Skip to content
Branch: master
Find file Copy path
Find file Copy path
5 contributors

Users who have contributed to this file

@codeinthehole @jamesbeith @seddonym @rasoolsomji @crabdul
1406 lines (1010 sloc) 45.6 KB


These are a series of conventions (to follow) and anti-patterns (to avoid) for writing Python and Django application code. They are intended to be an aid to code-review in that common comments can reference a single detailed explanation.



General Python:



CharField choices

The values stored in the database should be:

  • Uppercase and separated with underscores.
  • Namespaced with a string prefix.

A human-readable version should also be added in the tuples provided to the field.

    (CHANNEL_TELESALES, "Telesales"),
    (CHANNEL_FIELD_SALES, "Field-sales"),
channel = models.CharField(max_length=128, choices=CHANNEL_CHOICES)

This is because the database value is a code or symbol intended to be used within application logic but not shown to the end user - making it uppercase makes this distinction clear. Using a human-readable version for the database value can lead to bugs when a future maintainer wants to change the version shown to the end user.

Class naming conventions

Given we import modules, not objects, there's no need to suffix view/form/serializer classes names with View/Form/Serializer.

Within a calling module, it's nicer to have:

from django.views import generic
from . import forms

class SetPassword(generic.FormView):
    form_class = forms.NewPassword

rather than:

from django.views import generic
from . import forms

class SetPassword(generic.FormView):
    form_class = forms.NewPasswordForm

Model field naming conventions

DateTimeFields should generally have suffix _at. For example:

  • created_at
  • sent_at
  • period_starts_at

There are some exceptions such as available_from and available_to but stick with the convention unless you have a very good reason not to.

DateFields should have suffix _date:

  • billing_date
  • supply_date

This convention also applies to variable names.

Model method naming conventions

  • For query methods (ie methods that look something up and return it), prefix with get_.

  • For setter methods (ie methods that set fields and call save), prefix with set_.

  • Prefer "latest" to "last" in method names as "latest" implies chronological order where the ordering is not explicit when using "last"; ie get_latest_payment_schedule. Similarly, prefer earliest to first in method names.

Encapsulate model mutation

Don't call a model's save method from anywhere but "mutator" methods on the model itself.

Similarly, avoid calling SomeModel.objects.create or even SomeModel.related_objects.create from outside of the model itself. Encapsulate these in "factory" methods (classmethods for the objects.create call).

Doing this provides a useful overview of the lifecycle of a model as you can see all the ways it can mutate in once place.

Also, this practice leads to better tests as you have a simple, readable method to stub when testing units that call into the model layer.

Further reading:

Group methods and properties on models

To keep models well organised and easy to understand, group their methods and properties into these groups using a comment:

  • Factories
  • Mutators
  • Queries
  • Properties

Contrived example:

class SomeModel(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=255)

    # Factories

    def new(cls, name):
        return cls.objects.create(name=name)

    # Mutators

    def anonymise(self): = ''

    def update_name(self, new_name): = new_name

    # Queries

    def get_num_apples(self):
        return self.fruits.filter(type="APPLE").count()

    # Properties

    def is_called_dave(self):
        return == "dave"

Create filter methods on querysets, not managers

Django’s model managers and QuerySets are similar, see the docs for an explanation of the differences. However, when creating methods that return a queryset we’re better off creating these on a custom queryset class rather than a custom manager.

A manager method is only available on a manager or related-manager. So Article.objects or Author.articles. They’re not available to querysets, which is what’s returned from a manager or queryset method, so they cannot be chained. In the example below my_custom_filter() is a method on a custom manager class, so an AttributeError is raised when attempting to call it from a queryset, i.e. the return value of .filter().

