identify pattern

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identify pattern


The identify module is a wq.db design pattern for managing multiple arbitrary identifiers for entities in a data management project. For example, it can be used in a volunteer monitoring project to track official identifiers for monitoring sites in addition to those used by the project internally.


Most database tables have a primary key, which is usually only meaningful to the database itself. In many database structures, it is common to also have additional "friendly" identifiers for each entity. These identifiers might be created internally by project administrators, or they may be assigned by third party agencies. If there is only one or two identifiers per entity, it can be reasonable to create new database columns on the entity table for each identifier type. However, this requires developer intervention whenever a new identifier type needs to be added (for example, when a new third-party network is joined that uses different identifiers for their sites). In addition, it makes it harder to run queries that search on all identifiers since each column needs to be explicitly referenced.

The identify module facilitates replacing these multiple columns with a separate identifier table to make identifiers easier to manage. Like the other wq.db design patterns, the identify module follows an Entity-Attribute-Value (EAV) data model. This makes it possible to assign additional identifiers to an existing entity without changing the database schema.

The identify module enables a number of related tasks: * Managing third-party identifiers, including (where applicable) generating URLs to the authoritative third party web pages for those identifiers. * Matching columns in a spreadsheet to field names in the database (in the dbio project). * Generating "permalinks" or user-friendly URLs for project web pages that correspond to database records (e.g. in the general REST API) * Searching the entire database for entities in any table with a given identifier (in the search contrib module)

The identify module is among the original wq.db modules discussed in the paper wq: A modular framework for collecting, storing, and utilizing experiential VGI. Since that paper, this module has been renamed from wq.db.identify to wq.db.patterns.identify.


To use the identify pattern in your project, add the following to your settings.py:

# myproject/settings.py

Then, create one or more models extending IdentifiedModel.

# myapp/models.py
from wq.db.patterns import models as patterns
# or:
# from wq.db.patterns.identify.models import IdentifiedModel

class MyModel(patterns.IdentifiedModel):

The full API is described below.

Model Classes


IdentifiedModel is an abstract base class that enables the identify API for models that extend it. It extends NaturalKeyModel and provides the following additional and overridden attributes.

name purpose
objects A custom ModelManager with additional query methods for working with identifiers (see below).
identifiers A GenericRelation referencing all of the Identifier instances for the model
primary_identifier A reference to the primary Identifier instance for the model
primary_identifiers A GenericRelation referencing all of the PrimaryIdentifier instances for this model instance (there should only be one). Used for ORM queries - if you already have a model instance and just want its identifier you can use primary_identifier.
__str__ A string representation of the object. Defaults to the name of the primary_identifier, or the name of the model itself if the model has no identifiers but has a name property. Override fallback_identifier to customize this functionality.
natural_key A unique natural key for the model. Defaults to the slug of the primary_identifier, or the primary key of the model if there is no primary identifier.

Manager Class

All IdentifiedModel subclasses come with an enhanced ModelManager that simplifies common operations affecting both IdentifiedModel classes and the Identifier class.

from myapp.models import MyModel

# Find object matching the given identifier.
# Primary identifiers will be searched first, then all identifiers
instance = MyModel.objects.get_by_identifier("EXAMPLE-0001")
instance = MyModel.objects.get_by_natural_key("EXAMPLE-0001")  # Equivalent

# Find an object with the given identifier, automatically creating it (and its primary
# identifier) if it doesn't exist.
instance, is_new = MyModel.objects.get_or_create_by_natural_key("EXAMPLE-0001")

# Shortcut for get_or_create_by_natural_key()[0]
instance = MyModel.objects.find("EXAMPLE-0001")

The custom manager class also includes a custom queryset that orders regular filter() and all() results by their identifiers.


The Authority model provides an optional means of organizing Identifiers by the authority that assigned them, if any. (Another potential name for this class would have been IdentifierType.) Authority instances have the following fields:

field purpose
name The name of an organization or agency that creates identifiers
homepage The homepage of the organization or agency
object_url A string template to be used when generating URLs pointing to the authoritative page for an identifier (e.g. http://example.com/widgets.php?id=%s). The %s placeholder will be replaced with the slug from each identifier.


The Identifier model contains the identifiers for all IdentifiedModels in the database. It includes the following fields:

field purpose
name The human-readable version of the identifier
slug The machine-readable version of the identifier (if different than the name)
authority An optional reference to the Authority that created the identifier
content_object A GenericForeignKey referencing the model the identifier refers to
is_primary Whether the identifier is the primary identifier for the referenced model

Identifier model instances have a url property that is automatically generated from authority.object_url and slug.

Identifiers have an explicit default ordering. Primary identifiers will be listed first, then the rest will be sorted by authority and name. This ordering can be overridden by setting the WQ_IDENTIFIER_ORDER setting.


