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Web Basic

This is a project I made to cover the very basics of building a super simple web application using the Python programming language and the Flask web framework.

I wrote this for anyone who might know a bit of Python from a basic programming class, but who needs a good place to start for web development.

Getting the App Running On You Computer

In order to work on the code and test it on your computer, we'll need to quickly setup your computer to be able to run Flask applications. This might seem like a lot of work but don't worry because you'll really on have to do this once. It might take a few confusing minutes before you even get started, but unfortunately the tedium is necessary to make sure your computer is ready to work on the app.

First, you'll want to pull up your system's terminal window. I'm going to assume you're working on a Mac OSX computer. Open the "Terminal" app by searching for it in spotlight search, or opening it from the Applications folder. We're going to run two commands to make sure our system is all setup.

Ensuring Python is Installed

First, type python and hit enter. You should see something like this

Python 2.7.5 (default, Aug 25 2013, 00:04:04) 
[GCC 4.2.1 Compatible Apple LLVM 5.0 (clang-500.0.68)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.

This ensures that you have Python installed on your system, which we'll need to run our app. Note that your version number might look a little different, but as long as your version of Python is 2.6 or greater, you should be fine.

If you want, you can start typing and hit enter, you'll be writing Python code! Try typing 2+2 or 2**8 to do some basic math. If you're ready to move on, just hit Ctrl+D to exit out of the Python interactive interpreter.

Ensuring Git is Installed

The next command we're goint to try running is called "git" and it's a program that's used to keep track of changes to files over time. This is known as "version control" and is super important if you'll be working on real apps.

Git allows you to see all of the different changes that were made to the app over time, and what was added and removed every time a change was made. This lets you "step through" the changes and see the stages the app went through as it was being built.

We'll also use git to download a copy of the app on your computer. Try typing git in your terminal window, hit "enter" and see what happens. If you see a big output about usage and commonly used commands, then you already have it installed on your system and you're ready to go and can skip to the next section.

Unfortunately, most new Macs don't have git installed by default, so you'll probably need to install it from here. Once you download the installer and run through all the steps, you should be able to close and re-open the terminal application, type git and press enter, and see some output that looks like this:

usage: git [--version] [--help] [-C <path>] [-c name=value]
           [--exec-path[=<path>]] [--html-path] [--man-path] [--info-path]
           [-p|--paginate|--no-pager] [--no-replace-objects] [--bare]
           [--git-dir=<path>] [--work-tree=<path>] [--namespace=<name>]
           <command> [<args>]

The most commonly used git commands are:
   add        Add file contents to the index
   bisect     Find by binary search the change that introduced a bug
   branch     List, create, or delete branches
   checkout   Checkout a branch or paths to the working tree
   clone      Clone a repository into a new directory
   commit     Record changes to the repository
   diff       Show changes between commits, commit and working tree, etc
   fetch      Download objects and refs from another repository
   grep       Print lines matching a pattern
   init       Create an empty Git repository or reinitialize an existing one
   log        Show commit logs
   merge      Join two or more development histories together
   mv         Move or rename a file, a directory, or a symlink
   pull       Fetch from and integrate with another repository or a local branch
   push       Update remote refs along with associated objects
   rebase     Forward-port local commits to the updated upstream head
   reset      Reset current HEAD to the specified state
   rm         Remove files from the working tree and from the index
   show       Show various types of objects
   status     Show the working tree status
   tag        Create, list, delete or verify a tag object signed with GPG

'git help -a' and 'git help -g' lists available subcommands and some
concept guides. See 'git help <command>' or 'git help <concept>'
to read about a specific subcommand or concept.

Downloading the Project Locally Using Git

Alright, now that we have ensured your system has both Python and git installed, we're ready to start getting the application setup. Note that we'll be running a bunch of commands in the same terminal window, so it's important to leave that up the whole time.

First, you'll want to move to your desktop by running

cd ~/Desktop

And then run the following command to download a copy of the app onto your desktop:

git clone

You should see the folder for the app appear on your desktop with some folders and files inside it!

You're almost ready to being working on the app, but first we're going to get a "development environment" running on your local computer so that you can make changes and test what they look like quickly.

Setting up the Python Environment

Still in your terminal window, we're going to install "pip" which is a tool for managing Python libraries. Run the following:

sudo easy_install pip

Note that you might need to enter your user account's password to approve the install. Don't worry if you start typing and nothing shows up, that's how the terminal handles password fields (the same way that browsers show dots or stars when you type a password into a web form). Hit "enter" when you're done typing your password to continue the installation.

