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, plugin interfaces and workers. These work together to provide a simple mechanism to extend core CKAN functionality.


This is an advanced topic. At the moment, you need to have prepared your system to work with extensions, as described in Prepare to Use Extensions. We are working to make the most popular extensions more easily available as Debian packages.


The terms extension, plugin interface and worker 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.queue

Individual CKAN extensions may implement one or more plugin interfaces or workers to provide their functionality. You’ll learn about these later on.

Create Your Own Extension

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

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

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_myname
  package:  ckanextmyname
  project:  ckanext-myname
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) ['']: [email protected]
Enter url (URL of homepage) ['']: http://jimmyg.org
Enter license_name (License name) ['']: GPL
Creating template ckanext
Creating directory ./ckanext-myname
  Directory ./ckanext-myname exists
  Skipping hidden file pyenv/src/ckan/ckan/pastertemplates/template/.setup.py_tmpl.swp
  Recursing into ckanext
    Creating ./ckanext-myname/ckanext/
    .svn/ does not exist; cannot add directory
    Recursing into +project+
      Creating ./ckanext-myname/ckanext/myname/
      .svn/ does not exist; cannot add directory
      Copying __init__.py to ./ckanext-myname/ckanext/myname/__init__.py
      .svn/ does not exist; cannot add file
    Copying __init__.py to ./ckanext-myname/ckanext/__init__.py
    .svn/ does not exist; cannot add file
  Copying setup.py_tmpl to ./ckanext-myname/setup.py
  .svn/ does not exist; cannot add file
Running pyenv/bin/python setup.py egg_info

Once you’ve run this you should find your extension is already set up in your virtual environment so you can import it:

(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.myname

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.

Testing 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:

cd /home/ubuntu/pyenv/src/ckan
. ../../bin/activate
paster make-config ckan development.ini

Then make any changes to the development.ini file that you need before continuing:

paster db upgrade
paster serve --reload

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

Finally, if you write a CKAN, extension you may well want to publish it so others can use it too. See the Publishing your extension section below for details.


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:


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




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. Alternativlly see the Plugin API documentation below.


The existing ‘IRoutesExtension’, ‘IMapperExtension’ and ‘ISessionExtension’ should be renamed in the code to not have the word ‘Extension’ in their names.

An Example

Plugin interfaces are basically just Python classes where each method is a hook which allows a plugin that uses the interface to be notified when it is called.

As an example, let’s look at a plugin which gets configuration options from a config file and is called each time a template is rendered in order to add some HTML to the page.


This example is based on real code used to implement the ckanext-disqus plugin to add commenting to datasets. You can see the latest version of this code at http://bitbucket.org/okfn/ckanext-disqus/src/tip/ckanext/plugins/disqus/__init__.py.

First we set up logging and some helpers we’ll need from Genshi to transfer the stream:

import logging
log = logging.getLogger(__name__)

import html
from genshi.core import TEXT
from genshi.input import HTML
from genshi.filters import Transformer

Then we import the CKAN plugin code:

from ckan.plugins.core import SingletonPlugin, implements
from ckan.plugins.interfaces import IConfigurable, IGenshiStreamFilter

In this case we are implementing both the IConfigurable and IGenshiStreamFilter plugin interfaces in our plugin class. The IConfigurable plugin interface defines a configure() method which will be is called on out plugin to let it know about configuration options. The IGenshiStreamFilter plugin interface defines a filter() method which will be called on the plugin to give it the opportunity to change the template before the HTML is returned to the browser.

