This is an in-progress draft, enjoy.

Separating your app from your project

The goal in this section is to extract functionality from one or more apps, either removing a monolith or consolidating from across apps, and put this into a distinct and project-agnostic app still within your project. By project agnostic what we mean is that the app knows nothing about the specifics of your project.

For example, this might mean extracting subscription plan information out so that it is compltely separate from the product aspects of your project if it is a SaaS app, or perhaps extracting workflow components out of a larger app.

So at this point you should have identified at least a target hierarchy. It might take some work and some time to get the apps to the final point, but that's okay.

  1. Refactor as necessary
  2. Name your new app, outside of any project namespace
  3. Introduce tests as necessary
  4. Moving components
  5. Enforce app specific table names
  6. Ensure no backwards couling, create ways to amke this work if necessary (ideally not, but settings, dependency injectino, etc.)
  7. have it running as a totally separated app.
  8. Move models

It is imortant to note that the end goal of the work outlines in this section is not a packaged standalone and reusable app. Rather, it is the foundation of your standalone app: an isolated local app.

Refactoring first

Extracting the app is itself largely an exercise in refactoring. However that part will largely be based on changing the module level namespace of classes and functions.

If your code looks confusing then refactoring the code where it is, for example breaking out functionality into additional methods or renaming methods and functions, or even cleaning up formatting and imports, is something you should do first, before beginning the extraction. Not only will you have two clean apps when you're done, but it will make the job of identifying and moving things easier.

It will also spare you the temptation of refactoring too much as you extract into the new app.

Naming and setting up the initial app

Bad or overly specific naming can occlude where the lines are between the functionality in your app. Do the names describe what each thing is or does? Do they do so in a very narrow or project specific way?

While not inherently wrong its hard to see that something could potentially be generic or used in multiple places if you only think of it as specific to this one use case because that's how it's named.

You want any other code in your project referencing the app to import from a top level module, not from a project namespace. Where you might have something like this:

from myproject.future_reusable_app.forms import MightyForm

You need to ensure that your imports in the rest of your project will look like this:

from future_reusable_app.forms import MightyForm

Testing, testing, testing

Moving most components from your project app into your new isolated app should be pretty safe especially if you have refactoring tools handy (e.g. an IDE like PyCharm or a refactoring-specific tool like Rope). These aren't always failsafe, for a variety of reasons (usually related to the dynamic nature of Python code) so having tests is a very good idea.

If you have no tests or low test coverage, this is a great opportunity to add tests, both to your project generally and to the new app more specifically. These should test both the functionality within the app and then how it's integrated in your project. The former will eventually go on to live with the new reusable app, the latter will serve to ensure the integration works as expected.

This means any unit tests should live in the future reusable app, while the tests in your project should be much more high level.

If you're moving form classes, for example, you'll want to add any validation testing to unit tests in the reusable app. Then in the project you'll want tests that at a minimum exercise code that uses these forms.

Moving components out

The very first step you'll need to take if you haven't yet is to create the new app. At first this will be nothing more than scaffolding, just an empty Django app.


What you move first will depend in part on how you're using the app as well as how many steps you want to take while doing this. You do not need to make this move in a single step!. In fact in most cases, I if the app is already deployed to production I would want to make the changes in discrete steps that can be deployed one by one.

Let's examine an app where the functionality is pretty well spread out. There are models, views, forms, template tags, middleware, tasks, templates, you name it.

Here's an idea - start with tests! If you don't have tests covering what you're moving then you'll definitely want to add them. For example, if you're moving URL configuration, hold off on changing URL names and add tests that the URLs are configured (SHOW EXAMPLE). Add these tests to the new app, running against the configuration with the URLs in the old app. Then move the URL configuration, and keep testing.


(This is an example set up. Your URL tests, if you have any on their own, will probably be quite small and don't require their own test module.)

Good tools can help this process along. I use vim quite a bit, and if you're a vim user then you should take a look at vim-rope, a tool for refactoring in Python. That said, for refactoring work especially I tend to rely on the PyCharm IDE. It's not foolproof, but it easier to make these changes and to do so reliably.

So what's easiest to move? Functionality like middleware and context processors are usually low hanging fruit. Especially if you're not changing any internal names, just the namespace.


While refactoring like this it may be tempting to rename components. This is an improvement, but especially if your test coverage is low you should hold off on making these small improvements in favor of making one change at a time and keeping the sequnece of changes consistent. The first reason is that it makes understanding the history in your source control much simpler. Seeing the changes in steps like that, moving from a module and refactored in separate diffs, makes it easier to understand what changed, when, and how when reviewing source history. It also makes understanding the changes when you're making them easier. There are fewer mental diffs to keep track of.

If you're moving template tag you'll want to ensure you have tests that load the templates in which your tags and filters are used. Thoses tests belong associated with whatever app loads those templates.

You can extract the URL routes from your old app and put them into the new app and maintain the old imports from the original app. Once the URLs are configured you can then move the views.

Viscious Import Circles

Another thing you'll need to mind extracting functionality is dependence circularity. In the ideal set up you'll create new, isolated app "X" which knows nothing about app "Y", and app "Y" imports from app "X" but not vice versa. While extracting from X into Y you may end up with imports from each app respectively.

What you need to avoid is the case where imports occur from individula modules. That will create a circular depdnence issue.

The first step in doing this is extracting out top level things first. This is one reason why an order like URLs, views, forms, models, tends to work, as this is fairly typical dependence order, as far as imports go.

If you're making this change in steps, you might find a stopgap solution in local imports.

def some_function():
    from my_new_app.models import Blah

These are ugly and not exactly best practice, but they can be useful in a case like this.

Extracting tight coupling

For overly tightly coupled code there is no easy answer. The st

Tight coupling and monolithic apps are common as projects grow in response to customer and business needs, changing requirements and changing teams.

Database table names and moving models

Models are typically the last thing to move. It can seem like a big deal, too, if you've tried it unsuccessfully before. Do it wrong and you lose database tables. That doesn't make Jack a happy boy.

Again, decent test goverage and good tools will help you quite a bit here, although alone those will not do the work for you.

The first step in moving the models is to move managers and queryset classes. When you move the model classes they should be the last parts of the new app to be moved out - everything else they require should be, to the greatest degree possible, importable from the new app. Again the importance of this is greater if you're making the changes and deploying in piecemeal.

What you do for the second step depends on how aggressively you want to make the leap to a standalone app. At a base level, what you need to do is ensure that your models define their database table names explicitly, so that the database need not change when classes do. This involves adding the Meta class attribute like so:

    class Meta:
        db_tablename = "oldapp_modelname"

Check the database to ensure you get the table name right. Then create a migration which will alter the tablename - in practice a non-event.

    class Meta:
        db_tablename = "newapp_modelname"

Alternatively you could name the tables based on your new app's name so that this operation involves simply renaming the tables. Just ensure that the steps are done in a strict sequence: name table, genreate migration, then move (below).

The third step, is to just move the classes. That's it! For the second step at least. At this point you should at least have no linting errors.

Of course, there's a step 3.5, which is creating the datatabase migration in both the old app and the new app.

After creating the new migration files take a look at them and examine what they'll do. Django's migration package interprets this move as field deletion and table creation, which is not what we want to happen. So you'll need to edit each migration and override the apply and unapply methods so that depsite what the migration declares, it doesn't actually make any database changes.

Removing from the project

Once the code has been extracted you can move it out of the project. There's no need to race off and publish to the Python Package Index just yet.

From here you can include the code in your project as a submodule, using Git, or set up the basics of an installable package and include the requirement from a remote source repository. This allows you to start using a single codebase in multiple projects.