A Django REST API in a Single File

A cat having a small REST

I previously covered writing a Django application in a single file, for both synchronous and asynchronous use cases. This post covers the angle of creating a REST API using Django in a single file.

Undeniably, REST APIs are a very common use case for Django these days. Nearly 80% of this year’s Django community survey respondents said they use Django REST Framework (DRF). DRF is great for building APIs and provides many of the tools you’d want in a production-ready application. But for building a very small API, we can get by solely with tools built into Django itself.

Without further ado, our example application is below. You can save it as app.py, and run it with python app.py runserver (tested with Django 3.1). An explanation follows after the code:

import os
import sys
from dataclasses import dataclass

from django.conf import settings
from django.core.wsgi import get_wsgi_application
from django.http import HttpResponseRedirect, JsonResponse
from django.urls import path
from django.utils.crypto import get_random_string

    DEBUG=(os.environ.get("DEBUG", "") == "1"),
    ALLOWED_HOSTS=["*"],  # Disable host header validation
    ROOT_URLCONF=__name__,  # Make this module the urlconf
    ),  # We aren't using any security features but Django requires this setting

class Character:
    name: str
    age: int

    def as_dict(self, id_):
        return {
            "id": id_,
            "name": self.name,
            "age": self.age,

characters = {
    1: Character("Rick Sanchez", 70),
    2: Character("Morty Smith", 14),

def index(request):
    return HttpResponseRedirect("/characters/")

def characters_list(request):
    return JsonResponse(
        {"data": [character.as_dict(id_) for id_, character in characters.items()]}

def characters_detail(request, character_id):
        character = characters[character_id]
    except KeyError:
        return JsonResponse(
            data={"error": f"Character with id {character_id!r} does not exist."},
    return JsonResponse({"data": character.as_dict(character_id)})

urlpatterns = [
    path("", index),
    path("characters/", characters_list),
    path("characters/<int:character_id>/", characters_detail),

app = get_wsgi_application()

if __name__ == "__main__":
    from django.core.management import execute_from_command_line


Neat, just 73 lines, or 63 not counting imports.

The first thing we do, following imports, is to call settings.configure() with the minimum configuration to get Django running. I covered most of these settings in my first single-file app post which I won’t repeat too much here.

One extra thing we’re using compared to that post is CommonMiddleware, one of Django’s many “included batteries”. In its default configuration it will redirect URLs not ending with a slash (“/”) to those with one, useful for getting users to their intended content.

Second, we define some static data for our API to serve, using dataclasses (new in Python 3.7). These are great for storing and serving a small amount of unchanging data. At some point we’d want to move to using a database, but for our purposes it is easier to avoid setting this up.

(I’ve also shown my bad taste by making this a Rick and Morty character API.)

Third, we define three views:

Fourth, we map URLs to our views in the urlpatterns list.

Fifth, we create the WSGI application object, which allows us to deploy the application. For example, if we’d saved this file as app.py, we could run it on a production server with gunicorn app:app.

Sixth, we introduce manage.py style handling when the module is run as "__main__". This allows us to run the application with python app.py runserver locally.

Trying It Out

Here’s a sample of using that API with httpie, a neat command-line tool for making HTTP requests.

First, hitting the index URL:

$ http localhost:8000
HTTP/1.1 302 Found
Content-Length: 0
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:05:09 GMT
Location: /characters/
Server: WSGIServer/0.2 CPython/3.8.5

This redirects us to /characters/ as expected. Fetching that, we see the JSON data for both characters:

$ http localhost:8000/characters/
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Length: 101
Content-Type: application/json
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:05:15 GMT
Server: WSGIServer/0.2 CPython/3.8.5

    "data": [
            "age": 70,
            "id": 1,
            "name": "Rick Sanchez"
            "age": 14,
            "id": 2,
            "name": "Morty Smith"

We might try fetching Morty’s page:

$ http localhost:8000/characters/2
HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Content-Length: 0
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:05:19 GMT
Location: /characters/2/
Server: WSGIServer/0.2 CPython/3.8.5

Aha! We didn’t add the trailing slash, so our request has been redirected. Fetching the complete URL, we see Morty’s data:

$ http localhost:8000/characters/2/
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Length: 53
Content-Type: application/json
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:05:21 GMT
Server: WSGIServer/0.2 CPython/3.8.5

    "data": {
        "age": 14,
        "id": 2,
        "name": "Morty Smith"



These days I can’t write a blog post without mentioning testing. We can use Django’s built-in test framework to write some quick tests that cover all our endpoints.

Save this code in a file called tests.py, in the same folder as the application:

from django.test import SimpleTestCase

class AppTests(SimpleTestCase):
    def test_index(self):
        response = self.client.get("/")

        self.assertEqual(response.status_code, 302)
        self.assertEqual(response["Location"], "/characters/")

    def test_list(self):
        response = self.client.get("/characters/")

        self.assertEqual(response.status_code, 200)
            {"id": 1, "name": "Rick Sanchez", "age": 70},

    def test_detail(self):
        response = self.client.get("/characters/1/")

        self.assertEqual(response.status_code, 200)
            {"id": 1, "name": "Rick Sanchez", "age": 70},

These tests use Django’s test client to make requests and then assert on the response status code and content. Because we don’t have a database, the tests can inherit from the faster SimpleTestCase, rather than using TestCase which adds some database management. We can run these tests using app.py like so:

$ python app.py test
System check identified no issues (0 silenced).
Ran 3 tests in 0.004s




I hope this has helped you figure out a way into building small APIs with Django. If your API takes off, do check out Django REST Framework!

For a longer tutorial that uses the database, check out Curtis Maloney’s post.


If your Django project’s long test runs bore you, I wrote a book that can help.

Subscribe via RSS, Twitter, Mastodon, or email:

One summary email a week, no spam, I pinky promise.

Related posts: