Package management

How docassemble uses packages

docassemble interviews can be packaged into Python packages that bundle together:

  • YAML files representing interview files that start interviews, or YAML files that are included in other files;
  • Any document templates that your interviews use;
  • Static content (images, downloadable files) that you want to include with your interview;
  • Python modules, which include any classes and other code that you might write to go along with your interviews; and
  • Data files (translations, machine learning training data) on which your interview depends.

A Python package also contains metadata such as author information, a brief description, and a list of other Python packages on which the package depends. It also contains a “README” file, typically styled with Markdown, which describes the package in detail.

A package containing docassemble interviews must be a subpackage of the docassemble package. In practice, this means that the official package name with docassemble.; e.g., docassemble.missourifamilylaw. The docassemble package itself is just a shell (a namespace package) that contains subpackages. These subpackages include docassemble’s core components (docassemble.base, docassemble.webapp) as well as user-created packages (e.g., docassemble.missourifamilylaw).

Using the Playground to make packages

One of the features of the docassemble web application is the Playground, a browser-based development platform for developing and testing interviews. This is a “sandbox” in which you can make changes to an interview and immediately test the effect of those changes. You can use the Playground to create a variety of resources (interview files, template files, static files, data files) and then build packages out particular resources.

Every interview that you run on docassemble is part of a package. When you are running an interview in the Playground, the package is called docassemble.playground1 or something similar; the 1 at the end is the user ID of the person who is using the Playground.

Packages like docassemble.playground1 should be considered temporary and should only be used for development and testing. When you want your users to actually use your interview, you should move your interview out of the Playground and into a package with an appropriate name.

Suppose you have an interview file called custody.yml, which you are developing in the Playground. When you right click the “ Share” button, and copy the link URL, or you look at your browser location bar when you are testing the interview, you will see that the URL for the interview contains?i=docassemble.playground1:custody.yml. This means that the interview (i) is in the docassemble.playground1 package and is called custody.yml. This link always runs the version of your interview that is current in the Playground. So if you make a change that accidentally introduces a bug, anyone who uses the interview will see an error message.

When you have actual users, you want to be able to make “upgrades” to your interviews without causing users to see error messages. You need to have a distinction between your “development” version and your “production” version. Here is a workflow for accomplishing this:

  1. Develop your custody.yml interview in the Playground and keep improving it until it is ready for use by users.
  2. In the “Packages” folder of the Playground, create a package called, e.g., johnsmithlaw. Give it a version number like 0.0.1. Include within the package the custody.yml interview file and any other resources on which custody.yml depends.
  3. This will create a Python package called docassemble.johnsmithlaw.
  4. In the “Packages” folder of the Playground, click the “Install” button. This will install the docassemble.johnsmithlaw package on your server.
  5. Your users can now access your interview at a URL that ends with /interview?i=docassemble.johnsmithlaw:data/questions/custody.yml.
  6. Now you can continue making changes to the custody.yml interview in the Playground, and even if you break something, your users will not get an error, because they will be using the installed version of the package, not the version in your Playground.
  7. When the new version of your interview is ready, you can go to the “Packages” folder and press “Install” again.
  8. Your users will still use the same URL to access the interview (one that ends with /interview?i=docassemble.johnsmithlaw:data/questions/custody.yml), but now they will be using the new version of your interview.

For more information, see how you run a docassemble interview, the Playground, the packaging your interview section of the hello world example, and the development workflows section.

From the “Packages” folder, you can also press “ Download” to obtain a ZIP file of the Python package. If you open this file, you can see what the structure of a docassemble extension package looks like.

Anatomy of a docassemble package

Here is the file structure of a (fictional) docassemble package called

|-- docassemble
|   |-- baseball
|   |   |--
|   |   |-- data
|   |   |   |-- questions
|   |   |   |   |-- baseball-questions.yml
|   |   |   |   `-- hitters.yml
|   |   |   |-- static
|   |   |   |   |-- catcher.jpg
|   |   |   |   `-- pitcher.jpg
|   |   |   |-- sources
|   |   |   |   `-- words.yml
|   |   |   `-- templates
|   |   |       `--
|   |   `--
|   `--
|-- setup.cfg

The package is known as within Python code, but the name docassemble-baseball, replacing the dot with a hyphen, is used in other contexts, such as when referring to a package published on the PyPI site, or a folder on your system that contains the source code of the package.

There are a lot of subdirectories (this is the nature of namespace packages). There are reasons for all of these subdirectories.

