Extending the Template System - Python Django Tutorials

Extending the Template System

Now that you understand a bit more about the internals of the template system, let’s look at how to extend the system with custom code. Most template customization comes in the form of custom template tags and/or filters. Although the Django template language comes with many built-in tags and filters, you’ll probably assemble your own libraries of tags and filters that fit your own needs. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to define your own functionality.

Code Layout

Custom template tags and filters must live inside a Django app. If they relate to an existing app it makes sense to bundle them there; otherwise, you should create a new app to hold them. The app should contain a templatetags directory, at the same level as models.py, views.py, etc. If this doesn’t already exist, create it – don’t forget the __init__.py file to ensure the directory is treated as a Python package.

After adding this module, you will need to restart your server before you can use the tags or filters in templates. Your custom tags and filters will live in a module inside the templatetags directory.

The name of the module file is the name you’ll use to load the tags later, so be careful to pick a name that won’t clash with custom tags and filters in another app.

For example, if your custom tags/filters are in a file called review_extras.py, your app layout might look like this:


And in your template you would use the following:

{% load review_extras %}

The app that contains the custom tags must be in INSTALLED_APPS in order for the {% load %} tag to work.

Creating a Template Library

Whether you’re writing custom tags or filters, the first thing to do is to create a template library – a small bit of infrastructure Django can hook into.

Creating a template library is a two-step process:

  • First, decide which Django application should house the template library. If you’ve created an app via manage.py startapp, you can put it in there, or you can create another app solely for the template library. We’d recommend the latter, because your filters might be useful to you in future projects. Whichever route you take, make sure to add the app to your INSTALLED_APPS setting. I’ll explain this shortly.
  • Second, create a templatetags directory in the appropriate Django application’s package. It should be on the same level as models.py, views.py, and so forth. For example:

Create two empty files in the templatetags directory: an __init__.py file (to indicate to Python that this is a package containing Python code) and a file that will contain your custom tag/filter definitions. The name of the latter file is what you’ll use to load the tags later. For example, if your custom tags/filters are in a file called review_extras.py, you’d write the following in a template:

{% load review_extras %}

The {% load %} tag looks at your INSTALLED_APPS setting and only allows the loading of template libraries within installed Django applications. This is a security feature; it allows you to host Python code for many template libraries on a single computer without enabling access to all of them for every Django installation.

If you write a template library that isn’t tied to any particular models/views, it’s valid and quite normal to have a Django application package that contains only a templatetags package.

There’s no limit on how many modules you put in the templatetags package. Just keep in mind that a {% load %} statement will load tags/filters for the given Python module name, not the name of the application.

Once you’ve created that Python module, you’ll just have to write a bit of Python code, depending on whether you’re writing filters or tags. To be a valid tag library, the module must contain a module-level variable named register that is an instance of template.Library.

This is the data structure in which all the tags and filters are registered. So, near the top of your module, insert the following:

from django import template

register = template.Library()

Custom template tags and filters

Django’s template language comes with a wide variety of built-in tags and filters designed to address the presentation logic needs of your application. Nevertheless, you may find yourself needing functionality that is not covered by the core set of template primitives.

You can extend the template engine by defining custom tags and filters using Python, and then make them available to your templates using the {% load %} tag.

Writing Custom Template Filters

Custom filters are just Python functions that take one or two arguments:

  1. The value of the variable (input) – not necessarily a string.
  2. The value of the argument – this can have a default value, or be left out altogether.

For example, in the filter {{ var|foo:"bar" }}, the filter foo would be passed the variable var and the argument "bar". Since the template language doesn’t provide exception handling, any exception raised from a template filter will be exposed as a server error.

