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GovTrack website frontend

This repo contains the source code of the front-end for The data-gathering scripts are elsewhere.

Local Development

Development using Vagrant is based on Python 3 and Django 2.1 and runs on Ubuntu 18.04 or OS X. To simplify local development, we have a Vagrantfile in this directory. You can get started quickly simply by installing Vagrant and running:

# Get this repo (you must clone with `--recursive`)
git clone --recursive

# Change to this repo's directory.

# Start Vagrant.
vagrant up

# Create your initial user.
vagrant ssh -- -t ./ createsuperuser

# Start debug server.
vagrant ssh -- -t ./ runserver

# Visit the website in your browser at http://localhost:8000!

# Stop the virtual machine when you are done.
vagrant suspend

# Destroy the virtual machine when you no longer are working on GovTrack ever again (or when you want your disk space back).
vagrant destroy

Even though the site is running in the virtual machine, it is using the source files on your host computer. So you can open up the files that you got from this repository in your favorite text editor like normal and the virtual machine will see your changes. When you edit .py files, runserver will automatically restart to re-load the code. The site's database and search indexes are also stored on the host machine so they will be saved even when you destroy your vagrant box.

See further down about configuration.

Development without Vagrant

To set up GovTrack development without a virtual machine, get the source code in this repository (use --recursive, as mentioned above), and then you'll need to follow along with the steps in our Vagrantfile by just looking at what we did and doing the same on your command line.

At the end:

# Create your initial user.
./ createsuperuser

# Start the debug server.
./ runserver

Getting test data

The Vagrantfile automatically loads current legislator information from the live site. The site draws on about a dozen different data sources.

Bills & votes

To get bill and vote data, you'll need to run the "congress" project scrapers.

If you used Vagrant, use vagrant ssh to go into the virtual machine. Otherwise, perform these steps in this project's main directory:

sudo apt install python-dev libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev libz-dev python-pip # see congress project deps
git clone congress-project
cd congress-project/
pip2 install -r requirements.txt 
python2 run govinfo --bulkdata=BILLSTATUS --congress=116
python2 run govinfo --collections=BILLS --extract=pdf --years=2020 
python2 run bills --log=debug --govtrack
python2 run votes --log=debug --govtrack
cd ..
mkdir -p local
cho "CONGRESS_DATA_PATH=congress-project/data" >> local/settings.env
mkdir -p data/historical-committee-membership
echo "<stub/>" > data/historical-committee-membership/116.xml
./ bill
./ vote


Some features of the site require additional configuration. To set configuration variables, create a file named local/settings.env and set any of the following optional variables (defaults are shown where applicable):

# Database server.
# See

# Memcached server.
# See

# Search server.
# See
# For local development you may want to use the (default) Xapian search engine, e.g.:
# xapian:/home/username/
# You'll need to `apt-get install python3-xapian` and `pip install xapian-haystack`
# or see
# For a production deployment you may want to use Solr instead, e.g.:
# solr:http://localhost:8983/solr/person
# You can also specify 'simple' to have a dummy search backend that
# does not actually index or search anything.

# Django uses a secret key to provide cryptographic signing. It should be random
# and kept secure. You can generate a key with `./ generate_secret_key`
SECRET_KEY=(randomly generated on each run if not specified)

See settings.env.template for details, especially for values used in production.

Additionally, some data files are stored in separate repositories and must be obtained and the path configured in settings.env:

  • congress project bill status data (etc.)
  • congress-legislators data
  • legislator photos (static/legislator-photos is symlinked to ../data/legislators-photos/photos, so this must go in data for now)
  • GovTrack's misconduct and name pronuciation repositories


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Production Deployment Notes

Additional package installation notes are in the Vagrantfile.

You'll need a data directory that contains:

  • analysis (the output of our data analyses)
  • congress (a symbolic link to the congress project's data directory, holding bill and legislator data, some of which can't be reproduced because the source data is gone; also set CONGRESS_DATA_PATH=data/congress in local/settings.env)
  • congress-bill-text-legacy (a final copy of HTML bill text scraped from the old, for bills before XML bill text started)
  • historical-committee-membership (past committee membership, snapshots of earlier data)
  • legislator-photos (manually collected photos of legislators; there's a symbolic link from static/legislator-photos to legislator-photos/photos)

You'll need several other data repositories that you can put in the data directory if you don't expose the whole directory over HTTP, but they can also be placed anywhere because the paths are in settings:

At this point you should be able to run ./ runserver and test that the site works.

And conf/uwsgi_start test 1 should start the uWSGI application daemon.

Install nginx, supervisord (which keeps the uWSGI process running), and certbot and set up their configuration files:

apt install nginx supervisor certbot python3-certbot-nginx
rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default
ln -s /home/govtrack/web/conf/nginx.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/
ln -s /home/govtrack/web/conf/supervisor.conf /etc/supervisor/conf.d/govtrack.conf
# install a TLS certificate at /etc/ssl/local/ssl_certificate.{key,crt} (e.g.
mkdir /var/cache/nginx/
service nginx restart
service supervisor restart
certbot # and follow prompts, but without the HTTP redirect because we already have it

To scrape and load new data, you'll need the congress project, etc.:

  • Clone the congress project repo anywhere and set that directory as CONGRESS_PROJECT_PATH in GovTrack's local/settings.env.
  • Follow its installation steps to create a Python 2 virtualenv for it in its .env directory.
  • Symlink the data/congress data directory as the data directory inside the congress project directory.
  • Clone the congress-legislators project as a subdirectory and follow its installation steps to create a separate Python 3 virtualenv for its scripts in its scripts/.env directory.
  • Try launching the scrapers from the GovTrack directory: ./ people, ./ committees, etc.
  • Copy over our local/skoposlabs_s3cmd.ini file.
  • Enable the crontab.

The crontab sends the outputs of the commands to Josh, so the server needs a sendmail-like command. The easiest to set up is msmtp, like so:

apt install msmtp-mta
cat > /etc/msmtprc <<EOF;
account default
auth on
tls on
tls_trust_file /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt
host *******
port 587
user *******
password *******


The Django source code for the website.







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