Django Preserialize

Convert your model instances and querysets into dicts and list with style.

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django-preserialize is a one-stop shop for ensuring an object is free of Model and QuerySet instances. By default, all non-relational fields will be included as well as the primary keys of local related fields. The resulting containers will simply be dicts and lists.


pip install django-preserialize


A serialized user object might look like this:

>>> from preserialize.serialize import serialize
>>> serialize(user)
    'date_joined': datetime.datetime(2009, 5, 16, 15, 52, 40),
    'email': u'',
    'first_name': u'Jon',
    'groups': [5],
    'id': 1,
    'is_active': True,
    'is_staff': True,
    'is_superuser': True,
    'last_login': datetime.datetime(2012, 3, 3, 17, 40, 41, 927637),
    'last_name': u'Doe',
    'password': u'!',
    'user_permissions': [1, 2, 3],
    'username': u'jdoe'

This can then be passed off to a serializer/encoder, e.g. JSON, to turn it into a string for the response body (or whatever else you want to do).

Serialize Options

Some fields may not be appropriate or relevent to include as output. To customize which fields get included or excluded, the following arguments can be passed to serialize:


A list of fields names to include. Method names can also be specified that will be called when being serialized. Default is all local fields and local related fields. See also: exclude, aliases


A list of fields names to exclude (this takes precedence over fields). Default is None. See also: fields, aliases


A dict of related object accessors and configs (see below) for handling related objects.


This option only applies to QuerySets. Returns a list of lists with the field values (like Django's ValuesListQuerySet). Default is False.


Applies only if one field is specified in fields. If applied to a QuerySet and if values_list is True the values will be flattened out. If applied to a model instance, the single field value will used (in place of the dict). Note, if merge is true, this option has not effect. Default is True.


A string to be use to prefix the dict keys. To enable dynamic prefixes, the prefix may contain '%(accessor)s' which will be the class name for top-level objects or the accessor name for related objects. Default is None.


A dictionary that maps the keys of the output dictionary to the actual field/method names referencing the data. Default is None. See also: fields


Converts all keys to a camel-case equivalent. This is merely a convenience for conforming to language convention for consumers of this content, namely JavaScript. Default is False.


Allow for missing fields (rather than throwing an error) and fill in the value with None.


Hooks enable altering the objects that are serialized at each level.


A function that takes and returns an object. For QuerySets it can be used for filtering or annotating additional data to each model instance. For Model instances it can be prefetching additional data, swapping out an instance or whatever is necessary prior to serialization.

Since filtering QuerySets is a common use case, a simple dict can be supplied instead of a function that will be passed to the filter method.

Here are two examples for filtering posts by the requesting user.

The shorthand method of using a dict:

def view(request):
    template = {
        'related': {
            'posts': {
                'prehook': {'user': request.user},

For applying conditional logic, a function can be used:

from functools import partial

def filter_by_user(queryset, request):
    if not request.user.is_superuser:
        queryset = queryset.filter(user=request.user)
    return queryset

def view(request):
    template = {
        'related': {
            'posts': {
                'prehook': partial(filter_by_user, request=request)


A function that takes the original model instance and the serialized attrs for post-processing. This is specifically useful for augmenting or modifying the data prior to being added to the large serialized data structure.

Even if the related object (like posts above) is a QuerySet, this hook is applied per object in the QuerySet. This is because it would rarely ever be necessary to process a list of objects as a whole since filtering can already be performed above (using the prehook) prior to serialization.

