I have deployed quite a few Django powered sites on PaaS like OpenShift, Google AppEngine. But I was required to deploy my final semester project on our college server, which turned out to be really difficult After a lot of work, I finally was able to deploy Django on Nginx and Gunicorn over HTTPS (my site uses HTTPS throughout).

The dummy project

Create the virtualenv for our project:

$ mkdir dummy

$ virtualenv --no-site-packages dummy
New python executable in dummy/bin/python
Installing setuptools............done.
Installing pip...............done.

$ source ./dummy/bin/activate
(dummy)$ pip install django

So now we’re working in the virtualenv and have the latest stable Django installed. Switch to your projects directory and start a new Django project.

(dummy)$ django-admin.py startproject dummy_project

(dummy)$ cd dummy_project

(dummy)$ ls
manage.py dummy_project

Now test if this is working fine in Django’s development server:

(dummy)$ python manage.py runserver

and go to http://localhost:8000/ in your browser. You should see the Django welcome page. Stop the development server for now and let’s move on to the next step.

Installing Gunicorn

Gunicorn ‘Green Unicorn’ is a Python WSGI HTTP Server for UNIX. It is lightweight and supports Django out-of-the-box. To install, simply do

(dummy)$ pip install gunicorn

This will install Gunicorn in the current virtualenv (dummy here). To test if Gunicorn runs fine,

(dummy)$ cd /path/to/project/dir
(dummy)$ gunicorn_django

You should see some output on the terminal. Point your browser to http://localhost:8000/ again to see if it works.

Now for deployment on a real production system, we’ll need to pass a couple more options to gunicorn. Let’s create a file called deploy.sh that contains the appropriate invocation for gunicorn

  set -e
  LOGDIR=$(dirname $LOGFILE)
  # Number of worker processes. 
  # Should be no less than the number of cores available and a popular formula
  # is 1 + 2 * number of cores. 
  cd /path/to/project/dir
  # Activate the virtualenv - replace the path with the path to wherever your venv lives.
  source /path/to/virtualenv/dummy/bin/activate
  test -d $LOGDIR || mkdir -p $LOGDIR
  # Finally, the invocation
  gunicorn_django -w $NUM_WORKERS \
      --user=$USER --group=$GROUP --log-level=debug \
      --log-file=$LOGFILE 2>>$LOGFILE

Now make this file executable by doing

(dummy)$ chmod a+x deploy.sh

At this point, simply executing deploy.sh should bring up gunicorn and allow us to view the welcome page on http://localhost:8000/

Installing and configuring Supervisor

Supervisor is a client/server system that allows its users to monitor and control a number of processes on UNIX-like operating systems. Why are we using it? Because it gives us control over our processes and we’re able to configure things like log file paths in a central place - the supervisor configuration file. Also, adding a new project is as easy as a new block in the configuration file. Installing is super-easy

(dummy)$ pip install supervisor

Supervisor has two components - the server(called supervisord), which daemonizes when run and the client tool(called supervisorctl), which is used to start/stop our programs. Let’s write the configuration file for supervisord.

Place the following in the etc directory in your virtualenv - e.g., /path/to/venv/dummy/etc/ as supervisord.conf

  directory = /path/to/project/dir
  user = youruser
  command = /path/to/deploy.sh
  stdout_logfile = /path/to/dummy.log
  stderr_logfile = /path/to/dummy.log

  file=/tmp/supervisor.sock   ; (the path to the socket file)

  logfile=/tmp/supervisord.log ; (main log file;default $CWD/supervisord.log)
  logfile_maxbytes=50MB        ; (max main logfile bytes b4 rotation;default 50MB)
  logfile_backups=10           ; (num of main logfile rotation backups;default 10)
  loglevel=info                ; (log level;default info; others: debug,warn,trace)
  pidfile=/tmp/supervisord.pid ; (supervisord pidfile;default supervisord.pid)
  nodaemon=false               ; (start in foreground if true;default false)
  minfds=1024                  ; (min. avail startup file descriptors;default 1024)
  minprocs=200                 ; (min. avail process descriptors;default 200)
  supervisor.rpcinterface_factory = supervisor.rpcinterface:make_main_rpcinterface

  serverurl=unix:///tmp/supervisor.sock ; use a unix:// URL  for a unix socket

Be very sure to change the parameters according to your settings. Once the conf file is written, we can start supervisord as root (because it needs to daemonize). You will need to su to root and then activate the dummy virtualenv. Then do

(dummy)# supervisord

At this point, you may want to read up on the official Supervisor_ docs.

