Django Model and Form Validation

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Django model and form validation is a somewhat complicated and confusing topic in Django app development. A developer needs to understand several basic concepts such as model, model field, form, model form, etc. to have a good understanding of validation. Most Django books and online tutorials do not have a good discussion on validation.

Django official documentation has detailed descriptions on validation. However, the contents are dispersed on several places. This post describes the materials I have read on this topic.

Validator Function

The validator official documentation page is a good starting point to study model and form validation.

The validator function is a callable that takes a value and raises a ValidationError if not validated. Here is an example from the page:

from django.core.exceptions import ValidationError
from django.utils.translation import gettext_lazy as _

def validate_even(value):
    if value % 2 != 0:
        raise ValidationError(
            _('%(value)s is not an even number'),
            params={'value': value},

from django.db import models

class MyModel(models.Model):
    even_field = models.IntegerField(validators=[validate_even])

The subsection how validators are run on the validator page has three links.

  • The second link validating objects is about model validation. The link points to a subsection on the model instance reference page.
  • The first link form validation points to a separate page about form validation.
  • The third link goes to the ModelForm page.

Model Validation

A model’s full_clean() method performs model validation. The method calls three other methods:

  • clean_fields() method
  • clean() method, as a whole
  • validate_unique() method

The model save() method does NOT call full_clean() method automatically. A programmer needs to call it manually to trigger model validation like the below code.

except ValidationError as e:
    # handle the error

A stack overflow answer shows a typical pattern to conduct custom model validation. The model class overrides the clean() method to provide custom model validation and the save() method to call full_clean method. The example code is shown below:

class BaseModel(models.Model):
    # model fields 

    def clean(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # add custom validation here
        super(BaseModel, self).clean(*args, **kwargs)

    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        super(BaseModel, self).save(*args, **kwargs)

Another stack overflow answer shows how to use custom model validation or simply use model field’s built-in validator.

Model field’s validation will not kick in unless the full_clean() method is explicitly called. For example, the below would not raise an exception when called.

class PageModel(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=50)
    slug = models.SlugField(max_length=50)

>>> from page.models import PageModel #page app name
>>> p1 = PageModel(name='Page1', slug='page1')
>>> p2 = PageModel(name='Page2', slug='page2#$%')
>>>        # no error
>>> p2.full_clean()  # raise exception

Checking clean_fields() method source code, it has the following lines. The f.clean(...) method calls validation method on a model field.

    setattr(self, f.attname, f.clean(raw_value, self))
except ValidationError as e:
    errors[] = e.error_list

Form Validation

While model validation is a subsection on a Django documentation page, the form validation is on a separate page. Form validation is normally executed when the is_valid() method is called on a form. A programmer can also trigger form validation by accessing errors attribute or call full_clean() method of a form.

Form validation has a series of steps:

  • to_python() method on a field, correct data type
  • validation() method on a field
  • run_validators() method on a field
  • clean() method on a Field subclass, which calls above three methods and returns the clean data
  • clean_<fieldname>() method has access to cleaned_data Python object and returns value that replaces data in cleaned_data
  • clean() method of form, for multiple fields

The same documetation page has several nice examples, which are based on the model shown below:

class ContactForm(forms.Form):
    subject = forms.CharField(max_length=100)
    message = forms.CharField()
    sender = forms.EmailField()
    recipients = MultiEmailField()
    cc_myself = forms.BooleanField(required=False)

The same page points out that “there are special considerations when overriding the clean() method of a ModelForm subclass.”

Chapter 7 of Andrew Pinkham’s Django Unleashed book, titled allowing user input with forms, has good example on how to override clean_<fieldname> method. The discussion on model validation and form validation in this chapter is better than other Django books I have read.

ModelForm Validation

The form validation steps described in the previous section also apply to ModelForm validation. In addition to that, Model.full_clean() method is triggered after the form’s clean() method is called. So, model validation methods are not triggered by model save() method, but model validation methods are triggered by ModelForm validation. This stack overflow question discusses this exact issue. The accepted answer also has code example on model validation.

Error messages at the form field level take precedence over the error messages defined at the model field level.