Let’s have a look at the code:

class Disqus(SingletonPlugin):
    Insert javascript fragments into dataset pages and the home page to
    allow users to view and create comments on any dataset.


    def configure(self, config):
        Called upon CKAN setup, will pass current configuration dict
        to the plugin to read custom options.
        self.disqus_name = config.get('disqus.name', None)
        if self.disqus_name is None:
            log.warn("No disqus forum name is set. Please set \
                'disqus.name' in your .ini!")
            self.disqus_name = 'ckan'

    def filter(self, stream):
        Required to implement IGenshiStreamFilter; will apply some HTML
        transformations to the page currently rendered. Depends on Pylons
        global objects, how can this be fixed without obscuring the

        from pylons import request, tmpl_context as c
        routes = request.environ.get('pylons.routes_dict')

        if routes.get('controller') == 'package' and \
            routes.get('action') == 'read' and c.pkg.id:
            data = {'name': self.disqus_name,
                    'identifier': 'pkg-' + c.pkg.id}
            stream = stream | Transformer('body')\
                .append(HTML(html.BOTTOM_CODE % data))
            stream = stream | Transformer('body//div[@id="comments"]')\
                .append(HTML(html.COMMENT_CODE % data))

        if routes.get('controller') == 'home' and \
            routes.get('action') == 'index':
            data = {'name': self.disqus_name}
            stream = stream | Transformer('body//\
                .append(HTML(html.LATEST_CODE % data))

        return stream

Notice that the Disqus class explicitly states that it implements IConfigurable and IGenshiStreamFilter with these two lines:


Also notice that Disqus inherits from SingletonPlugin. This means that only one instance of the plugin is needed to provide the service. There is also a Plugin class for occasions where you need multiple instances.

By carefully choosing the plugin interfaces your plugin uses you can hook into lots of parts of CKAN. Later on you’ll see how to write your own plugin interfaces to define your own “hooks”. Before we can use the Disqus plugin there is one more thing to do: add it to the extension and set an entry point.

Setting the Entry Point

Imagine the code above was saved into a file named disqus.py in the ckanext-myname/ckanext/myname directory of the extension that was created earlier by the paster create -t ckanext ckanext-myname command.

At this point CKAN still doesn’t know where to find your plugin, even though the module is installed. To find the plugin it looks up an entry point. An entry point is just a feature of setuptools that links a string in the form package_name.entry_point_name to a particular object in Python code.

CKAN finds plugins by searching for entry points in the group ckan.plugin.

Entry points are defined in a package’s setup.py file. If you look in the setup.py file for the ckanext-myname extension you’ll see these lines commented out towards the end:

# Add plugins here, eg
# myplugin=ckanext.myname:PluginClass

The entry point will be called without any parameters and must return an instance of ckan.plugins.Plugin.

To enable the Disqus plugin uncomment the bottom line and change it to this:


Any time you change the setup.py file you will need to run one of these two commands again before the change will take effect:

python setup.py develop
python setup.py egg_info

With your entry point in place and installed you can now add the extension to your CKAN config as described earlier. To add our example Disqus plugin you would change your ~/var/srvc/ckan.net/ckan.net.ini config file like this:

ckan.plugins = disqus_example

Note that the name of the plugin implementation that you give to ckan.plugins is always the same as the name of the entry point you’ve defined in the setup.py file. It is therefore important that you don’t choose an entry point name that is being used by in any existing extension to refer to its plugins.

The same extension can have multiple different plugins, all implementing different interfaces to provide useful functionality. For each new plugin your extension implements you need to add another entry point (remembering to re-run python setup.py develop if needed). Your users will then need to add the new entry point name to their ckan.plugins config option too.

Writing a Database Plugin

You’ve seen how to use IConfigurable and IGenshiStreamFilter. Here’s another example which implements IMapperExtension to log messages after any record is inserted into the database.

from logging import getLogger
from ckan.plugins import implements, SingletonPlugin
from ckan.plugins import IMapperExtension

log = getLogger(__name__)

class InsertLoggerPlugin(SingletonPlugin):
        Emit a log line when objects are inserted into the database

        implements(IMapperExtension, inherit=True)

        def after_insert(mapper, connection, instance):
                log.info('Object %r was inserted', instance)

Authorization Group Plugins

If you are writing an authorization group plugin you might like to use the code at this URL as a basis:


Publishing Your Extension

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 on http://wiki.ckan.net.

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 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())

The Queue Extension


The queue extension is currently under development. These docs may not work for you.

