Building a Django App Server with Chef: Part 3

Alternate title: Show the world what you’ve got.

This is Part 3 of my Chef tutorial. Today we’re talking about deployment. You can check out the first 2 parts of the series:

Today’s code will be in the git repo under the tag blog-post-3.

What we’ll need

We’ll be taking the Django application that we have on the server and actually deploying it. Let’s make a list of what we’ll need:

  • A web server to sit in front and proxy requests
  • A WSGI server
  • A way to keep both of these things running
  • A caching layer

We’ll be using Nginx, Memcached, Upstart, and Gunicorn. This is my preferred deployment stack as of late, mainly because of the simple setup.

Let’s get started

A web server

Getting Nginx up and running should be old hat by this point. We’re going to need the package and service Resources, which will tell Chef to install and run it.


package "nginx" do

service "nginx" do
  enabled true
  running true
  supports :status => true, :restart => true, :reload => true
  action [:start, :enable]

cookbook_file "/etc/nginx/sites-enabled/readthedocs" do
  source "nginx/readthedocs"
  mode 0640
  owner "root"
  group "root"
  notifies :restart, resources(:service => "nginx")

cookbook_file "/etc/nginx/nginx.conf" do
  source "nginx/nginx.conf"
  mode 0640
  owner "root"
  group "root"
  notifies :restart, resources(:service => "nginx")

As you can see, we’re providing our own nginx.conf and a readthedocs site configuration. I’m not going to paste these in, as they are pretty application specific, but you can look at them on Github if you’re curious. I also wrote about it a while back.

The only new part here is the notifies command, which is pretty nifty. It basically means that whenever you change the nginx.conf file, it should restart Nginx, which is a really nice feature.

A WSGI Server

Yesterday, when we installed the deploy_requirements.txt with pip, it pulled in gunicorn. So we actually have Gunicorn already installed in our virtualenv, waiting for us to use it. The only difference is I actually committed a change to the ReadTheDocs source so that it will pull Gunicorn from the git master, which I’ll explain below.


Note: I use upstart because it ships with Ubuntu, so you don’t need to install a separate package. However, it has pretty horrible documentation, with the Stanzas doc probably the best clue as to what it supports.

Here is where things get interesting. I spent a bunch of time trying to get gunicorn and upstart to play nicely yesterday night, but it wasn’t working. I went on the #gunicorn IRC channel on Freenode today, and talked with benoitc. He was awesome and patched gunicorn to work with Upstart for me.

Here is the upstart script that we’re using to keep gunicorn running:


description "Gunicorn for ReadTheDocs"

start on runlevel [2345]
stop on runlevel [!2345]
#Send KILL after 5 seconds
kill timeout 5

env VENV="/home/docs/sites/"

#Serve Gunicorn on the internal rackspace IP.
exec sudo -u docs $VENV/bin/gunicorn_django --preload -w 2 --log-level debug --log-file $VENV/run/gunicorn.log -p $VENV/run/ -b $VENV/checkouts/
end script

As you can see, an Upstart script is a pretty clean way to do this. If you’ve ever tried to write an old SysV-style init script, this will look beautiful. You’ll notice that we aren’t passing the –daemon parameter to gunicorn, this is because upstart will background the process for us, and keep track of everything, so we don’t need gunicorn’s daemonizing behavior.

It should be pointed out how awesome it is that we can run a production ready WSGI server with a single line of bash. If you’ve ever set up a mod_wsgi install, needing to fuddle with your apache.conf and a WSGI file and everything makes it a chore. This is quite simply the easiest way to deploy a WSGI application.

Then we need some additions to cookbooks/main/recipes/readthedocs.rb:

cookbook_file "/etc/init/readthedocs-gunicorn.conf" do
    source "gunicorn.conf"
    owner "root"
    group "root"
    mode 0644

service "readthedocs-gunicorn" do
    provider Chef::Provider::Service::Upstart
    enabled true
    running true
    supports :restart => true, :reload => true, :status => true
    action [:enable, :start]

Here you can see we’re doing a similar thing to the other service declarations. We however need to tell Chef to use Upstart for this service, instead of defaulting to init.d. Other than that, everything here should look similar to the other files and services we’ve set up.


As you would expect, installing memcached is just like nginx:


package "memcached" do

service "memcached" do
  enabled true
  running true
  supports :status => true, :restart => true
  action [:enable, :start]

cookbook_file "/etc/memcached.conf" do
  source "memcached.conf"
  mode 0640
  owner "root"
  group "root"
  notifies :restart, resources(:service => "memcached")

The memcached.conf is so short, I might as well include it here:

logfile /var/log/memcached.log
-m 64
-p 11211
-u nobody

Memcache’s config file is pretty neat, because it’s basically just a list of arguments to pass to the daemon when it’s started. A little bit like a pip requirements file is just commands to pass to pip install when it’s run.

Wrapping up

Now that you have these awesome new recipes, and additions to old ones, we need to make sure they’re actually being run. Your run_list in your node.json file should now look something like this:

"run_list": [ "main::default", "main::python", "main::readthedocs", "main::memcached", "main::nginx"],

At this point, it’s pretty neat. I can run a fab install_chef update, wait about 5 minutes, and go from a freshly paved server to a fully functioning app server.

Tomorrow we’ll be adding some monitoring and auxiliary niceties. This includes setting up Munin, Celery, generating the /etc/hosts file, and throwing in a little .bashrc magic to make the user experience nicer.

There were a couple of questions yesterday about databases and other things. My current problem is running an application server, which is what I’ve accomplished. However, with my new-found love affair for chef, I will definitely be making my Database/Utility box into a chef configuration really soon. I might not write it up in so much detail, but hopefully you’ve learned enough from this series that I can just publish the code.

Hey there. I'm Eric and I do consulting and other services around documentation systems. Feel free to email me, or otherwise reach out if you want to chat.