Various programming stuff

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Django model auditing


An auditing trail is a common requirement in most non-trivial applications. Organizations need to know who did the change, when it was done and what was actually changed. In this post we will see three different solution in order to add this functionality in Django: doing it ourselves, using django-simple-history and using django-reversion.

Update 24/09/2015: Added a paragraph describing the django-reversion-compare which is a great addon for django-reversion that makes finding differences between versions a breeze!

Adding simple auditing functionality ourselves

A simple way to actually do auditing is to keep four extra fields in our models: created_by, created_on, modified_by and modified_on. The first two will be filled when the model instance is created while the latter two will be changed whenever the model instance is saved. So we only have who and whe. Sometimes, these are enough so let’s see how easy it is to implement it in django.

We’ll need an abstract model that could be used as a base class for models that need auditing:

from django.conf import settings
from django.db import models

class Auditable(models.Model):
    created_on = models.DateTimeField(auto_now_add = True)
    created_by = models.ForeignKey(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, related_name='created_by')

    modified_on = models.DateTimeField(auto_now = True)
    modified_by = models.ForeignKey(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, related_name='modified_by')

    class Meta:
        abstract = True

Models inheriting from Auditable will contain their datetime of creation and modification which will be automatically filled using the very usefull auto_now_add_ (which will set the current datetime when the model instance is created) and auto_now_ (which will set the current datetime when the model instance is modified).

Such models will also have two foreign keys to User, one for the user that created the and one of the user that modified them. The problem with these two fields is that they cannot be filled automatically (like the datetimes) because the user that actually did create/change the objects must be provided!

Since I am really fond of CBVs I will present a simple mixin that can be used with CreateView and UpdateView and does exactly that:

class AuditableMixin(object,):
    def form_valid(self, form, ):
        if not form.instance.created_by:
            form.instance.created_by = self.request.user
        form.instance.modified_by = self.request.user
        return super(AuditableMixin, self).form_valid(form)

The above mixin overrides the form_valid method of CreateView and UpdateView: First it checks if the object is created (if it is created it won’t be saved in the database yet thus it won’t have an id) in order to set the created_by attribute to the current user. After that it will set the modified_by attribute of the object to the current user. Finally, it will call the next form_valid method to do whatever is required (save the model instance and redirect to success_url by default).

The views using AuditableMixin should allow only logged in users (or else an exception will be thrown). Also, don’t forget to exclude the created_by and modified_by fields from your model form (created_on and modified_on will automatically be excluded).


Let’s see a simple example of creating a small django application using the previously defined abstract model and mixin:


from django.conf import settings
from django.core.urlresolvers import reverse
from django.db import models

from auditable.models import Auditable

class Book(Auditable):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=128)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=128)

    def get_absolute_url(self):
        return reverse("book_list")

In the above we suppose that the Auditable abstract model is imported from the auditable.models module and that a view named book_list that shows all books exists.


from django.forms import ModelForm

class BookForm(ModelForm):
    class Meta:
        model = Book
        fields = ['name', 'author']

Show only name and author fields (and not the auditable fields) in the Book ModelForm.


from django.views.generic.edit import CreateView, UpdateView
from django.views.generic import ListView

from auditable.views import AuditableMixin

from models import Book
from forms import BookForm

class BookCreateView(AuditableMixin, CreateView):
    model = Book
    form_class = BookForm

class BookUpdateView(AuditableMixin, UpdateView):
    model = Book
    form_class = BookForm

class BookListView(ListView):
    model = Book

We import the AuditableMixin from auditable.views and make our Create and Update views inherit from this mixin also in addition to CreateView and UpdateView. Pay attention that our mixin is placed before CreateView in order to call form_valid in the proper order: When multiple inheritance is used like this python will check each class from left to right to find the proper method and call it. For example, in our BookCreateView, when the form_valid method is called, python will first check if BookCreateView has a form_valid method. Since it does not, it will check if AuditableMixin has a form_valid method and call it. Now, we are calling the super(...).form_valid() in the AuditableMixin form_valid, so the form_valid of CreateView will also be called.

