Setting up a Development Environment to Build a Web Applications with Python

Whether you’re a data scientist who’s accustomed to ‘Jupyter’  Notebooks and ‘Pandas’  DataFrames, or a business professional who’s never gone beyond Excel, today’s session is designed to be your Swiss Army knife for web development.

Why Python, you ask? Well, it’s like the ultimate utility player in a baseball team. Whether you’re building machine learning models or creating a blog, Python has something for everyone. It’s the multi-tool of programming languages, perfect for both our data scientists who want to deploy their models and our non-tech folks who want to automate tasks or build a web interface.

Today, we’re going to create a solid foundation by setting up our Python development environment. Think of this like preparing your kitchen before you start cooking. Sure, you could just start chopping vegetables anywhere, but having a clean, organized space makes everything easier and more enjoyable. And just like you need the right tools in your kitchen — like a good knife or the perfect spatula — we need the right tools to code.


Setting up a Development Environment to Build a Web Application

Choose an appropriate IDE for Python web development
An Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is not just a text editor; it is a comprehensive environment where you can write code, test, debug, and even deploy your web application. A good IDE can significantly accelerate your development process by providing useful features like auto-completion, syntax highlighting, error detection, version control, and much more.  Consider language and framework support, ease of use, support, debugging tools, version control, and cost when deciding on an IDE.

IDE Options:

  • PyCharm
    • Features
      • Extremely powerful for Python development
      • Specialized support for web frameworks like ‘Django,’ ‘Flask,’  and ‘Pyramid’
      • Integrated database tools
      • Excellent debugging and profiling tools
    • Pros
      • Comprehensive: It’s an all-in-one solution for Python development
      • Intelligent Code Assistance: Provides smart code suggestions and completion
    • Cons
      • Resource-Intensive: Can be slow on older or less powerful hardware
      • Cost: While there is a free community version, the professional version, which includes many of the web development tools, requires a subscription
    • Best for: Developers who are looking for a robust, all-inclusive IDE and are willing to invest in a professional tool.
  • Visual Studio Code (VSCode)
    • Features
      • Highly extensible with a marketplace full of plugins
      • Native support for JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and other web technologies
      • Excellent Git integration
      • Built-in terminal
    • Pros
      • Lightweight: Runs smoothly, even on less powerful hardware
      • Free: Open-source and free to use
      • Fast Development Cycle: Microsoft frequently updates VSCode with new features and performance improvements
    • Cons
      • Less Python-centric: While it’s excellent for web development, it’s not tailored specifically for Python
      • Can Require Manual Configuration: While plugins can add functionality, you may have to manually configure more aspects than you would with a more specialized IDE.
    • Best for: Developers who are looking for a lightweight, versatile, and free IDE that can be easily customized with plugins.

Choosing the right IDE for your Python web development project will depend on your specific needs, but either PyCharm or Visual Studio Code should offer the capabilities most developers are looking for.

Install the chosen IDE
Once you decide on an IDE, download and install it on your machine. Most IDEs provide installation instructions on their official websites.
For PyCharm, visit the JetBrains website to download the installer.
For VSCode, visit the official Visual Studio Code website to get the latest stable version.

Configure Python Interpreter
An IDE requires knowledge of where your Python interpreter is located to run and debug your code.
In PyCharm: Go to File > Settings > Project > Python Interpreter and select or add your interpreter.
In VSCode: Use the Python extension to select your interpreter by clicking on the Python version in the bottom-left corner.

Install necessary libraries and frameworks
You can use Python’s built-in package manager, pip, to install most libraries and frameworks. Open the terminal (or command prompt on Windows) and execute the following commands for the respective frameworks. Example for Flask:

pip install flask

In PyCharm: You can also use the integrated terminal or the Project Interpreter settings:

Navigate to Interpreter Settings
Go to File> Settings(or Preferences on macOS)
Under Project: [Your Project Name], click Python Interpreter

Add Package
Click the + button at the bottom of the package list.
Search for the package you want to install (e.g., ‘Flask,’ ‘Django,’ or ‘Pyramid’).

Install Package
Select the package and click Install Package at the bottom.

Verify Installation

You should now see the package listed in your Project Interpreter settings. This confirms that the package was successfully installed.

Set up version control
Version control, like Git, helps you manage changes to your codebase and collaborate with others.
In VSCode: Use the Source Control tab to manage Git.
In PyCharm: Use the VCS menu for Git operations.

Install and configure extensions/plugins
Extensions can enhance your IDE capabilities, offering better support for web development, databases, etc.
For VSCode: Visit the Extensions view by clicking on the square icon on the sidebar and search for relevant extensions (e.g., ‘Python.’  ‘Flask,’  ‘Django’)
For PyCharm: Go to File> Settings >Plugins to search and install plugins.


Best Practices and Gotchas When Setting up a Development Environment for a Python Web Application

Choose an IDE that integrates well with your chosen framework
If you choose ‘Django’  as your framework, then using an IDE like PyCharm  which offers ‘Django’  support out-of-the-box would be beneficial. This integration provides features like easy debugging, built-in server controls, and autocompletion specific to Django’.

Not all IDEs fully support every framework. Using an IDE without framework-specific features can lead to a slower development cycle as you’ll have to manually configure many settings.

Optimize IDE settings for web development
Adjust settings like tab size, auto-save, and enabling live-reload to make web development smoother. For instance, if using ‘Flask,’  having the application auto-reload upon code changes saves time during testing.

Leaving the IDE settings at their defaults could make your development process less efficient. For instance, failing to enable live-reload would require you to manually restart the development server after every code change.

Ensure your IDE supports frontend technologies
If you are building full-stack applications, you will be working with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. An IDE that offers support and autocompletion for these technologies (like ‘WebStorm’ or the web-focused features of Visual Studio Code) can streamline your coding process.

Using an IDE with poor support for frontend technologies can lead to fragmented development workflows, where you might have to switch between different editors for backend and frontend code.

Familiarize yourself with keyboard shortcuts
Time is of the essence when coding. Learn and use keyboard shortcuts for common tasks like commenting out code, switching between files, and triggering the build or run command. This can significantly expedite your coding process.

Not taking the time to learn these shortcuts will slow down your development process. It can also lead to errors if you manually try to accomplish tasks that can be automated through shortcuts.

Set up a linter and formatter
Integrating tools like ‘flake8’  for linting and black for formatting within your IDE ensures consistent code quality and style. It helps in spotting syntax errors, enforces a coding standard, and auto-formats code for readability.

Not setting up or ignoring these tools can lead to inconsistent code styles within a team, making it more challenging to read and maintain the code. It may also allow avoidable errors to go undetected until runtime.

Regularly update your IDE and plugins
Regularly updating ensures you have the latest features, security patches, and bug fixes. This not only improves your IDE’s performance but may also provide newer functionalities and better compatibility with the evolving web frameworks and libraries.

Failing to update can leave you vulnerable to security risks and may lead to compatibility issues, especially as web frameworks and libraries get updated.

Additional Tips

  • Environment Isolation: Utilize virtual environments to isolate project dependencies. This makes it easier to manage packages and avoids conflicts.
  • Version Control: Always use version control systems like Git from the very start of your project, even if you are the only developer. It’s good practice and offers a safety net.