>>> Article.objects.my_custom_filter().filter(is_published=True)
<QuerySet [<Article (1)>, <Article (2)>]>
>>> Article.objects.filter(is_published=True).my_custom_filter()
AttributeError: 'QuerySet' object has no attribute 'my_custom_filter'

Below is an example of creating a custom queryset class and using it as a model’s manager. This allows us to call it on both the manager and queryset.

class ArticleQuerySet(models.QuerySet):

    def my_custom_filter(self):
        return self.filter(headline__contains='Lennon')

class Article(models.Model):

    objects = ArticleQuerySet.as_manager()

Only use .get with unique fields

Ensure calls to .objects.get and .objects.get_or_create use fields that have a uniqueness constraint across them. If the fields aren't guaranteed to be unique, use .objects.filter.

Don't do this:

    thing = Thing.objects.get(name=some_value)
except Thing.DoesNotExist:

unless the name field has a unique=True. Instead do this:

things = Thing.objects.filter(name=some_value)
if things.count() == 1:

The same applies when looking up using more than one field.

This implies we never need to catch MultipleObjectsReturned.

Don't rely on implicit ordering of querysets

If you grab the .first() or .last() element of a queryset, ensure you explicitly sort it with .order_by(). Don't rely on the default ordering set in the Meta class of the model as this may change later on breaking your assumptions.

Don't use audit fields for application logic

It's useful to add audit fields to models to capture datetimes when that database record was created or updated:

class SomeModel(models.Model):
    created_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now_add=True)
    updated_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now=True)

But don't use these fields for application logic. If you need to use the creation time of an object, add a separate field that must be explicitly set upon creation. Why?

  • Often the creation time of a domain object in the real world is different from the time when you inserted its record into the database (eg when backfilling).

  • Fields with auto_now_add=True are harder to test as it's a pain to the set the value when creating fixtures.

  • Explicit is better than implicit.

These automatically set fields should only be used for audit and reporting purposes.

Be conservative with model @property methods

It's not always obvious when to decorate a model method as a property. Here are some rules-of-thumb:

A property method should not trigger a database call. Don't do this:

def num_children(self):

Use a method instead.

Property methods should generally just derive a new value from the fields on the model. A common use-case is predicates like:

def is_closed(self):
    return self.status == self.CLOSED

If in doubt, use a method not a property.

Ensure __str__ is unique

Ensure the string returned by a model's __str__ method uniquely identifies that instance.

This is important as Sentry (and other tools) often just print repr(instance) of the instance (which prints the output from __str__). When debugging, it's important to know exactly which instances are involved in an error, hence why this string should uniquely identify a single model instance.

It's fine to use something like:

def __str__(self):
    return f"#{} ..."

Effective flash messages

Flash messages are those one-time messages shown to users after an action has been performed. They are triggered using the django.contrib.messages package, normally from within a view class/function.

Here's a few tips.

  • Don't say "successfully" in flash messages (eg "The thing was updated successfully"). Prefer a more active tone (eg "The thing was updated").

  • Don't include IDs that are meaningless to the end user (eg "Thing 1234 was updated").

  • Consider including links to related resources that might be a common next step for the user. HTML can be included in flash messages

    msg = (
        '<h4>Some heading</h4>'
        '<p>An action was performed. Now do you want to <a href="%s">do the next thing</a>.</p>'
    ) % next_thing_url
    messages.success(request, msg, extra_tags='safe')

    Note the safe tag which allow HTML to be included in the message.

Avoid model forms

Django's model-forms are a useful crutch for rapidly building web projects. However for a late-stage Django project (like ours), they are best avoided apart from the most degenerate, simple scenarios.

Why? Because they conflate validation and persistence logic which, over time, leads to hard-to-maintain code. As soon as you need to add more sophisticated actions (than a simple DB write) to a successful form submission, model-forms are the wrong choice. Once you start overriding .save(), you're on the path to maintenance hell. Future maintainers will thank you if you ensure forms are only responsible for validating dictionaries of data, nothing more, single-responsibility principle and all that.