Thus, filter functions should avoid raising exceptions if there is a reasonable fallback value to return. In case of input that represents a clear bug in a template, raising an exception may still be better than silent failure which hides the bug. Here’s an example filter definition:

def cut(value, arg):
    """Removes all values of arg from the given string"""
    return value.replace(arg, '')

And here’s an example of how that filter would be used:

{{ somevariable|cut:"0" }}

Most filters don’t take arguments. In this case, just leave the argument out of your function. Example:

def lower(value): # Only one argument.
    """Converts a string into all lowercase"""
    return value.lower()
Registering Custom Filters

Once you’ve written your filter definition, you need to register it with your Library instance, to make it available to Django’s template language:

register.filter('cut', cut)
register.filter('lower', lower)

The Library.filter() method takes two arguments:

  1. The name of the filter – a string.
  2. The compilation function – a Python function (not the name of the function as a string).

You can use register.filter() as a decorator instead:

def cut(value, arg):
    return value.replace(arg, '')

def lower(value):
    return value.lower()

If you leave off the name argument, as in the second example above, Django will use the function’s name as the filter name. Finally, register.filter() also accepts three keyword arguments, is_safe, needs_autoescape, and expects_localtime. These arguments are described in filters and auto-escaping and filters and time zones below.

Template Filters That Expect Strings

If you’re writing a template filter that only expects a string as the first argument, you should use the decorator stringfilter. This will convert an object to its string value before being passed to your function:

from django import template
from django.template.defaultfilters import stringfilter

register = template.Library()

def lower(value):
    return value.lower()

This way, you’ll be able to pass, say, an integer to this filter, and it won’t cause an AttributeError (because integers don’t have lower() methods).

Filters and Auto-escaping

When writing a custom filter, give some thought to how the filter will interact with Django’s auto-escaping behavior. Note that three types of strings can be passed around inside the template code:

  • Raw strings are the native Python str or unicode types. On output, they’re escaped if auto-escaping is in effect and presented unchanged, otherwise.
  • Safe strings are strings that have been marked safe from further escaping at output time. Any necessary escaping has already been done. They’re commonly used for output that contains raw HTML that is intended to be interpreted as-is on the client side.

Internally, these strings are of type SafeBytes or SafeText. They share a common base class of SafeData, so you can test for them using code like:

    if isinstance(value, SafeData):
    # Do something with the "safe" string.
  • Strings marked as “needing escaping” are always escaped on output, regardless of whether they are in an autoescape block or not. These strings are only escaped once, however, even if auto-escaping applies. Internally, these strings are of type EscapeBytes or EscapeText. Generally, you don’t have to worry about these; they exist for the implementation of the escape filter.

Template filter code falls into one of two situations:

  1. Your filter does not introduce any HTML-unsafe characters (<, >, ', " or &) into the result that were not already present; or
  2. Alternatively, your filter code can manually take care of any necessary escaping. This is necessary when you’re introducing new HTML mark-up into the result.

In this first case, you can let Django take care of all the auto-escaping handling for you. All you need to do is set the is_safe flag to True when you register your filter function, like so:

def myfilter(value):
    return value 

This flag tells Django that if a “safe” string is passed into your filter, the result will still be “safe” and if a non-safe string is passed in, Django will automatically escape it, if necessary. You can think of this as meaning “this filter is safe – it doesn’t introduce any possibility of unsafe HTML.”

The reason is_safe is necessary is because there are plenty of normal string operations that will turn a SafeData object back into a normal str or unicode object and, rather than try to catch them all, which would be very difficult, Django repairs the damage after the filter has completed.

For example, suppose you have a filter that adds the string xx to the end of any input.
Since this introduces no dangerous HTML characters to the result (aside from any that were already present), you should mark your filter with is_safe:

def add_xx(value):
    return '%sxx' % value 

When this filter is used in a template where auto-escaping is enabled, Django will escape the output whenever the input is not already marked as “safe”. By default, is_safe is False, and you can omit it from any filters where it isn’t required. Be careful when deciding if your filter really does leave safe strings as safe. If you’re removing characters, you might inadvertently leave unbalanced HTML tags or entities in the result.

For example, removing a > from the input might turn <a> into <a , which would need to be escaped on output to avoid causing problems. Similarly, removing a semicolon (;) can turn &amp; into &amp, which is no longer a valid entity and thus needs further escaping. Most cases won’t be nearly this tricky, but keep an eye out for any problems like that when reviewing your code.

