As amper is looking to grow and our codebases expand, one area of concern I have has been making sure to maintain code quality while pushing code quickly. My first area of attack has been looking at our high-touch areas, and in particular our Django api.

Today I want to describe how we set up our project workflow to make consistency and quality checks a first-class component in our process. First I’ll go over our use of pylint, then discuss how we use Makefiles to simplify command line usage. Finally, I’ll show how we use git hooks to tie all of our tools into the version-control process.

pylint and mypy for quality

I’m a big fan of both pylint and mypy but today I’ll be going over pylint as I’ve gone over mypy in a previous post. There’s a bunch of documentation about pylint so I won’t be mirroring that here, but briefly here’s a list of things that it helps us do:

  • keep consistent coding standards by following pep8
  • point out areas that need to be refactored because of code duplication
  • detect errors with interface implementations
  • requires docs for functions and modules

Pylint has many checks and rules that it looks for, but the nice thing is that it is completely configurable to your liking. You can easily generate a pylintrc by running pylint --generate-rcfile. That will output to stdout and you can redirect it to wherever you’d like, although the default for most projects is .pylintrc in the root directory.

In your pylintrc you may configure rules and checks, as well as specify warnings to ignore, etc. You can even write custom checkers and plugins if your company or project so requires, although we’ve never needed it.

You might run into scenarios where there are rules that you need to override because of your constraints. A common one for us when using Django is when defining views with the request parameter. Every view doesn’t necessarily require using it but we like to keep it there so that it’s easy to tell it’s available for future modifications. Pylint also comes with some handy notation that you can use to disable specific roles locally or at the file-level.

def list_users(request, **kwargs) -> HttpResponse:  # pylint: disable=unused-argument
    # some view processing here

    return HttpResponse(status_code=200)

To disable a lint error, you can either use the string representation as shown above, or you can use the code representation. The code representation can come in handy when you have multiple warnings you want to disable, but usually I err on the side of being verbose when I can. You can find a list of codes at this site, but as a heads-up, they don’t include the string representation pairing, just a brief description for each one. As a final note for disabling errors, think carefully about what kind of coding practices you want to encourage or discourage, it adds up in the long-term.

Before we move on, I’ll put in a brief plug for pycodestyle. It also lints your code but specifically looks for compliance with pep8. We use both in tandem since it can sometimes find small issues that pylint doesn’t, and vice versa. Overall, we more heavily lean on pylint.

Makefiles for simplicity

Now that we have the tools to help lint and type check our code, the next step is to simplify our build process. At this point, there are quite a few commands that we are keeping track of if you’re developing on this project. There pip install, our linting commands, unit-tests, integration-tests, etc. Instead of writing some custom bash scripts to handle it, we use Makefiles to simplify things.

Make is a build automation tool that has been around since the 70s, and is by default installed on Unix systems. Because it is cross-platform and so commonly used, it made sense for us to use to to automate our local automation tasks as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with makefiles, they are pretty simple to understand. Let’s look at their basic syntax below. We define targets that label the name of the command we’re running, next we then list any other dependencies (other targets elsewhere in your makefile) that should get run before executing the system commands underneath it.

# format
target: dependencies
    system commands

Let’s look at a real example of a Makefile we use to run for our Django codebase.

    pip install -r requirements.txt

    python -m pylint --rcfile=.pylintrc module1/ module2/ module3/ -r n && \
    python -m pycodestyle module1/ module2/ module3/ --max-line-length=120

    python test --testrunner=project.testrunner.NoDbTestRunner

We’ll add to this configuration a little bit later, but for now it’s pretty straightforward and simple. We have a make install command we use to install our dependencies. Next we chain multiple linting calls using bash’s && operator. This chains the two calls and will only run the second linting command if the first successfully exits with status 0 (see more here). Finally we have a test command that calls the Django unit tests using our own custom test runner.

This makes it that much easier to remember, even when the commands underneath are actually quite complicated. Make files allso allow for you to keep consistent build language throughout your organization, regardless of the languages or technologies beneath the hood.

We’ll be adding a few more commands later as we look at how to integrate git hooks into our flow.

git hooks for integration

The final step in improving our workflow is making it second-thought and integrated into existing processes. The sooner we can catch style violations and potential errors, the better. In our workflow, we use git hooks, and specifically pre-commit hooks. Hooks get triggered on actions, so in our pre-commit case, an action is called before a commit gets created.

At the core, hooks are bash scripts that you can configure to run whatever you’d like. In our case, our pre-commit bash script runs targets in our Makefile to lint and unit-test. Let’s look at our file:


read -a changed_files <<< $(git diff --cached --name-only --raw)

# call command
make pre-commit

# now if tests failed let's abort commit by "exit 1"
# if not, congratulations, commit is now in Git
if [ $testResults -eq 1 ] || [ $testResults -eq 2 ]
    echo -e "${red}\nTests FAILED\n\ncommit ABORTED${reset}"
    exit 1
    echo -e "${green}\nOK\n${reset}"
exit 0

This is a simplified version, but let’s look at the important aspects of this script. There is some boilerplate at the top, but after that we call the pre-commit command from our Makefile. Following that, testResults stores the status code output from its execution, and depending on the result, either exits successfully (status 0), or with an error (status 1). If it outputs with an error, git will abort and prevent a commit from being made. If make pre-commit does not error out, our commit gets created normally.

You may find that you need to customize your bash script differently, but remember that you need to exit with a status code indicating success/error.

The next step is to configure your git repository to use the bash script when making commits. First, look in your .git directory, inside there is a sub-directory hooks that stores some sample scripts. To ‘enable’ a hook script, all you need to do is place a script in the .git/hooks directory with the name of the hook. In our case, we want a file like this: .git/hooks/pre-commit.

When we set this up for ourself, we also wanted to keep the pre-commit script in version control so we could make changes over time. We keep a bash script in the root of a directory, and then use symlinks to create a reference in the .git/hooks repo to our script.

To get started, the symlink only needs to be created the first time when cloning the repo. To make this easy for ourselves, we have a make target that automatically creates the symlink as shown below:

    cd .git/hooks && \
    ln -s -f ../../ ./pre-commit

When setting the project up on a new machine, make setup-hooks needs to be run once, then the project is all set1. Upon following commits, our linting and testing code will always get run.

In our case, we also added a make target specifically called pre-commit. This combines all the target dependencies we want to check on commit into one.

pre-commit: install lint test
    echo "All set to commit."

It’s incredibly simple, and all it does is cause 3 of our previous target commands to be built successfully before echo’ing a success. With some pretty simple scripting and some git/make magic, our workflow is done! It doesn’t matter if you forget to lint some code before checking it in - git won’t even let you commit until things pass on your machine.

With that, our local development workflow is complete. Unit-testing, type-checking and linting help us to be more confident that our code is working as expected. Makefiles allow for us to use these complex tools really easily without having to remember complicated build commands. Finally, git pre-commit hooks are the gatekeeper for submitting code that doesn’t pass at least basic checks, saving time for everyone else on your team.

  1. If you’re curious about the strange relative pathing of this ln call, it’s because the pre-commit script is called from the .git/hooks directory, so it needs to know the path of our script from .git/hooks and not the root of our repository.