Flask by Example – Project Setup

by Real Python Apr 21, 2014 devops flask python

Welcome! Today we’re going to start building a Flask app that calculates word-frequency pairs based on the text from a given URL. This is a full-stack tutorial.


  • 03/22/2016: Upgraded to Python version 3.5.1, and added autoenv version 1.0.0.
  • 02/22/2015: Added Python 3 support.

  1. Part One: Set up a local development environment and then deploy both a staging and a production environment on Heroku. (current)
  2. Part Two: Set up a PostgreSQL database along with SQLAlchemy and Alembic to handle migrations.
  3. Part Three: Add in the back-end logic to scrape and then process the word counts from a webpage using the requests, BeautifulSoup, and Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) libraries.
  4. Part Four: Implement a Redis task queue to handle the text processing.
  5. Part Five: Set up Angular on the front-end to continuously poll the back-end to see if the request is done processing.
  6. Part Six: Push to the staging server on Heroku - setting up Redis and detailing how to run two processes (web and worker) on a single Dyno.
  7. Part Seven: Update the front-end to make it more user-friendly.
  8. Part Eight: Create a custom Angular Directive to display a frequency distribution chart using JavaScript and D3.

Need the code? Grab it from the repo.

Project Setup

We’ll start with a basic “Hello World” app on Heroku with staging (or pre-production) and production environments.

For the initial setup, you should have some familiarity with the following tools:

First things first, let’s get a working directory set up:

$ mkdir flask-by-example && cd flask-by-example

Initialize a new git repo within your working directory:

$ git init

Set up a virtual environment to use for our application:

$ pyvenv-3.5 env
$ source env/bin/activate

You should now see you (env) to the left of the prompt in the terminal, indicating that you are now working in a virtual environment.

In order to leave your virtual environment, just run deactivate, and then run source env/bin/activate when you are ready to work on your project again.

Next we’re going to get our basic structure for our app set up. Add the following files to your “flask-by-example” folder:

$ touch app.py .gitignore README.md requirements.txt

This will give you the following structure:

├── .gitignore
├── app.py
├── README.md
└── requirements.txt

Be sure to update the .gitignore file from the repo.

Next install Flask:

$ pip install Flask==0.10.1

Add the installed libraries to our requirements.txt file:

$ pip freeze > requirements.txt

Open up app.py in your favorite editor and add the following code:

from flask import Flask
app = Flask(__name__)

def hello():
    return "Hello World!"

if __name__ == '__main__':

Run the app:

$ python app.py

And you should see your basic “Hello world” app in action on http://localhost:5000/. Kill the server when done.

Next we’re going to set up our Heroku environments for both our production and staging app.

Heroku Setup

If you haven’t already, create a Heroku account, download and install the Heroku Toolbelt, and then in your terminal run heroku login to log in to Heroku.

Once done, create a Procfile in your project’s root directory:

$ touch Procfile

Add the following line to your newly created file

web: gunicorn app:app

Make sure to add gunicorn to your requirments.txt file

$ pip install gunicorn==19.4.5
$ pip freeze > requirements.txt

We also need to specify a Python version so that Heroku uses the right Python Runtime to run our app with. Simply create a file called runtime.txt with the following code:


Commit your changes in git (and optionally push to Github), then create two new Heroku apps.

One for production:

$ heroku create wordcount-pro

And one for staging:

$ heroku create wordcount-stage

These names are now taken, so you will have to make your Heroku app name unique.

Add your new apps to your git remotes. Make sure to name one remote pro (for “production”) and the other stage (for “staging”):

$ git remote add pro git@heroku.com:YOUR_APP_NAME.git
$ git remote add stage git@heroku.com:YOUR_APP_NAME.git

Now we can push both of our apps live to Heroku.

  • For staging: git push stage master
  • For production: git push pro master

Once both of those have been pushed, open the URLs up in your web browser and if all went well you should see your app live in both environments.

Staging/Production Workflow

Let’s make a change to our app and push only to staging:

from flask import Flask
app = Flask(__name__)

def hello():
    return "Hello World!"

def hello_name(name):
    return "Hello {}!".format(name)

if __name__ == '__main__':

Run your app locally to make sure everything works - python app.py

Test it out by adding a name after the URL - i.e., http://localhost:5000/mike.

