Various programming stuff

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Implementing a simple, Heroku-hosted REST service using Flask and mongoDB


In the following, I will describe how I used Flask, a very nice web microframework for python along with mongoDB, the most popular No-SQL database to implement a simple REST service that was hosted on Heroku. This REST service would get readings from a number of sensors from an Android device.

I chose Flask instead of Django mainly because the REST service that I needed to implement would be very simple and most of the Django bells and whistles (ORM, auth, admin, etc) wouldn’t be needed anyway. Also, Flask is much quicker to set-up than Django since almost everything (views, urls, etc) can be put inside one python module.

Concerning the choice of a NoSQL persistance solution (mongoDB), I wanted to have a table (or collection as it is called in the mongoDB world) of readings from the sensor. Each reading would just have a timestamp and various other arbitrary data depending on the type of the reading, so saving it as a JSON document in a NoSQL database is a good solution.

Finally, all the above will be deployed to Heroku which offers some great services for deploying python code in the cloud.


I propose creating a file named requirements.txt that will host the required packages for your project, so you will be able to setup your projects after creating a virtual environment with virtualenv just by running pip install -r requirements.txt. Also, the requirements.txt is required for deploying python to Heroku.

So, for my case, the contents of requirements.txt are the following:

  • Flask-PyMongo is a simple wrapper for Flask around pymongo which is the python mongoDB driver.
  • Flask-RESTful is a simple library for creating REST APIs - it needs aniso8601 and pytz.
  • Jinja2 is the template library for Flask (we won’t use it but it is required by Flask installation) - it needs MarkupSafe.
  • Werkzeug is a WSGI utility library - required by Flask
  • gunicorn is a WSGI HTTP server - needed for deployment to Heroku
  • itsdangerous is used to sign data for usage in untrusted environments
  • six is the python 2/3 compatibility layer

Implementing the REST service

Instead of using just one single file for our Flask web application, we will create a python module to contain it and a file named runserver.py that will start a local development server to test it:

So, in the same folder as the requirements.txt create a folder named flask_rest_service and in there put two files: __init__.py and resources.py.

The __init__.py initializes our Flask application, our mongoDB connection and our Flask-RESTful api:

import os
from flask import Flask
from flask.ext import restful
from flask.ext.pymongo import PyMongo
from flask import make_response
from bson.json_util import dumps

MONGO_URL = os.environ.get('MONGO_URL')
if not MONGO_URL:
    MONGO_URL = "mongodb://localhost:27017/rest";

app = Flask(__name__)

app.config['MONGO_URI'] = MONGO_URL
mongo = PyMongo(app)

def output_json(obj, code, headers=None):
    resp = make_response(dumps(obj), code)
    resp.headers.extend(headers or {})
    return resp

DEFAULT_REPRESENTATIONS = {'application/json': output_json}
api = restful.Api(app)
api.representations = DEFAULT_REPRESENTATIONS

import flask_rest_service.resources

So what happens here? After the imports, we check if we have a MONGO_URL environment variable. This is how we set options in Heroku. If such option does not exist in the environment then we are in our development environment so we set it to the localhost (we must have a running mongoDB installation in our dev environment).

In the next lines, we initialize our Flask application and our mongoDB connection (pymongo uses a MONGO_URI configuration option to know the database URI).

The output_json is used to dump the BSON encoded mongoDB objects to JSON and was borrowed from alienretro’s blog — we initialize our restful REST API with this function.

Finally, we import the resources.py module which actually defines our REST resources.

import json
from flask import request, abort
from flask.ext import restful
from flask.ext.restful import reqparse
from flask_rest_service import app, api, mongo
from bson.objectid import ObjectId

class ReadingList(restful.Resource):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        self.parser = reqparse.RequestParser()
        self.parser.add_argument('reading', type=str)
        super(ReadingList, self).__init__()

    def get(self):
        return  [x for x in mongo.db.readings.find()]

    def post(self):
        args = self.parser.parse_args()
        if not args['reading']:

        jo = json.loads(args['reading'])
        reading_id =  mongo.db.readings.insert(jo)
        return mongo.db.readings.find_one({"_id": reading_id})

class Reading(restful.Resource):
    def get(self, reading_id):
        return mongo.db.readings.find_one_or_404({"_id": reading_id})

    def delete(self, reading_id):
        mongo.db.readings.find_one_or_404({"_id": reading_id})
        mongo.db.readings.remove({"_id": reading_id})
        return '', 204

class Root(restful.Resource):
    def get(self):
        return {
            'status': 'OK',
            'mongo': str(mongo.db),

api.add_resource(Root, '/')
api.add_resource(ReadingList, '/readings/')
api.add_resource(Reading, '/readings/<ObjectId:reading_id>')

Here we define three Resource classes and add them to our previously defined api: Root, Reading and ReadingList.

Root just returns a dictionary with an OK status and some info on our mongodb connection.

Reading has gets an ObjectId (which is the mongodb primary key) as a parameter and depending on the HTTP operation, it returns the reading with that id when receiving an HTTP GET and deletes the reading with that id when receiving an HTTP DELETE.

ReadingList will return all readings when receiving an HTTP GET and will create a new reading when receiving an HTTP POST The post function uses the parser defined in __init__ which requires a reading parameter with the actual reading to be inserted.

Testing it locally

In order to run the development server, you will need to install and start mongodb locally which is beyond the scope of this post. After that create a file named runserver.py in the same folder as with the requirements.txt and the flask_rest_service folder. The contents of this file should be:

from flask_rest_service import app

When you run this file with python runserver.py you should be able top visit your rest service at http://localhost:5000 and get an “OK” status.

Deploying to Heroku

To deploy to Heroku, you must create a Procfile that contains the workers of your application. In our case, the Procfile should contain the following:

web: gunicorn flask_rest_service:app

Also, you should add a .gitignore file with the following:


Finally, to deploy your application to Heroku you can follow the instructions here: https://devcenter.heroku.com/articles/getting-started-with-python:

  • Initialize a git repository and commit everything:
git init
git add .
git commit -m
  • Create a new Heroku application (after logging in to heroku with heroku login) and set the MONGO_URL environment variable (of course you have to obtain ths MONGO_URL variable for your heroku envirotnment by adding a mongoDB database):
heroku create
heroku config:set MONGO_URL=mongodb://user:pass@mongoprovider.com:27409/rest
  • And finally push your master branch to the heroku remote repository:
git push heroku master

If everything went ok you should be able to start a worker for your application, check that the worker is running, and finally visit it:

heroku ps:scale web=1
heroku ps
heroku open

If everything was ok you should see an status-OK JSON !