A simple ListView is also added to just show the info on all books.


from django.conf.urls import patterns, include, url

from views import BookCreateView, BookUpdateView, BookListView

urlpatterns = patterns('',
    url(r'^accounts/login/$', 'django.contrib.auth.views.login', ),
    url(r'^accounts/logout/$', 'django.contrib.auth.views.logout', ),

    url(r'^create/$', BookCreateView.as_view(), name='create_book'),
    url(r'^update/(?P<pk>\d+)/$', BookUpdateView.as_view(), name='update_book'),
    url(r'^$', BookListView.as_view(), name='book_list'),

Just add the previously defined Create/Update/List views along with a login/logout views.


You’ll need four templates:

  • books/book_list.html: Show the list of books
  • books/book_form.html: Show the book editing form
  • registration/login.html: Login form
  • registration/logout.html: Logout message

Using django-simple-history

django-simple-history can be used to not only store the user and date of each modification but a different version for each modification. To do that, for every model that is registered to be used with django-simple-history, it wil create a second table in the database hosting all versions (historical records) of that model. As we can understand this is really powerfull since we can see exactly what was changed and also do normal SQL queries on that!


To use django-simple-history in a project, after we do a pip install django-simple-history, we just need to add it to INSTALLED_APPS and add the simple_history.middleware.HistoryRequestMiddleware to the MIDDLEWARE_CLASSES list.

Finally, to keep the historical records for a model, just add an instace of HistoricalRecords to this model.


For example, our previously defined Book model will be modified like this:

class SHBook(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=128)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=128)

    def get_absolute_url(self):
        return reverse("shbook_list")

    history = HistoricalRecords()

When we run python manage.py makemigrations and migrate this, we’ll see that beyond the table for SHBook, a table for HistoricalSHBook will be created:

Migrations for 'sample':
    - Create model HistoricalSHBook
    - Create model SHBook

Let’s see the schema of historicalshbook:

CREATE TABLE "sample_historicalshbook" (
    "id" integer NOT NULL,
    "name" varchar(128) NOT NULL,
    "author" varchar(128) NOT NULL,
    "history_id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY AUTOINCREMENT,
    "history_date" datetime NOT NULL,
    "history_type" varchar(1) NOT NULL,
    "history_user_id" integer NULL REFERENCES "auth_user" ("id")

So we see that it has the same fields as with SHBook (id, name, author) with the addition of the primary key (history_id) of this historical record, the date and user that did the change (history_date, history_user_id) and the type of the record (created / update / delete).

So, just by adding a HistoricalRecords() attribute to our model definition we’ll get complete auditing for the instance of that model


To find out information about the historical records we’ll just use the HistoricalRecords() attribute of that model:

For example, running SHBook.history.filter(id=1) will return all historical records of the book with id = 1. For each one of them we have can use the following:

  • get the user that made the change through the history_user attribute
  • get the date of the change through the history_date attribute
  • get the type of the change through the history_type attribute (and the corresponding get_history_type_dispaly)
  • get a model instance as it was then through the history_object attribute (in order to save() it and revert to this version)

Using django-reversion

django-reversion offers more or less the same functionality of django-simple-history by following a different philosophy: Instead of creating an extra table holding the history records for each model, it insteads converts all the fields of each model to json and stores that JSON in the database in a text field.

This has the advantage that no extra tables are created to the database but the disadvantage that you can’t easily query your historical records. So you may choose one or the other depending on your actual requirements.


To use django-reversion in a project, after we do a pip install django-reversion, we just need to add it to INSTALLED_APPS and add the reversion.middleware.RevisionMiddleware to the MIDDLEWARE_CLASSES list.

In order to save the revisions of a model, you need to register this model to django-reversion. This can be done either through the django-admin, by inheriting the admin class of that model from reversion.VersionAdmin or, if you don’t want to use the admin by reversion.register decorator.