Okay so let us test Supervisor. As root (and in the dummy virtualenv), do

(dummy)# supervisorctl start dummy

Then check with your browser. To stop,

(dummy)# supervisorctl stop dummy

Note that running this as root does not expose any security threats, as supervisorctl runs the actual process as the user indicated in the config file. So unless that is set to root, you’re okay. After ensuring supervisor is running fine, move on to the next step:

Installing and configuring Nginx

nginx [engine x] is an HTTP and reverse proxy server, as well as a mail proxy server, written by Igor Sysoev. It is used widely to serve static files, but we’ll also use it as a reverse proxy for our upstream gunicorn server. Basically, nginx will handle all real requests from the outside world, and delegate these to the gunicorn server running on port 8000 (or whichever port you decide to run it on). Requests for static files will be directly served by nginx.

To install nginx on Fedora or RedHat,

# yum install nginx

On Debian/Ubuntu, just use apt-get instead of yum

Once installed, let’s configure Nginx. You should read up on the official Nginx docs to know how to configure vhosts, but to keep it simple here, let’s modify the default config file which, on my Fedora box, sits at /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf. I wanted all areas of my site SSL protected. If you have an area in your site that does not need to have SSL/TLS, please do not use it - it is unnecessary hard work for the server. But if you need it, do not shy away.

To configure SSL, we first need to have our SSL certificate - which can be later signed by a renowned certificate authority(CA) like Verisign. First install OpenSSL on your system

# yum install openssl

Then, change to a directory where you want to store your certificate - note that while this directory must be readable by Nginx, it must not be readable by all users, as it will contain the server’s private key. Once you’re in the directory, say /path/to/cert/

Create the private key:

$ openssl genrsa -out dummy-key.pem 1024

Create the CSR - Certificate Signing Request file(sent to CAs to sign our certificate)

$ openssl req -new -key dummy-key.pem -out dummy-csr.pem

We’re not sending this CSR over to a CA now. Instead, we’ll “self-sign” it:

$ openssl x509 -req -in dummy-csr.pem -signkey dummy-key.pem -out dummy-cert.pem

This generates the certificate in dummy-cert.pem

Now to configure Nginx. Open up /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf (on Fedora) and edit it as follows:

# The default server
server {
    listen 80;
    # If you want certain Non-SSL areas on your site, add a location block here
    # read up on the nginx docs.
    # Be sure to replace localhost in the following rule to the server name/IP address.
    return 301 https://localhost/;
server {
    listen  443 ssl;
    # server_name  _;
    # start mine
    ssl on;
    ssl_certificate /path/to/cert/dummy-cert.pem;
    ssl_certificate_key /path/to/cert/dummy-key.pem;
    ssl_protocols        SSLv3 TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
    ssl_ciphers          HIGH:!aNULL:!MD5;
    server_name localhost;
    # full path to the project dir - the dir that contains the urls.py file
    root /path/to/project/dir/dummy;
    access_log /path/to/logdir/nginx_access.log;
    error_log /path/to/logdir/nginx_error.log;

    location /static/{
        autoindex on;
        # The path to the actual project directory here - the one which contains the static/ 
        # dir holding the static files for this project
        root /path/to/project/dir/dummy;

    location / {
        proxy_pass_header Server;
        proxy_set_header Host $http_host;
        proxy_redirect off;
        proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
        proxy_set_header X-Scheme $scheme;
        proxy_connect_timeout 10;
        proxy_read_timeout 10;
        proxy_pass http://localhost:8000/;

    error_page  404              /404.html;
    location = /404.html {
        root   /usr/share/nginx/html;
    # redirect server error pages to the static page /50x.html
    error_page   500 502 503 504  /50x.html;
    location = /50x.html {
        root   /usr/share/nginx/html;

The first server block is for HTTP(port 80). Since I want all HTTP requests to be redirected to use HTTPS, we return a HTTP 301(permanent redirect) to our HTTPS server (BTW, HTTPS standard port is 443).

The next server block configures SSL by pointing Nginx to the private key and certificate we created. Now in the settings module of your Django project, do these settings:

import os
STATIC_ROOT = os.path.join(os.path.dirname(os.path.abspath(__file__)), 'static')

# URL prefix for static files.
# Example: "http://media.lawrence.com/static/"
STATIC_URL = '/static/'

Once that is done, start up Nginx as root(on Fedora):

# service nginx start

If that does not work, simply start nginx:

# nginx

Now, from the virtualenv, start our “program” using supervisorctl:

(dummy)# supervisorctl start dummy

Point your browser to https://localhost/ to see your app working. Note that since the digital certificate we created is self-signed, browsers will typically show a warning when using HTTPS. This is normal. On real production systems using HTTPS, you should get your certificate signed by a CA. It costs some money to get the CA issue a signed certifcate to you, but it is worth it.

That is all there is to deploying a Django app on Nginx + Gunicorn over HTTPS.