Identifier.objects is a custom manager class that provides a number of additional capabilities for working with identifiers.

method purpose
get_for_object(obj) Retrieves all of the identifier instances for the given object. Faster than a normal get() since the results are cached.
filter_by_identifier(identifier) Return Identifier instances with either a slug or a name that matches the given text, prioritizing those with is_primary=True
resolve(identifiers, exclude_apps=[]) Attempt to resolve a list of identifiers. Returns two dictionaries, resolved and unresolved, with the keys corresponding to the input identifiers and the values corresponding to the results. Identifiers that matched exactly one object will be listed in the resolved dict, those that matched zero or more than one will be listed in the unresolved dict with an array of potential matches.
find_unique_slug(name, model) Determine a unique (at least within the model) slug for an identifier name (used to generate slugs for Identifiers that don't have them).

Web Interface

wq.db.rest configuration

By default, IdentifiedModels are serialized by wq.db using the slug of the primary identifier as the "id" field. The same slug is also used to look up identifiers sent in a client request. This makes it appear from the API that the Identifier slug is the primary key, even though a different key is actually used by Django internally.

When registered with the provided IdentifiedModelSerializer (recommended), IdentifiedModels are serialized with an identifiers attribute that lists all of the identifiers assigned to the model.

# myapp/rest.py
from wq.db import rest
from wq.db.patterns import rest as patterns
from .models import MyModel



// /mymodels/my-instance.json
  "id": "my-instance",
  "label": "My Instance",
  "identifiers": [
      "id": 123, 
      "name": "My Instance", 
      "slug": "my-instance", 
      "is_primary": true, 
      "url": null, 
      "authority_id": null, 
      "authority_label": null
      "id": 124, 
      "name": "ABC123", 
      "slug": "ABC123", 
      "is_primary": false,
      "url": "http://example.com/widgets.php?id=ABC123",
      "authority_id": 5, 
      "authority_label": "Example Authority"

Template Conventions

When rendering the list of identifiers in detail or edit views, the above representation can be used to retrieve the existing values. When rendering a form, specially-named form fields should be used to ensure the proper identifiers are created or updated on the server when the form is submitted.

The basic naming convention is based on the HTML JSON forms specification. For example, the second identifier in the above example might be rendered into <input>s as follows:

<input type="hidden" name="identifiers[1][id]" value="124">
<input type="hidden" name="identifiers[1][authority_id]" value="5">
<input name="identifiers[1][name]" value="ABC123">
<input name="identifiers[1][slug]" value="ABC123">
<input name="identifiers[1][is_primary]" value="">

To accomplish this, the Mustache template might look something like this:

<input type="hidden" name="identifiers[{{@index}}][id]" value="{{id}}">
<input type="hidden" name="identifiers[{{@index}}][authority_id]" value="{{authority_id}}">
<input name="identifiers[{{@index}}][name]" value="{{name}}">
<input name="identifiers[{{@index}}][slug]" value="{{slug}}">
<input name="identifiers[{{@index}}][is_primary]" value="{{#is_primary}}1{{/is_primary}}">

Default Identifier List

When rendering "new" screens (which use the same template as edit screens), wq/app.js will automatically generate a list of blank identifiers for all authorities. This makes it possible to generate form widgets for all potential identifiers. Any identifier fields that are left blank will not be created. To customize which Authorities are listed for new items, override the getTypeFilter() function in attachmentTypes.identifier (see wq/app.js for more information).

Custom URL-based Filtering

The identify pattern includes a very flexible URL-based filtering mechanism for use with custom views. This functionality was originally provided as a part of wq.db.contrib.chart but has been extracted for general use. For example, a URL of the form:


might return two timeseries datasets, corresponding to each of two parameters measured at site1. Similarly, a URL of the form:


might return data for the same parameter at two different sites.

This functionality is available through a filter backend that can be added to your views:

from rest_pandas import PandasView
from wq.db.patterns.identify.filters import IdentifierFilterBackend
class ChartView(PandasView):
    filter_backends = [IdentifierFilterBackend]

Any relevant IdentifiedModel can be used to filter the queryset. These models would generally be referenced via direct or indirect ForeignKey relationships from the time series model. To perform the filtering, the URL will be split into slugs, which will be matched against the Identifier database to resolve them into model names and primary keys.

Once the model names and primary keys are identified, the chart views will search for functions of the form filter_by_[model]() defined on the view, or on a subclass of IdentifierFilterBackend. The filter functions should accept a queryset and a list of primary keys. For example, filters for vera's Site and Parameter models are defined in vera's ChartFilterBackend like this:

from wq.db.patterns.identify.filters import IdentifierFilterBackend

class ChartFilterBackend(IdentifierFilterBackend):
    def filter_by_site(self, qs, ids):
        return qs.filter(event_site__in=ids)

    def filter_by_parameter(self, qs, ids):
        return qs.filter(result_type__in=ids)

Any unrecognized identifiers in the URL will be passed as-is to the function filter_by_extra(qs, slugs). The default implementation of this function will simply ignore the unknown identifiers unless ignore_extra = False is set on the filter backend.

To leverage the URL-based filters, you will want to configure your urls.py with something like the following.

from django.conf.urls import patterns, include, url
from myapp.views import ChartView

urlpatterns = patterns('',