Marking a filter is_safe will coerce the filter’s return value to a string. If your filter should return a boolean or other non-string value, marking it is_safe will probably have unintended consequences (such as converting a boolean False to the string ‘False’).

In the second case, you want to mark the output as safe from further escaping so that your HTML mark-up isn’t escaped further, so you’ll need to handle the input yourself. To mark the output as a safe string, use

Be careful, though. You need to do more than just mark the output as safe. You need to ensure it really is safe, and what you do depends on whether auto-escaping is in effect.

The idea is to write filters that can operate in templates where auto-escaping is either on or off in order to make things easier for your template authors.

In order for your filter to know the current auto-escaping state, set the needs_autoescape flag to True when you register your filter function. (If you don’t specify this flag, it defaults to False). This flag tells Django that your filter function wants to be passed an extra keyword argument, called autoescape, that is True if auto-escaping is in effect and False otherwise.

For example, let’s write a filter that emphasizes the first character of a string:

from django import template
from django.utils.html import conditional_escape
from django.utils.safestring import mark_safe

register = template.Library()

def initial_letter_filter(text, autoescape=None):
    first, other = text[0], text[1:]
    if autoescape:
        esc = conditional_escape
        esc = lambda x: x
    result = '<strong>%s</strong>%s' % (esc(first), esc(other))
    return mark_safe(result)

The needs_autoescape flag and the autoescape keyword argument mean that our function will know whether automatic escaping is in effect when the filter is called. We use autoescape to decide whether the input data needs to be passed through django.utils.html.conditional_escape or not. (In the latter case, we just use the identity function as the “escape” function.)

The conditional_escape() function is like escape() except it only escapes input that is not a SafeData instance. If a SafeData instance is passed to conditional_escape(), the data is returned unchanged.

Finally, in the above example, we remember to mark the result as safe so that our HTML is inserted directly into the template without further escaping. There’s no need to worry about the is_safe flag in this case (although including it wouldn’t hurt anything). Whenever you manually handle the auto-escaping issues and return a safe string, the is_safe flag won’t change anything either way.

Filters and Time Zones

If you write a custom filter that operates on datetime objects, you’ll usually register it with the expects_localtime flag set to True:

def businesshours(value):
        return 9 <= value.hour < 17
    except AttributeError:
        return ''

When this flag is set, if the first argument to your filter is a time zone aware datetime, Django will convert it to the current time zone before passing it to your filter when appropriate, according to rules for time zones conversions in templates.

Writing Custom Template Tags

Tags are more complex than filters, because tags can do anything. Django provides a number of shortcuts that make writing most types of tags easier. First we’ll explore those shortcuts, then explain how to write a tag from scratch for those cases when the shortcuts aren’t powerful enough.

Simple Tags

Many template tags take a number of arguments – strings or template variables – and return a result after doing some processing based solely on the input arguments and some external information.

For example, a current_time tag might accept a format string and return the time as a string formatted accordingly. To ease the creation of these types of tags, Django provides a helper function, simple_tag. This function, which is a method of django.template.Library, takes a function that accepts any number of arguments, wraps it in a render function and the other necessary bits mentioned above and registers it with the template system.

Our current_time function could thus be written like this:

import datetime
from django import template

register = template.Library()

def current_time(format_string):
    return datetime.datetime.now().strftime(format_string)

A few things to note about the simple_tag helper function:

  • Checking for the required number of arguments, etc., has already been done by the time our function is called, so we don’t need to do that.
  • The quotes around the argument (if any) have already been stripped away, so we just receive a plain string.
  • If the argument was a template variable, our function is passed the current value of the variable, not the variable itself.

