Fabric: easy deployment

Initially I was a bit sceptic about Fabric. After all, I’m already using buildout to manage projects. “How much better can it get?” After watching the video of the Django Deployment Workshop (held by Jacob Kaplan-Moss at PyCon 2010 Atlanta), I finally decided to see for myself what Fabric is all about.


Like I said, I’m using buildout. So the first thing I need to do is include Fabric in my buildout. There’s probably other ways to accomplish that, but this is the way I did it:

parts =

recipe = zc.recipe.egg

fabric = 0.9.2
paramiko = 1.7.6
pycrypto = 2.0.1

After running the buildout there’s a fab executable available in the bin directory. Now it’s time to start thinking about what you want Fabric to do. My initial version is a reflection of the steps I used to handle manually. This results in the following code in <buildout>/fabfile.py:

from fabric.api import cd, env, local, run, sudo

env.hosts = ['example.com']
env.code_root = '/path/to/buildout'

def push():
    """Push code to the authoritative repo."""
    local('git push')
    local('git push --tags')

def fetch():
    """Fetch tags"""
    with cd(env.code_root):
        run('git fetch --tags')

def checkout(version):
    """Checkout a specific version."""
    with cd(env.code_root):
        run('git checkout -q %s' % version)

def backup():
    """Make a fresh backup."""
    with cd(env.code_root):

def stop_app():
    """Stop the application."""
    with cd(env.code_root):
        run('bin/supervisorctl shutdown')

def update_app():
    """Run buildout."""
    with cd(env.code_root):
        run('bin/buildout -q')
        run('bin/django migrate --all')

def start_app():
    """Restart the application process"""
    with cd(env.code_root):

def reload_webserver():
    """Reload the webserver configuration if it's still okay."""
    sudo('nginx -t')
    sudo('invoke-rc.d nginx reload')

def deploy(version):
    """Full deploy of a new version."""

Note that I deliberately split retrieving the right version of the code (in the fetch function) and actually switching that version code (in checkout). This is because fetching the code might fail or take a bit longer, especially since the repository is on my own computer at home. So I make sure I’ve retrieved the requested version before stopping the website.

The Nginx configuration for my website is also in the buildout. I want to prevent the Nginx reload to fail because I’ve made a mistake. Especially since that will also take down other sites on the same server. So I have Nginx explicitly check the configuration before doing the reload.

There are a few other issues needed for an easy deployment process. The first is setting up an SSH keypair to log in on the server without having to type a password. The password for this key is stored in OS X’s Keychain so that’s pretty safe.

But to fetch the requested tag from the Git repository I need another ssh keypair to include in my Gitosis configuration. For ease of use this will be a passwordless key which only has read only access to the website repository. (Should the key be abused by someone, the damage will be limited.)

Another hurdle is restarting Nginx when the configuration is changed. I’m in the fortunate position that the website is hosted on one of the servers of Zest Software, my employer. So getting sudo rights isn’t a problem (unless you lock yourself out of the server while updating the sudoers file ;-) ). Because the machine hosts other services and sites, I don’t want a passwordless solution here. So I have to type one password every time I deploy.

The last related issue was reducing the output. I want to see as little output as possible so error messages stand out more. This means switching from infrae.subversion to iw.recipe.subversion in my case because the latter is more quiet. And I submitted a small change to zerokspot.recipe.git to make it less verbose.


The output is still a bit too verbose, but it’s acceptable for now:

$ bin/fab deploy:2.13.5
[example.com] Executing task 'deploy'
[localhost] run: git push
[localhost] run: git push --tags
[example.com] run: git fetch --tags
[example.com] err: From ssh://repo/vlent
[example.com] err:  * [new tag]         2.13.5     -> 2.13.5
[example.com] run: bin/backup
[example.com] out: Starting the backup...
[example.com] out: Archived in /home/mark/backups/vlent.nl/2010-09-26-09-26.tar.gz
[example.com] run: bin/supervisorctl shutdown
[example.com] out: Shut down
[example.com] run: git checkout -q 2.13.5
[example.com] run: bin/buildout -q
[example.com] run: bin/supervisord
[example.com] sudo: nginx -t
Password for mark@example.com:
[example.com] err: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
[example.com] err: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful
[example.com] sudo: invoke-rc.d nginx reload
[example.com] err: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
[example.com] err: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful
[example.com] out: Reloading nginx configuration: nginx.

Disconnecting from example.com... done.

The end result makes me very happy. The combination of zest.releaser and Fabric means I can quickly release and deploy a new version of my website. Which means it’s even easier now to incrementally develop stuff and push it out as soon as it’s working.


I’ve currently got this setup for a couple of Django projects now, but it will most likely also work great for Plone based sites. Although at work we don’t release new versions as often was I do for my own site, automating it with Fabric not only makes things easier, it also makes deployment more reliable in the sense that you cannot forget steps (like making a backup or reloading the Nginx configuration).