Once pip is installed, the only thing that's left is to install the Python packages that our app requires. You'll want to make sure you're in the same folder as the project, so you'll probably need to run

cd ~/Desktop/web_starter

Then, to install the packages, you run

pip install -r requirements.txt

This tells pip to install all of the packages listed inside the requirements.txt file. That might take a few seconds to download and install everything, and then everything is ready to go!

Starting Your Local Server

If you're still hanging in there, nice work! You will almost never have to run those steps again when you're first starting out, so you should be able to let them slide right out of your brain. Go take a break if need be to let your mind rest (but leave the terminal window open).

Now that we're ready to start working on the app, simply type


and you should see the following output

* Running on
* Restarting with reloader

Now, open up your browser and navigate to http://localhost:5000/ and you should see the homepage of your app! Woohoo!

Working On the App

Using your favorite text editor (not Microsoft Word, try TextEdit), open the file that's inside the app folder and start reading what's inside. There are tons of comments -- pieces of text that are meant for humans and are ignored by the program -- with every line of code, so it should be easy to read along and see what's happening.

Once you've read through the basics, you'll be itching to start tinkering. Feel free to edit the code and play with your app. The local development server should reload every time you change a file, so edit something and then go see your changes by refreshing the app in your browser.

If you want to learn more about other functions and tools that the Flask framework provides (like user sessions and showing messages and redirecting requests), check out the Flask Quickstart Guide for more.

You Should Learn Basic Git

Whenever you make some big changes to the app that you're happy with, you should use git to "commit those changes", in order to save your progress. That way, if something goes wrong or you somehow mess everything up, you can easily revert back to your happy state. It also makes it easy to share your code with others and merge in changes someone else might want to make to help you.

Using git is outside the scope of this tutorial, and you won't need it if you're just tinkering around. But if you start building something cool that you might actually launch and use, you should definitely take the time to learn the basics of git.

Learning More About Web Development

Building applications for the web, you might be overwhelmed by the vast number of complex concepts that come into play. From HTTP and networks, to databases and analytics, to caching and client-side Javascript code, there's a lot you need to learn to become a "full stack web developer", capable of building an entire web application yourself.

But don't fret about that now. You'll learn about those concepts as you need them. There's no point trying to learn them all at once and then getting overwhelmed. Just keep an open mind, don't be scared to "Google" things when you're stuck ( is your friend!) and try to find a buddy or mentor you can bounce questions off of when you're really stuck.

Being a software developer in any field -- web, mobile, systems, etc -- requires being a constant, life long learner. Technologies change, best practices evolve. If you keep working at it over time, you'll become more proficient and learn how to tackle the same problem in different ways, moving from Hacker to Developer to Engineer.

More Great Web Development Resources

  • The Official Flask Tutorial - Walks you through the steps of creating a basic twitter clone. You'll learn how to store things in a database for later retrieval and how to do super basic user authentication.

  • The Tuts+ Flask Tutorial - This expands a bit on what we did in our app, adding template inhertence, so that you don't need to rewrite the same HTML in every template file.

  • The Flask Mega Tutorial - This is a really long tutorial but it covers most of the major aspects of building web applications, like using forms, sending email, doing (proper) user authentication, writing tests to let you know if you accidentally broke something, and deploying your application to a web server.

  • Flaskr - Intro to Flask, Test Driven Development, and jQuery - This tutorial takes the Official Flask Tutorial to the next level by adding Test Driven Development as well as jQuery and AJAX, Bootstrap 3, and SQLAlchemy.

Example Projects

One of the best ways to learn any sort of coding is to look at working example code that's already being used in production. Here are some projects I've built using the Flask web framework.

  • Project Naming - A simple app that checks to see if the name you're thinking of using for a project would be available on Twitter, Facebook and as a domain name. Code on github, here.

  • Rooster App - An app that sends you a text message with your local forecast each morning. The code is a bit more complex than the Project Naming example, but you should still be able to recognize things you've seen before. Code on github, here.


If there are things you'd like to see added to this app, feel free to send me a pull request. Please keep in mind that the audience is people who are making their first foyer into web development, so anything that's too complex will be rejected.

Things I'd love to add examples of:

  • Using SQL Alchemay to create an ORM
  • Using Users and Sessions
  • Template Inheretence
  • Writing some basic tests


A project that walks through the very basics of creating a super simple web application using Python and Flask.



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