  1. The top-level directory, docassemble-baseball, is important because a complete Python package should be all in one directory. If you are publishing a package on GitHub, this directory should be the root of the repository; docassemble-baseball/.git will contain the git-related information for the package.
  2. Within that, the docassemble directory is necessary so that the package is a subpackage of docassemble.
  3. Within that, the baseball directory is necessary because when packages within the docassemble namespace package are installed on a system, Python needs them to be in a subdirectory under a directory called docassemble.
  4. Within baseball, you have, which contains Python code. Files in this directory correspond with files in the “Modules” folder of the Playground. The __init.py__ file is necessary for declaring baseball to be a package; you never have to edit that file. The __init.py__ file is mostly empty except for a __version__ definiton, but its presence is still important.
  5. There is also a data directory with subdirectories questions, static, sources, and templates. These are for interviews, static files, data files, and document templates. The questions directory contains the YAML files that are in the main part of the Playground.

Note that in the Playground, there is a “Modules” folder along with a “Templates” folder, a “Static” folder, etc., but in a Python package, there is no docassemble/baseball/data/modules folder, even though there is a docassemble/baseball/data/templates folder and a docassemble/baseball/data/static folder. The modules files (.py files) are located in a different place: directly under docassemble/baseball. Since the main purpose of a Python package is to store Python modules, modules files are the “main attraction” and everything else is just associated “data.” A Python module that you refer to as must be a file that is located in the subdirectory docassemble/baseball/. (This is how Python works.)

When installed on the server, the interview hitters.yml can be run by going to a link like

In your own interviews, you can include resources from this package by writing things like the following:

yesno: person_is_a_catcher
question: |
  Did the person look like this?
subquestion: |
question: |
  Here is how the game went down.
sets: user_given_summary
  - name: Summary of ${ game }
    filename: game_summary
    content file:

The first block uses include to incorporate by reference a YAML interview file located in the data/questions directory of the package.

The second block uses a file reference to refer to an image file in the data/static directory of the package.

The third block uses content file within an attachment to refer to a Markdown file in the data/templates directory of the package.

The fourth block uses modules to import Python names from the file.

Since a Python package is just a collection of files in a particular structure, you can maintain your docassemble extension packages “offline” (outside of the Playground) if you want. This allows you to expand the directory structure beyond what the Playground supports.


If your package uses code from other Python packages that are not distributed with the standard docassemble installation, you will need to indicate that these packages are “dependencies” of your package.

This will ensure that if you share your package with someone else and they install it on their system, the packages that your package needs will be automatically installed. Otherwise, that person will get errors when they try to use your package.

If you maintain your package in the Packages area of the Playground, you can indicate the dependencies of your package by selecting them from a multi-select list. (If you the Python package you need is not listed, you need to install it on your system using “Package Management” on the menu.)

If you maintain your package off-line, you will need to edit the file and change the line near the end that begins with install_requires. This refers to a list of Python packages. For example:

install_requires=['docassemble.helloworld', 'kombu'],

This line indicates that the package relies on the docassemble extension package docassemble.helloworld, as well as the Python package kombu. When someone tries to install on their system, docassemble.helloworld and kombu will be installed first, and any packages that these packages depend on will also be installed.

Note that if your package depends on a package that exists on GitHub but not on PyPI, you will also need to add an extra line so that the system knows where to find the package. For example, if docassemble.helloworld did not exist on PyPI, you would need to include:

install_requires=['docassemble.helloworld', 'kombu'],

If you use the Packages area of the Playground to maintain your package, this is all handled for you.

Installing a package

You can install a docassemble extension package, or any other Python package, using the docassemble web application.

From the menu, go to “Package Management.”

docassemble installs packages using the pip package manager. This installation process may take a long time. A log of the output of pip will be shown when the installation is complete. The server will restart so that any old versions of the package that are still in memory will be refreshed.

Installing through GitHub

One way to install Python packages on a server is through GitHub.

  1. Find the GitHub URL of the package you want to install. This is in the location bar when you are looking at a GitHub repository. For example, the GitHub URL of the docassemble-baseball package may be (No such package actually exists.)
  2. In the docassemble web app, go to Package Management.
  3. Enter into the “GitHub URL” field.
  4. The “GitHub Branch” field will be updated with the default branch of the repository (usually master). You can select another branch if you wish to install a different branch of the repository.
  5. Click “Update.”

