspiration. Try to find a
field that's similar to what you want and extend it a little bit,
instead of creating an entirely new field from scratch.
2. Put a ``__str__()`` or ``__unicode__()`` method on the class you're
wrapping up as a field. There are a lot of places where the default
behavior of the field code is to call ``force_unicode()`` on the value.
(In our examples in this document, ``value`` would be a ``Hand``
instance, not a ``HandField``). So if your ``__unicode__()`` method
automatically converts to the string form of your Python object, you can
save yourself a lot of work.
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