To use django-reversion to keep track of changes to Book we can modify it like this:

class RBook(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=128)
    author = models.CharField(max_length=128)

    def get_absolute_url(self):
        return reverse("rbook_list")

django-reversion uses two tables in the database to keep track of revisions: revision and version. Let’s take a look at their schemata:

.schema reversion_revision
CREATE TABLE "reversion_revision" (
    "manager_slug" varchar(200) NOT NULL,
    "date_created" datetime NOT NULL,
    "comment" text NOT NULL,
    "user_id" integer NULL REFERENCES "auth_user" ("id")

.schema reversion_version
CREATE TABLE "reversion_version" (
    "object_id" text NOT NULL,
    "object_id_int" integer NULL,
    "format" varchar(255) NOT NULL,
    "serialized_data" text NOT NULL,
    "object_repr" text NOT NULL,
    "content_type_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "django_content_type" ("id"),
    "revision_id" integer NOT NULL REFERENCES "reversion_revision" ("id")

As we can understand, the revision table holds information like who created this revison (user_id) and when (date_created) while the version stores a reference to the object that was modified (through a GenericForeignKey) and the actual data (in the serialized_data field). By default it uses JSON to serialize the data (the serialization format is in the format field). There’s an one-to-one relation between revision and version.

If we create an instance of RBook we’ll see the following in the database:

sqlite> select * from reversion_revision;
1|default|2015-01-21 10:31:25.233000||1

sqlite> select * from reversion_version;
1|1|1|json|[{"fields": {"name": "asdasdasd", "author": "asdasd"}, "model": "sample.rbook", "pk": 1}]|RBook object|12|1

date_created and user_id are stored on revision while format, serialized_data, content_type_id and object_id_int (the GenericForeignKey) are stored in version.


To find out information about an object you have to use the reversion.get_for_object(object) method. In order to be easily used in templates I recommend creating the following get_versions() method in each model that is registered with django-reversion

def get_versions(self):
    return reversion.get_for_object(self)

Now, each version has a revision attribute for the corresponding revision and can be used to do the following:

  • get the user that made the change through the revision.user attribute
  • get the date of the change through the revision.date_created attribute
  • get the values of the object fields as they were in this revision using the field_dict attribute
  • get a model instance as it was on that revision using the object_version.object attribute
  • revert to that previous version of that object using the revert() method

Comparing versions with django-reversion-compare

A great addon for django-version is django-reversion-compare which helps you find out differences between versions of your objects. When you use django-reversion-compare, you’ll be able to select two (different) versions of your object and you’ll be presented with a list of all the differences found in the fields of that object between the two versions. The diff algorithm is smart, so you’ll be able to easily recognise the changes.

To use django-reversion-compare, after installing it you should just inherit your admin views from reversion_compare.admin.CompareVersionAdmin (instead of reversion.VersionAdmin) and you’ll get the reversion-compare views instead of reversion views in the admin for the history of the object.

Also, in case you need to give access to normal, non-admin users to the history of an object (this is useful for auditing reasons), you can use the reversion_compare.views.HistoryCompareDetailView as a normal DetailView to create a non-admin history and compare diff view.


In the above we say that it is really easy to add basic (who and when) auditing capabilities to your models: You just need to inherit your models from the Auditable abstract class and inherit your Create and Update CBVs from AuditableMixin. If you want to know exactly what was changed then you have two solutions: django-simple-history to create an extra table for each of your models so you’ll be able to query your historical records (and easily extra aggregates, statistics etc) and django-reversion to save each version as a json object, so no extra tables will be created.

All three solutions for auditing have been implemented in a sample project at https://github.com/spapas/auditing-sample.

You can clone the project and, preferrably in a virtual environment, install requirements (pip install -r requirements.txt), do a migrate (python manage.py migrate — uses sqlite3 by default) and run the local development server (python manage.py ruinserver).