Setting up a local copy of the Wagtail git repository is slightly more involved than running a release package of Wagtail, as it requires Node.js and NPM for building JavaScript and CSS assets. (This is not required when running a release version, as the compiled assets are included in the release package.)

If you’re happy to develop on a virtual machine, the vagrant-wagtail-develop and docker-wagtail-develop setup scripts are the fastest way to get up and running. They will provide you with a running instance of the Wagtail Bakery demo site, with the Wagtail and bakerydemo codebases available as shared folders for editing on your host machine.

(Build scripts for other platforms would be very much welcomed - if you create one, please let us know via the Slack workspace!)

If you’d prefer to set up all the components manually, read on. These instructions assume that you’re familiar with using pip and virtualenv to manage Python packages.

Setting up the Wagtail codebase

Install Node.js, version 10. Instructions for installing Node.js can be found on the Node.js download page. You can also use Node version manager (nvm) since Wagtail supplies a .nvmrc file in the root of the project with the minimum required Node version - see nvm’s installation instructions.

You will also need to install the libjpeg and zlib libraries, if you haven’t done so already - see Pillow’s platform-specific installation instructions.

Clone a copy of the Wagtail codebase:

$ git clone
$ cd wagtail

With your preferred virtualenv activated, install the Wagtail package in development mode with the included testing and documentation dependencies:

$ pip install -e '.[testing,docs]' -U

Install Node through nvm (optional):

$ nvm install

Install the tool chain for building static assets:

$ npm install --no-save

Compile the assets:

$ npm run build

Any Wagtail sites you start up in this virtualenv will now run against this development instance of Wagtail. We recommend using the Wagtail Bakery demo site as a basis for developing Wagtail. Keep in mind that the setup steps for a Wagtail site may include installing a release version of Wagtail, which will override the development version you’ve just set up. In this case, you should install the site before running the pip install -e step, or re-run that step after the site is installed.


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

$ python

Running only some of the tests

At the time of writing, Wagtail has well over 2500 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 or tox:

$ # Running in the current environment
$ python wagtail.core

$ # Running in a specified Tox environment
$ tox -e py36-dj22-sqlite-noelasticsearch wagtail.core

$ # See a list of available Tox environments
$ tox -l

You can also run tests for individual TestCases by passing in the path as an argument to

$ # Running in the current environment
$ python wagtail.core.tests.test_blocks.TestIntegerBlock

$ # Running in a specified Tox environment
$ tox -e py36-dj22-sqlite-noelasticsearch wagtail.core.tests.test_blocks.TestIntegerBlock

Running migrations for the test app models

You can create migrations for the test app by running the following from the Wagtail root.

$ django-admin makemigrations --settings=wagtail.tests.settings

Testing against PostgreSQL


In order to run these tests, you must install the required modules for PostgreSQL as described in Django’s Databases documentation.

By default, Wagtail tests against SQLite. You can switch to using PostgreSQL by using the --postgres argument:

$ python --postgres

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

Testing against a different database


In order to run these tests, you must install the required client libraries and modules for the given database as described in Django’s Databases documentation or 3rd-party database backend’s documentation.

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.mysql python

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

If you need to use different connection settings, use the following environment variables which correspond to the respective keys within Django’s DATABASES settings dictionary:

    • Note that for MySQL, this must be rather than localhost if you need to connect using a TCP socket

It is also possible to set DATABASE_DRIVER, which corresponds to the driver value within OPTIONS if an SQL Server engine is used.

Testing Elasticsearch

You can test Wagtail against Elasticsearch by passing the --elasticsearch argument to

$ python --elasticsearch

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 --elasticsearch

Browser and device support

Wagtail is meant to be used on a wide variety of devices and browsers. Supported browser / device versions include:

Browser Device/OS Version(s)
Mobile Safari iOS Phone Last 2
Mobile Safari iOS Tablet Last 2
Chrome Android Last 2
IE Desktop 11
Chrome Desktop Last 2
MS Edge Desktop Last 2
Firefox Desktop Latest
Firefox ESR Desktop Latest
Safari macOS Last 2

We aim for Wagtail to work in those environments. Our development standards ensure that the site is usable on other browsers and will work on future browsers. To test on IE, install virtual machines made available by Microsoft.

IE 11 is gradually falling out of use, and specific features are unsupported in this browser:

  • Rich text copy-paste in the rich text editor.
  • Sticky toolbar in the rich text editor.
  • Focus outline styles in the main menu & explorer menu.
  • Keyboard access to the actions in page listing tables.

Unsupported browsers / devices include:

Browser Device/OS Version(s)
Stock browser Android All
IE Desktop 10 and below
Safari Windows All

Accessibility targets

We want to make Wagtail accessible for users of a wide variety of assistive technologies. The specific standard we aim for is WCAG2.1, AA level. Wagtail’s administration user interface isn’t accessible at the moment (see issue #4199), but here are specific assistive technologies we aim to test for, and ultimately support:

Type Assistive technology
Screen reader NVDA on Windows with Firefox ESR
Screen reader VoiceOver on macOS with Safari
Magnification Windows Magnifier
Magnification macOS Zoom
Voice control Windows Speech Recognition
Voice control macOS Dictation
Screen reader Mobile VoiceOver on iOS, or TalkBack on Android

We aim for Wagtail to work in those environments. Our development standards ensure that the site is usable with other assistive technologies. In practice, testing with assistive technology can be a daunting task that requires specialised training – here are tools we rely on to help identify accessibility issues, to use during development and code reviews:

  • react-axe integrated directly in our build tools, to identify actionable issues. Logs its results in the browser console.
  • Axe Chrome extension for more comprehensive automated tests of a given page.
  • Accessibility Insights for Web Chrome extension for semi-automated tests, and manual audits.

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, 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

Compiling the documentation

The Wagtail documentation is built by Sphinx. To install Sphinx and compile the documentation, run:

$ cd /path/to/wagtail
$ # Install the documentation dependencies
$ pip install -e '.[docs]'
$ # Compile the docs
$ cd docs/
$ make html

The compiled documentation will now be in docs/_build/html. Open this directory in a web browser to see it. Python comes with a module that makes it very easy to preview static files in a web browser. To start this simple server, run the following commands:

$ cd docs/_build/html/
$ python -mhttp.server 8080

Now you can open <http://localhost:8080/> in your web browser to see the compiled documentation.

Sphinx caches the built documentation to speed up subsequent compilations. Unfortunately, this cache also hides any warnings thrown by unmodified documentation source files. To clear the built HTML and start fresh, so you can see all warnings thrown when building the documentation, run:

$ cd docs/
$ make clean
$ make html

Wagtail also provides a way for documentation to be compiled automatically on each change. To do this, you can run the following command to see the changes automatically at localhost:4000:

$ cd docs/
$ make livehtml