Instead, use plain subclasses of form.Form and Django's fields_for_model function to extract the form fields you need. Handle the form_valid scenario in the view with a single call into the domain layer to perform all necessary actions.

One advantage of this is you can pluck form fields off several models to build a sophisticated form, which allows views to be kept simple and thin (handling multiple forms in the same view should be avoided).


from django import forms
from myproject.someapp import models

class SampleForm(forms.Form):

    # Grab fields from two different models
    user_fields = forms.fields_for_model(models.User)
    profile_fields = forms.fields_for_model(models.Profile)

    name = user_fields['name']
    age = profile_fields['age']

The same principle applies to other ORM-constructs, like DRF's model serializers, which trade-off good structure and long-term maintability for short-term development speed.

This is an important step in extricating a project from Django's tight grip, moving towards treating Django as a library rather than framework.

Avoid multiple domain calls from an interface component

An interface component, like a view class/function or Celery task, should only make one call into the domain layer (ie the packages in your codebase where application logic lives).

Recall: the job of any interface component is this:

  1. Translate requests from the language of the interface (ie HTTP requests or serialized Celery task payloads) into domain objects (eg Account instances)

  2. Call into the domain layer of your application to fetch some query results or perform an action.

  3. Translate any returned values (or exceptions) from the domain layer back into the language of the interface (eg into a 200 HTTP response for a successful query, or a 503 HTTP response if an action wasn't possible). Note, this step only applies to interfaces components that can respond in some way - this doesn't apply to fire-and-forget Celery tasks where there's no results back-end.

This convention mandates that step 2 involves a single call into the domain layer to keep the interface easy-to-maintain and to avoid leaking application logic into the interface layer.

So avoid this kind of thing:

class SomeView(generic.FormView):

    def form_valid(self, form):
        account = form.cleaned_data['account']
        payment = form.cleaned_data['payment']

        result = some_domain_module.do_something(account, payment)
        if result:
            form.add_error(None, "Couldn't do something")
            return self.form_invalid(form)

        some_logging_module.log_event(account, payment)

        return shortcuts.redirect("success")

where the view class is making multiple calls into the domain layer.

Instead, encapsulate the domain functionality that the interface requires in a single domain call:

class SomeView(generic.FormView):

    def form_valid(self, form):
        except some_domain_module.UnableToDoSomething as e:
            # Here we assume the exception message is suitable for end-users. 
            form.add_error(None, str(e))
            return self.form_invalid(form)

        return shortcuts.redirect("success")

Note the use of domain-specific exceptions to handle failure conditions.

Since fire-and-forget Celery tasks can't respond, their implementation should be simple: just loading the appropriate domain objects and making a single call into the domain layer. Something like:

def perform_some_action(*, foo_id, bar_id, *args, **kwargs):
    foo = Foo.objects.get(id=foo_id)
    bar = Bar.objects.get(id=bar_id)

    some_domain_module.perform_action(foo, bar)

Load resources in dispatch method

If using class-based views, perform all model loading, access-control and pre-condition checks in the dispatch method (or the get method if a read-only view). Because:

  • This method is expected to return a HttpResponse instance and so is a natural place to return a 404 (if the object does not exist) or 403 if the requesting user does not have permission to access the requested object.

  • This method is called for all HTTP methods and avoids possible security holes if permissions are only checked in, say, the get method.

In particular, avoid loading resources or checking permissions in other commonly-subclassed methods like get_context_data or get_form_kwargs.

When checking pre-conditions, avoid adding business logic to the dispatch method. Instead encapsulate the check as a function in the domain layer and call that from dispatch - something like this:

from django.views import generic
from django import shortcuts, http

from import models
from project.interfaces import acl
from project.domain.frobs import checks

class ActOnFrob(generic.FormView):
    def dispatch(self, request, *args, **kwargs):
        # Load the resource specified in the URL.
        self.frob = shortcuts.get_object_or_404(models.Frob, id=kwargs["id"])

        # Check if the request user is allowed to mutate the resource.
        if not acl.can_user_administer_frob(request.user, self.frob):
            return http.HttpResponseForbidden("...")