Now let’s try out our changes on staging before we push them live to production. Make sure your changes are committed in git and then push your work up to the staging environment - git push stage master.

Now if you navigate to your staging environment, you’ll be able to use the new URL - i.e., “/mike” and get “Hello NAME” based on what you put into the URL as the output in the browser. However, if you try the same thing on the production site you will get an error. So we can build things and test them out in the staging environment and then when we’re happy with the changes, we can push them live to production.

Let’s push our site to production now that we’re happy with it - git push pro master

Now we have the same functionality live on our production site.

This staging/production workflow allows us to make changes, show things to clients, experiment, etc. - all within a sandboxed server without causing any changes to the live production site that users are, well, using.

Config Settings

The last thing that we’re going to do is set up different config environments for our app. Often there are things that are going to be different between your local, staging, and production setups. You’ll want to connect to different databases, have different AWS keys, etc. Let’s set up a config file to deal with the different environments.

Add a config.py file to your project root:

$ touch config.py

With our config file we’re going to borrow a bit from how Django’s config is set up. We’ll have a base config class that the other config classes inherit from. Then we’ll import the appropriate config class as needed.

Add the following to your newly created config.py file:

import os
basedir = os.path.abspath(os.path.dirname(__file__))

class Config(object):
    DEBUG = False
    TESTING = False
    SECRET_KEY = 'this-really-needs-to-be-changed'

class ProductionConfig(Config):
    DEBUG = False

class StagingConfig(Config):
    DEBUG = True

class DevelopmentConfig(Config):
    DEBUG = True

class TestingConfig(Config):
    TESTING = True

We imported os and then set the basedir variable as a relative path from any place we call it to this file. We then set up a base Config() class with some basic setup that our other config classes inherit from. Now we’ll be able to import the appropriate config class based on the current environment. Thus, we can use environment variables to choose which settings we’re going to use based on the environment - e.g., local, staging, production.

Local Settings

To set up our application with environment variables, we’re going to use autoenv. This program allows us to set commands that will run every time we cd into our directory. In order to use it, we will need to install it globally. First, exit out of your virtual environment in the terminal, install autoenv, then and add a .env file:

$ deactivate
$ pip install autoenv==1.0.0
$ touch .env

Next, in your .env file, add the following:

source env/bin/activate
export APP_SETTINGS="config.DevelopmentConfig"

Run the following to update then refresh your .bashrc:

$ echo "source `which activate.sh`" >> ~/.bashrc
$ source ~/.bashrc

Now, if you move up a directory and then cd back into it, the virtual environment will automatically be started and the APP_SETTINGS variable is declared.

Heroku Settings

Similarly we’re going to set environment variables on Heroku.

For staging run the following command:

$ heroku config:set APP_SETTINGS=config.StagingConfig --remote stage

For production:

$ heroku config:set APP_SETTINGS=config.ProductionConfig --remote pro

To make sure that we use the right environment change app.py:

import os
from flask import Flask

app = Flask(__name__)

def hello():
    return "Hello World!"

def hello_name(name):
    return "Hello {}!".format(name)

if __name__ == '__main__':

We imported os and used the os.environ method to import the appropriate APP_SETTINGS variables, depending on our environment. We then set up the config in our app with the app.config.from_object method.

Commit and push your changes to both staging and production (and Github if you have it setup).

Want to test the environment variables out to make sure it’s detecting the right environment (sanity check!)? Add a print statement to app.py:


Now when you run the app, it will show which config settings it’s importing:


$ python app.py

Commit and push again to staging and production. Now let’s test it out…


$ heroku run python app.py --app wordcount-stage
Running python app.py on wordcount-stage... up, run.7699


$ heroku run python app.py --app wordcount-pro
Running python app.py on wordcount-pro... up, run.8934

Be sure to remove print(os.environ['APP_SETTINGS']) when done, commit, and push back up to your various environments.


With the setup out of the way, we’re going to start to build out the word counting functionality of this app. Along the way, we’ll add a task queue to set up background processing for the word count portion, as well dig further into our Heroku setup by setting up the configuration and migrations for our database (part2) which we’ll use to store our word count results. Best!

Grab the code from the repo.

This is a collaboration piece between Cam Linke, co-founder of Startup Edmonton, and the folks at Real Python.

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