What sequence of events made Django the most popular Python web framework .. and still so? Even though several other frameworks exist.
Note: This question is neither argumentative nor confrontational. I merely asked for (objective) “the sequence of events” that lead to its actual popularity. Being aware of the dynamics of software acceptance, I am not intending anyone to get into arguments over technical superiority.
I think there were a few factors, the combination of which was greater than the sum of their individual weights.
One is simply timing: Django appeared right as the first big wave of Rails hype was ramping up, and so it was immediately portrayed as being sort of “Python’s answer to Rails”. That resulted in a not-insignificant number of eyeballs on the project almost from the start. The fact that Adrian was at the “Snakes and Rubies” meetup in Chicago and got to take part in side-by-side talks about Rails and Django did a lot for that.
Another factor is that Django is and always has been a single-package install (well, not quite: you still need a database adapter, unless you’re on Python 2.5+ and using SQLite, but close enough). The non-Zope alternatives, which all focused on leaving component choices in the developer’s hands, required quite a bit more work just to get to the point where you could do a basic tutorial: you’d need to go hunting down an ORM, a template language, etc., etc. and get them all installed and configured. Though that’s gotten much better over the years, I think the lingering memory of that still has an effect.
And Django came out of the gate with documentation that (if I may say so myself) was far above the usual standard for open-source projects, and has only gotten better over time. The tutorial, for all its many faults, hits on a number of the high points that make Django useful, and the remainder of the documentation has always been of good quality, mixing both API reference and important “how to” bits as needed. This produces a good out-of-the-box experience and helps with the post-tutorial learning curve (something which has always plagued Zope).
I also think there’s a perception — rightly or wrongly — that, say, Pylons or Werkzeug really are better for experienced developers who already know their way around WSGI and the Python web ecosystem; the fact that they tend to be strong choices for taking your existing favorite libraries and plugging them together is the source of this, I think, and perhaps nudges some newer folks over toward Django’s integrated approach. The flip side, of course, is that a lot of people who’d be better off learning more up-front before trying Django don’t do that 😉
Finally, I think there’s something to be said for the way Django’s been marketed, which is to say that it really wasn’t marketed for a long time, or at least not in the sense that, say, Rails was marketed. Until Django 1.0 landed, the “marketing” effort mostly consisted of people blogging (and there were some notable incidents where people were asked to tone it down a bit), talks at PyCon and then mostly just improving the framework, building cool things with it and letting the results speak for themselves. Now, of course, in the post-1.0 world we have the DSF and DjangoCon and business-oriented consultants doing training sessions and lots of books and all the rest, but that’s all still quite new.
I expect that there will be a backlash, just as there’s been with Rails, and in fact I think it’s been brewing for a while and has already started. But up until now I think the factors I’ve listed here are at least the major ones behind the consistent, steady growth in popularity Django has seen since its initial release.
Many Python web frameworks already existed when Django appeared in 2005 — indeed, the joke was already going around, by then, that Python is “the language with more web frameworks than keywords” (and Guido rejected my proposal to fix that in Py3k by adding many, many more keywords). Now “django” per se is a bit ambiguous as a search term (it’s also the name of a popular guitar player whose life inspired a Woody Allen movie, etc, etc), nevertheless adding “python” to the search to remove those other meanings you can see e.g. in this graph how its relative popularity changed in comparison to another classic Python web framework, Zope. Mostly steady growth quarter over quarter, with a huge surprising jump up at the start of Q2 2008… which just happens to coincide with the date in which Google announced App Engine (it’s impossible to prove causation in such case, but the coincidence is at least interesting;-).
App Engine essentially rules out any Python web framework that deeply depends on custom C-coded components, or intrinsically require “heavily relational” functionality; out of those that run well with just pure Python code, Django is probably the one that App Engine most directly and visibly supports. However, this was just a boost, adding to Django’s underlying healthy growth trend. The explanation for that trend (and indeed for App Engine team and users’ decision to support Django so well) must lie in characteristics that are intrinsic to Django itself.
Django is sometimes criticized (including by… yours truly;-) for being “too magical” or “too monolithic”, compared to alternatives such as Pylons, TurboGears, Werkzeug, &c, which are lighter-weight (esp. the latter, my favorite;-), more transparent, and allow easier swapping in and out of specific components (ORM, templating, &c). However, Django’s popularity tells us that, for most people interested in developing server-side web sites and apps, these Django design choices are perceived positively: Django’s seen as a very rich and well integrated framework (and it does have a lot of add-ons and contributed “plugins”, but those are more a consequence than a cause of its ascendancy).
Ease of getting started, automagical “admin pages”, and the like — as well as the fact that Django can be bent to make really rich and complex sites/apps and accommodate peculiar or unique requirements, with much skill and some work — are probably the “killer features”. To use Werkzeug at its best, you need to understand HTTP, and WSGI, and pick and integrate your favorite storage and templating — developers of Python-based web sites and apps (like, in a sense, users of Rails, or users of even-more-popular PHP!-) are “voting with their mindshare” for an environment in which they need not necessarily do any of that, but can mostly focus on their application domain. I will have to admit that they probably do have a point;-).
I can think of three reasons for Django’s popularity, only one of which has been addressed in other answers as far as I see:
Documentation. It’s well structured, comprehensive, and approachable from a number of skill levels.
Design. The visual design of the admin, error pages and the project site are far above the level of design seen with most open source projects.
Community support. Starting with the team at World Online, Django picked up some influencial evangelists early on. I’m not sure you can over state the importance of blog posts like Jeff Croft’s Django for Non-Developers (I think that was the title).
“My personal favorite, and I expect that that will remain a personal favorite for a long time, is something named Django” – Guido Van Rossum on FLOSS weekly episode 11, aired aug 4th 2006
[Click Here] (listen to last third of the interview)
Think this might have helped? or at least the reason why Google chose it for AppEngine?
of course, the django community (including devs) are doing alot of things right. For example (Some analysis in the links):
kick ass documentation
There is also something about the community that gets people to want to contribute which I’ve yet to put my finger on:
Of course, all that lead to Django being an outlier:
There is no question about Django’s popularity.
In my case, I’d bought the TurboGears book, and struggled through its inconsistencies and haphazard route to explaining things.
Then I got the Django book, and voila! My first for-pay project was created while working my way through the sample project in the book. That plus the online documentation sealed the deal.
For me, it was simple: Documentation, documentation, documentation.
I noticed that it often got promoted as being the Ruby on Rails equivalent in Python. It’s also has a connection to Google (Google hosts Django events, and supports it in their App Engine). A web framework being endorsed by Google has to amount for something. 🙂
At least for me, an important factor was that Simon Willison and Adrian Holovaty were already well known players in the “Web Standards” scene, as well as Jeff Croft later.
That wasn’t only a quality seal, but also made Django very web-friendly, with its respect for HTTP, markup, and even the quick and dirty, “print debugging” way of working that people coming from PHP were used to.
I might be heavily wrong here, no data to back this up, but I feel that Django gained a lot more traction from people coming from PHP, as opposed to Rails which got a lot of conversions from Java/.NET.
As others already noted, the documentation is way above average. The best I’ve seen, as far as I recall.
The fact that there were several high volume sites already using Django (i.e. lawrence.com etc…) – even by the 0.96 days – helped me convince management it was safe to use. Things like Pylons and Turbogears really did not have that.
As for Django’s popularity over time (the literal meaning of your question title, if not quite your actual question), have a look at the google trend.