        # Check the pre-conditions for the resource to be mutated.
        if not checks.can_frob_be_mutated(self.frob):
            return http.HttpResponseForbidden("...")

        return super().dispatch(request, *args, **kwargs)

DRF serializers

Serializers provided by Django-REST-Framework are useful, not just for writing REST APIs. They can used anywhere you want to clean and validate a nested dictionary of data. Here are some conventions for writing effective serializers.

Be liberal in what is accepted in valid input.

  • Allow optional fields to be omitted from the payload, or have null or "" passed as their value.

  • Convert inputs into normal forms (by eg stripping whitespace or upper-casing).

In contrast, be conservative in what is returned in the validated_data dict. Ensure validated_data has a consistent data structure no matter what valid input is used. Don't make calling code worry about whether a particular key exists in the dict.

In practice, this means:

  • Optional fields where None is not a valid value have a default value set in the serializer field declaration.

  • If optional string-based fields have allow_null=True, then convert any None values to the field default.

To that end, use this snippet at the end of your validate method to ensure there are no missing keys in the validated_data dict and that None is only included as a value in validated_data when it's a field's default.

def validate(self, data):
    # Ensure validated data includes all fields and None is only used as a value when it's 
    # the default value for a field.
    for field_name, field in self.fields.items():
        if field_name not in data:
            data[field_name] = field.initial
        elif data[field_name] is None and data[field_name] != field.initial:
            data[field_name] = field.initial

    return data


  • Ensure validation error messages end with a period.

Out-of-band form errors

In a FormView sometimes an error occurs after the initial payload has been validated. For instance, a payment partner's API might respond with an error when registering a new bankcard even though the submitted bankcard details appeared to be valid. To handle this situation in a FormView subclass, use the following pattern:

from django.views import generic
from . import forms

class CreateSomething(generic.FormView):
    form_class = forms.Something


    def form_valid(self, form):
            thing = domain.create_a_thing(
        except domain.UnableToCreateThing as e:
            # Handle *anticipated* exceptions; things we know might go wrong but
            # can't do much about (eg vendor errors). Here we assume the exception 
            # message is suitable for end-users but often it needs some
            # adjusting.
            form.add_error(None, str(e))
            return self.form_invalid(form)
        except Exception as e
            # Optional handling of *unanticipated* errors. When this happens, we want to send
            # details of the error to Sentry so such errors can be investigated
            # and fixed. It's optional as we could omit this block and let the
            # exception percolate up to generate a 500 response which Sentry
            # will capture automatically. It's a bit friendlier to the user to
            # show them some custom copy rather than a generic 500 response.

            # Ensure your logger has the Raven handler so the exception is sent
            # to Sentry.
            logger.exception("Unable to create a thing")
            # Depending on context, it might not be appropriate to
            # show the exception message to the end-user. If possible, offer
            # some guidance on what the end-user should do next (eg contact
            # support, try again, etc). Ensure the tone is apologetic.
            msg = (
                "Really sorry, we weren't able to do the thing as an unanticipated "
                "error occurred. Error message: %s"
            ) % e
            form.add_error(None, msg)
            return self.form_invalid(form) 
            # Handle successful creation...
            message.success(self.request, "Created the thing!")
            return http.HttpResponseFound(...)


Publishing events

When publishing application events, the params should be things that are known before the event, while meta should be things known after the event as well as general contextual fields that aren't directly related to the event itself (like a request user-agent).


result = do_something(foo, bar)

        'foo': foo,
        'bar': bar,
        'result': result

Prefer passing IDs of model instances rather than the instances of themselves. Eg, prefer params={'bill_id':} to params={'bill': bill}.

Also, call .isoformat() on any dates or datetimes as that gives a more useful string.

Prefer using the reverse domain name notation naming convention for event type constants. This can aid performing queries in our logging platform.