Certain tasks that CKAN performs lend themselves to the use of a queue system. Queue systems can be very simple. At their heart is the idea that you have two separate processes, a publisher and a consumer. The publisher publishes a message of some description to the queue and at another time, the consumer takes that message off the queue and processes it.

By writing code that puts things on the queue and then writing workers to take things off, you can build lots of useful functionality. At the moment we are writing facilities to check for broken links and harvest documents from geodata servers.

To use the queue in CKAN you need the ckanext-queue package. To install the latest version of ckanext-queue in editable more so that you can look at the source code run:

pip install -e hg+http://bitbucket.org/okfn/ckanext-queue#egg=ckanext-queue

You will then see the source code in /pyenv/src/ckanext-queue/ckanext/queue and README file in /pyenv/src/ckanext-queue/README.md.

Installing ckanext-queue will also install a worker command you will use in a minute to run workers against the queue.

Internally the queue extension uses the carrot library so that we could potentially use different queue backends at some point in the future. For the moment only the AMQP backend is supported so let’s install an AMQP server called RabbitMQ.

Installing RabbitMQ


First you need to install Erlang. To do that first install its dependencies:

yum install ncurses-devel flex.x86_64 m4.x86_64 openssl-devel.x86_64 unixODBC-devel.x86_64

Install Erlang like this:

wget http://www.erlang.org/download/otp_src_R14B.tar.gz
tar zxfv otp_src_R14B.tar.gz
cd otp_src_R14B
LANG=C; export LANG
./configure --prefix=/opt/erlang_R14B
make install

Next download and install RabbitMQ:

wget http://www.rabbitmq.com/releases/rabbitmq-server/v2.2.0/rabbitmq-server-2.2.0-1.noarch.rpm
rpm -Uhv --no-deps rabbitmq-server-2.2.0-1.noarch.rpm

Finally edit the /etc/init.d/rabbitmq-server script so that it uses the correct path for your Erlang install. Change this line




You can start it like this:

/etc/init.d/rabbitmq-server start


Just run:

sudo apt-get install rabbitmq-server

Working Directly with Carrot

As you learned earlier, CKAN uses carrot with the pyamqplib backend. Carrot is well-documented at this URL:


Before you learn how to use the tools that ckanext-queue uses to work with the queue, it is instructive to see a simple example that uses carrot directly.

Save this as publisher.py:

from carrot.connection import BrokerConnection
conn = BrokerConnection(

from carrot.messaging import Publisher
publisher = Publisher(
publisher.send({"import_feed": "http://cnn.com/rss/edition.rss"})

Now save this as consumer.py:

from carrot.connection import BrokerConnection
conn = BrokerConnection(

from carrot.messaging import Consumer
consumer = Consumer(
def import_feed_callback(message_data, message):
    feed_url = message_data["import_feed"]
    print("Got message for: %s" % feed_url)
    # something importing this feed url
    # import_feed(feed_url)
# Go into the consumer loop.

You’ll notice that both examples set up a connection to the same AMQP server with the same settings, in this case running on localhost. These also happen to be the settings that (at the time of writing) ckanext-queue uses by default if you don’t specify other configuration settings.

Make sure you have ckanext-queue installed (so that carrot and its dependencies are installed too) then start the consumer:

python consumer.py

In a different console run the publisher:

python publisher.py

The publisher will quickly exit but if you now switch back to the consumer you’ll see the message was sent to the queue and the consumer recieved it printing this message:

Got message for: http://cnn.com/rss/edition.rss

Working with CKANext Queue

Rather than working with carrot publishers and consumers directly, ckanext-queue provides two useful Python objects to help you:


This returns a Publisher instance which has a send() method for adding an item to the queue.

The config object is the same as pylons.config. If you are writing a standalone script, you can obtain a config object from a config file with code similar to this, adjusting the relative_to option as necessary:

from paste.deploy import appconfig
config = appconfig('config:development.ini', relative_to='pyenv/src/ckan')


This is a base class which you can inherit from. You can override its consume() method to asynchronously pull items from the queue to do useful things


To use the queue extension you don’t need to implement any new plugin interfaces, you just need to use the get_publisher(config).send() method and the Worker class. Of course your own extension might use plugins to hook into other parts of CKAN to get information to put or retrieve from the queue.

