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The Right Way to serve static files when using Django with Gunicorn

prahladyeri profile image Prahlad Yeri Originally published at prahladyeri.com ・2 min read

Yesterday, I learned during deployment that your Django app when used in combination with gunicorn will refuse to serve static files, do whatever you may. I looked up almost every Stack Overflow answer post on this topic including this, this and this.

I meddled with almost every hopeful setting including STATICFILES_DIRS[], STATIC_ROOT and STATIC_URL but to no avail. Its as if Django is designed to refuse serving of static files when using gunicorn and that's what I started to suspect after everything failed.

And my suspicion was almost confirmed by this post which says that:

Gunicorn will only serve the dynamic content, i.e. the Django files

But I know that's not strictly true because I've used Gunicorn with Flask in the past and it serves static files of your Flask app without any issues at all!

But then I thought that its better to handle static files using nginx anyway and since I was already using nginx as the front proxy on my server anyway, I thought of trying that post's suggestion. As mentioned, I added a new location section to my nginx configuration file as follows:

location /static {
        autoindex on;
        alias /path/to/staticfiles;
    }
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And that's exactly what worked! I bypassed gunicorn entirely and static files are now being served directly by the front server and I think this is a more efficient setup than having gunicorn serve the static files.

But why gunicorn/django refuse to serve static files directly still remain a mystery. I think the problem lies somewhere in Django and not gunicorn because as I said, I've seen gunicorn serve Flask static files before.

Discussion (3)

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hanpari profile image
Pavel Morava

Probably a design choice. I guess that to serve static files over nginx is more effective.

There is no need to overload Gunicorn or other with static files. If you read Deploying Static Files from Django docs, the possibilities are clearly given.

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prahladyeri profile image
Prahlad Yeri Author • Edited

Yep, I've read that django docs page and feel that it shows a needlessly confusing and lengthy process. For example, it really makes no sense to have an additional collectstatic process just to copy static files from one folder to other!

$ python manage.py collectstatic
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All this does is copy your files from one static folder in your project directory (say "/static/") to another (say "/staticfiles/"). But doing none of that will actually make django serve those static files on production -especially when there is an additional layer like gunicorn. The StackOverflow is filled with these issues. I think django should outright refuse to serve static on production instead of covertly/silently failing in this manner!

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hanpari profile image
Pavel Morava

I do not think that collecting static files in Django is as straightforward as you think.

I guess it is collecting files from more places, typically from the Middleware you use in your project.

As for the rest, I struggled with Django in this regard as well, but I came to realization they know better than me what they are doing. πŸ˜‰

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