Deploying nginx + django + python 3


due to the lacks of informations about deploying latests version of django (1.6+) with latest nginx (1.6+) using gunicorn (18+) inside virtual environment of python 3 (3.4+), it was really hard for a beginner like me to deploy a django project.

I finally made it and now after several months I decided to share my experiences with all the world. So again:

What this guide is about

We’ll deploy (that means making website available to the world) django project with server engine nginx using gunicorn for that. We’ll also use virtual environment of python and installation will be static - it will not depend on your system-wide python installation.

Prerequisites and informations

I’m using Linux and commands I’m going to introduce are thought to be run in bash shell. Sometimes root privileges might be required and I’ll not remark that. If you are not familiar with Linux, please read my other guides.

You do not need any special knowledge. But keep in mind that this is not guide how django, nginx or gunicorn work! This is about how it should be brought together to work.

My choice - why nginx, python 3 etc.

I’m not the one who tried all of possible choices. I’ve just tried a lot of them and this one was first of them which worked. So I stuck to it.

I’ve chosen nginx over apache because this seems to be trend today thanks to Apache’s age. It’s also seems to me easier.

I’ve chosen django because I love python. And I’m quite new to it so when I decided to learn this great language, I started with python 3. It was somehow logical because I could choose what I want and the newer one is of course better investment to the future.

Gunicorn is just so easy to use and I’ve found great documentations and guides for it.

Virtual environment is necessity. You don’t want all python projects (not just django websites) depend on one specific configuration. It’s not stable (one package can hurt other) nor secure. We’ll use hard virtualenv because it’s also safer - you can update this version when you want and not with every time your distribution says to you.

How the hell all that works

Here is a little model I’ve made for myself and I think it’s not too bad to be a starting point for you ;) . We have five terms: nginx, python, virtualenv, gunicorn and django.

First layer (nginx)

nginx is what cares about requests from the world. It’s what catches your request (e.g. Google) and redirects it to according folder (in case of static HTML page with index.html, not our case), or to some application.

Second layer (gunicorn)

This application in our case is gunicorn. It’s powered by python and it basically makes a magical communication channel nginx``~``django app. This tunnel is represented by socket (we’ll get to it). Why can’t do this nginx? It’s just not clever enough (better - it just hasn’t do that and that’s absolutely OK in Unix philosophy). Gunicorn can make server similar to django test server. But it can also serve django app content to nginx and hence solving nginx’s limitation.

Third layer (django)

Then there is just django - your project with you pages - this is what your website is about. All previous (and next) is just working layer.

Wrapper for second and third layer

python is engine of gunicorn even for django. This python is running inside sandbox called virtualenv. Gunicorn will activate this virtualenv for us and run django app.

That’s all. Not that hard, huh? Basically nginx~gunicorn~django. python is powering it and virtualenv is just wraps python version (it is not necessity to have virtualenv, if it’s easier to understand it).

Let’s do it

nginx configuration

Covered in other tutorial, you must be able to make it to the point that you are able to see nginx welcome page.

Installing python and virtualenv

About virtual environments there is tons of guides on the internet - feel free to educate yourself :D . Here is my brief guide.

To do that we’ll need to install python-virtualenv. Install it and then create some folder for our test case. Let it be /var/www/test. Also install python of version 3, if you haven’t done that before.

We’ll now create sandbox of python for our test case inside this folder (/var/www/test). Why /var/www? It’s just good place to put websites on Unix (and hence - Linux). But it can be anywhere of course. To create a REAL copy (and not just a linked variant) of python version 3 we need to use this syntax:

virtualenv --python=python3 --always-copy venv

What happened here? We created python sandbox called venv in current directory. It use python3 as default choice and we copied all necessary files for life of this installation (by default there are only symlinked to the system one).

What now? We need to switch from system python installation to venv python installation. First try to type python -c "import sys; print(sys.path)". The output is similar to this:

['', '/usr/lib/', '/usr/lib/python3.4', '/usr/lib/python3.4/plat-linux', '/usr/lib/python3.4/lib-dynload', '/usr/lib/python3.4/site-packages']

where you can notice that current default python interpreter gets it’s config from somewhere in /usr/lib/....

We will now activate our virtualenv by this command: source /var/www/test/venv/bin/activate. Now try same command as above (python -c ...) and it should print instead of /usr/lib/... something starting with /var/www/test/venv/.... If yes, it’s working :) .

