Advanced Django Models - Python Django Tutorials

Advanced Django Models

In Chapter 4, we presented an introduction to Django’s database layer – how to define models and how to use the database API to create, retrieve, update and delete records. In this chapter, we’ll introduce you to some more advanced features of this part of Django.

Recall our book models from Chapter 4:

from django.db import models

class Publisher(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=30)
    address = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    city = models.CharField(max_length=60)
    state_province = models.CharField(max_length=30)
    country = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    website = models.URLField()

    def __str__(self):

class Author(models.Model):
    first_name = models.CharField(max_length=30)
    last_name = models.CharField(max_length=40)
    email = models.EmailField()

    def __str__(self):
        return '%s %s' % (self.first_name, self.last_name)

class Book(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=100)
    authors = models.ManyToManyField(Author)
    publisher = models.ForeignKey(Publisher)
    publication_date = models.DateField()

    def __str__(self):
        return self.title 

As we explained in Chapter 4, accessing the value for a particular field on a database object is as straightforward as using an attribute. For example, to determine the title of the book with ID 50, we’d do the following:

>>> from mysite.books.models import Book
>>> b = Book.objects.get(id=50)
>>> b.title
'The Django Book'

But one thing we didn’t mention previously is that related objects – fields expressed as either a ForeignKey or ManyToManyField – act slightly differently.

Accessing Foreign Key Values

When you access a field that’s a ForeignKey, you’ll get the related model object. For example:

>>> b = Book.objects.get(id=50)
>>> b.publisher
<Publisher: Apress Publishing>

With ForeignKey fields, it works the other way, too, but it’s slightly different due to the non-symmetrical nature of the relationship. To get a list of books for a given publisher, use publisher.book_set.all(), like this:

>>> p = Publisher.objects.get(name='Apress Publishing')
>>> p.book_set.all()
[<Book: The Django Book>, <Book: Dive Into Python>, ...]

Behind the scenes, book_set is just a QuerySet (as covered in Chapter 4), and it can be filtered and sliced like any other QuerySet. For example:

>>> p = Publisher.objects.get(name='Apress Publishing')
>>> p.book_set.filter(title__icontains='django')
[<Book: The Django Book>, <Book: Pro Django>]

The attribute name book_set is generated by appending the lower case model name to _set.

Accessing Many-to-Many Values

Many-to-many values work like foreign-key values, except we deal with QuerySet values instead of model instances. For example, here’s how to view the authors for a book:

>>> b = Book.objects.get(id=50)
>>> b.authors.all()
[<Author: Adrian Holovaty>, <Author: Jacob Kaplan-Moss>]
>>> b.authors.filter(first_name='Adrian')
[<Author: Adrian Holovaty>]
>>> b.authors.filter(first_name='Adam')

It works in reverse, too. To view all of the books for an author, use author.book_set, like this:

>>> a = Author.objects.get(first_name='Adrian',
>>> a.book_set.all()
[<Book: The Django Book>, <Book: Adrian's Other Book>]

Here, as with ForeignKey fields, the attribute name book_set is generated by appending the lower case model name to _set.


In the statement Book.objects.all(), objects is a special attribute through which you query your database. In Chapter 4, we briefly identified this as the model’s manager. Now it’s time to dive a bit deeper into what managers are and how you can use them.

In short, a model’s manager is an object through which Django models perform database queries. Each Django model has at least one manager, and you can create custom managers in order to customize database access. There are two reasons you might want to create a custom manager: to add extra manager methods, and/or to modify the initial QuerySet the manager returns.

Adding Extra Manager Methods

Adding extra manager methods is the preferred way to add table-level functionality to your models. (For row-level functionality – i.e., functions that act on a single instance of a model object – use model methods, which are explained later in this chapter.)

For example, let’s give our Book model a manager method title_count() that takes a keyword and returns the number of books that have a title containing that keyword. (This example is slightly contrived, but it demonstrates how managers work.)


from django.db import models

# ... Author and Publisher models here ...

class BookManager(models.Manager):
    def title_count(self, keyword):
        return self.filter(title__icontains=keyword).count()

class Book(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=100)
    authors = models.ManyToManyField(Author)
    publisher = models.ForeignKey(Publisher)
    publication_date = models.DateField()
    num_pages = models.IntegerField(blank=True, null=True)
    objects = BookManager()

    def __str__(self):
        return self.title Here are some notes about the code:
  1. We’ve created a BookManager class that extends django.db.models.Manager. This has a single method, title_count(), which does the calculation. Note that the method uses self.filter(), where self refers to the manager itself.
  2. We’ve assigned BookManager() to the objects attribute on the model. This has the effect of replacing the “default” manager for the model, which is called objects and is automatically created if you don’t specify a custom manager. We call it objects rather than something else, so as to be consistent with automatically created managers.

With this manager in place, we can now do this:

>>> Book.objects.title_count('django')
>>> Book.objects.title_count('python')

Obviously, this is just an example – if you typed this in at your interactive prompt, you will likely get different return values.

Why would we want to add a method such as title_count()? To encapsulate commonly executed queries so that we don’t have to duplicate code.

