Office Resource Finder

Have you ever been looking for a colleague, printer, or just about any resource in an office and being frustrated there was no map showing you where to go? I have good news for you. I just released Solu, which is a “Self-service Office resource Locator and Updater”. Or “cubicle finder”. Or whatever you want to call it.

This project started as a perfect example of “scratch your own itch”. I was doing some research on how to do REST with Python, and remembered jj recommended Werkzeug at some point, so I took a look. Around the same time I was chatting with our new admin, and noticed the office blueprints on the IT cubicle wall. This lead the two us discussing how nice it would be if there was a map to help us new people around. I ended up saying I could program such a system in 20 hours.

So I ended doing a bit more than research, and studied Werkzeug and jQuery. And although it wasn’t strictly necessary I also spent quite a bit of time researching how to make an easy to deploy package of the application, and how to make it easy to try it out. In the end I spent almost exactly 20 hours on the first version, but I realized I could have done it in about half the time had I used Pylons, mostly because I already knew Pylons and also because the things were I struggled with Werkzeug were already provided by Pylons, or easily integrated into Pylons. After the initial version I’ve spent another 20 hours to fix bugs, write tests, and in general getting it to a stage I felt good to release. Even still it is missing some pieces I know how to do in Pylons, but still don’t know for sure how to deal with them in Werkzeug.

Since I developed this application partially on SpikeSource time, it was nice of them to let me Open Source it to everyone’s benefit.

Some of the things I really enjoyed about Werkzeug include:

  • Interactive Python debugger in the browser
  • Small enough to make the ramp up period quick
  • Good documentation
  • Enough features to provide almost everything I needed
  • Easy to swap template system from Jinja to Mako (since I didn’t want to spend the time to learn Jinja too)
  • Writing tests was easy
  • Easy to work with Unicode
  • Great tutorial which fit my needs almost perfectly

Some of the things I found frustrating about Werkzeug:

  • No builtin mechanism to load application options from a file
  • No help to package the application
  • No cross-site request forgery (CSRF) protection out of the box
  • No internationalization/localization (i18n/l10n) support out of the box
  • No samples or recommendations on how to pass application and options to views and templates
  • No samples or recommendations on how to implement sessions

In the end I used ConfigObj to load the options from an ini file. This was a little trickier than I thought at first because I wanted the manage script to work so that I could run with Werkzeug’s server while testing, but I also wanted to retain WSGI deployment possibility. Packaging took some extra reading about setuptools. CSRF is still a little open, although I got pointers to zine.utils.forms and also found werkzeug.contrib.sessions which should make it possible in the way I was thinking about it. I don’t see CSRF as a huge issue at this point, though, given the data this application handles. I also got some pointers on how to implement get_app() function to get the application object from anywhere, so getting the options stored in the app became easy. I still have some open questions about localization, but those might go away once I actually try to do that.

There are some obvious improvements to Solu, like fixing the CSRF issues, i18n/l10n, multiple and resizeable maps, dealing with errors in a more user-friendly way, and overall making it pretty. I could see someone wanting to pull the information from company LDAP database or some such, and hooking this up with general employee database.

Since I spent so much time making it easy to see what the application is about by providing a website with screenshots, a demo site, easy installation and instructions on how to run your own application, I am interested in hearing how I did.

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2 Comments

  1. robert:

    editing a location on the demo site didn’t work for me: response was “Bad Request”

  2. Heikki Toivonen:

    It works for me. Did you notice that when you edit an entry, you must always enter the old name, even if you didn’t change the name? All the required fields have blue border and bold text.

    Like I mentioned, dealing with errors could be more user friendly. You will get Bad Request if you forget to fill in a field, for example.