To quit from this environment and get to your system-wide, type deactivate.

pip installing django and gunicorn

One of the best advantages of python 3.4 is a fact that pip is installed by default. What is pip? pip is installer for python packages.

All python packages can be found here. Of course you can find you package there (try for example with django), download it and build it with python on your own. But that sound like a lot of work. Let’s pip do it for us.

Assure yourself you are working in our virtualenv (you can again activate it) and type this:

pip install django
pip install gunicorn

you can specify version just by typing = behind name package:

pip install django=1.6.0

but of course this version must exists on If there are errors, try adding -v switch for verbose.

To list installed packages type:

pip list

try if you see django and gunicorn there :) .

and that’s all you need for now with pip (although there isn’t much more about pip).

Sample django project

Now we’ll need to create django project for our test case. Go inside /var/www/test and activate our virtualenv where is django and gunicorn (you can do that again by source /var/www/test/venv/bin/activate).

Create django project by: startproject ourcase

it should create this structure inside /var/www/test:

`-- ourcase

1 directory, 5 files

check if it’s working with local django testing server by python runserver. Check in browser - if there is django welcome page, it’s good.

Just for comfort make executable by chmod +x ourcase/

gunicorn and daemonizing it

Now we’ll replace django testing server, which is just for kids (it’s just great future :) ), with fully mature nginx for adults.

As was previously stated, for that we’ll need gunicorn. Gunicorn will have to be running to enable communication between nginx and django project.

First, we’ll use just gunicorn to display our django test project on It’s incredibly easy. Again - assure yourself you are working in current virtualenv.

Now navigate yourself inside /var/www/test/ourcase/ and run this magical command:

gunicorn ourcase.wsgi:application

it will start something like gunicorn server - you should be able to see your django welcome page on

This is just the most stupid configuration, which is enough for this test, but not for deploying on server. For that we’ll want to add much more. Create starting script /var/www/test/


NAME="ourcase"                              #Name of the application (*)
DJANGODIR=/var/www/test/ourcase             # Django project directory (*)
SOCKFILE=/var/www/test/run/gunicorn.sock        # we will communicate using this unix socket (*)
USER=nginx                                        # the user to run as (*)
GROUP=webdata                                     # the group to run as (*)
NUM_WORKERS=1                                     # how many worker processes should Gunicorn spawn (*)
DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE=ourcase.settings             # which settings file should Django use (*)
DJANGO_WSGI_MODULE=ourcase.wsgi                     # WSGI module name (*)

echo "Starting $NAME as `whoami`"

# Activate the virtual environment
source /var/www/test/venv/bin/activate

# Create the run directory if it doesn't exist
test -d $RUNDIR || mkdir -p $RUNDIR

# Start your Django Unicorn
# Programs meant to be run under supervisor should not daemonize themselves (do not use --daemon)
exec /var/www/test/venv/bin/gunicorn ${DJANGO_WSGI_MODULE}:application \
  --name $NAME \
  --workers $NUM_WORKERS \
  --user $USER \

Wow! A lot happened here compared to our stupid variant. Everything marked with (*) in comments can be changed (or must be changed if your paths differs).

The most important change here is that we added SOCKFILE - socket. This is the magic thingie which will enable nginx to server django project (app). Gunicorn will somehow run server as in previous stupid variant and transfer this into socket file in language which nginx understands. nginx is looking to this socket file and is happy to serve everything there is.

It’s common practice (and I strongly encouraged it) to run server as some specific user. It’s for security reasons. So if you haven’t done it before, create some user and group for these purposes (ALSO IN OTHER MY TUTORIAL).

Workers are just how much computing power you enable for this website.

If you are not working as a user which is in script set to USER variable, you won’t be able to run this script (you’ll get some errors). That’s because of permissions reasons. If you’d like to check or debug this script (and it’s recommended), uncomment --user $USER line - it should work then even if you run it as another user. Of course you need to make script executable.

See gunicorn documentation for more informations.

This script is laying all over the internet in multiple variants. If you have problems to run it, try to uncomment some other lines in last part of script. For example I wasn’t able to run this script with directive --log-level=warning.

If it is working, it’s great! Now we’ll daemonize it by using systemd. Of course you can use another init system (like Ubuntu upstart. Just search for “how to run script after boot”.

Create new service file /usr/lib/systemd/system/gunicorn_ourcase.service and insert this:

Description=Ourcase gunicorn daemon



now enable it as with other units:

systemctl enable gunicorn_ourcase

now this script should be run after boot. Try if it’s working (reboot and use systemctl status gunicorn_ourcase).