Modifying Initial Manager QuerySets

A manager’s base QuerySet returns all objects in the system. For example, Book.objects.all() returns all books in the book database. You can override a manager’s base QuerySet by overriding the Manager.get_queryset() method. get_queryset() should return a QuerySet with the properties you require.

For example, the following model has two managers – one that returns all objects, and one that returns only the books by Roald Dahl.

from django.db import models

# First, define the Manager subclass.
class DahlBookManager(models.Manager):
    def get_queryset(self):
        return super(DahlBookManager, self).get_queryset().filter(author='Roald Dahl')

# Then hook it into the Book model explicitly.
class Book(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=100)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    # ...

    objects = models.Manager() # The default manager.
    dahl_objects = DahlBookManager() # The Dahl-specific manager.

With this sample model, Book.objects.all() will return all books in the database, but Book.dahl_objects.all() will only return the ones written by Roald Dahl. Note that we explicitly set objects to a vanilla Manager instance, because if we hadn’t, the only available manager would be dahl_objects. Of course, because get_queryset() returns a QuerySet object, you can use filter(), exclude() and all the other QuerySet methods on it. So these statements are all legal:


This example also pointed out another interesting technique: using multiple managers on the same model. You can attach as many Manager() instances to a model as you’d like. This is an easy way to define common “filters” for your models. For example:

class MaleManager(models.Manager):
    def get_queryset(self):
        return super(MaleManager, self).get_queryset().filter(sex='M')

class FemaleManager(models.Manager):
    def get_queryset(self):
        return super(FemaleManager, self).get_queryset().filter(sex='F')

class Person(models.Model):
    first_name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    last_name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    sex = models.CharField(max_length=1, 
                                    ('M', 'Male'),  
                                    ('F', 'Female')
    people = models.Manager()
    men = MaleManager()
    women = FemaleManager()

This example allows you to request, Person.women.all(), and Person.people.all(), yielding predictable results. If you use custom Manager objects, take note that the first Manager
Django encounters (in the order in which they’re defined in the model) has a special status. Django interprets this first Manager defined in a class as the “default” Manager, and several parts of Django (though not the admin application) will use that Manager exclusively for that model.

As a result, it’s often a good idea to be careful in your choice of default manager, in order to avoid a situation where overriding of get_queryset() results in an inability to retrieve objects you’d like to work with.

Model methods

Define custom methods on a model to add custom row-level functionality to your objects. Whereas managers are intended to do table-wide things, model methods should act on a particular model instance. This is a valuable technique for keeping business logic in one place – the model.

An example is the easiest way to explain this. Here’s a model with a few custom methods:

from django.db import models

class Person(models.Model):
    first_name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    last_name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    birth_date = models.DateField()

    def baby_boomer_status(self):
        # Returns the person's baby-boomer status.
        import datetime
        if self.birth_date <, 8, 1):
            return "Pre-boomer"
        elif self.birth_date <, 1, 1):
            return "Baby boomer"
            return "Post-boomer"

    def _get_full_name(self):
        # Returns the person's full name."
        return '%s %s' % (self.first_name, self.last_name)
    full_name = property(_get_full_name)

The model instance reference in Appendix A has a complete list of methods automatically given to each model. You can override most of these (see below) but there are a couple that you’ll almost always want to define:

  • __str__(). A Python “magic method” that returns a Unicode “representation” of any object. This is what Python and Django will use whenever a model instance needs to be coerced and displayed as a plain string. Most notably, this happens when you display an object in an interactive console or in the admin.You’ll always want to define this method; the default isn’t very helpful at all.
  • get_absolute_url(). This tells Django how to calculate the URL for an object. Django uses this in its admin interface, and any time it needs to figure out a URL for an object. Any object that has a URL that uniquely identifies it should define this method.

Overriding Predefined Model Methods

There’s another set of model methods that encapsulate a bunch of database behavior that you’ll want to customize. In particular, you’ll often want to change the way save() and delete() work. You’re free to override these methods (and any other model method) to alter behavior. A classic use-case for overriding the built-in methods is if you want something to happen whenever you save an object. For example, (see save() for documentation of the parameters it accepts):

from django.db import models

class Blog(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=100)
    tagline = models.TextField()

    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        super(Blog, self).save(*args, **kwargs) # Call the "real"
save() method.

You can also prevent saving:

from django.db import models

class Blog(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=100)
    tagline = models.TextField()

    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        if == "Yoko Ono's blog":
            return # Yoko shall never have her own blog!
            super(Blog, self).save(*args, **kwargs) # Call the "real" save() method.

It’s important to remember to call the superclass method – that’s that super(Blog, self).save(*args, **kwargs) business – to ensure that the object still gets saved into the database. If you forget to call the superclass method, the default behavior won’t happen and the database won’t get touched.

It’s also important that you pass through the arguments that can be passed to the model method – that’s what the *args, **kwargs bit does. Django will, from time to time, extend the capabilities of built-in model methods, adding new arguments. If you use *args, **kwargs in your method definitions, you are guaranteed that your code will automatically support those arguments when they are added.