GitHub Install

If you want to install from a private Github repository, you will need a URL that points to your repository and that includes authentication information. To make such a URL, you will need a “personal access token” from Github. If you do not already have a personal access token, log into Github, go to your “Settings,” go to “Developer settings,” and go to the “Personal access tokens” tab. Click “Generate new token.” You can set the “Token description” to whatever you like (e.g. “for installing on docassemble”). Check the “repo” checkbox, so that all of the capabilities under “repo” are selected. Then click “Generate token.” Copy the “personal access token” and keep it in a safe place.

If your token is e8cc02bec7061de98ba4851263638d7483f63d41, your GitHub username is johnsmith, and your package is called docassemble-missouri-familylaw, then the GitHub URL for your private repository will be:

https://e8cc02bec7061de98ba4851263638d7483f63d41:[email protected]/johnsmith/docassemble-missouri-familylaw

You can enter this into the “GitHub URL” field.

Installing through a .zip file

You can also install Python packages from ZIP files. For example, if you have a package docassemble-baseball, the ZIP file will be called It will contain a single directory called docassemble-baseball, which in turn contains, a subdirectory called docassemble, and other files.

  1. In the docassemble web app, go back to Package Management.
  2. Under “Zip File,” upload the .zip file you want to install.
  3. Click “Update.”

Zip Install

Installing through PyPI

You can also install Python packages from PyPI. PyPI is the central repository for Python software. Anyone can register on PyPI and upload software to it. For example, if you want to install the docassemble-baseball package:

  1. Make sure the docassemble-baseball package does not already exist on PyPI (note: it doesn’t; it is just a fictional package).
  2. In the docassemble web app, go to Package Management.
  3. Type into the “Package on PyPI” field.
  4. Click “Update.”

PyPI Install

Once a version of a package is installed on PyPI, it exists there permanently. When you install a version of a package on PyPI, the version will automatically increment.

Permissions on packages

The “Package Management” system remembers which user installed which package. Thus, if developer Fred installs a package called docassemble.guardianship, and developer George tries to install a package called docassemble.guardianship, George will get an error. These permissions do not apply to package dependencies, however.

A user with admin privileges can install or uninstall any package.

The purpose of the permission system is to facilitate the use of a single server by a team of developers by implementing some minor safeguards that prevent developers from interfering with each others’ work. It is not the case that each developer works in an insulated “sandbox.” All interviews on the system run with the same system UID (www-data).

Running interviews from installed packages

Once a docassemble extension package is installed, you can start using its interviews. For example, if you installed, and there was an interview file in that package called questions.yml, you would point your browser to http://localhost/interview? (substituting the actual domain and base URL of your docassemble site). Note that a URL like this is different from the URL you see when you are running an interview in the Playground (see above).

For more information about starting docassemble interviews, see how you run a docassemble interview.

Updating Python packages

To upgrade a package that you installed from a GitHub URL or from PyPI, you can press the “Update” button next to the package name on the “Package Management” screen. You will only see these Update buttons if you are an administrator or if you are the person who caused the packages to be installed. Also, the “Update” buttons will not appear if the package was installed using a ZIP file.

Publishing a package

Publishing on PyPI

The best place to publish a docassemble extension packages is on PyPI, the central repository for Python software.

In order to publish to PyPI, you will first need to create an account on PyPI. You will need to choose a username and password and verify your e-mail address.

Then, go to “Configuration” on the menu and enable the PyPI publishing feature in docassemble configuration like so:

pypi: True

After you save the configuration, go to “Profile” on the menu and fill in “PyPI Username” and “PyPI Password” with the username and password you obtained from PyPI.

Next, go to the “Packages” folder of the docassemble Playground and open the package you want to publish (e.g., docassemble-baseball).

Press the PyPI button to publish the package to PyPI.

If your package already exists on PyPI, then pressing the Publish button will increment the version of your package. This is necessary because you cannot overwrite files that already exist on PyPI.

When the publishing is done, you will see an informational message with the output of the uploading commands. Check this message to see if there are any errors.

If the publishing was successful, then at the bottom of the page describing your package, you should see a message that the package now exists on PyPI.

PyPI Published

You can click on the link to see what the package looks like on PyPI.

PyPi Page

Now, on the docassemble menu (of this server or another server), you can go to Package Management and install the package by typing in “” into the “Package on PyPI” field.

PyPi Install

Publishing on GitHub

You can publish your package on GitHub in addition to (or instead of) publishing it on PyPI. (Publishing on both sites is recommended. PyPI is the simplest and safest way to distribute Python packages, while GitHub is a version control system with many features for facilitating sharing and collaboration.)

To configure integration with GitHub, follow the steps in the setting up GitHub integration section, and edit the GitHub section of the configuration.

