Automating your deployment can be one of those things that is tricky to get right at first, but pays off in spades once done. It seems as you develop you continually evolve your processes until you finally figure out how to get your deploys to be fairly automated. I have been using Fabric for a while now, and it is one of the best tools I have used in a long time.

The problem is there aren’t a lot of great tutorials on how to get going with fabric. Most things I see just drop and script and explain line by line, if your lucky. In this blog post I want to walk you through as if you haven’t ever automated a deploy before and evolve a script before your eyes.


I am not going to walk you through the actual hosting with apache, gunicorn or uwsgi. This guide assumes you have that worked out on your own. We will only discuss deploying to a place on server over SSH.


You will need a few things on your server:

  • SSH Access. Fabric uses ssh to push changes
  • VirtualEnv and a location where you have your Virtual Environments stored
  • Fabric installed in the global site-packages

Local Machine (or deployment machine)

You can set a fabric script to be executed automatically or you can run it yourself. The minimum you need is fabric installed locally to run the fabric script.

  • Python
  • Fabric
  • Fabric Deploy Script

Fabric Basics

Fabric can be used to do more than just a deploy. In fact it can be used to do all sorts of remote stuff automagically. All fabric does at its core is execute commands locally and remotely. Fabric just provides a nice pythonic way of doing it.


Fabric is easy to install via pip or easy_install

easy_install fabric

# or

pip install fabric

All of you’re fabric scripts need to start in a file called It is the convention fabric uses so it assumes the file is there when you call the fab command.


The only other thing you “need to know” to get started is about the run function. It executes whatever command you put in as a parameter on the server. Here is an example:

run("mkdir buddysite")

This would create a directory called buddysite in the root folder of what ever user was used with SSH. So if you are using your root account it creates a folder at /root/buddysite, and if your username is buddy it creates /home/buddy/buddysite.

Set Servers

The last thing I like to setup in my deployment file is a default server, or set of servers. That is very simple to do using env.hosts at the top. Something like this:

env.hosts = ['']

That setting will tell the deployment to use the user user and server address it also might look like:

env.hosts = ['buddy@']

Closing Basics

So now we have determined we need fabric installed on the server and your local machine. You need a file named and will use the function run to run commands on the remote server you set in the env.hosts setting. So far it is simple stuff lets actually do something a bit more and deploy some code.

Deploying Code

First we are going to look at a super basic script that gets our code from our git repository onto our server, and that is it. Then we will refine the script a bit more to deal with VirtualEnv as well.

The Deploy Script

from fabric.api import *

env.hosts = ['webuser@']

def deploy():
    run("git clone")

That is really the most simple deployment you can get with fabric. There are problems with it, but really just shows how basic things can get.

Now to actually deploy just do:

fab deploy

Walking Through the Code

from fabric.api import *

As you have probably guessed this imports all the common fabric things we need when running our deployment. We don't generally like useing * import, but we are in this case since as of the writing of this the official docs say to.

env.hosts = ['webuser@']

As discussed before this sets our server and user we are deploying to.

def deploy():

This is the function that we call when we do our deploy. From the fab deploy command above it just calls the function that is in the file. Deploy is generally what people use as a starting point the great thing is its just a function.

run("git clone")

This will checkout your code onto your server and since it is just using the ssh user it will be in /home/webuser/repo. Later we need to do better at telling it where to go.

Adding Specific Locations

We don’t really want to run stuff from the location of the root of our users directory. We will have conventions on our server of where to deploy stuff so this is a sample of the code specifying a location to put our code when cloning it.

from fabric.api import *

env.hosts = ['webuser@']

def deploy():
    with cd("/some/path/www/"):
        run("git clone")

We only made one change to the code

with cd("/some/path/www/"):

Everything in this context manager will be executed in the folder you set. So instead of checking out code to /home/webuser/ it will be checked out to /some/path/www/. Just make sure at the beginning you have a / so it starts at the root of the file system.

VirtualEnv and Package Requirements

In order to do virtual environments with our script we are going to make a couple of assumptions.

  • The virtual environment is in /home/webuser/venv/mysite/
  • The virtual environment exists already

I usually have a bit more complex things going on than this, but it is the easiest way to start off. The next thing we need to do is install our requirements inside of the virtual environment.

from fabric.api import *

env.hosts = ['webuser@']

def deploy():
     with cd("/some/path/www/"):
          run("git clone repo")

     run("source /home/webuser/venv/mysite/bin/activate && pip install -r /some/path/www/repo/requirements.txt")

If you note the code change:

run("source /home/webuser/venv/mysite/bin/activate && pip install -r /some/path/www/repo/requirements.txt")

That activates our virtual environment then installs all of our packages to make sure things are going to work when our server uses the virtual environment to execute our site code.

Closing the Deploy Script

So now we have a working deploy which puts our code where it needs to go, and even installs our requirements in a virtual environment. We are still running a very basic deployment, and really any more code just makes the deployment easier to maintain or lets more complex scenarios get played out.

I hope you have noticed to this point nothing in this has been django specific so you can use this to do just about anything deployment wise. I even use this on rails projects on occasion, but you could even use this for php projects as well.

Refactoring the Deploy Script

So I don’t like such hardcoded stuff I like to add variables and move code around so here is the same script with a bit of stuff moved around.

from fabric.api import *

env.hosts = ['webuser@']

SITE_ROOT = "/some/path/www"
VENV_DIR = "/home/webuser/venv/mysite"

def _install_dependencies(site_dir):
    run("source {}/bin/activate && pip install -r {}/{}/requirements.txt".format(
        VENV_DIR, SITE_ROOT, site_dir))

def deploy():
    site_dir = "repo"

    with cd(SITE_ROOT):
        run("git clone")


If you look the script still does the same thing just everything is moved around a bit. Please take a look and you will probably see a few things that confuse you, but I put them there to have fun with the next section.

Adding Very Basic Rollback Ability

This isn’t going to be necessarily the best way to do this, but it is a way to do it.

import datetime
from fabric.api import *

env.hosts = ['webuser@']

SITE_ROOT = "/some/path/www"
VENV_DIR = "/home/webuser/venv/mysite"

def _install_dependencies(code_dir):
    run("source {}/bin/activate && pip install -r {}/{}/requirements.txt".format(
        VENV_DIR, SITE_ROOT, site_dir))

def _link_to_current(code_dir):
    # assumes site_root/current exists
    run("rm {}/current".format(SITE_ROOT))
    run("ln -s {} {}/current".format(code_dir, SITE_ROOT))

def deploy():
    temp_dir ="%Y%m%d%H%M")
    code_dir = "{}/{}".format(SITE_ROOT, temp_dir)
    run("mkdir {}".format(code_dir))

    run("git clone {}".format(code_dir))



I am not going to go line by line, but what I have done is modify it so that each deploy gets set to its own timestamped folder. From there it symlinks to the current folder. Your web server needs to run the django, or any wsgi based, application out of the folder current. Now you can have a history of deploys so if the latest one breaks you can just symlink to the previous one and things should work again.


There are a couple of things I didn’t go over and that is doing migrations, along with resetting the wsgi application execution. Both I will leave to you based on your server configuration, and application specifics. What I do is set them in separate functions and have a big_deploy function that will call the database functionality as well. As for resetting the wsgi execution that depends on your server configuration.

Hopefully this will get you started with using fabric to do a deployment so that you don’t have to manually move things around. I am also sure you can figure out other things to do with this as well. Have fun deploying code now so you can do it more often. As an extra step look at git hooks and play with continuous deployment.