How to Establish the Scope of a Software MVP
How to Establish the Scope of a Software MVP

In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, certain frameworks stand out for their unique origins and exceptional contributions to the field. Django, a popular Python web framework, is one such creation that has garnered attention for its history and innovative approach to web development. In this article, we will delve into the intriguing history of Django and discover why it has been described as “developed in a newsroom.”

The Genesis of Django

Django’s journey commenced in the early 2000s when two talented developers, Adrian Holovaty and Simon Willison, found themselves working at the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper in 2003-2004. Simon, on a year-long internship from a UK university, had extensive experience with PHP, while Adrian had already crafted Lawrence.com using PHP. However, both shared a common frustration: the challenges of maintaining large websites in PHP.

During this period, PHP lacked modern features like namespaces and PHP5, making it cumbersome to manage substantial codebases. Their dissatisfaction with PHP led them to explore other programming languages, and they soon fell in love with Python, partly influenced by Mark Pilgrim’s “Dive Into Python” book.

The Need for a New Approach

As they embraced Python, Simon and Adrian aimed to transition to web development using this language. However, they were not just looking for a new programming language; they also had strong opinions about how web development should be approached. They emphasized the importance of well-designed URLs and the effective utilization of CSS, aligning with the emerging Web Standards movement of that era.

The Quest for the Ideal Tool

To fulfill their vision of Python-based web development, they began searching for existing Python tools and frameworks but found none that matched their desired workflow. Additionally, they explored deployment options for Python and identified mod_python as the most promising choice at the time.

The primary motivation behind Django’s creation was a concern that mod_python might not scale as needed. To safeguard against potential scalability issues, they decided to build a thin abstraction layer between mod_python and their codebase. This led to the birth of Django’s fundamental components—the HttpRequest and HttpResponse objects. Interestingly, this was before the advent of WSGI (Web Server Gateway Interface), which would later become a standard for Python web applications.

From “The CMS” to Django

Initially, Django was not conceived as a full-fledged web framework; instead, it was referred to as “the CMS” (Content Management System). Simon and Adrian collaboratively worked on essential aspects of Django, including the Request/Response objects, URL resolution, and the template language. These components formed the foundation of what Django would become.

Evolution of the ORM

Django’s Object-Relational Mapping (ORM) system, a hallmark feature of the framework, had humble beginnings. It started as a set of repetitive and cumbersome classes that the developers found themselves copying and pasting for each persistent model. They were convinced that there had to be a better way to handle this, but the solution eluded them initially.

A pivotal moment occurred when Simon attended SxSW 2004 for a week. During his absence, Adrian devised a code generator that automatically generated model classes. This innovation not only streamlined their development process but also hinted at Django’s potential for rapid and efficient web development.

Porting Lawrence.com and Beyond

The ultimate goal of Django was to port Lawrence.com to this newly emerging framework. In essence, Django was custom-built to accommodate the functionalities of Lawrence.com, aligning with the philosophy of “building up” rather than “extracting out,” as seen in the case of Ruby on Rails and BaseCamp. Several new websites were also constructed using Django during this period. The first live Django site was 6newslawrence.com, although it is no longer available today.

Passing the Torch

Simon’s internship came to an end after a year, and a month prior to his departure, Jacob Kaplan-Moss was hired as his replacement. Jacob, along with Adrian, continued to develop and refine Django. Approximately a year later, they successfully convinced the World Company, the owners of the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper, to open-source Django.

The success story of Ruby on Rails served as a persuasive argument for open-sourcing Django. Additionally, the World Company had a history of benefiting from free software and a strong desire to contribute to the open-source community. It was during this period that Django received its now-famous name, inspired by Adrian’s favorite guitarist, Django Reinhardt.

The Transition to Metaclasses

While much of Django’s history is well-documented, one significant transition remains noteworthy. The initial code generator, used for model classes, was eventually replaced with a more sophisticated system based on metaclasses. Conversations between Adrian and Ian Bicking may have played a role in influencing this pivotal decision.

Conclusion

The history of Django, often described as “developed in a newsroom,” is a testament to the ingenuity and collaborative spirit of its creators, Adrian Holovaty and Simon Willison. What began as a quest to escape the limitations of PHP and embrace Python turned into a transformative journey that resulted in one of the most popular web frameworks in the world.

Django’s inception was rooted in the need for a better way to approach web development, emphasizing clean URLs, CSS standards, and scalability. From humble beginnings as “the CMS,” it evolved into a robust framework with a powerful ORM, enabling developers to build web applications efficiently.

Django’s open-source nature and its unique history continue to influence and inspire developers worldwide. As we explore the ever-changing landscape of web development, Django’s story reminds us that innovation often arises from the intersection of frustration, passion, and a commitment to improving the status quo.

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