A Python and Preact app deployed on Heroku

13 December 2019   2 comments   Python, Web development, Django, Docker, JavaScript

Heroku is great but it's sometimes painful when your app isn't just in one single language. What I have is a project where the backend is Python (Django) and the frontend is JavaScript (Preact). The folder structure looks like this:

/
  - README.md
  - manage.py
  - requirements.txt
  - my_django_app/
     - settings.py
     - asgi.py
     - api/
        - urls.py
        - views.py
  - frontend/
     - package.json
     - yarn.lock
     - preact.config.js
     - build/
        ...
     - src/
        ...

A bunch of things omitted for brevity but people familiar with Django and preact-cli/create-create-app should be familiar.
The point is that the root is a Python app and the front-end is exclusively inside a sub folder.

When you do local development, you start two servers:

The latter is what you open in your browser. That preact app will do things like:

const response = await fetch('/api/search');

and, in preact.config.js I have this:

export default (config, env, helpers) => {

  if (config.devServer) {
    config.devServer.proxy = [
      {
        path: "/api/**",
        target: "http://localhost:8000"
      }
    ];
  }

};

...which is hopefully self-explanatory. So, calls like GET http://localhost:3000/api/search actually goes to http://localhost:8000/api/search.

That's when doing development. The interesting thing is going into production.

Before we get into Heroku, let's first "merge" the two systems into one and the trick used is Whitenoise. Basically, Django's web server will be responsibly not only for things like /api/search but also static assets such as / --> frontend/build/index.html and /bundle.17ae4.js --> frontend/build/bundle.17ae4.js.

This is basically all you need in settings.py to make that happen:

MIDDLEWARE = [
    "django.middleware.security.SecurityMiddleware",
    "whitenoise.middleware.WhiteNoiseMiddleware",
    ...
]

WHITENOISE_INDEX_FILE = True

STATIC_URL = "/"
STATIC_ROOT = BASE_DIR / "frontend" / "build"

However, this isn't quite enough because the preact app uses preact-router which uses pushState() and other code-splitting magic so you might have a URL, that users see, like this: https://myapp.example.com/that/thing/special and there's nothing about that in any of the Django urls.py files. Nor is there any file called frontend/build/that/thing/special/index.html or something like that.
So for URLs like that, we have to take a gamble on the Django side and basically hope that the preact-router config knows how to deal with it. So, to make that happen with Whitenoise we need to write a custom middleware that looks like this:

from whitenoise.middleware import WhiteNoiseMiddleware


class CustomWhiteNoiseMiddleware(WhiteNoiseMiddleware):
    def process_request(self, request):
        if self.autorefresh:
            static_file = self.find_file(request.path_info)
        else:
            static_file = self.files.get(request.path_info)

            # These two lines is the magic.
            # Basically, the URL didn't lead to a file (e.g. `/manifest.json`)
            # it's either a API path or it's a custom browser path that only
            # makes sense within preact-router. If that's the case, we just don't
            # know but we'll give the client-side preact-router code the benefit
            # of the doubt and let it through.
            if not static_file and not request.path_info.startswith("/api"):
                static_file = self.files.get("/")

        if static_file is not None:
            return self.serve(static_file, request)

And in settings.py this change:

MIDDLEWARE = [
    "django.middleware.security.SecurityMiddleware",
-   "whitenoise.middleware.WhiteNoiseMiddleware",
+   "my_django_app.middleware.CustomWhiteNoiseMiddleware",
    ...
]

Now, all traffic goes through Django. Regular Django view functions, static assets, and everything else fall back to frontend/build/index.html.

Heroku

Heroku tries to make everything so simple for you. You basically, create the app (via the cli or the Heroku web app) and when you're ready you just do git push heroku master. However that won't be enough because there's more to this than Python.

Unfortunately, I didn't take notes of my hair-pulling excruciating journey of trying to add buildpacks and hacks and Procfiles and custom buildpacks. Nothing seemed to work. Perhaps the answer was somewhere in this issue: "Support running an app from a subdirectory" but I just couldn't figure it out. I still find buildpacks confusing when it's beyond Hello World. Also, I didn't want to run Node as a service, I just wanted it as part of the "build process".

Docker to the rescue

Finally I get a chance to try "Deploying with Docker" in Heroku which is a relatively new feature. And the only thing that scared me was that now I need to write a heroku.yml file which was confusing because all I had was a Dockerfile. We'll get back to that in a minute!

So here's how I made a Dockerfile that mixes Python and Node:

FROM node:12 as frontend

COPY . /app
WORKDIR /app
RUN cd frontend && yarn install && yarn build


FROM python:3.8-slim

WORKDIR /app

RUN groupadd --gid 10001 app && useradd -g app --uid 10001 --shell /usr/sbin/nologin app
RUN chown app:app /tmp

RUN apt-get update && \
    apt-get upgrade -y && \
    apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends \
    gcc apt-transport-https python-dev

# Gotta try moving this to poetry instead!
COPY ./requirements.txt /app/requirements.txt
RUN pip install --upgrade --no-cache-dir -r requirements.txt

COPY . /app
COPY --from=frontend /app/frontend/build /app/frontend/build

USER app

ENV PORT=8000
EXPOSE $PORT

CMD uvicorn gitbusy.asgi:application --host 0.0.0.0 --port $PORT

If you're not familiar with it, the critical trick is on the first line where it builds some Node with as frontend. That gives me a thing I can then copy from into the Python image with COPY --from=frontend /app/frontend/build /app/frontend/build.

Now, at the very end, it starts a uvicorn server with all the static .js, index.html, and favicon.ico etc. available to uvicorn which ultimately runs whitenoise.

To run and build:

docker build . -t my_app
docker run -t -i --rm --env-file .env -p 8000:8000 my_app

Now, opening http://localhost:8000/ is a production grade app that mixes Python (runtime) and JavaScript (static).

Heroku + Docker

Heroku says to create a heroku.yml file and that makes sense but what didn't make sense is why I would add cmd line in there when it's already in the Dockerfile. The solution is simple: omit it. Here's what my final heroku.yml file looks like:

build:
  docker:
    web: Dockerfile

Check in the heroku.yml file and git push heroku master and voila, it works!

To see a complete demo of all of this check out https://github.com/peterbe/gitbusy and https://gitbusy.herokuapp.com/

Comments

Anonymous

Deploying your Python + Javascript app to Heroku is easy today.

1. You just have to add official python and nodejs buildpacks to your config.
http://i.imgur.com/ocFtYtO.png

2. Put requirements.txt and package.json to the root of your github repo.
For example see https://github.com/gbtami/pychess-variants

Peter Bengtsson

I just don't like putting everything into the root folder. Especially since it prevents adding more other folders later. Sooner or later you might have 3 different package.json files.

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