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The shiny brand new website for Outreachy, based on Django with the Wagtail CMS plugin.
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What is Outreachy?

Outreachy is a three-month paid internship program for people traditionally underrepresented in tech. This particular project is an attempt to rebuild a new website for Outreachy.

Current state of Outreachy tech

Build Status

The Outreachy web presence is scattered across multiple different sites, domains, and technologies:

Missing things:

  • An Outreachy coordinator blog
  • A user-friendly chat system (IRC ports are often blocked by universities due to concerns about IRC being used for spam bot coordination)
  • A way for coordinators, mentors, and interns to update the information we have stored and/or displayed (without all needing GNOME wiki accounts)


  • Move Outreachy web presence onto our own domain,
  • Create templates for pages that have a standard layout (e.g. round pages) to eliminate manually updating multiple pages when a date changes
  • Create data models to track information about communities, mentors, sponsors, applicants, and interns
  • Use those data models to send emails (e.g. mentor needs to select an intern, remind mentor to send intern feedback, etc)

Stretch Goals

  • Allow community coordinators and mentors to create and manage community and project pages
  • Replace the current Outreachy application system with one that integrates into this site
  • Replace planetaria with one hosted on our domain (that allows for filtering which blogs are displayed?)
  • Track longitudinal information of alumni, so we can share success stories and improve our program
  • Track where communities are in our "funnel" - e.g. do they have funding? a landing page? which mentors are signed up in the application system?
  • Track sponsorship information
  • Create a better way of displaying the list of potential Outreachy projects - e.g. allow searching, tagging for programming language or design or documentation or user experience

Technology Choices

We evaluated a couple different choices:

  • CiviCRM
  • Wordpress
  • Red Hen
  • Django

CiviCRM proved too clunky to use, and ultimately their data model didn't necessarily fit our data models. Wordpress might have been fine with a template plugin and would have good user experience, but with everything we wanted to do, we felt we would ultimately outgrow Wordpress.

There are other proprietary tools for tracking sponsorship information, but since Outreachy is a project under the Software Freedom Conservancy and the Outreachy organizers believe in the power of free and open source, we have decided not to use proprietary software wherever possible.

Django fit our needs for flexibility, data model definition, and future use cases. However, the Django admin interface is pretty clunky and intimidating. We wanted to have a very easy way for all our organizers to quickly edit content. The Wagtail CMS plugin provides a nice user interface and template system, while still allowing programmers to fully use Django to implement models. It also provides internal revision tracking for page content, which means we can easily roll back content changes from the wagtail admin web interface if necessary.

How does the Outreachy website tech work together?

The Outreachy website is built on a Python and a web framework called Django. Additionally, the Outreachy website uses a content management system called Wagtail, which builds on top of Django. On the Outreachy webserver, we run Dokku, which helps us deploy new code, manage our Let's Encrypt SSL certificates, and backup the Outreachy website database. Only Outreachy organizers have ssh access to push new code to the server.

Optional helpful background reading

Django topic guides, particularly the models guide.

Setting up your development environment

You can run Django locally to test changes to the code, test creating new pages, test adding new users, etc. The local tests you run will not impact the main Outreachy website, only your local version of the website. You should test changes locally before submitting a pull request.

To set up your local development environment, first clone the repository to your local machine:

git clone

In order to develop with Python, you'll need the Python 3 development headers, so install them. If you're running Debian Linux, you'll either need to install nodejs 8 or install the nodejs-legacy package, because older versions of the package installs itself as node rather than nodejs.

Next, you'll need to create a new virtualenv. A "virtualenv" is a separate virtual environment for working on different Python projects. It's good practice to create a virtual environment for each Python project you're working on, in case they have conflicting dependencies, and so that you make sure to record all the dependencies for each project.

These instructions will help you create a new virtualenv that will have all the python packages installed that you need to work on the Outreachy website. We use pipenv for this purpose.

To install pipenv, you'll need to either install Homebrew (if you're on a Mac or Windows) or (if you're running Linux) install Linuxbrew.

Then install pipenv.

The following command will automatically create a virtual environment and install the Python dependencies specified in the Pipfile. If you need help understanding pipenv, run pipenv --help

pipenv install

Pipenv automatically records changes in the project's dependencies in the Pipfile when you add/remove packages using the corresponding commands:

pipenv install <package>
pipenv uninstall <package>

Now, you activate the virtual environment by typing the following command in the directory of the project:

pipenv shell

In addition to the Python packages that were installed for you when you created the virtualenv, you also need to install some Node.js packages; these will be placed in a node_modules directory inside your project folder. Make sure you have npm installed, then run:

npm install

If this is your first time creating a local version of the website for testing, you'll need to set up the local website database from scratch. The following command will create a new database with the models in the Outreachy website. The database will initially have no website pages, but will eventually store your local test pages.

./ migrate

The next step is to create an admin account for the local website.

./ createsuperuser

Testing the local website

Once you've run the above setup commands, you should be all set to start testing your local website. First, run the command to start the Django webserver and serve up the local website.

PATH="$PWD/node_modules/.bin:$PATH" ./ runserver

In your web browser, go to http://localhost:8000/admin/ to get to the Wagtail administrative interface. http://localhost:8000/django-admin/ takes you to the regular Django administrative interface. You can log in into both with the account you created with ./ createsuperuser.

If you want to create participating communities, project proposals etc. you first need to set up a RoundPage. An easy way to do so is from the Django administrative interface. To do this navigate to, login with the superuser account and fill out the necessary fields: path,depth,title,slug,content-type (should be round page), owner, page title and Roundnumber. All other fields can be run with the defaults. Afterwards you can navigate to to see the current round.

