Configuring Apps with Confire

Let’s say that you’ve just started a new Python project - you know that this project is going to need access to a Database, possibly require an API key and API Secret, and it will definitely need some sort of debug mode so that developers can figure out what’s going on in production. These types of variables shouldn’t be hardcoded into your application, you’ll want some kind of configuration management system in your app.

So what are your options? Python has a native configuration parser that handles .ini files similar to what you’d see on Windows machines - it’s called configparser, and while it works well (and even has support for JSON files) - it is extremely basic. As a developer, you not only have to deal with the .ini syntax, but you also have to look for the file and load it into the parser. While the parser does handle type conversion, it has no quick ability to add reasonable defaults. Basically, your configuration ends up being defined by the .ini file - and this is not good, especially if your users forget to change a particular value or leave one out all together!

If you look at Django, they have their settings in a Python file, and the settings are Python code. This is great because now you can use any Python type as a setting. There are even reasonable defaults and some fancy import logic helps get the settings where they need to be. The problem is that you have to import that file, it has to be on your python path - so no storage of a settings file in /etc or any other reasonable place. It also means that developers have to configure Django- not just users of the app.

So we want the following things in our configuration:

  1. Reasonable lookup locations for config files
  2. Configuration type parsing from a text file
  3. An API that supports reasonable defaults and in-code usage
  4. A text based configuration that is for users not developers

This is where confire comes in. Confire uses YAML as the configuration language of choice. This is a markup format that has rich types like JSON, but is also very readable. Applications like Elasticsearch, Ruby on Rails, Travis-CI and others make use of YAML, so it’s probably already familiar to you.

Confire has a hierarchical lookup system that means it looks in the system configuration (/etc in *nix systems), then in a user specific place, then in a local directory. At each level, the configuration overrides the defaults from the other levels. Configurations are then supplied to the developer in a friendly, Django-like way.

Project Setup

In your projects folder, create your app folder, let’s call it “myapp”. Then create the Python project skeleton as you would normally do, but also include a configuration directory, “conf”.

$ mkdir myapp
$ cd myapp
$ mkdirs bin tests conf docs fixtures myapp
$ touch tests/
$ touch myapp/
$ touch
$ cd docs
$ sphinx-quickstart
$ cd ..

Hopefull this is very familiar to those who develop on Linux or Mac and set up Python projects regularly. Now, assuming you’re using Git as well as virtualenv and virtualenv wrapper - let’s get our repository and env going:

$ git init
$ mkvirtualenv -a $(pwd) myapp
(myapp)$ pip install confire
(myapp)$ pip install nose
(myapp)$ pip freeze > requirements.txt

Perfect! You’re now ready to get developing your Python app. Let’s start by getting our configuration going. Create a file called myapp.yaml in the conf directory. It may be helpful to add this file to your .gitignore so that you don’t accidentally commit a private variable publically. Also create a file called in your myapp module.

Inside the myapp.yaml file place the following, very simple code.

debug: false
testing: false

And then inside your, place the following code.

import os
from confire import Configuration

class MyAppConfiguration(Configuration):

    CONF_PATHS = [
        "/etc/myapp.yaml",                          # System configuration
        os.path.expandvars("$HOME/.myapp.yaml"),    # User specific configuration
        os.path.abspath("conf/myapp.yaml"),         # Development configuration

    debug   = True
    testing = True

## Load settings immediately for import
settings = MyAppConfiguration.load()

if __name__ == "__main__":
    print settings

That’s it, you now have a complete configuration system for your app! Let’s walk through this code. Confire provides a class-based configuration API, meaning that you simply create configuration classes and then defeine your defaults on them at the class level (kind of like you might use Django class-based views). Configuration classes must all extend the confire.Configuration base class.


All configurations should be lowercase properties! Configurations are case insensitive, but to achieve this, the __getitem__ method lowercases all accessors!

The CONF_PATHS class variable tells the configuration where to look for YAML files to load. In this case, we specify three lookups that happen in the order they’re specified - first the system, then the user directory, then the local directory for development. You’ll notice that if the config file is missing, no exceptions are raised.

Using Configurations in Code

The loaded settings immediately for import means that elsewhere in your code, all you have to do is use the following to get access to your config:

from myapp.config import settings

if settings.get("DEBUG"):

Because your API has already specified reasonable defaults, you don’t have to worry about configurations being missing or unavailable!

A couple notes on using the settings in your code:

  1. The settings are not case sensitive, DEBUG is the same as debug. However, all properties should be stored as lowercase in the configuration subclass.
  2. You can access settings like so: settings["mysetting"], however this will raise an exception if the setting is not available (something that really shouldn’t happen).
  3. You can also access the settings through the get method: settings.get("mysetting", "foo"), which will not raise an exception on a missing setting, but instead return the supplied default or None.
  4. You can also access the settings using a dot accessor method: settings.mysetting, which fetches the properties off the class.
  5. Settings can be modified at runtime, but this is not recommended.

As you continue to develop, you can add settings to your as well as your myapp.yaml, your app development is now much smoother!

Environment Variables

Sometimes you don’t want your configurations to reside inside of a YAML file, saved on disk, usually when you have a secret key or a database password. Other times you don’t have access to your server’s disk, but can add ENVIRONMENTAL VARIABLES as with a hosting service like Heroku.

Confire makes it easy to specify variables that you expect to be in the environment, using the environ_setting function, which you can import from the main module.

from confire import Configuration, environ_setting

class MyConfiguration(Configuration):

    supersecret = environ_setting("SUPER_SECRET", None, required=True)

The function expects as a first argument, the name of the environment variable, usually an all caps, underscore separated name. You can also give a default value (in case no variable exists in the environment) as the second argument.

When the environment is initialized (not loaded) it will immediately look in the environment for the setting and store it as the default. Any settings that are in the YAML search paths will override the environment variable, so make sure that you leave ENV_VARS out of the YAML configs!

The behavior of the function depends on how it’s called, in terms of using the default and fetching from the environment:

  1. If it is required and the default is None, raise ImproperlyConfigured
  2. If it is requried and a default exists, return default
  3. If it is not required and default is None, return None
  4. If it is not required and default exists, return default

Environmental variables are usually required, hence the exception.

Note also that you can use confire exceptions and warnings in your own code, by importing the ImproperlyConfigured and MissingConfiguration exception and warning.

Nested Configurations

Configurations are nestable in order to ensure that developers can create easily modular configurations, for example database configuations for a staging and production database or per-app settings. Nested configurations will also be loaded from a single YAML file that expects a similar nesting structure, and the configurations are loaded in a depth-first manner.

To create a nested configuration, you need a main configuration object that supports the top-level configuration. For each nested configuration, you simply create new Configuration subclasses and then add them as settings to main configuration class.

Here is the example for two different databases:

import confire

class DatabaseConfiguration(confire.Configuration):

    name   = None
    host   = "localhost"
    port   = 5432
    user   = None
    pass   = None

class MainConfiguration(confire.Configuration):

    staging    = DatabaseConfiguration()
    production = DatabaseConfiguration()

settings = MainConfiguration.load()

In your YAML file, you can configure each database configuration for its specific environment:

    name: "myapp-staging"
    host: "localhost"
    port: 5432
    user: "test-user"
    pass: "password"
    name: "myapp-production"
    host: ""
    port: 5432
    user: "user"
    pass: "password"

Access to the configuration is as follows:

from myapp.config import settings


Configurations can be nested to any depth, but it is recommended to keep them fairly shallow, to avoid deep accessor chains.