That’s all for gunicorn.

django project deployment

Deploying django project is topic for longer tutorial then is this. So I’ll make it as small as possible.

If you’ve just developed django project with test server, it makes a tons of things for you without any notices. In reality it’s not as easy - everything isn’t done automatically and django is prepared for that - but you need to activate this futures, since it’s not by default.


Nice example is with static files. There are e.g. some CSS styles for django administration page. These needs to be in special folder and we’ll tell nginx that when website asks for file style.css, it should looks into ~/var/www/test/ourcase/static/style.css.

But how to find all this static files? Right now they are sourced from django installation directory (probably something like /var/www/test/venv/lib/python3.4/django/.... has a special command for this, but first we need to tell him few details in

The most common configuration is to has a special directory for static files where you can edit them, past them etc. Then there will be static directory, where you won’t do any changes - this will be for command - it will collects them from your special directory, from django installation directory etc. In templates, when you want to use e.g. some static image on background, you use { STATIC_URL}/static_images/mybgrnd.png.

To do this we’ll add this to

STATIC_URL = '/static/'
STATIC_ROOT = os.path.join(BASE_DIR, "static")
STATICFILES_DIRS = (os.path.join(BASE_DIR, "sfiles"), )

all your static files used should now be placed inside /var/www/test/ourcase/sfiles. If you just want to try it, create this directory and touch sfiles/example.png inside it.

Now run ./ collectstatic. It should ask you if you really want to do that (and you want). Process will start and after it’s finish you’ll have collected all static files inside static folder. This you need to do every time you change something inside sfiles folder.

Websites also usually has media folder, which is used for user files - for example images to blog posts. Usually we use MEDIA_URL for calling things from media dir in templates.

Configuration should be same as with django testing server and you don’t need to do any special changes here. My looks like this:

MEDIA_ROOT = os.path.join(BASE_DIR, "media")
MEDIA_URL = '/media/'
ADMIN_MEDIA_PREFIX = '/media/admin/'

and all user files (uploaded images, sounds...) are inside /var/www/test/ourcase/media` directory. You don’t need to do something like collectstatics here.

Steps for other directories should be same.

Enough for directories. But some other changes are needed to deploy django project. In some cases I don’t really know why I need to add this to, but I know what that does and it’s just working.


I had to add this for templates:

TEMPLATE_DIRS = (os.path.join(BASE_DIR, 'templates'),)

where I’ve put my base.html which is used in all other templates in whole website (in every app). If you use flatpages, you can also make a directory inside templates called flatpages, where you can copy base.html` as ``default.html and use this template as base for flatpages.


For some purposes is needed to set SITE_ID. In my case it was because of flatpages. It’s easy:



You need to past all your domains here. If your domain is and I guess also, it should looks like this:

ALLOWED_HOSTS = ['', '']


This directive should be set to False. But when you are configuring your server for first time, let True there. It helps you find out bugs on your site.

That’s it!

nginx server configuration

Last part is configuring nginx to make him listen on socket created by gunicorn. It’s not hard.

Edit /etc/nginx/nginx.conf and paste this into http block:

upstream test_server {
  server unix:/var/www/test/run/gunicorn.sock fail_timeout=10s;

# This is not neccessary - it's just commonly used
# it just redirects ->
# so it isn't treated as two separate websites
server {
        listen 80;
        return 301 $scheme://$request_uri;

server {
    listen   80;

    client_max_body_size 4G;

    access_log /var/www/test/logs/nginx-access.log;
    error_log /var/www/test/logs/nginx-error.log warn;

    location /static/ {
        autoindex on;
        alias   /var/www/test/ourcase/static/;

    location /media/ {
        autoindex on;
        alias   /var/www/test/ourcase/media/;

    location / {
        proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
        proxy_set_header Host $http_host;
        proxy_redirect off;

        if (!-f $request_filename) {
            proxy_pass http://test_server;

    #For favicon
    location  /favicon.ico {
        alias /var/www/test/test/static/img/favicon.ico;
    #For robots.txt
    location  /robots.txt {
        alias /var/www/test/test/static/robots.txt ;
    # Error pages
    error_page 500 502 503 504 /500.html;
    location = /500.html {
        root /var/www/test/ourcase/static/;

OK, that’s whipping. I’ll be fast.

