Deploying Django applications on Heroku

18 January 2012 - Melbourne, Australia

For a long time Ruby developers enjoyed painless deployment to Heroku

The Python landscape was limited to Google App Engine for quite some time (and I do mean limited but I’ll save that for another time). Once Heroku was acquired by Salesforce it seems that the market for cloud hosting of Python applications has exploded. Now we have plenty of choices such as [epio]( “gondor) that seems to support just about everything. It’s a good time to be a Python developer.

After their acquisition Heroku has released new features faster than ever. Their Cedar stack now officially supports Ruby, Node.js, Clojure, Java, Python and Scala. Let’s take a look at how we can deploy a fairly typical, albeit simple, Django application to Heroku.

Prerequisites: pip and virtualenv

Before we get started we’ll need to install [pip]( and “virtualenv)

If you have setuptools installed you should be able to install both using:

sudo easy_install pip
pip install virtualenv

If you need more detailed instructions please take a look at installing pip.

Create git repository

You should already know how to create a new git repository.

git init myawesomeproject
cd !$

In case you are wondering, !$ expands to the last argument to the last command (myawesomeproject in this case).

Create virtual-environment

If you have been using virtualenv for a while you might be used to creatting virtual environments in a folder called ve, env or similar. For the best experience when working with Heroku you should however create the virtual environment directly at the root of your checkout.

virtualenv --no-site-packages .
source bin/activate

You have now created and activated your virtual environment. You will need to run bin/activate every time you are working on this project. While we’re at it let’s also ignore the virtualenv artifacts. Put the following in your .gitignore file


While you’re at it you should also consider adding *.pyc to .gitignore.

Install dependencies and freeze

For a simple Django application you will only need Django and psycopg2 (to talk to Postgres). Install them using pip and then freeze the exact versions used to a file called requirements.txt. Heroku will use requirements.txt to automatically install your dependencies when you push.

pip install Django psycopg2
pip freeze > requirements.txt

When you add new requirements to your project you can pip install them directly and regenerate requirements.txt with pip freeze.

Create Django application

Now you can create a Django project startproject myproject

and make it awesome…

Handling database migrations

You are going to quickly need to migrate your database schema. Fortunately you can use Django South to handle data and schema migrations. Install it with pip

pip install south

and re-create your requirements file.

pip freeze > requirements.txt

Add it to your INSTALLED_APPS in and start converting your applications using convert_to_south

myawesomeproject/ syncdb myawesomeproject/ convert_to_south your_application

Let’s also tell South that our current database schema is up to date, by fake applying the initial migration.

myawesomeproject/ migrate --fake your_application

Now every time you make a change to your Django models, you can create new migrations and apply them.

myawesomeproject/ schema_migration --auto your_application
myawesomeproject/ schema_migration migrate your_application

You can learn more about South, including using it for data migrations, by checking out the [tutorial]( and “documentation)

Handling static files

In a more traditional hosting setup you might use Apache or Nginx to handle serving static files. When deploying to Heroku though you should consider hosting your static files in S3. Luckily Django can easily support a variety of storage backends, and the django-storages package allows you to easily use S3.

First, create a bucket in S3, using either the AWS Console or your favorite tool. Then, modify your and add the following values:

import os


STATICFILES_STORAGE = 'storages.backends.s3boto.S3BotoStorage'
DEFAULT_FILE_STORAGE = 'storages.backends.s3boto.S3BotoStorage'


Notice that we are using environment variables to store the AWS access key and secret key. While we are on this topic, if you are planning to open source the Django application you are deploying, consider also storing your SECRET_KEY in an environment variable.

SECRET_KEY = os.environ.get('DJANGO_SECRET_KEY')

We are now ready to Deploy to Heroku.

Creating an environment in Heroku

Let’s start by installing the Heroku gem

gem install heroku

followed by creating a new Cedar stack in Heroku.

heroku create --stack cedar

Optionally, you might want to map your own domain name to your Heroku stack.

heroku addons:add custom_domains
heroku domains:add
heroku domains:add

You can find information on managing custom domains in Heroku here

Let’s add the necessary environment variables (do the same for SECRET_KEY if necessar)

heroku config:add AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID=youraswsaccesskey
heroku config:add AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY=yourawssecretkey

For extra security you should use the Identity & Access Management (IAM) service to create a separate user account with the following policy

  "Statement": [
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Action": "s3:*",
      "Resource": [

This way if the credentials stored in Heroku are ever compromised, the attacker will only have access to the files stored in the bucket of this application.

Deploying application to Heroku

This is as easy as running running git push.

git push heroku master

Your application is now deployed, but you still need to configure the database

heroku run syncdb heroku run migrate

You should now have a working application, but we have not yet deployed our static files.

heroku run collectstatic

At this point you should have a fully functional Django application deployed to Heroku with static files hosted in S3. If you are having problems you can investigate the logs with heroku logs. You can also consider turning on DEBUG temporarily, but don’t forget to turn this off. To make it easier to turn DEBUG on and off consider adding the following to your

DEBUG = bool(os.environ.get('DJANGO_DEBUG', ''))

Now you can turn debug on and off using heroku config:add DJANGO_DEBUG=true and turning it off with heroku config:remove DJANGO_DEBUG