Various programming stuff

Django non-HTML responses


I have already written about the many advantages (DRY!) of using CBVs in a previous article. In this article I will present the correct (pythonic) way to allow a normal CBV to return non-HTML responses, like PDF, CSV, XSL etc.

How are CBVs rendered

Before proceeding, we need to understand how CBVs are rendered. By walking through the class hierarchy in the CBV inspector, we can see that all the normal Django CBVs (DetailView, CreateView, TemplateView etc) are using a mixin named TemplateResponseMixin which defines a method named render_to_response. This is the method that is used for rendering the output of the Views. Let’s take a look at how it is defined (I’ll remove the comments):

class TemplateResponseMixin(object):
  template_name = None
  response_class = TemplateResponse
  content_type = None

  def render_to_response(self, context, **response_kwargs):
      response_kwargs.setdefault('content_type', self.content_type)
      return self.response_class(

  def get_template_names(self):
      if self.template_name is None:
          raise ImproperlyConfigured(
              "TemplateResponseMixin requires either a definition of "
              "'template_name' or an implementation of 'get_template_names()'")
          return [self.template_name]

This method will try to find out which html template should be used to render the View (using the get_template_names method and template_name attribute of the mixin) and then render this view by instantiating an instance of the TemplateResponse class (as defined in the response_class attribute) and passing the request, template, context and other response_args to it.

The TemplateResponse class which is instantiated in the render_to_response method inherits from a normal HttpResponse and is used to render the template passed to it as a parameter.

Rendering to non-HTML

From the previous discussion we can conclude that if your non-HTML response needs a template then you just need to create a subclass of TemplateResponse and assign it to the response_class attribute (and also change the content_type attribute). On the other hand, if your non-HTML respond does not need a template to be rendered then you have to override render_to_response completely (since the template parameter does not need to be passed now) and either define a subclass of HttpResponse or do the rendering in the render_to_response.

Since almost always you won’t need a template to create a non-HTML view and because I believe that the solution is DRY-enough by implementing the rendering code to the render_to_response method (without subclassing HttpResponse) I will implement a mixin that does exactly that.

Subclassing HttpResponse will not make our design more DRY because for every subclass of HttpResponse the render_to_response method would also need to be modified (by subclassing TemplateResponseMixin) to instantiate the subclass of ``HttpResponse with the correct parameters. For instance, the existing TemplateResponseMixin cannot be used if the subclass of HttpResponse does not take a template as a parameter (solutions like passing None to the template parameter are signals of bad design).

In any case, changing just the render_to_response method using a Mixin is in my opinion the best solution to the above problem. A Mixin is a simple class that can be used to extend other classes either by overriding functionality of the base class or by adding extra features. Django CBVs use various mixins to extend the base Views and add functionality.

A non-HTML mixin

So, a basic skeleton for our mixin would be something like this:

class NonHtmlResponseMixin(object):
    def render_to_response(self, context, **response_kwargs):
        response = HttpResponse(content_type='text/plain')
        response.write( "Hello, world" )
        return response

The previous mixin overrides the render_to_response method to just return the text “Hello, world”. For instance we could define the following class:

class DummyTextResponseView(NonHtmlResponseMixin, TemplateView,):

which can be added as a route to urls.py (using the as_view method) and will always return the “Hello, world” text.

Here’s something more complicated: A Mixin that can be used along with a DetailView and will output the properties of the object as text:

class TextPropertiesResponseMixin(object):
  def render_to_response(self, context, **response_kwargs):
      response = HttpResponse(content_type='text/plain; charset=utf-8')
      o = self.get_object()
      for f in o._meta.fields:
          response.write (u'{0}: {1}\n'.format(f.name,  unicode(o.__dict__.get(f.name)) ) )
      return response

and can be used like this

class TextPropertiesDetailView(TextPropertiesResponseMixin, FooDetailView,):

The above mixin will use the get_object() method of the DetailView to get the object and then output it as text. We can create similar mixins that will integrate with other types of CBVs, for instance to export a ListView as an CSV or generate an png from a DetailView of an Image file.

A more complex example

The previous examples all built upon an existing view (either a TemplateView, a DetailView or a ListView). However, an existing view that will fit our requirements won’t always be available. For instance, sometimes I want to export data from my database using a raw SQL query. Also I’d like to be able to easily export this data as csv or excel.

First of all, we need to define a view that will inherit from View and export the data as a CSV:

import unicodecsv
from django.db import connection
from django.views.generic import View

class CsvRawSqlExportView(View, ):
  sql = 'select 1+1'
  headers = ['res']
  params = []

  def get(self, request):
      def generate_data(cursor):
          for row in cursor.fetchall():
              yield row

      cursor = connection.cursor()
      cursor.execute(self.sql, self.params)
      generator = generate_data(cursor)
      return self.render_to_response(generator)

  def render_to_response(self, generator, **response_kwargs):
      response = HttpResponse(content_type='text/plain; charset=utf-8')
      response['Content-Disposition'] = 'attachment; filename=export.csv'
      w = unicodecsv.writer(response, encoding='utf-8')
      for row in generator:

      return response

The above View has three attributes: * sql, which is a string with the raw sql that will be executed * headers, which is an array with the names of each header of the resulting data * params, which is an array with parameters that may need to be passed to the query

The get method executes the query and passes the result to render_to_response using a generator. The render_to_response method instantiates an HttpResponse object with the correct attributes and writes the CSV to the response object using unicodecsv.

We can now quickly create a route that will export data from the users table:

        sql='select id, username from auth_user',
        headers=['id', 'username']
    ) ,

If instead of CSV we wanted to export to XLS (using xlwt), we’d just need to create a Mixin:

class XlsRawSqlResponseMixin(object):
  def render_to_response(self, generator, **response_kwargs):
      response = HttpResponse(content_type='application/ms-excel')
      response['Content-Disposition'] = 'attachment; filename=export.xls'
      wb = xlwt.Workbook(encoding='utf-8')
      ws = wb.add_sheet("data")

      for j,c in enumerate(self.headers):

      for i,row in enumerate(generator):
          for j,c in enumerate(row):

      return response

and create a View that inherits from CsvRawSqlExportView and uses the above mixin:

class XlsRawSqlExportView( XlsRawSqlResponseMixin, CsvRawSqlExportView ):

and route to that view to get the XLS:

        sql='select id, username from auth_user',
        headers=['id', 'username']),


Using the above techniques we can define CBVs that will output their content in various content types beyond HTML. This will help us write write clean and DRY code.