Understand and Write Extensions

If you want to extend CKAN core functionality, the best way to do so is by writing extensions.

Extensions allow you to customise CKAN for your own requirements, without interfering with the basic CKAN system.

To meet the need to customize CKAN efficiently, we have introduced the concepts of CKAN extensions and plugin interfaces. These work together to provide a simple mechanism to extend core CKAN functionality.


This is an advanced topic. We are working to make the most popular extensions more easily available as Debian packages.


The terms extension and plugin interface have very precise meanings: the use of the generic word plugin to describe any way in which CKAN might be extended is deprecated.

CKAN Extensions

Extensions are implemented as namespace packages under the ckanext package which means that they can be imported like this:

$ python
>>> import ckanext.example

Individual CKAN extensions may implement one or more plugin interfaces to provide their functionality.

Creating CKAN Extensions

All CKAN extensions must start with the name ckanext-. You can create your own CKAN extension like this:

(pyenv)$ paster create -t ckanext ckanext-myextension

You’ll get prompted to complete a number of variables which will be used in your dataset. You change these later by editing the generated setup.py file. Here’s some example output:

Selected and implied templates:
  ckan#ckanext  CKAN extension project template

  egg:      ckanext_myextension
  package:  ckanextmyextension
  project:  ckanext-myextension
Enter version (Version (like 0.1)) ['']: 0.4
Enter description (One-line description of the package) ['']: Great extension package
Enter author (Author name) ['']: James Gardner
Enter author_email (Author email) ['']: james.gardner@okfn.org
Enter url (URL of homepage) ['']: http://jimmyg.org
Enter license_name (License name) ['']: GPL
Creating template ckanext
Creating directory ./ckanext-myextension
  Directory ./ckanext-myextension exists
  Skipping hidden file pyenv/src/ckan/ckan/pastertemplates/template/.setup.py_tmpl.swp
  Recursing into ckanext
    Creating ./ckanext-myextension/ckanext/
    .svn/ does not exist; cannot add directory
    Recursing into +project+
      Creating ./ckanext-myextension/ckanext/myextension/
      .svn/ does not exist; cannot add directory
      Copying __init__.py to ./ckanext-myextension/ckanext/myextension/__init__.py
      .svn/ does not exist; cannot add file
    Copying __init__.py to ./ckanext-myextension/ckanext/__init__.py
    .svn/ does not exist; cannot add file
  Copying setup.py_tmpl to ./ckanext-myextension/setup.py
  .svn/ does not exist; cannot add file
Running pyenv/bin/python setup.py egg_info

Once you’ve run this, you should now install the extension in your virtual environment:

(pyenv)$ cd ckanext-myextension
(pyenv)$ python setup.py develop
(pyenv)$ python
Python 2.6.6 (r266:84292, Oct  6 2010, 16:19:55)
[GCC 4.1.2 20080704 (Red Hat 4.1.2-48)] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import ckanext.myextension


Running python setup.py develop will add a .egg-link file to your python site-packages directory (which is on your python path). This allows your extension to be imported and used, with any changes made to the extension source code showing up immediately without needing to be reinstalled, which is very useful during development.

To instead install a python package by copying all of the files to the site-packages directory run python setup.py install.

To build useful extensions you need to be able to “hook into” different parts of CKAN in order to extend its functionality. You do this using CKAN’s plugin architecture. We’ll look at this in the next section.

Plugins: An Overview

Plugin interfaces provide a specification which extensions can implement in order to “hook into” core CKAN functionality.

The CKAN plugin implementation is based on the PyUtilib component architecture (PCA). Here’s a quick summary, we’ll go through all this in much more detail in a minute:

  1. The CKAN core contains various plugin interfaces, each specifying a set of methods where plugins may hook into the software. For example a plugin wanting to hook into the SQLAlchemy mapping layer would need to implement the IMapperExtension interface.
  2. A plugin is a class that derives from ckan.plugins.Plugin or more commonly SingletonPlugin. It must also implement one of the plugin interfaces exposed in ckan.plugins.interfaces. The choice interface determines the functionality the plugin is expected to provide.
  3. Plugin objects must be registered as setuptools entry points. The ckan.plugins configuration directive is searched for names of plugin entry points to load and activate.

Here’s a list of some of the more commonly used plugin interfaces:

Provide a custom dataset form and schema.
Listens and react to every database change.
IRoutes and IController
Provide an implementation to handle a particular URL.
Intercept template rendering to modify the output.
Listens for changes to CKAN domain objects.
Plugins for in the groups controller. These will usually be called just before committing or returning the respective object, i.e. all validation, synchronization and authorization setup are complete.
Pass configuration to plugins and extensions.
Allows customisation of the default Authorization behaviour.

