Some notes on doing things with Django model formsets

March 22, 2011

Django's model formsets are not well documented, at least not in the Django documentation I've found on their website. Oh, the API docs say more or less what parameters things like modelformset_factory() take, but they won't tell you how you should use them. In particular the documentation I've seen doesn't say very much about how to customize what appears in your form elements and so on.

So here is what I know:

The form argument to modelformset_factory() is used to construct the class for individual form elements. It should inherit from forms.ModelForm like regular customized forms, but unlike regular forms it should not have an internal Meta class; the Meta class (or its equivalent) will be added by the model formset construction process. Customized form classes can alter the default look and behavior of schema fields by defining form fields as usual, and they can also define validation and cleaning functions. Since form field validation is more powerful than schema field validation, you may want to override fields to, eg, make them into forms.RegexField fields with appropriate regular expressions. Or just to improve the labels and error messages.

(Yes, the need for this is a pain in the rear. If you want user friendly validation and error messages, you can wind up overriding nearly the entire set of model fields. Of course this pain exists for ordinary model forms as well.)

The formset argument to modelformset_factory() is used to construct the class for the overall formset. It should inherit from BaseModelFormSet (from django.forms.models). What I have used this for is a clean() method that makes sure that no two newly-created account requests have the same login. I believe that any clean() function you use should start out by calling the superclass clean().

The fields argument to modelformset_factory() is a list (in the broad sense) of what additional fields from the model should be included in the individual forms. Similarly, the exclude argument is the list of what additional fields should be excluded. Note that this is additional fields; if you have a custom form class, any fields it defines explicitly are always included. You do not need to list them in fields, and you cannot make them go away by listing them in exclude. If you need to include custom fields only some of the time, you will need multiple form classes. Yes, this is annoying, especially if you have a lot of variants (and there may be a better way that involves more magic).

(You can sort of see the implementation showing through here.)

For future reference (given that Django changes over time), this is all applicable to Django 1.2.5.

Sidebar: how I find out what fields have changed in edited forms

In a regular form (even a model form) you can inspect form.changed_data to see what fields have been edited. This is awkward to do in a modelformset, because you do not have convenient access to the individual forms that have been changed. How I get around this is the following, somewhat hacky code:

if formset.is_valid():
  instances = formset.save(commit=False)
  cdict = dict(formset.changed_objects)
  for thing in instances:
    changed = cdict[thing]
    ....

(In my application I need to take special action when various fields are modified, plus I like having audit records that say what fields were edited.)

Written on 22 March 2011.
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Last modified: Tue Mar 22 00:40:10 2011
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