If your template tag needs to access the current context, you can use the takes_context argument when registering your tag:

def current_time(context, format_string):
    timezone = context['timezone']
    return your_get_current_time_method(timezone, format_string)

Note that the first argument must be called context. For more information on how the takes_context option works, see the section on inclusion tags. If you need to rename your tag, you can provide a custom name for it:

register.simple_tag(lambda x: x - 1, name='minusone')

def some_function(value):
    return value - 2 

simple_tag functions may accept any number of positional or keyword arguments. For example:

def my_tag(a, b, *args, **kwargs):
    warning = kwargs['warning']
    profile = kwargs['profile']
    return ...

Then in the template any number of arguments, separated by spaces, may be passed to the template tag. Like in Python, the values for keyword arguments are set using the equal sign (“=”) and must be provided after the positional arguments. For example:

{% my_tag 123 "abcd" book.title warning=message|lower profile=user.profile %}
Inclusion Tags

Another common type of template tag is the type that displays some data by rendering another template. For example, Django’s admin interface uses custom template tags to display the buttons along the bottom of the “add/change” form pages. Those buttons always look the same, but the link targets change depending on the object being edited – so they’re a perfect case for using a small template that is filled with details from the current object. (In the admin’s case, this is the submit_row tag.)

These sorts of tags are called inclusion tags. Writing inclusion tags is probably best demonstrated by example. Let’s write a tag that produces a list of books for a given Author object. We’ll use the tag like this:

{% books_for_author author %}

The result will be something like this:

    <li>The Cat In The Hat</li>
    <li>Hop On Pop</li>
    <li>Green Eggs And Ham</li>

First, we define the function that takes the argument and produces a dictionary of data for the result. Notice that we need to return only a dictionary, not anything more complex. This will be used as the context for the template fragment:

def books_for_author(author):
    books = Book.objects.filter(authors__id=author.id)
    return {'books': books}

Next, we create the template used to render the tag’s output. Following our example, the template is very simple:

{% for book in books %}<li>{{ book.title }}</li>
{% endfor %}

Finally, we create and register the inclusion tag by calling the inclusion_tag() method on a Library object. Following our example, if the preceding template is in a file called book_snippet.html in a directory that’s searched by the template loader, we register the tag like this:

# Here, register is a django.template.Library instance, as before
def show_reviews(review):

Alternatively, it is possible to register the inclusion tag using a django.template.Template instance when first creating the function:

from django.template.loader import get_template
t = get_template('book_snippet.html')

Sometimes, your inclusion tags might require a large number of arguments, making it a pain for template authors to pass in all the arguments and remember their order. To solve this, Django provides a takes_context option for inclusion tags. If you specify takes_context in creating an inclusion tag, the tag will have no required arguments, and the underlying Python function will have one argument: the template context as of when the tag was called. For example, say you’re writing an inclusion tag that will always be used in a context that contains home_link and home_title variables that point back to the main page. Here’s what the Python function would look like:

@register.inclusion_tag('link.html', takes_context=True)
def jump_link(context):
    return {
        'link': context['home_link'],
        'title': context['home_title'],

(Note that the first parameter to the function must be called context.)
The template link.html might contain the following:

Jump directly to <a href="{{ link }}">{{ title }}</a>.

Then, anytime you want to use that custom tag, load its library and call it without any arguments, like so:

{% jump_link %}

Note that when you’re using takes_context=True, there’s no need to pass arguments to the template tag. It automatically gets access to the context. The takes_context parameter defaults to False.
When it’s set to True, the tag is passed the context object, as in this example. That’s the only difference between this case and the previous inclusion_tag example. Like simple_tag, inclusion_tag functions may also accept any number of positional or keyword arguments.

Assignment Tags

To ease the creation of tags setting a variable in the context, Django provides a helper function, assignment_tag. This function works the same way as simple_tag() except that it stores the tag’s result in a specified context variable instead of directly outputting it. Our earlier current_time function could thus be written like this:

def get_current_time(format_string):
    return datetime.datetime.now().strftime(format_string)

You may then store the result in a template variable using the as argument followed by the variable name, and output it yourself where you see fit:

{% get_current_time "%Y-%m-%d %I:%M %p" as the_time %}
<p>The time is {{ the_time }}.</p>