Using the demo site & Vagrant

We recommend using the Wagtail demo site which uses Vagrant, as a basis for developing Wagtail itself.

Install the wagtaildemo following the instructions in the wagtaildemo README, then continue with the instructions below.

Clone a copy of the Wagtail codebase alongside your demo site at the same level. So in the directory containing the wagtaildemo repo, run:

git clone

Enable the Vagrantfile included with the demo - this ensures you can edit the Wagtail codebase from outside Vagrant:

cd wagtaildemo
cp Vagrantfile.local.example Vagrantfile.local

If you clone Wagtail’s codebase to somewhere other than one level above, edit Vagrantfile.local to specify the alternate path.

Lastly, we tell Django to use your freshly cloned Wagtail codebase as the source of Wagtail CMS, not the pip-installed version that came with wagtaildemo:

cp wagtaildemo/settings/ wagtaildemo/settings/

Uncomment the lines from import sys onward, and edit the rest of as appropriate.

If your VM is currently running, you’ll then need to run vagrant halt followed by vagrant up for the changes to take effect.

Development dependencies

Developing Wagtail requires additional Python modules for testing and documentation.

The list of dependencies is in the Wagtail root directory in requirements-dev.txt and if you’ve used the Vagrant environment above, can be installed thus, from the Wagtail codebase root directory:

pip install -r requirements-dev.txt


Wagtail has unit tests which should be run before submitting pull requests.

Testing virtual environment (skip this if working in Vagrant box)

If you are using Python 3.3 or above, run the following commands in your shell at the root of the Wagtail repo:

pyvenv venv
source venv/bin/activate
python develop
pip install -r requirements-dev.txt

For Python 2, you will need to install the virtualenv package and replace the first line above with:

virtualenv venv

Running the tests

From the root of the Wagtail codebase, run the following command to run all the tests:


Running only some of the tests

At the time of writing, Wagtail has nearly 1000 tests which takes a while to run. You can run tests for only one part of Wagtail by passing in the path as an argument to

python wagtail.wagtailcore

Testing against PostgreSQL

By default, Wagtail tests against SQLite. If you need to test against a different database, set the DATABASE_ENGINE environment variable to the name of the Django database backend to test against:

DATABASE_ENGINE=django.db.backends.postgresql_psycopg2 python

This will create a new database called test_wagtail in PostgreSQL and run the tests against it.

If you need to use a different user, password or host. Use the PGUSER, PGPASSWORD and PGHOST environment variables.

Testing Elasticsearch

To test Elasticsearch, you need to have the elasticsearch package installed.

Once installed, Wagtail will attempt to connect to a local instance of Elasticsearch (http://localhost:9200) and use the index test_wagtail.

If your Elasticsearch instance is located somewhere else, you can set the ELASTICSEARCH_URL environment variable to point to its location:

ELASTICSEARCH_URL=http://my-elasticsearch-instance:9200 python

If you no longer want Wagtail to test against Elasticsearch, uninstall the elasticsearch package.

Compiling static assets

All static assets such as JavaScript, CSS, images, and fonts for the Wagtail admin are compiled from their respective sources by gulp. The compiled assets are not committed to the repository, and are compiled before packaging each new release. Compiled assets should not be submitted as part of a pull request.

To compile the assets, Node.js and the compilation tool chain need to be installed. Instructions for installing Node.js can be found on the Node.js download page. Once Node.js is installed, installing the tool chain is done via npm:

$ cd /path/to/wagtail
$ npm install

To compile the assets, run:

$ npm run build

This must be done after every change to the source files. To watch the source files for changes and then automatically recompile the assets, run:

$ npm start