COMMS_MESSAGE_SEND_SUCCESS = "comms.message.send-success"
COMMS_MESSAGE_SEND_ERROR = "comms.message.send-error"

Which then makes it easy to perform these three such queries.

# Only successful send message events

# Only error send message events

# All send message events (i.e. both success and error)

Logging exceptions

Use logger.exception in except blocks but pass a useful message - don't just pass on the caught exception's message. Don't even format the exception's message into the logged message - Sentry will pick up the original exception automatically.

Doing this enables Sentry to group the logged errors together rather than treating each logged exception as a new error. See Sentry's docs for further info.

Don't do this:

except UnableToDoSomething as e:

or this:

except UnableToDoSomething as e:
    logger.exception("Unable to do something: %s" % e)

Instead, do this:

except UnableToDoSomething:
    logger.exception("Unable to do something")

If you do need to format data into the message string, don't use the % operator. Instead, pass the parameters as args:

except UnableToDoSomething:
    logger.exception("Unable to do something with arg %s", x)

Distinguish between anticipated and unanticipated exceptions

When calling functions that can raise exceptions, ensure your handling distinguishes between anticipated and unanticipated exceptions. It generally makes sense to use separate exception classes for anticipated exceptions and to log any other exceptions to Sentry:

For example:

except some_usecase.UnableToDoSomething:
    # We know about this failure condition. No code change is required so we
    # don't log the error to Sentry.
except Exception:
    # This is *unanticipated* so we log the exception to Sentry as some change is
    # required to handle this more gracefully.
    logger.exception("Unable to do something")

The rule of thumb is that anything logged to Sentry requires a code change to fix it. If nothing can be done (ie a vendor time-out), publish an application event instead.

Exception imports

Ensure exception classes are importable from the same location as functionality that raise them.

For example, prefer:

from octoenergy.domain import operations

except operations.UnableToDoTheThing as e:

where the UnableToDoTheThing exception is importable from the operations module, just like the do_the_thing function which can raise it.

This is simpler (ie fewer imports) and reads better than when the exception class lives elsewhere:

from octoenergy.domain import operations
from octoenergy.somewhere.other import exceptions

except exceptions.UnableToDoTheThing as e:

In general, be wary of re-using the same exception type for different use-cases; this can lead to ambiguity and bugs. Furthermore, it rarely makes sense to have modules of exception classes used in many places. In general, prefer to define exception types in the same module as where they are raised.

Celery tasks

Care is required when changing Celery task signatures as publishers and consumers get deployed at different times. It's important that changes to how an event is published don't cause consumers to crash.

To protect against this, Celery tasks should be defined like this:

def my_task(*, foo, bar, **kwargs):

and called like this:

my_task.apply_async(kwargs={'foo': 1, 'bar': 2})

Things to note:

  1. The task is declared with a specific queue. It's easier to troubleshoot queue issues if tasks are categorised like this. Note that the queue is specified when we declare the task, not when we trigger the task, as we want each specific task to be added to the same queue.
  2. The task is called using kwargs, not args - and the task declaration uses a leading * to enforce this.
  3. The task signature ends with **kwargs to capture any additional arguments. This simplifies the future addition of arguments, as older workers can still handle newer tasks without crashing.

These steps provide some robustness to signature changes but they are not watertight.

For frequently called tasks (that may be in-flight during a deployment), a two-phase approach is required (similar to how backwards-incompatible database migrations are handled).

First the consumer function needs to be updated to handle both the old and new way of calling it (this may be to return new payloads to the queue if they can't be handled). This then needs to be deployed.

Second, the publisher and consumer can be modified to use the new calling args/kwargs. When this deploys, the older consumers should handle any published events gracefully before they are terminated.