The worker implementation runs outside the CKAN server process, interacting directly with both the AMQP queue and the CKAN API (to get CKAN data). The Worker class therefore subclasses both the carrot Consumer class and the ckanclient CkanClient class so that your workers can make calls to the running CKAN server via its API.

Writing a Publisher

Here’s a simple publisher. Save it as publish_on_queue.py:

from ckanext.queue import connection
from paste.deploy import appconfig

import logging

config = appconfig('config:ckan.ini', relative_to='.')
publisher = connection.get_publisher(config)
publisher.send({"import_feed": "http://cnn.com/rss/edition.rss"})
print "Sent!"

Note that this requires a ckan.ini file relative to the current working directory to run. Here’s what a sample file will look like:

use = egg:ckan
ckan.site_id = local
queue.port = 5672
queue.user_id = guest
queue.password = guest
queue.hostnane = localhost
queue.virtual_host = /

The idea here is that publishers you write will be able to use the same settings as CKAN itself would. In the next section you’ll see how these same options and more to a standard CKAN install config file to enable CKAN to use the RabbitMQ queue.

With the consumer.py script still running, execute the new script:

python publish_on_queue.py

You’ll see that once again the consumer picks up the message.

Writing a Worker

Now let’s replace the consumer with a worker.

Each worker should have its own config file. There is an example you can use named worker.cfg in the ckanext-queue source code. If you don’t specify a config file, the defaults will be used.


Since the worker.cfg and CKAN configuration file are both in INI file format you can also set these variables directly in your CKAN config file and point the worker directly to your CKAN config instead. It will just ignore the CKAN options.

In particular it is worth setting queue.name which will be used internally by RabbitMQ.

Here’s a suitable configuration for a worker:

ckan.site_id = local_test
ckan.site_url = http://localhost:5000
ckan.api_key = XXX

# queue.name =
# queue.routing_key = *

# queue.port =
# queue.user_id =
# queue.password =
# queue.hostname =
# queue.virtual_host =

You can run it like this:

worker echo -d -c worker.cfg

The echo example comes from ckanext.queue.echo:EchoWorker. It looks like this:

from worker import Worker
from pprint import pprint

class EchoWorker(Worker):

    def consume(self, routing_key, operation, payload):
        print "Route %s, op %s" % (routing_key, operation)

The EchoWorker has an entry point registered in ckanext-queue‘s setup.py so that the worker script in pyenv/bin/worker can find it:

echo = ckanext.queue.echo:EchoWorker

When you run the worker command with the echo worker it looks up this entry point to run the correct code.

With the worker still running, try to run the publisher again:

python publish_on_queue.py

Once again the message will be output on the command line, this time via the worker.

Internally the worker script you just used uses the ckanext.queue.worker.WorkerChain class to run all workers you specify on the command line. You can get a list of all available workers by executing worker with no arguments.

# worker
WARNING:root:No config file specified, using worker.cfg
ERROR:ckanext.queue.worker:No workers. Aborting.

Configuring CKAN to use the queue

Once you have installed RabbitMQ and have it running you need to enable the CKAN queue functionality within CKAN by adding this to your CKAN config file

ckan.plugins = queue

You don’t need to specify configuration options to connect to RabbitMQ because the defaults are fine.

At this point if you edit a dataset it should be using the queue. If you have the echo worker running you’ll see the message added to the queue.


When using the queue with CKAN it is also useful to have logging set up.

To get logging working you need to modify your CKAN config file to also include the queue logger. Here’s an example:

keys = root, queue

keys = console

keys = generic

level = INFO
handlers = console

level = DEBUG
handlers = console
qualname = ckanext

You will also need to set this in your CKAN configuration and ensure any workers and producers also set their ckan.site_id to the same value.

ckan.site_id = local_test

Now that you know about extensions, plugins and workers you should be able to extend CKAN in lots of new and interesting ways.