Django mobile site template loading

July 17, 2011

Building out a mobile version of a site is increasingly becoming a must-have feature these days. From a maintainability perspective however, it is important not to intermingle too much conditional markup within a single template (eg, “If this is the mobile version, render this, otherwise render that”). A better approach is to use a separate mobile template and fallback to the regular site template if the mobile one cannot be found. outlines a nice, clean way of accomplishing this in Django with middleware and a custom template loader:

  1. Use middleware to detect whether the user-agent string in the request is from a mobile browser. Store a value indicating what version of the templates to load in a thread-local.
  2. Create a custom template loader that reads the flag from the thread-local and loads the appropriate version of the template or fall back to the default version if it doesn’t exist.

The thread-local hackery is actually a nice way of getting around the issue of trying to pass values from the middleware to the template loader. There are a couple of small tweaks that can be made to the template loader however to improve things a bit.

The template loader outlined in the post above makes an assumption around where the mobile templates will be stored on disk. It would be nicer if you could use the existing template loaders that come with django to load your mobile template. For example, if you are creating a reusable django app, it would be nice to bundle your mobile templates in the same directory as your full site templates. Or, if you are one of the crazy people loading their templates from a Python egg, it would be nice to be able to stick your mobile templates into the same egg and use the built-in egg loader to load the appropriate one.

from django.template.base import TemplateDoesNotExist
from django.template.loader import BaseLoader
import django.template.loader

class Loader(BaseLoader):
    is_usable = True

    def other_loaders(self):
        for loader in django.template.loader.template_source_loaders:
            if loader != self:
                yield loader

    def load_template_source(self, template_name, template_dirs=None):
        site_version = get_version()
        if site_version != 'full':
            mobile_template_name = "%s/%s" % (site_version, template_name)

            for loader in self.other_loaders:
                    return loader.load_template_source(mobile_template_name, template_dirs)
                except TemplateDoesNotExist:

        raise TemplateDoesNotExist(template_name)

First thing to note is that this template loader adheres to the new class-based API that was introduced in Django 1.2.

getVersion() is the method that returns the string that was stored in the thread-local by the middleware. It returns either ‘full’ or ‘mobile’. Depending on how many different site variations you wanted to support, you could modify the middleware to set more granular identifiers like ‘ios’ or ‘android’ instead of just ‘mobile’.

Rather than load the contents of a template directly, this loader will delegate to the ‘real’ loaders that are defined in the settings file when it looks for the mobile version of a template. So, suppose your settings file looks like this:


If a request is made for the mobile version of “base.html”, the loader will see if it can find the “mobile/base.html” with the filesystem Loader, then it will try the app_directory Loader. If it still doesn’t find it, the loader will then fallback to the initially requested “base.html”. Of course, in order for this to work, it is critical that the custom template loader class appear first in the TEMPLATE_LOADERS tuple.

The templates are organized into parallel directories that are structured as follows:


The django.template.loader.template_source_loaders used in the other_loaders property is a global array that gets initialized in the django.template.loader.find_template method and contains instances of the template loaders that are defined in the settings file. I’m assuming that find_template will always be called before control passes to the load_template_source method in this custom template loader.

Would love to hear any feedback on this approach.