Django shell

Django has a 'shell' mode where you can run snippets of Python code. This is extremely useful for figuring out why view code isn't working. It's also useful for doing quick tests of how templates (especially email templates) will look.

You can run the shell on either your local copy of the database, or you can run it on the remote server's database. To start the shell on your local copy of the code and local database, run

./ shell

You'll get a Python prompt that looks fairly similar to the standard Python shell, except that all the Django code you've written is available. For instance, you can import all the models in home/

$ ./ shell
Python 3.6.6 (default, Jun 27 2018, 14:44:17) 
[GCC 8.1.0] on linux
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> from home.models import *

Say we're making changes to an email template, and we want to know whether the template will render correctly. We'll use the template `home/templates/home/email/interns-notify.txt' as an example. This template takes an InternSelection object and a RoundPage object, both of which will be passed in a dictionary to the render function. Let's pick the first InternSelection object in the list:

>>> intern_selection = InternSelection.objects.all()[0]

Now, we can pass those two objects to render to get the HttpResponse. That will change any instances of the objects in the template to use the values of the fields referenced. The render function takes an HTTP request object. If you need to, you can create a simple dictionary to use as the render object. In this example, we pass in None for the request object, because the email template doesn't require it.

>>> response = render(None, 'home/email/interns-notify.txt', { 'current_round' : intern_selection.round(), 'intern_selection' : intern_selection, 'coordinator_names':, },)

You can see how the final template will look by getting the content out of the HttpResponse object and decoding it:

>>> print(response.content.decode('utf-8'))

Remember, if you change any of the Python code, you'll need to exit the shell (CTRL-d) and restart it to reload the code.

Tour of the code base

Django breaks up functionality into a project (a Django web application) and apps (smaller a set of Python code that implements a specific feature). There is only one project deployed on a site at a time, but there could be many apps deployed. You can read more about what an application is in the Django documentation.
In the Outreachy repository, the directory outreachy-home is the project. We have several apps:

  • home which contains models (based on wagtail) used on the Outreachy home pages
  • search which was set up during the wagtail installation to allow searching for pages and media
  • contacts which is a Django app for our contact page.

The Outreachy website also uses some apps that are listed in the INSTALLED_APPS variable in outreachyhome/settings/, but aren't found in top-level directories in the repository. That's because the apps' code was installed into your virtualenv directory when you ran mkvirtualenv -r requirements.txt. That command looked at the Python package requirements listed in requirements.txt and ran pip install for each of them. For example, if your virtualenv name is outreachy-django and you're running Python 2.7 locally, you'll be able to find the code for Wagtail forms (wagtail.wagtailforms) in ~/.virtualenvs/outreachy-django/lib/python2.7/site-packages/wagtail/wagtailforms.

The top-level directory docs is where our maintenance and design documents go.

If you've been running Django to test locally, you may have two directories static and media. These will store site images and media you've uploaded through your local site. These directories are in the .gitignore file and should never be committed.

Adding a new app

If you have a set of Django models, views, and templates that is a discrete chunk of functionality, you may want to create a new app in the top-level directory. If we want to call our new app contacts we can run the helper script to set up our app:

./ startapp contact

That script will stick some boilerplate examples in a new directory:

$ ls contacts/  migrations

You may need to add a templates directory to that app:

makedir contacts/templates

Dokku logs

If you've deployed to a test server with the Django debugging settings turned on, Django will send all emails to the console. If you want to create new test users, you'll need to extract the verification URL from the log. You can run:

ssh -t logs test

Sentry error logging

Outreachy uses Sentry to log error messages received on both the Outreachy website and the test website. Unfortunately, that means if you ever use dokku to start the Python shell on the remote website, any typos you have end up getting reported to Sentry. To suppress those error messages, you can unset the SENTRY_DSN environment variable:

ssh -t run www env --unset=SENTRY_DSN python shell

Rolling back migrations

If you have migrated the database (either locally or on the server) and want to go back to a previous migration, you can run:

./ migrate home [version number]

Delicate migrations

Sometimes a field doesn't work out exactly the way you wanted it to, and you want to change the field type. In this example, we'll be changing a simple BooleanField to CharField to support three different choices. This is a dance, because we want to preserve the values in the old field to populate the contents of a new field.

  1. Define the new CharField. Set 'null=True' in the argument list.

  2. Run ./ makemigrations && ./ migrate

  3. Create an empty migration: ./ makemigrations home --empty

  4. Edit the new empty migration file. You'll need to define a new function that takes apps and schema_editor, like it's documented in the file in the Django "Writing a migration" documentation.. You can access the objects for that Model, and set the new field based on values in the old field. Make sure to add your function to the operations list. Note that you might have to copy some class members that represent the choice short code in the database into the migration, because all migrations only have access model class members that are Django fields (like CharField or BooleanField).

  5. Remove the null=True argument from your model, and delete the old field. You might need to remove the field from and the views. Then run ./ makemigrations && ./ migrate. That will generate a third migration to make sure the field must be non-null, but the second migration will set the field on all objects. When Django prompts you about changing a nullable field to a non-nullable field, choose 'Ignore for now'.

  6. The third migration will fail if someone has added a new model object between the second migration and the third migration. In this case, you should roll back to the first migration (where you first added the field). You can pass the migration number to go back to: ./ migrate home PREFIX This should be a unique prefix (like the first four numbers of the migration). Then you can try to run the migration again: ./ migrate. Repeat as necessary.

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