Passing Information Between Django Form Wizard Steps

For the project I’m working on, users need to be able to choose a page and surface and then view the image corresponding to that page and surface and add a hotspot to it. Since this requires hitting the database to get the requested image path, I decided to place these steps on different pages using the form wizard from Django’s form tools package. As with many things Django, passing information from one step to a later step where it will be used is a seemingly obvious but relatively undocumented use case.

Getting step data from an instance of the wizard appears simple, but as I went to actually implement it, I realized… where is the instance of the wizard anyway? Setting up the wizard actually does not involve explicitly instantiating an instance of the wizard - nor of any of the forms, for that matter. The wizard instance can in fact be found in the wizard template file, but not only is that a bad place for accessing and manipulating data, but it could not (sensibly, at least), be passed from there back into the appropriate form instance.

The next option is to access the wizard instance from within the wizard’s existing instance methods. Fortunately, there’s one that’s going to automatically fix your next problem - that of getting the information back into the appropriate form. The wizard instance method get_form_initial(self, step) is going to be called on each form/step within the wizard form and provide to that step a dictionary of initial values presumably corresponding to each form field.

It did not occur to me at first to make use of the initial dictionary (despite this being the only relevant post I could find) because I didn’t have any form fields that I wanted to be given defaults to show to the user. But guess what, there’s no requirement to use the initial dictionary in this way - this is Django! I already had a fake field on my hotspot form to hold the widget that will display the image to the user, so it may as well have a fake initial value too. And in fact, thanks to the way widgets work, using the initial dictionary is by far the easiest way to pass in data.

So how do initial dictionaries work? Here’s the original method, on WizardView, which is the parent class of CookieWizardView:

class WizardView(TemplateView):

    def get_form_initial(self, step):
        Returns a dictionary which will be passed to the form for `step`
        as `initial`. If no initial data was provided while initializing the
        form wizard, an empty dictionary will be returned.
        return self.initial_dict.get(step, {})


And source code commentary on initial_dict:

initial_dict - contains a dictionary of initial data dictionaries. The key should be equal to the step_name in the form_list (or the str of the zero based counter - if no step_names added in the form_list)

Somewhat confusing, but very useful. And then here is my version of the method:

class HotspotWizard(CookieWizardView):

    def get_form_initial(self, step):
        initial = {}

        # If at second step, add image path to initial data for canvas field
        if step == '1':
            first_step_data ='0')
            page_id = first_step_data.get('0-page','')
            surface = first_step_data.get('0-surface','')
            initial['canvas'] = self.get_image_data(page_id, surface)

        return self.initial_dict.get(step, initial)

    def get_image_data(self, page_id, surface):
        page = Page.objects.get(id=page_id)

        if surface == 'brick':
            return page.brick_background_path()
            return page.glass_background_path()


The method takes the name of the current step, an integer in string form, starting at zero. If the current step is the second step, then the data from the first step is fetched and is used to find the corresponding image path. The path is then entered into the initial dictionary with the key being canvas, the name of the fake field which will need access to the path. The method returns the already existing initial dictionary for the step in initial_dict, or, since that key-value pair shouldn’t already exist, the initial dictionary created within this method.

This means that on any step besides the second step, the initial dictionary will be the default, an empty dictionary, and on the second step, it will contain a value for the canvas field. It’s important that the value be for the canvas field, because the canvas field is represented by a widget, which is where the path needs to be used. A widget is rendered by the method def render(self, name, value, attrs=None), and value is the value corresponding to the field key in the initial dictionary for the current form. Thus, value is the image path, and the image can now be easily rendered through the widget.