Here is an example of adding resource links to the output data based on the serialized attributes:

from functools import partial
from django.core.urlresolvers import reverse

def add_resource_links(instance, attrs, request):
    uri = request.build_absolute_uri
    attrs['_links'] = {
        'self': {
            'href': uri(reverse('api:foo:bar', kwargs={'pk':})),
    return attrs

template = {
    'posthook': partial(add_resource_links, request=request),


# The field names listed are after the mapping occurs
>>> serialize(user, fields=['username', 'full_name'], aliases={'full_name': 'get_full_name'}, camelcase=True)
    'fullName': u'Jon Doe',
    'username': u'jdoe'

>>> serialize(user, exclude=['password', 'groups', 'permissions'])
    'date_joined': datetime.datetime(2009, 5, 16, 15, 52, 40),
    'email': u'',
    'first_name': u'Jon',
    'id': 1,
    'is_active': True,
    'is_staff': True,
    'is_superuser': True,
    'last_login': datetime.datetime(2012, 3, 3, 17, 40, 41, 927637),
    'last_name': u'Doe',
    'username': u'jdoe'

>>> serialize(user, fields=['foo', 'bar', 'baz'], allow_missing=True)
    'foo': None,
    'bar': None,
    'baz': None,

Related Objects

Composite resources are common when dealing with data that have tight relationships. A user and their user profile is an example of this. It is inefficient for a client to have to make two separate requests for data that is typically always consumed together.

serialize supports the related keyword argument for defining options for relational fields. The following additional argument (to the above) may be defined:


This option only applies to local ForeignKey or OneToOneField. This allows for merging the related object's fields into the parent object.

>>> serialize(user, related={'groups': {'fields': ['name']}, 'profile': {'merge': True}})
    'username': u'jdoe',
    'groups': [{
        'name': u'Managers'
    # profile attributes merged into the user
    'twitter': '@jdoe',
    'mobile': '123-456-7890',


Define a template dict for each model that will be serialized.

Defining a template enables reuse across different serialized objects as well as increases readability and maintainability. Deconstructing the above example, we have:

# Render a list of group names.. note that 'values_list'
# options is implied here since there is only one field
# specified. It is here to be explicit.
group_template = {
    'fields': ['name'],
    'values_list': True,

# User profiles are typically always wanted to be merged into
# User, so we can add the 'merge' option. Remember this simply
# gets ignored if 'UserProfile' is the top-level object being
# serialized.
profile_template = {
    `exclude`: ['user'],
    'merge': True,

# Users typically always include some related data (groups and their
# profile), so we can reference the above templates in this one.
user_template = {
    'exclude': ['password', 'user_permissions'],
    'related': {
        'groups': group_template,
        'profile': profile_template,

# Everyone is the pool!
users = User.objects.all()
# Now we can use Python's wonderful argument _unpacking_ syntax.
# Clean.
serialize(users, **user_template)


Does the serializer only understand model fields?

No. In fact it is smart about accessing the field. The following steps are taken when attempting to get the value:

  1. Use hasattr to check if an attribute/property is present
  2. If the object support __getitem__, check if the key is present

Assuming one of those two methods succeed, it will check if the value is callable and will call it (useful for methods). If the value is a RelatedManager, it will resolve the QuerySet and recursive downstream.

Does the serializer only support model instances?

No. It is not always the case that a single model instance or queryset is the source of data for a resource. serialize also understands dicts and any iterable of dicts. They will be treated similarly to the model instances.

My model has a ton of fields and I don't want to type them all out. What do I do?

The fields and exclude options understands four pseudo-selectors which can be used in place of typing out all of a model's field names (although being explicit is typically better).


The primary key field of the model


All local fields on a model (including local foreign keys and many-to-many fields)


All related fields (reverse foreign key and many-to-many)


A composite of all selectors above and thus any an all fields on or related to a model

You can use them like this:

# The two selectors here are actually the default, but defined
# for the example.
serialize(user, fields=[':pk', ':local', 'foo'], exclude=['password'])



  • Update posthook to take the original instance as the first argument and the serialized data as the second argument
  • Ensure the passed object is returned from serialize even if it does not qualify to be processed


  • Fix bug where the flat option was not respecting merge
    • If merge is set, it takes precedence over flat


  • Add prehook and posthook options
  • Add support for flat option for model instances with a single field
  • Rename key_map to aliases for clarity
  • Rename key_prefix to prefix
    • It is implied the prefix applies to the keys since this a serialization utility
  • Internal clean up
  • Correct documentation regarding the flat option
    • It was incorrectly named flatten