Keyword-only functions

Python 3 supports keyword-only arguments where callers of a function HAVE to pass kwargs (positional args get a TypeError). Syntax:

    def f(*, name, age):

In general, prefer calling functions with kwargs where it's not immediately obvious what the positional args are (ie most of the time). This improves readability and makes collaborator tests clearer (ie writing the collabator.assert_called_with(...) assertion).

Further, always use keyword-only args for "public" domain functions (ie those which are called from the interface layer or from packages within the domain layer).

Minimise system clock calls

Avoids calls to the system clock in the domain layer of the application. That is, calls to, etc. Think of such calls like network or database calls.

Instead, prefer computing relevant datetimes or dates at the interface layer and passing them in. This won't always be possible but often is.


  1. This makes testing easier as you don't need to mock a system call. Your functions will be purer with controlled inputs and outputs.

  2. It also avoids issues where Celery tasks are publishing on one day but get executed on another. It removes an assumption from the code.

Avoid the pattern of using a default of None for a date/datetime parameter then calling the system clock to populate it if no value is explicitly passed. Instead of:

def some_function(*, base_date=None):
    if base_date is None:
        base_date =

prefer the more explicit:

def some_function(*, base_date):

which forcers callers to compute the date they want to use for the function. As suggested above, such system-clock calls should be reserved for the interface layer of your application and the value passed though into the business-logic/domain layers.

Modelling periods of time

It's common for domain objects to model some period of time that defines when an object is "active" or "valid". When faced with this challenge, prefer to use datetime fields where the upper bound is nullable and exclusive. Eg:

class SomeModel(models.Model):
    active_from = models.DateTimeField()
    active_to = models.DateTimeField(null=True)

Specifically, try and avoid using fields as these are more error-prone due to implicit conversion of datetimes and complications from daylight-savings time.

Further, whether using dates or datetimes, allowing the upper bound to be exclusive allows zero-length periods to be modelled, which is often required (even if it isn't obvious that will be the case at first).

Don't follow this rule dogmatically: there will be cases where the appropriate domain concept is a date instead of a datetime, but in general, prefer to model with datetimes.


Wrap with parens not backslashes

That is, prefer:

from import (
    thing1, thing2, thing3, thing4)


from import \
    thing1, thing2, thing3, thing4

Import modules, not objects

Usually, you should import modules rather than their objects. Instead of:

from django.http import (
    HttpResponse, HttpResponseRedirect, HttpResponseBadRequest)
from django.shortcuts import render, get_object_or_404


from django import http, shortcuts

This keeps the module namespace cleaner and less likely to have accidental collisions. It also usually makes the module more concise and readable.

Further, it fosters writing simpler isolated unit tests in that import modules works well with mock.patch.object to fake/stub/mock direct collaborators of the system-under-test. Using the more general mock.patch often leads to accidental integration tests as an indirect collaborator (several calls away) is patched.


import mock
from somepackage import somemodule

@mock.patch.object(somemodule, 'collaborator')
def test_a_single_unit(collaborator):

Remember, in the long term, slow integration tests will rot your test suite. Fast isolated unit tests keep things healthy.

When to import objects directly

Avoiding object imports isn't a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it can significantly impair readability. This is particularly the case with commonly used objects in the standard library. Some examples where you should import the object instead:

from decimal import Decimal
from typing import Optional, Tuple, Dict
from collections import defaultdict

Convenience imports

A useful pattern is to import the "public" objects from a package into its module to make life easier for calling code. This does need to be done with care though - here's a few guidelines:

Don't use wildcard imports

Don't use wildcard imports (ie from somewhere import *), even if each imported module specifies an __all__ variable.

Instead of:

# hallandoates/
from ._problems import *
from ._features import *


# hallandoates/
from ._problems import ICantGoForThat, NoCanDo
from ._features import man_eater, rich_girl, shes_gone


  • Wildcard imports can make it harder for maintainers to find where functionality lives.
  • Wildcard imports can confuse static analysis tools like mypy.
  • If submodules don't specify an __all__ variable, a large number of objects can be inadvertanty imported into the module, leading to a danger of name collisions.

