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May 25, 2009

Serving Static Media In Django Development Server


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There is a misconception about how static files (a.k.a media files) are handled in Django. Actually it is quite clearly documented here and here. Nevertheless a question about this comes up in the mailing-list or IRC channel frequently:

  • Where do I put my media files?
  • Django can’t find my foo.gif!
  • How can I link my CSS?

First of all, just to make it clear; just because a server returns a response body with an internal URL doesn’t necessarily mean it will be available on that server. It is one thing that your templates produce the correct URL to a media file and another thing that your server actually serves that resource on that URL. Django development server doesn’t automagically serve media files.


There are three settings to get right: MEDIA_ROOT, MEDIA_URL and ADMIN_MEDIA_PREFIX. MEDIA_ROOT is the absolute filesystem path where your media files are. I usually set it like:

MEDIA_ROOT = os.path.join(

This will set MEDIA_ROOT to point to the media directory in your project directory. MEDIA_URL and ADMIN_MEDIA_PREFIX are URL’s:

MEDIA_URL = '/media/'
ADMIN_MEDIA_PREFIX = '/media/admin/'

With this setup, to serve admin media in production, all I need to do is to symlink media folder of admin app into my media directory. Of course you can set MEDIA_URL to point to another domain/subdomain. Such as http://media.mydomain.com/. But this way you can’t serve your media from development server.

URL Configuration

Add the following code snipplet at the end of your root urls.py

if settings.DEBUG:
    from django.views.static import serve
    _media_url = settings.MEDIA_URL
    if _media_url.startswith('/'):
        _media_url = _media_url[1:]
        urlpatterns += patterns('',
                                (r'^%s(?P<path>.*)$' % _media_url,
                                {'document_root': settings.MEDIA_ROOT}))
    del(_media_url, serve)

settings.DEBUG == True doesn’t necessarily mean development server is running. But it is a good indicator since deploying with development server is not a good idea for many reasons. Notice here we don’t serve media unless MEDIA_URL is an absolute URL on our server.


Finally we need to specify media URL’s correctly. To avoid hard-coding media path we will be using {{ MEDIA_URL }} context variable in our templates. To have {{ MEDIA_URL }} included automatically in each template we need to do two things:

  1. Make sure you have django.core.context_processors.media in your TEMPLATE_CONTEXT_PROCESSORS.
  2. Make sure each view is using a RequestContext.

Afterwards all we need to do is to specify our media URL’s like this:

<img src="{{ MEDIA_URL }}img/header.jpeg" />

This will be translated to:

<img src="/media/img/header.jpeg" />


While we are at it, why not serve our 500 and 404 pages statically. When DEBUG == True, 500 (server error) and 404 (not found) situations are handled with special debugging views. So there’s no chance to test your error pages. Add the following code, just like static serving code:

if settings.DEBUG:
    urlpatterns += patterns('',
                                'django.views.generic.simple.' \
                                {'template': '404.html'}),
                                'django.views.generic.simple.' \
                                {'template': '500.html'}))

Now when you visit /500/ and /404/ on your development server you will be served a fake error page.

If you have any questions, suggestions or corrections feel free to drop me a line.