When that configuration is done, each user who is a developer will need to connect their GitHub accounts with their accounts on your docassemble server. From the menu, the user should go to “Profile,” click “GitHub integration,” and follow the instructions. If the user is not currently logged in to GitHub in the same browser, GitHub will ask for log in information. (Users without GitHub accounts can create one.) Users will need to give consent to giving the docassemble server to have privileges of making changes to repositories and SSH keys within the GitHub account.

(Note: it is not possible to connect more than one docassemble account on a single docassemble server with the same GitHub account. However, it is possible to connect accounts on multiple servers with the same GitHub account, so long as the appname on each docassemble server is different.)

To publish a package on GitHub, go to the Packages area of the Playground and press the GitHub button. You will be asked for a “commit message.” This is a brief, one-line message that describes the changes made to your package since the last time you “committed” changes. Each “commit” is like a snapshot, and the history of “commit” messages is a record of the development of your project.


When you press the “Commit” button after writing the commit message, your package will be “pushed” to a GitHub repository in your account. If a repository does not already exist on GitHub with the name of your package, a new repository will be created.

GitHub published

You can follow the hyperlink to your package’s page on GitHub.

GitHub repository

After your first commit, GitHub reports that there have been two commits; this is because the initial creation of the repository caused a commit (containing a LICENSE file only) and then the addition of the files of your package caused a second commit.

Once your package is on GitHub, then on the docassemble menu, you can go to Package Management and install the package using its GitHub URL.

GitHub Install

How GitHub integration works

When you commit changes to GitHub, docassemble will first decide whether to create a new repository or commit the changes to an existing repository. It will use the GitHub API to look for a repository that has the same name as your package. That is, if your package is named familylaw, and your GitHub username is jsmith, it will look for the repository If that repository does not exist, docassemble will look through the repositories to which you are permitted to commit ( If no repository called docassemble-familylaw is found, it will search through GitHub “organizations” of which you are a member ( For example, if you are a member of an organization called abcinc, it will look for a repository called

When GitHub integration is enabled, then at the bottom of the Packages screen, you will see a box that says “This package is not yet published on your GitHub account” or “This package is published on GitHub.” If it says “This package is not yet published on your GitHub account,” this means that docassemble was not able to find a package called docassemble-familylaw among your repositories or repositories to which you have access. Thus, when you press the Commit button, a new repository will be created.

If you expect to be able to push changes to a repository in another account, but docassemble is reporting “This package is published on GitHub,” make sure that you actually have access to that repository. One known issue is that if a repository belongs to an organization, and the administrator of that organization adds you as a collaborator on that repository, GitHub will not list that repository in its response to Thus, if you want to be able to make commits to a repository owned by an organization, ask the administrator of the organization to make you a member of the organization.

When you press the “Commit” button, the Git actions that are performed are as follows:

  • git clone is used to copy the files from GitHub to the server.
  • If a commit or pull had previously been performed using the Playground, git checkout is used to switch to the commit that was current as of the time the commit or pull took place.
  • The Playground files that are selected to be part of the package are copied on top of the cloned files.
  • A new branch is created and committed.
  • The new branch is merged into the master branch of the repository and pushed.

This means that the changes you have made in the Playground will not overwrite changes that have been made to the remote repository since the last time you did a “pull” or “commit” in the Playground.

This means that if you delete a file in your Playground, and that file is already part of a GitHub repository, then the next time you do a “pull” or “commit,” that file will be recreated in your Playground. There is no feature in docassemble that implements git rm. Thus, if you want to delete such a file, delete it both on GitHub and in the Playground.

Best practices for packaging your interviews

It is a good practice to bundle related interviews in a single package. Think about making it easy for other people to install your packages on their system and make use of your questions and code.

It is also a good practice to separate your interview into at least three files, separately containing:

This way, other people can take advantage of your work product in interviews that might have a very different purpose.

How docassemble loads modules

During the docassemble web app startup process, the packages in the docassemble namespace are scanned and modules are imported if they contain any class definitions or if the update_language_function() function is called. The early loading of class definitions helps to prevent problems when unpickling data from the SQL database. The update_language_function() has a global effect, and it is important that docassemble’s linguistic behavior is uniform over time and does not vary depending on which interviews the server has used. This also means that you have to be careful about which packages you install on your server – even a package you never use could have an effect on the way your server operates.

If you want to disable the auto-loading of a module, put this line near the top of the .py file (before any class definitions or references to update_language_function()):

# do not pre-load

If this line is present, then the server will not pre-load the module file.