First, we tell nginx where is socket file (gunicorn.sock) from gunicorn.

Then there is redirect from non-www domain to www domain. This can be omitted or solved in other way (CNAME).

Then there is main body of server configuration: * logs are useful for catching bugs and errors - has multiple parameters, like how much should they bother you. Don’t forget to create log directory. * static and media block - these are extremely important - this is why we played all that games with collectstatics etc. It just tells nginx where it should looks when website asks for e.g. /static/style.css/ or /media/img/picture_of_my_cat.png. * Block with all that proxy things is also important and is used for technical background around socket communication and redirecting. Don’t care about that. * Favicon and robots.txt is not necessary, but all browsers and web crawlers are still searching for them. So if you don’t like errors in your logs, add create these two things. * Last block is telling nginx where it should looks for error pages when something doesn’t exists.

Save and exit. Next great future of nginx is it’s ability of checking configuration. Type nginx -t (don’t forget root permissions) and you’ll see if configuration is syntactically correct. Don’t forget about that stupid ;.

Finally enable nginx to be ran after reboot:

systemctl enable nginx

Some sugar candy

Install with pip package called setproctitle. It’s useful for displaying more info about ran processes like gunicorn in system process managers (htop, ps, ...).


That’s it. Now restart computer and see if it doesn’t explode. You can analyse nginx or gunicorn with systemctl, e.g.:

systemctl status gunicorn_ourcase

and some informations should be also in log files. Try to get to your website from browser and see what happens. Don’t forget that browser likes caching and press CTRL+r for reload to see changes you’ve made.

After every change in configuration of nginx you need to restart it by running nginx -s reload.

To see what processes are spawned you can use your task manager like htop or ps.

Integration with GitHub

For starter it’s necessary to say, that GitHub... awesome! If you don’t needed and you went through whole process above, you can probably save a lot of headaches just by using GitHub. You don’t need any special knowledge for start, but you will need to learn them on the fly while reading this tutorial (there is really a lot about git out there, google is your friend).

The variant I propose here is very easy, scalable and fast. Probably the most easy and effective I’ve found.

Why to use it

I was so happy when I deployd my first django project. But few weeks later I’ve found that it’s just not feeling right to make changes on live version of the website (sometimes refered as production). So I started to use GitHub and found a solution.

Here I will cover this: For every your website you end up with one directory including three subdirectories.

  1. First called production - it’s the one which is live on the internet - the one what nginx refers.
  2. Second called mydomain.git - this one is necessary for our github configuration. You will barely change there anything
  3. Last one - work_dir - the one where all changes are being made and is connected to GitHub


Your work will look like this:

  1. Your work_dir contains master branch. This branch can be pushed to production (to go live) anywhen! So when you want to make change to your website, you need create new branch (correctly named based on the change you are doing - e.g. hotfix_plugin, typo_css...) and when you finish and test this branch, you merge it to master.
  2. You push master to your GitHub repository
  3. You push master to your production folder on your computer

Set it all up

So how to do it? I suppose you have one working directory as we created in previous chapters.

Now go to the place where you websites are stored. Mine is in /var/www and create this structure:

├── mydomain.git
├── production
└── work_dir

Go to /var/www/mydomain.git and type this:

git init --bare

this will create just git repository with some special folders. You don’t need to know anything about it. All you need to do is to create this file /var/www/mydomain/mydomain.git/hooks/post-receive and add this:

git --work-tree=/var/www/mydomain/production --git-dir=/var/www/mydomain/mydomain.git checkout -f

and make the script runable chmod +x /var/www/mydomain/mydomain.git/hooks/post-receive

Go to work_dir and paste there you current production code (the one from previous chapters). Now you need to make a GitHub repository from that. The best guide is this one: How to add existing folder to GitHub. (Maybe you’ll need to generate SSH key). Is it working? Great.

Note: It’s very good to make git repositories as small as possible, so don’t add to repository files which are not necessary or you backup them somewhere else. But virtualenv is a good thing to add there to IMHO.

Now just add another remote, which will point to our created git repository. Every time we’ll want to go live with master, we’ll push changes to this git repository and it will take care to transfer our files to production. So in work_dir type:

git remote add production file::///var/www/mydomain/mydomain.git``

and that’s all. When you now want to push changes to production, type git push production master. Congratulations!


That’s all! I hope this guide helped you and you has successfully start up your websites! :)

For further reading, I’d recommend you to look at the part how to set up git for easy deployment.