Define Django settings in config files and/or via environment variables

django, settings, local, env, environment, 12-factor, config, dotenv, ini, json
pip install django-local-settings==2.0a9


Local settings for Django projects

New in version 2

  • Settings can now be defined as environment variables (env settings)
  • The values for env settings can be specified in a .env file and they'll be loaded automatically, or any standard method of setting environment variables can be used
  • Secret settings can now have a callable default (they weren't allowed to have a default before)
  • List and dict settings can now have trailing commas
  • Literal date & time values can now be specified (2021-06-23, etc)
  • Additional number syntaxes are now supported (any valid Python int or float)
  • Support for Python 3.5 and below was dropped; supporting only 3.6 and up is much simpler (officially, only 3.7 and up are supported, but there shouldn't be any issues on 3.6 for the time being)
  • Support for old, unsupported versions of Django was dropped

This package attempts to solve the problem of handling local settings in Django projects. Local settings by definition can't be pre-defined, although perhaps they can have a reasonable default value (mainly useful for development). Another class of local settings are secret settings; these definitely shouldn't be pre-defined and should never be added to version control.

The problems with local settings are:

  • How to specify which settings are local
  • How to inform others which settings are local (or secret)
  • How to actually give the local settings a value
  • How to verify that local settings have been given a valid value
  • How to ensure new local settings get set
  • How to ensure local (and esp. secret) settings don't get added to version control

One common approach is to create a local settings template module with dummy/default values. When new developers start working on a project, they copy this file (e.g., =>, which is typically excluded from version control. This approach at least identifies which settings are local, but it's not very convenient with regard to setting values and ensuring those values are valid. Also, instead of giving you a friendly heads-up when you forget to set a local setting, it barfs out an exception.

This package takes the approach that there will be only one settings module* per project in the standard location: {project}.settings. That module defines/overrides Django's base settings in the usual way plus it defines which settings are local and which are secret.

In addition to the settings module, there will be one or more settings files. These are standard INI files with the added twist that the values are JSON encoded. The reasoning behind this is to use a simple, standard config file format while still allowing for easy handling of non-string settings.

In addition, interpolation is supported using Django-style {{ ... }} syntax. This can be handy to avoid repetition.

Once the local settings are defined, any missing settings will be prompted for in the console (with pretty colors and readline support).

In addition to settings files, settings can defined via environment variables. These can be defined in a .env file or using any other mechanism for setting environment variables. When using a .env file, the values will be read in automatically; when not using a .env file, the corresponding environment variables will need to be set prior to loading the local settings.

Env settings are typically strings like passwords and API tokens, but they will proccessed like other settings--values will be loaded as JSON and interpolated, etc.


  • Local settings can be defined in a settings file (or files) or as environment variables (AKA env settings)
  • When using env settings, environment variables will be loaded from a .env file automatically, if present
  • Missing local settings will be prompted for (only when running on a TTY/console)
  • Local settings can be defined with validators
  • Local settings can be defined with doc strings
  • Local settings can be nested in settings lists and dicts
  • Settings files can extend from each other
  • Settings values can be injected into other settings values using a special syntax (AKA interpolation, similar to the standard library's configparser)
  • Includes a script to easily generate local settings files for different environments
  • Supports Python 3.7 - 3.10
  • Supports Django 2.2 - 3.2

Basic usage

  • In your project's settings module, import the inject_settings function along with the types of settings you need:

      from local_settings import (
  • Then define some base settings and local settings:

      # project/
      from import utils
      # This is used to demonstrate interpolation.
      PACKAGE = "local_settings"
      DEBUG = LocalSetting(default=False)
      # This setting will be loaded from the environment variable
      # API_TOKEN, which can be defined in a .env file or set directly
      # in the environment.
      SOME_SERVICE = {
          "api_token": EnvSetting("API_TOKEN"),
      DATABASES = {
          "default": {
              "ENGINE": "django.db.backends.postgresql",
              "NAME": LocalSetting(default="{{ PACKAGE }}"),
              "USER": LocalSetting(""),
              "PASSWORD": SecretSetting(),
              "HOST": LocalSetting(""),
              "PORT": "",
      # If a secret setting specifies a default, it must be a callable
      # that generates the value; this discourages using the same
      # secret in different environments.
      SECRET_KEY = SecretSetting(
          doc="The secret key for doing secret stuff",

    Local settings can be nested inside other settings. They can also have doc strings, which are displayed when prompting, and default values or value generators, which are used as suggestions when prompting.

    This also demonstrates interpolation. The DATABASES.default.NAME setting will be replaced with the PACKAGE setting, so that its default value is effectively 'top_level_package'.

  • After all the local settings are defined, add the following line:


    This initializes the local settings loader with the base settings from the settings module and tells it which settings are local settings. It then merges in the settings from the settings file.

    inject_settings() loads the project's local settings from a file ($CWD/local.cfg by default), prompting for any that are missing, and/or environment variables, and returns a new dictionary with local settings merged over any base settings. When not running on a TTY/console, missing local settings will cause an exception to be raised.

    After inject_settings() runs, you'll be able to access the local settings in the settings module as usual, in case some dynamic configuration is required. For example, you could do if DEBUG: .... At this point, DEBUG is no longer a LocalSetting instance--it's a regular Python bool.

  • Now you can run any command, and you will be prompted to enter any missing local settings. On the first run, the settings file will be created. On subsequent runs when new local settings are added to the settings module, the settings file will be appended to.

  • Alternatively, you can run the included make-local-settings script to generate a local settings file.

Advanced usage

TODO: Discuss using multiple settings files, extending a settings file from another file, how to specify a settings file other than the default of local.cfg, editing settings files directly, &c.

Historical note

The initial commit of this package was made on October 22, 2014, and the first release was published to PyPI on March 11, 2015. At the time, I didn't know about TOML. Otherwise, I probably (maybe?) would have found a way to use TOML for Django settings.

When I heard about TOML--I think related to pyproject.toml becoming a thing--I remember thinking it was quite similar to this package (or vice versa), especially the splitting of dotted names into dictionaries and the use of "rich" values rather than plain text.

One of the biggest differences, besides this package being Django- specific, is interpolation of both values and keys, which I find immensely useful (more for values, but occasionally for keys.)

Another difference is that with TOML the config file section name becomes part of the dictionary structure, whereas in django-local-settings it doesn't. In that regard, django-local-settings is geared toward environments, such as a development and production.

One other difference is that django-local-settings supports loading settings from environment variables out of the box.