If you look in ckan/plugins/interfaces.py you will see the latest plugin interfaces. Alternatively see the Plugin API documentation below.

Example CKAN Extension

A example CKAN extension can be found at http://github.com/okfn/ckanext-example. Have a look at the README file for installation instructions.

Publishing Extensions

At this point you might want to share your extension with the public.

First check you have chosen an open source licence (e.g. the MIT licence) and then update the long_description variable in setup.py to explain what the extension does and which entry point names a user of the extension will need to add to their ckan.plugins configuration.

Once you are happy, run the following commands to register your extension on the Python Package Index:

python setup.py register
python setup.py sdist upload

You’ll then see your extension at http://pypi.python.org/pypi. Others will be able to install your plugin with pip.

Finally, please also add a summary of your extension and its entry points to the Extensions page at http://wiki.ckan.org/Extensions.

Writing a Plugin Interface

This describes how to add a plugin interface to make core CKAN code pluggable.

Suppose you have a class such as this:

class DataInput(object):

    def accept_new_data(self, data):
        self.data = data

And you want plugins to hook into accept_new_data to modify the data.

You would start by declaring an interface specifying the methods that plugin classes must provide. You would add the following code to ckan/plugins/interfaces.py:

class IDataMunger(Interface):

    def munge(self, data):
        return data

Now you can tell this class that its plugins are anything that implements IDataMunger like this:

from ckan.plugins import PluginImplementations, IDataMunger

class DataInput(object):

    plugins = PluginImplementations(IDataMunger)

    def accept_new_data(self, data):
       for plugin in self.plugins:
           data = plugin.munge(data)
       self.data = data

Any registered plugins that implement IDataMunger will then be available in your class via self.plugin.

See the pyutilib documentation for more information on creating interfaces and plugins. However, be aware that pyutilib uses slightly different terminology. It calls PluginImplementations ExtensionPoint and it calls instances of a plugin object a service.


Testing CKAN Extensions

CKAN extensions ordinarily have their own test.ini that refers to the CKAN test.ini, so you can run them in exactly the same way. For example:

cd ckanext-dgu
nosetests ckanext/dgu/tests --ckan
nosetests ckanext/dgu/tests --ckan --with-pylons=test-core.ini

To test your changes you’ll need to use the paster serve command from the ckan directory:

paster serve --reload -c <path to your CKAN config file>

You should also make sure that your CKAN installation passes the developer tests, as described in Testing for Developers.

Testing Plugins

When writing tests for your plugin code you will need setup and teardown code similar to the following to ensure that your plugin is loaded while testing:

from ckan import plugins

class TestMyPlugin(TestCase):

   def setup_class(cls):
       # Use the entry point name of your plugin as declared
       # in your package's setup.py

   def teardown_class(cls):

The exception to using plugins.load() is for when your plug-in is for routes. In this case, the plugin must be configured before the WSGI app is started. Here is an example test set-up:

from paste.deploy import appconfig
import paste.fixture
from ckan.config.middleware import make_app
from ckan.tests import conf_dir

class TestMyRoutesPlugin(TestCase):

    def setup_class(cls):
        config = appconfig('config:test.ini', relative_to=conf_dir)
        config.local_conf['ckan.plugins'] = 'my_routes_plugin'
        wsgiapp = make_app(config.global_conf, **config.local_conf)
        cls.app = paste.fixture.TestApp(wsgiapp)

At this point you should be able to write your own plugins and extensions together with their tests.

Ordering of Extensions


The order in which extensions are initially loaded is different to the order that their plugins are run.

The order in which extensions are initially loaded is as follows:

  1. System plugins (in setup.py under ckan.system_plugins).
  2. In order of the plugins specified in the config file: plugins =.
  3. If more than one module has a plugin with the same name specified in the config, then all those are loaded, in the order the modules appear in sys.path.

The order that a plugins are run in, for example the order that IRoutes extensions have their before_map method run, is alphabetical by the plugin class.

e.g. here is the order for these four extensions: <Plugin DguInventoryPlugin>, <Plugin FormApiPlugin>, <Plugin StatsPlugin>, <Plugin WalesThemePlugin>

(This alphabetical ordering is done by pyutilib.component.core:ExtensionPoint.extensions())