Django settings

A Django settings file contains all the configuration of your Django installation. This document explains how settings work and which settings are available.

The basics

A settings file is just a Python module with module-level variables.

Here are a couple of example settings:

DEBUG = False
TEMPLATE_DIRS = ('/home/templates/mike', '/home/templates/john')

Because a settings file is a Python module, the following apply:

  • It doesn’t allow for Python syntax errors.

  • It can assign settings dynamically using normal Python syntax. For example:

    MY_SETTING = [str(i) for i in range(30)]
  • It can import values from other settings files.

Designating the settings

When you use Django, you have to tell it which settings you’re using. Do this by using an environment variable, DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE.

The value of DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE should be in Python path syntax, e.g. mysite.settings. Note that the settings module should be on the Python import search path.

The utility

When using, you can either set the environment variable once, or explicitly pass in the settings module each time you run the utility.

Example (Unix Bash shell):

export DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE=mysite.settings runserver

Example (Windows shell):

set DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE=mysite.settings runserver

Use the --settings command-line argument to specify the settings manually: runserver --settings=mysite.settings

On the server (mod_wsgi)

In your live server environment, you’ll need to tell your WSGI application what settings file to use. Do that with os.environ:

import os

os.environ['DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE'] = 'mysite.settings'

Read the Django mod_wsgi documentation for more information and other common elements to a Django WSGI application.

Default settings

A Django settings file doesn’t have to define any settings if it doesn’t need to. Each setting has a sensible default value. These defaults live in the module django/conf/

Here’s the algorithm Django uses in compiling settings:

  • Load settings from
  • Load settings from the specified settings file, overriding the global settings as necessary.

Note that a settings file should not import from global_settings, because that’s redundant.

Seeing which settings you’ve changed

There’s an easy way to view which of your settings deviate from the default settings. The command python diffsettings displays differences between the current settings file and Django’s default settings.

For more, see the diffsettings documentation.

Using settings in Python code

In your Django apps, use settings by importing the object django.conf.settings. Example:

from django.conf import settings

if settings.DEBUG:
    # Do something

Note that django.conf.settings isn’t a module – it’s an object. So importing individual settings is not possible:

from django.conf.settings import DEBUG  # This won't work.

Also note that your code should not import from either global_settings or your own settings file. django.conf.settings abstracts the concepts of default settings and site-specific settings; it presents a single interface. It also decouples the code that uses settings from the location of your settings.

Altering settings at runtime

You shouldn’t alter settings in your applications at runtime. For example, don’t do this in a view:

from django.conf import settings

settings.DEBUG = True   # Don't do this!

The only place you should assign to settings is in a settings file.


Because a settings file contains sensitive information, such as the database password, you should make every attempt to limit access to it. For example, change its file permissions so that only you and your Web server’s user can read it. This is especially important in a shared-hosting environment.

Available settings

For a full list of available settings, see the settings reference.

Creating your own settings

There’s nothing stopping you from creating your own settings, for your own Django apps. Just follow these conventions:

  • Setting names are in all uppercase.
  • Don’t reinvent an already-existing setting.

For settings that are sequences, Django itself uses tuples, rather than lists, but this is only a convention.

Using settings without setting DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE

In some cases, you might want to bypass the DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE environment variable. For example, if you’re using the template system by itself, you likely don’t want to have to set up an environment variable pointing to a settings module.

In these cases, you can configure Django’s settings manually. Do this by calling:

django.conf.settings.configure(default_settings, **settings)


from django.conf import settings

settings.configure(DEBUG=True, TEMPLATE_DEBUG=True,
    TEMPLATE_DIRS=('/home/web-apps/myapp', '/home/web-apps/base'))

Pass configure() as many keyword arguments as you’d like, with each keyword argument representing a setting and its value. Each argument name should be all uppercase, with the same name as the settings described above. If a particular setting is not passed to configure() and is needed at some later point, Django will use the default setting value.

Configuring Django in this fashion is mostly necessary – and, indeed, recommended – when you’re using a piece of the framework inside a larger application.

Consequently, when configured via settings.configure(), Django will not make any modifications to the process environment variables (see the documentation of TIME_ZONE for why this would normally occur). It’s assumed that you’re already in full control of your environment in these cases.

Custom default settings

If you’d like default values to come from somewhere other than django.conf.global_settings, you can pass in a module or class that provides the default settings as the default_settings argument (or as the first positional argument) in the call to configure().

In this example, default settings are taken from myapp_defaults, and the DEBUG setting is set to True, regardless of its value in myapp_defaults:

from django.conf import settings
from myapp import myapp_defaults

settings.configure(default_settings=myapp_defaults, DEBUG=True)

The following example, which uses myapp_defaults as a positional argument, is equivalent:

settings.configure(myapp_defaults, DEBUG = True)

Normally, you will not need to override the defaults in this fashion. The Django defaults are sufficiently tame that you can safely use them. Be aware that if you do pass in a new default module, it entirely replaces the Django defaults, so you must specify a value for every possible setting that might be used in that code you are importing. Check in django.conf.settings.global_settings for the full list.

Either configure() or DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE is required

If you’re not setting the DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE environment variable, you must call configure() at some point before using any code that reads settings.

If you don’t set DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE and don’t call configure(), Django will raise an ImportError exception the first time a setting is accessed.

If you set DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE, access settings values somehow, then call configure(), Django will raise a RuntimeError indicating that settings have already been configured.

Also, it’s an error to call configure() more than once, or to call configure() after any setting has been accessed.

It boils down to this: Use exactly one of either configure() or DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE. Not both, and not neither.