Nice ArrayField widgets with choices and chosen.js

Published on April 25, 2015, 5:50 p.m.

arrayfield django postgresql python

One of the really cool new features in Django 1.8 is the support for Postgres-specific fields. I'm very excited to be able to use things like PostgreSQL arrays or hstore without 3rd-party add-ons.

Unfortnately, the default form inputs for ArrayFields are less than stellar. So, in this post I want to explore a few things:

Let's start with a simple model: the quintessential Post. This time, however, it also accepts a set of labels (or tags). Let's start with the set of acceptable labels (this example is short):

    ('django', 'Django'),
    ('python', 'Python'),

And now our model. Note that the ArrayField's first argument is a CharField (that's the base_field), and that is where we define the choices that are allowed as input.

class Post(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=128)
    content = models.TextField()
    labels = ArrayField(
        models.CharField(max_length=32, blank=True, choices=LABEL_CHOICES),

Note that labels are optional, and that the default is an empty list (or no labels). Now, we'd typically define a ModelForm as follows:

class PostForm(forms.ModelForm):
    class Meta:
        model = Post
        fields = ['title', 'content', 'labels']

While this will work, there are a couple of fairly significant problems with it:

  1. By default, the labels field gets rendered as a simple text input, e.g. <input id="id_labels" name="labels" type="text">.
  2. You don't get any sort of selection for the choices, and...
  3. You must enter choices as a comma-separated string (with NO spaces!); if you get one wrong, the form validators will throw an Exception.

So, while it technically works, it's really not very friendly at all. Let's make it better.

First, django's ModelForm gives us a nice hook for specifying a widget for any fields via a widgets attribute within the form's inner Meta class. We'll use this technique to customize our form's output, but first let's build a custom Widget.

class ArrayFieldSelectMultiple(forms.SelectMultiple):
    """This is a Form Widget for use with a Postgres ArrayField. It implements
    a multi-select interface that can be given a set of `choices`.

    You can provide a `delimiter` keyword argument to specify the delimeter used.


    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # Accept a `delimiter` argument, and grab it (defaulting to a comma)
        self.delimiter = kwargs.pop("delimiter", ",")
        super(ArrayFieldSelectMultiple, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)

    def render_options(self, choices, value):
        # value *should* be a list, but it might be a delimited string.
        if isinstance(value, str):  # python 2 users may need to use basestring instead of str
            value = value.split(self.delimiter)
        return super(ArrayFieldSelectMultiple, self).render_options(choices, value)

    def value_from_datadict(self, data, files, name):
        if isinstance(data, MultiValueDict):
            # Normally, we'd want a list here, which is what we get from the
            # SelectMultiple superclass, but the SimpleArrayField expects to
            # get a delimited string, so we're doing a little extra work.
            return self.delimiter.join(data.getlist(name))
        return data.get(name, None)

This widget implements a <select type="multiple"> widget for our labels, and it's options will consist of the items from our LABEL_CHOICES. Pay attention to the comments in the widget, because there are a few gotchas in there.

Now, to incorporate this widget into our PostForm. Note that we also specify a css class of "chosen" using the attrs keyword argument. In addition, we specify an inner Media class, so our form knows how to load the javascript and css assets for chosen.js (and jquery).

This assumes you've got jquery and chosen installed as part of your project's static files. I typically have them organized in a similar fashion:

class PostForm(forms.ModelForm):
    class Meta:
        model = Post
        fields = ['title', 'content', 'labels']
        widgets = {
            "labels": ArrayFieldSelectMultiple(
                choices=LABEL_CHOICES, attrs={'class': 'chosen'}),

    class Media:
        css = {
            "all": ("chosen/chosen.min.css", )
        js = ("js/jquery.min.js", "chosen/chosen.jquery.min.js")

And that's it! When this form is rendered, the labels widget will look something like:

<select multiple="multiple" class="chosen" id="id_labels" name="labels">
<option value="django">Django</option>
<option value="python">Python</option>

Just don't forget to render the form's media in your template with, {{ }}.

If you've got jquery & chosen.js installed correctly, you should get a multi-select widget with pre-defined options that's very usable, with results stored in a PostgreSQL array field.

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