Fundamentally, it's better to be explicit (even if it is more verbase).

Only use convenience imports in leaf-node packages

Don't structure packages like this:

    # imports from and

where a non-leaf-node package, has convenience imports in its module. Doing this means imports from subpackages like will unecessarily import everything in waldo's module. This is wasteful and increases the change of circular import problems.

Only use convenience imports in leaf-node packages; that is, packages with no subpackages.

Don't expose modules as public objects in

If your package structure looks like:


don't do this:

# foo/bar/
import bar, qux

where the modules bar and qux have been imported.

It's better for callers to import modules using their explicit path rather than this kind of trickery.

Application logic in interface layer

Interface code like view modules and management command classes should contain no application logic. It should all be extracted into other modules so other "interfaces" can call it if they need to.

The role of interface layers is simply to translate transport-layer requests (like HTTP requests) into domain requests. And similarly, translate domain responses into transport responses (eg convert an application exception into a HTTP error response).

A useful thought exercise to go through when adding code to a view is to imagine needing to expose the same functionality via a REST API or a management command. Would anything need duplicating from the view code? If so, then this tells you that there's logic in the view layer that needs extracting.

Don't do nothing silently

Avoid this pattern:

def do_something(*args, **kwargs):
    if thing_done_already():
    if preconditions_not_met():

where the function makes some defensive checks and returns without doing anything if these fail. From the caller's point of view, it can't tell whether the action was successful or not. This leads to subtle bugs.

It's much better to be explicit and use exceptions to indicate that an action couldn't be taken. Eg:

def do_something(*args, **kwargs):
    if thing_done_already():
        raise ThingAlreadyDone
    if thing_not_ready():
        raise ThingNotReady

Let the calling code decide how to handle cases where the action has already happened or the pre-conditions aren't met. The calling code is usually in the best place to decide if doing nothing is the right action.

If it really doesn't matter if the action succeeds or fails from the caller's point-of-view (a "fire-and-forget" action), then use a wrapper function that delegates to the main function but swallows all exceptions:

def do_something(*args, **kwargs):
        _do_something(*args, **kwargs)
    except (ThingsAlreadyDone, ThingNotReady):
        # Ignore these cases

def _do_something(*args, **kwargs):
    if thing_done_already():
        raise ThingAlreadyDone
    if thing_not_ready():
        raise ThingNotReady

This practice does mean using lots of custom exception classes (which some people are afraid of) - but that is ok.

Docstrings vs. comments

There is a difference:

  • Docstrings are written between triple quotes within the function/class block. They explain what the function does and are written for people who might want to use that function/class but are not interested in the implementation details.

  • In contrast, comments are written # like this and are written for people who want to understand the implementation so they can change or extend it. They will commonly explain why something has been implemented the way it has.

It sometimes makes sense to use both next to each other, eg:

def do_that_thing():
    Perform some action and return some thing
    # This has been implemented this way because of these crazy reasons.

Related reading:


Test folder structure

Tests are organised by their type:

  • tests/unit/ - Isolated unit tests that test the behaviour of a single unit. Collaborators should be mocked. No database or network access is permitted.

  • tests/integration/ - For testing several units and how they are plumbed together. These often require database access and use factories for set-up. These are best avoided in favour or isolated unit tests (to drive design) and end-to-end functional tests (to help us sleep better at night knowing things work as expected).

  • tests/functional/ - For end-to-end tests designed to check everything is plumbed together correctly. These should use webtest or Django's call_command function to trigger the test and only patch third party calls.

Test module names for unit and integration tests

The file path of a unit (or integration) test module should mirror the structure of the application module it's testing.

Eg octoenergy/path/to/ should have tests in tests/unit/path/to/

Test module names for functional tests

The file path of a functional test module should adopt the same naming as the use-case it is testing. Don't mirror the name of an application module.

