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Copyright 2017 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.

(Want to use this code? Send an email to!)


What is this?

Storytelling project around the situation of Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia.



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.
  • You have NPR's AWS credentials stored as environment variables locally.
  • You have mongodb installed.

For more details on the technology stack used with the app-template, see our development environment blog post.

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> servers.render_confs, don't edit anything in confs/rendered directly.
  • data -- Data files, such as those used to generate HTML.
  • fabfile -- Fabric commands for automating setup, deployment, data processing, etc.
  • 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/assets -- A symlink to an S3 bucket containing binary assets (images, audio).
  • 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.
  • -- A Flask app for running server-side code.
  • -- Code supporting template rendering.
  • requirements.txt -- Python requirements.
  • -- Static Flask views used in both and

Bootstrap the project

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

MongoDB is used to cache the ratios of our visual assets so that we do not need to download it everytime the parser runs

brew install mongodb

Then bootstrap the project:

cd idp-georgia
mkvirtualenv idp-georgia
pip install -r requirements.txt
npm install
fab update

We'll need a running instance of mongo to cache our images, it you have used brew to install mongo, first make sure that the /data/db directory is created and accessible to scripts, then run this on a new terminal window:

mongod --config /usr/local/etc/mongod.conf

Note: Leave that terminal window/tab open you are going to need it to cache images

Then in your main terminal run:

fab data.bootstrap_db

Important Note: At NPR we are using our licensed version of JWPlayer for the longer interview videos that way we can profit from the adaptive streaming that the player can handle to optimize to the users bandwith and screensize. If you would like to reuse this project you would need to provide your own hosted JWPlayer and add it to www/assets/jwplayer/ folder.

Problems installing requirements? You may need to run the pip command as ARCHFLAGS=-Wno-error=unused-command-line-argument-hard-error-in-future pip install -r requirements.txt to work around an issue with OSX.

Hide 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.

Any environment variable that starts with $PROJECT_SLUG_ will be automatically loaded when app_config.get_secrets() is called.

Save media assets

Large media assets (images, videos, audio) are synced with an Amazon S3 bucket specified in app_config.ASSETS_S3_BUCKET in a folder with the name of the project. (This bucket should not be the same as any of your app_config.PRODUCTION_S3_BUCKETS or app_config.STAGING_S3_BUCKETS.) This allows everyone who works on the project to access these assets without storing them in the repo, giving us faster clone times and the ability to open source our work.

Syncing these assets requires running a couple different commands at the right times. When you create new assets or make changes to current assets that need to get uploaded to the server, run fab assets.sync. This will do a few things:

  • If there is an asset on S3 that does not exist on your local filesystem it will be downloaded.
  • If there is an asset on that exists on your local filesystem but not on S3, you will be prompted to either upload (type "u") OR delete (type "d") your local copy.
  • You can also upload all local files (type "la") or delete all local files (type "da"). Type "c" to cancel if you aren't sure what to do.
  • If both you and the server have an asset and they are the same, it will be skipped.
  • If both you and the server have an asset and they are different, you will be prompted to take either the remote version (type "r") or the local version (type "l").
  • You can also take all remote versions (type "ra") or all local versions (type "la"). Type "c" to cancel if you aren't sure what to do.

Unfortunantely, there is no automatic way to know when a file has been intentionally deleted from the server or your local directory. When you want to simultaneously remove a file from the server and your local environment (i.e. it is not needed in the project any longer), run fab assets.rm:"www/assets/file_name_here.jpg"

Adding a page to the site

A site can have any number of rendered pages, each with a corresponding template and 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

We'll need a running instance of mongo to cache our images so run this on a new terminal window:

mongod --config /usr/local/etc/mongod.conf

Note: Leave that terminal window/tab open you are going to need it to cache images

We are using Google Drive Documents as our source for content, so you will need to download those documents prior to running the app, to do so run:

workon idp-georgia
fab text.update

_Optional: There's also a daemon that will automatically sync the google documents to your local environment, if you prefer to do that instead of manually updating your google drive local copies then run on a new terminal window/tab:

workon idp-georgia
fab daemons.main

Note: Leave that terminal window/tab open if you want the daemon to fetch google drive documents periodically

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

workon idp-georgia
fab app

Visit localhost:8000 in your browser.

Terminal shortcut

Do you use iTerm2 as your terminal app? Here's a sample AppleScript to automatically launch a four-paned terminal window (one for the idp-georgia machine, one for the local webserver, one for the google drive daemon and last one for mongodb).

You can save this locally, customize it to match your own configuration and add an alias for it to your .bash_profile.

alias georgia="osascript ~/PATH-TO-FILE/iterm_idpgeorgia.scpt"

COPY configuration

This app uses a Google Spreadsheet for a simple key/value store that provides an editing workflow.

