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Copyright 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No part of these materials may be reproduced, modified, stored in a retrieval system, or retransmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written permission from NPR.

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About this template

This template provides a a project skeleton suitable for any project that is to be served entirely as flat files. Facilities are provided for rendering html from data, compiling LESS into CSS, deploying to S3, installing cron jobs on servers, copy-editing via Google Spreadsheets and a whole raft of other stuff.

Please note: This project is not intended to be a generic solution. We strongly encourage those who love the app-template to use it as a basis for their own project template. We have no plans to remove NPR-specific code from this project.

The init-tumblr branch provides an HTML form for embedding and a mechanism to crowdsource user-submitted content via a Tumblog.


The following things are assumed to be true in this documentation.

  • You are running OSX.
  • You are using Python 2.7. (Probably the version that came OSX.)
  • You have virtualenv and virtualenvwrapper installed and working.

What's in here?

The project contains the following folders and important files:

  • confs -- Server configuration files for nginx and uwsgi. Edit the templates then fab <ENV> render_confs, don't edit anything in confs/rendered directly.
  • data -- Data files, such as those used to generate HTML.
  • etc -- Miscellaneous scripts and metadata for project bootstrapping.
  • jst -- Javascript (Underscore.js) templates.
  • less -- LESS files, will be compiled to CSS and concatenated for deployment.
  • templates -- HTML (Jinja2) templates, to be compiled locally.
  • tests -- Python unit tests.
  • www -- Static and compiled assets to be deployed. (a.k.a. "the output")
  • www/live-data -- "Live" data deployed to S3 via cron jobs or other mechanisms. (Not deployed with the rest of the project.)
  • www/test -- Javascript tests and supporting files.
  • -- A Flask app for rendering the project locally.
  • -- Global project configuration for scripts, deployment, etc.
  • -- Code supporting the Editing workflow
  • crontab -- Cron jobs to be installed as part of the project.
  • -- Fabric commands automating setup and deployment.
  • -- A Flask app for running server-side code.
  • -- Code supporting template rendering.
  • requirements.txt -- Python requirements.

Configure the project

Edit and update PROJECT_NAME, DEPLOYED_NAME, REPOSITORY_NAME any other relevant configuration details.

NPR apps-specific: Update relevant environment variables with API keys, etc., from Dropbox: tumblog-setup You can either source ~/Dropbox/nprapps/tumblr_oauth_keys.txt (variables will only be set for the life of your current shell):

. ~/Dropbox/nprapps/tumblr_oauth_keys.txt

Or you can append its contents to your bash_profile|bashrc|zshrc:

cat ~/Dropbox/nprapps/tumblr_oauth_keys.txt >> ~/.zshrc

Tumblog setup

Log into our NPR apps tumblr account and create two new blogs:

  • $ (this will be our production blog)
  • $ (this will be our staging blog)

Theme edits

Copy and paste our custom Tumblr theme into Tumblr's blog editor.

Disqus setup

Navigate to "customize blog" and enter our Disqus shortname (found in Dropbox) under "Disqus shortname."

Install requirements

Node.js is required for the static asset pipeline. If you don't already have it, get it like this:

brew install node
curl | sh

Then install the project requirements:

cd changinglives
npm install
mkvirtualenv changinglives
ln -s /usr/local/include/freetype2 /usr/local/include/freetype
pip install pil --allow-external pil --allow-unverified pil
pip install -r requirements.txt

Project secrets

Project secrets should never be stored in or anywhere else in the repository. They will be leaked to the client if you do. Instead, always store passwords, keys, etc. in environment variables and document that they are needed here in the README.

Bootstrap issues

The app-template can automatically setup your Github repo with our default labels and tickets by running fab bootstrap_issues. You will be prompted for your Github username and password.

Adding a template/view

A site can have any number of rendered templates (i.e. pages). Each will need a corresponding view. To create a new one:

  • Add a template to the templates directory. Ensure it extends _base.html.
  • Add a corresponding view function to Decorate it with a route to the page name, i.e. @app.route('/filename.html')
  • By convention only views that end with .html and do not start with _ will automatically be rendered when you call fab render.

Run the project locally

A flask app is used to run the project locally. It will automatically recompile templates and assets on demand.

workon changinglives

Visit localhost:8000 in your browser.

On the init-tumblr branch, is used for the Tumblr form which will be baked out to a flat file that can then be embedded in the tumblog.

To run the simple app that will post to Tumblr (via an intermediate server for image uplaods):


This will run the simple app on localhost:8001.

Editing workflow

The app is rigged up to Google Docs for a simple key/value store that provides an editing workflow.

View the sample copy spreadsheet here. A few things to note:

  • If there is a column called key, there is expected to be a column called value and rows will be accessed in templates as key/value pairs
  • Rows may also be accessed in templates by row index using iterators (see below)
  • You may have any number of worksheets
  • This document must be "published to the web" using Google Docs' interface

This document is specified in app_config with the variable COPY_GOOGLE_DOC_KEY. To use your own spreadsheet, change this value to reflect your document's key (found in the Google Docs URL after &key=).

The app template is outfitted with a few fab utility functions that make pulling changes and updating your local data easy.

To update the latest document, simply run:

fab update_copy

Note: update_copy runs automatically whenever fab render is called.

At the template level, Jinja maintains a COPY object that you can use to access your values in the templates. Using our example sheet, to use the byline key in templates/index.html:

{{ COPY.attribution.byline }}

More generally, you can access anything defined in your Google Doc like so:

{{ COPY.sheet_name.key_name }}

You may also access rows using iterators. In this case, the column headers of the spreadsheet become keys and the row cells values. For example:

{% for row in COPY.sheet_name %}
{{ row.column_one_header }}
{{ row.column_two_header }}
{% endfor %}

Run Javascript tests

With the project running, visit localhost:8000/test/SpecRunner.html.

Run Python tests

Python unit tests are stored in the tests directory. Run them with fab tests.

Compile static assets

Compile LESS to CSS, compile javascript templates to Javascript and minify all assets:

workon changinglives
fab render

(This is done automatically whenever you deploy to S3.)

Test the rendered app

If you want to test the app once you've rendered it out, just use the Python webserver:

cd www
python -m SimpleHTTPServer

Deploy the app

There are two parts – deploy the form to S3 and the simple app ( to EC2. See the next two sections for more details on S3 and EC2, but a high level workflow is:

  • Run fab <ENV> master setup to configure the server (where <ENV> is either staging or production).
  • Run fab <ENV> master deploy to deploy the app.
  • Run fab <ENV> deploy_confs to render the server conf files (nginx and uwsgi) and then deploy them to the server. This will also restart the app on the server.

Deploy to S3

fab staging master deploy

Deploy to EC2

You can deploy to EC2 for a variety of reasons. We cover two cases: Running a dynamic Web application and executing cron jobs.

For running a Web application:

  • In set env.deploy_to_servers to True.
  • Also in set env.deploy_web_services to True.
  • Run fab staging master setup to configure the server.
  • Run fab staging master deploy to deploy the app.

For running cron jobs:

  • In set env.deploy_to_servers to True.
  • Also in, set env.install_crontab to True.
  • Run fab staging master setup to configure the server.
  • Run fab staging master deploy to deploy the app.

You can configure your EC2 instance to both run Web services and execute cron jobs; just set both environment variables in the fabfile.

Note: The Knockout-29.otf font must be manually installed on the servers at /home/ubuntu/apps/changing-lives/repository/Knockout-29.otf. It can not be installed automatically due to licensing restrictions.

Install cron jobs

Cron jobs are defined in the file crontab. Each task should use the shim to ensure the project's virtualenv is properly activated prior to execution. For example:

* * * * * ubuntu bash /home/ubuntu/apps/$PROJECT_NAME/repository/ fab $DEPLOYMENT_TARGET cron_test

Note: In this example you will need to replace $PROJECT_NAME with your actual deployed project name.

To install your crontab set env.install_crontab to True at the top of Cron jobs will be automatically installed each time you deploy to EC2.

Install web services

Web services are configured in the confs/ folder. Currently, there are two: nginx.conf and uwsgi.conf.

Running fab setup will deploy your confs if you have set env.deploy_to_servers and env.deploy_web_services both to True at the top of

To check that these files are being properly rendered, you can render them locally and see the results in the confs/rendered/ directory.

fab render_confs

You can also deploy the configuration files independently of the setup command by running:

fab deploy_confs

Deploy Tumblr themes

The base Tumblr theme is in the tumblr/theme.html file. There are included templates in templates/: _form.html, _prompt.html and _social.html. There are also two new constants in PROJECT_CREDITS and PROJECT_SHORTLINK. These should be changed on a per-project basis.

To deploy a Tumblr theme with local URLs, type fab staging copy_theme and the theme will be copied to your clipboard to paste into Tumblr. Note: This only works on Mac OSX. On Linux or Windows, use fab staging write_theme and manually copy the theme HTML from tumblr/rendered-theme.html.

To deploy a Tumblr theme with production URLs, type fab production copy_theme and the theme will be copied to your clipbaord to paste into Tumblr. Note: This only works on Mac OSX. On Linux or Windows, use fab production write_theme and manually copy the theme HTML from tumblr/rendered-theme.html.


Inspirational cubicle sign generator (built atop Tumblr) to accompany the NPR series "The Changing Lives of Women"







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