Eg The "direct registration" journey should have functional tests in somewhere like tests/functional/consumersite/

Test class structure

For each object being tested, use a test class to group its tests. Eg:

from somewhere import some_function

class TestSomeFunction:

    def test_does_something_in_a_certain_way(self):

    def test_does_something_in_a_different_way(self):

Name the test methods so that they complete a sentence started by the test class name. This is done in the above example to give:

  • "test some_function does something in a certain way"
  • "test some_function does something in a different way"

Using this technique, ensure the names accurately describe what the test is testing.

This is less important for functional tests which don't call into a single object's API.


Don't assume that tests that use the database are fully isolated from each other. Your tests should not make assertions about the global state of the database.

For example, a test should not assert that there are only a certain number of model instances in the database, as a transactional test (which does commit to the same DB) running concurrently may have created some.

Why aren't they isolated?

While in most cases tests are isolated (i.e. they run in separate database transactions), a few of our tests use the Pytest marker transaction=true. This causes them to use TransactionTestCase, which, confusingly, doesn't run in a transaction. Because we run our tests concurrently (using the --numprocesses flag), these non-wrapped transactions are not isolated from other tests running at the same time.

Freeze or inject time for tests

Don't let tests or the system-under-test call the system clock unless it is being explicitly controlled using a tool like freezegun.

This guards against a whole class of date-related test bugs which often manifest themselves if your test-suite runs in the hours before or after mignight. Typically these are caused by DST-offsets where a datetime in UTC has a different date to one in the local timezone.

For unit tests, it's best to design functions and classes to have dates/datetimes injected so freezegun isn't necessary.

For integration or functional tests, wrap the fixture creation and test invocation in the freezegun decorator/context-manager to give tight control of what the system clock calls will return.

Use this technique to control the context/environment in which a test executes so that it behaves predictably whatever time of day the test suite is run. Don't always pick a "safe" time for a test to run; use this technique to test behaviour at trickier times such as midnight on DST-offset dates.

Unit test method structure

A unit test has three steps:

  • ARRANGE: put the world in the right state for the test
  • ACT: call the unit under test (and possibly capture its output)
  • ASSERT: check that the right output was returned (or the right calls to collaborators were made).

To aid readability, organise your test methods in this way, adding a blank line between each step. Trivial example:

class TestSomeFunction:

    def test_does_something_in_a_certain_way(self):
        input = {'a': 100}

        output = some_function(input)

        assert output == 300

This applies less to functional tests which can make many calls to the system.

Functional test method structure

For functional tests, use comments and blank lines to ensure each step of the test is easily understandable. Eg:

def test_some_longwinded_process(support_client, factory):
    # Create an electricity-only account with one agreement
    account = factory.create_electricity_only_account()
    product = factory.create_green_product()
    agreement = factory.ElectricityAgreement(tariff__product=product, account=account)

    # Load account detail page and check the agreement is shown
    response = support_client.get('account', number=account.number)

    # Fill in form to revoke agreement

    # Check agreemnt has been revoked

You get the idea.

Don't use numbered variables

Avoid numbering variables like so:

def test_something(factory):
    account1 = factory.Account()
    account2 = factory.Account()

There's always a better naming that avoids numeric suffixes and more clearly expresses intent.

For instance, if you need more than one of something and it's not important to distinguish between each instance, just use an iterable:

def test_something(factory):
    accounts = [factory.Account(), factory.Account()]
    # some action happens to the accounts
    for account in accounts:
        assert account.action_happened  # some assertion on each item in iterable

If you do need to distinguish between the instances later on, then use the distinguishing features to guide the naming of each variable. For example:

def test_something(factory):
    withdrawn_account = factory.Account(status="WITHDRAWN")
    active_account = factory.Account(status="ACTIVE")
    accounts = [withdrawn_account, active_account]
    # some action happens to the accounts
    assert active_account.action_happened 
You can’t perform that action at this time.