To access the Google doc, you'll need to create a Google API project via the Google developer console.

Enable the Drive API for your project and create a "web application" client ID.

For the redirect URIs use:

  • http://localhost:8000/authenticate/
  • http://localhost:8888/authenticate/

For the Javascript origins use:

  • http://localhost:8000
  • http://localhost:8888

You'll also need to set some environment variables:

export AUTHOMATIC_SALT="jAmOnYourKeyBoaRd"

Note that AUTHOMATIC_SALT can be set to any random string. It's just cryptographic salt for the authentication library we use.

Once set up, run fab app and visit http://localhost:8000 in your browser. If authentication is not configured, you'll be asked to allow the application for read-only access to Google drive, the account profile, and offline access on behalf of one of your Google accounts. This should be a one-time operation across all app-template projects.

It is possible to grant access to other accounts on a per-project basis by changing GOOGLE_OAUTH_CREDENTIALS_PATH in

COPY editing

View the sample copy spreadsheet.

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. (The long string of random looking characters in your Google Docs URL. For example: 1DiE0j6vcCm55Dyj_sV5OJYoNXRRhn_Pjsndba7dVljo)

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

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 text.update

Note: text.update 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 %}

When naming keys in the COPY document, please attempt to group them by common prefixes and order them by appearance on the page. For instance:


Open Linked Google Spreadsheet

Want to edit/view the app's linked google spreadsheet, we got you covered.

We have created a simple Fabric task spreadsheet. It will try to find and open the app's linked google spreadsheet on your default browser.

fab spreadsheet

If you are working with other arbitraty google docs that are not involved with the COPY rig you can pass a key as a parameter to have that spreadsheet opened instead on your browser

fab spreadsheet:$GOOGLE_DOC_KEY

For example:

fab spreadsheet:12_F0yhsXEPN1w3GOlQB4_NKGadXiRLOa9l-HQu5jSL8
// Will open 270 project number-crunching spreadsheet

Generating custom font

This project uses a custom font build powered by Fontello If the font does not exist, it will be created when running fab update. To force generation of the custom font, run:

fab utils.install_font:true

Editing the font is a little tricky -- you have to use the Fontello web gui. To open the gui with your font configuration, run:

fab utils.open_font

Now edit the font, download the font pack, copy the new config.json into this project's fontello directory, and run fab utils.install_font:true again.

Arbitrary Google Docs

Sometimes, our projects need to read data from a Google Doc that's not involved with the COPY rig. In this case, we've got a helper function for you to download an arbitrary Google spreadsheet.

This solution will download the uncached version of the document, unlike those methods which use the "publish to the Web" functionality baked into Google Docs. Published versions can take up to 15 minutes up update!

Make sure you're authenticated, then call oauth.get_document(key, file_path).

Here's an example of what you might do:

from copytext import Copy
from oauth import get_document

def read_my_google_doc():
    file_path = 'data/extra_data.xlsx'
    get_document('1ETICIL5hdjXR14fb_Mvp2igeY9mg_7hwcWf-UfRCStI', file_path)
    data = Copy(file_path)

    for row in data['example_list']:
        print '%s: %s' % (row['term'], row['definition'])


Run Python tests

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

Run Javascript tests

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

Compile static assets

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

workon idp-georgia
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 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 (crontab).

Servers capable of running the app can be setup using our servers project.

For running a Web application:

  • In set DEPLOY_TO_SERVERS to True.
  • Also in set DEPLOY_WEB_SERVICES to True.
  • Run fab staging master servers.setup to configure the server.
  • Run fab staging master deploy to deploy the app.

For running cron jobs:

  • In set DEPLOY_TO_SERVERS to True.
  • Also in, set INSTALL_CRONTAB to True
  • Run fab staging master servers.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.

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/idp_georgia/repository/ fab $DEPLOYMENT_TARGET cron_jobs.test

To install your crontab set INSTALL_CRONTAB to True in Cron jobs will be automatically installed each time you deploy to EC2.

The cron jobs themselves should be defined in fabfile/ whenever possible.

Install web services

Web services are configured in the confs/ folder.

Running fab servers.setup will deploy your confs if you have set DEPLOY_TO_SERVERS and 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 servers.render_confs

You can also deploy only configuration files by running (normally this is invoked by deploy):

fab servers.deploy_confs

Run a remote fab command

Sometimes it makes sense to run a fabric command on the server, for instance, when you need to render using a production database. You can do this with the fabcast fabric command. For example:

fab staging master servers.fabcast:deploy

If any of the commands you run themselves require executing on the server, the server will SSH into itself to run them.


The Google Analytics events tracked in this application are:

Category Action Label Value
idp-georgia video-play video-id
idp-georgia menu-nav-click
idp-georgia call-to-action-click
idp-georgia utility-nav-click


Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia



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