Django and doctests

Doctests use Python’s standard doctest module, which searches your docstrings for statements that resemble a session of the Python interactive interpreter. A full explanation of how doctest works is out of the scope of this document; read Python’s official documentation for the details.

What’s a docstring?

A good explanation of docstrings (and some guidelines for using them effectively) can be found in PEP 257:

A docstring is a string literal that occurs as the first statement in a module, function, class, or method definition. Such a docstring becomes the __doc__ special attribute of that object.

For example, this function has a docstring that describes what it does:

def add_two(num):
    "Return the result of adding two to the provided number."
    return num + 2

Because tests often make great documentation, putting tests directly in your docstrings is an effective way to document and test your code.

As with unit tests, for a given Django application, the test runner looks for doctests in two places:

  • The file. You can define module-level doctests and/or a doctest for individual models. It’s common practice to put application-level doctests in the module docstring and model-level doctests in the model docstrings.
  • A file called in the application directory – i.e., the directory that holds This file is a hook for any and all doctests you want to write that aren’t necessarily related to models.

This example doctest is equivalent to the example given in the unittest section above:


from django.db import models

class Animal(models.Model):
    An animal that knows how to make noise

    # Create some animals
    >>> lion = Animal.objects.create(name="lion", sound="roar")
    >>> cat = Animal.objects.create(name="cat", sound="meow")

    # Make 'em speak
    >>> lion.speak()
    'The lion says "roar"'
    >>> cat.speak()
    'The cat says "meow"'
    name = models.CharField(max_length=20)
    sound = models.CharField(max_length=20)

    def speak(self):
        return 'The %s says "%s"' % (, self.sound)

When you run your tests, the test runner will find this docstring, notice that portions of it look like an interactive Python session, and execute those lines while checking that the results match.

In the case of model tests, note that the test runner takes care of creating its own test database. That is, any test that accesses a database – by creating and saving model instances, for example – will not affect your production database. However, the database is not refreshed between doctests, so if your doctest requires a certain state you should consider flushing the database or loading a fixture. (See the section on fixtures for more on this.) Note that to use this feature, the database user Django is connecting as must have CREATE DATABASE rights.

For more details about doctest, see the Python documentation.