Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Django: Using Caching to Track Online Users

Recently I wanted a simple solution to track whether a user is online on a given Django site.  The definition of "online" on a site is kind of ambiguous, so I'll define that a user is considered to be online if they have made any request to the site in the last five minutes.

I found that one approach is to use Django's caching framework to track when a user last accessed the site.  For example, upon each request, I can have a middleware set the current time as a cache value associated with a given user.  This allows us to store some basic information about logged-in user's online state without having to hit the database on each request and easily retrieve it by accessing the cache.

My approach below.  Comments welcome.

# add the middleware that you are about to create to settings

# Setup caching per Django docs. In actuality, you'd probably use memcached instead of local memory.
    'default': {
        'BACKEND': 'django.core.cache.backends.locmem.LocMemCache',
        'LOCATION': 'default-cache'

# Number of seconds of inactivity before a user is marked offline

# Number of seconds that we will keep track of inactive users for before 
# their last seen is removed from the cache
USER_LASTSEEN_TIMEOUT = 60 * 60 * 24 * 7

import datetime
from django.core.cache import cache
from django.conf import settings

class ActiveUserMiddleware:

    def process_request(self, request):
        current_user = request.user
        if request.user.is_authenticated():
            now =
            cache.set('seen_%s' % (current_user.username), now, 

In your UserProfile module or some other model associated with the user:
class UserProfile(models.Model):

    def last_seen(self):
        return cache.get('seen_%s' % self.user.username)

    def online(self):
        if self.last_seen():
            now =
            if now > self.last_seen() + datetime.timedelta(
                return False
                return True
            return False

Then in the template where you want to display whether the user is online or not:
{% with request.user.get_profile as profile %}

   <tr><th>Last Seen</th><td>{% if profile.last_seen %}{{ profile.last_seen|timesince }}{% else %}awhile{% endif %} ago</td></tr>
   <tr><th>Online</th><td>{{ }}</td></tr>

{% endwith %}

 - Simple solution
 - Doesn't need to hit the database for saving the timestamp each request

  - Last user access times are cleared if the server is rebooted or cache is reset
  - Last user access times are accessible only as long as they exist in the cache.


  1. there is a typo in the title ;)

  2. There is also a gist from Eric Florenzano which uses similar approach, but stores list of user ids under one key.

  3. Redis is a really good fit for this type of data due to supporting data structures. A sorted set of user ids by last seen time does the trick for this scenario.

    This is how I did it in my forum app using Redis, including tracking of where in the app a user was last seen for display on their profile page:

  4. Typo fixed :-) Thanks for the other approaches. I noticed that a limitation of my approach above is that there is currently no easy way to obtain a full list of users.

  5. I thought about about the same technique and put it in practice recently.
    The difference is that it seems to combine your technique and Eric Florenzano's one : I have a set of keys, one per user, with the last access, and another key, which is a list of online users.
    Offline users are deleted from the list when needed.

  6. Joe - Looking to speak to you. I came across your website here and would like to talk to you about this Python/Django role in Lake Success, NY I'm currently working on. When would be a good time to talk?


  7. i got an error, running the project....
    ImproperlyConfigured: Error importing middleware middleware.activeuser_middleware: "No module named middleware.activeuser_middleware"

  8. Good tutorial!
    How about if I want to track who's viewed my user profile on django just like on LinkedIn?