Attempting to Learn Flask, Part 1

Attempting to Learn Flask, Part 1

I think this might be a series on how I learn Flask. I don’t know if I’ll succeed or fail yet at learning it. I’ll try and track my progress or the lack of it, and hope I don’t run out of steam.

So, I’ve been trying to learn the framework for a while now. The first time I tried was two or three years ago when I first started Python. As you might guess, it was totally the wrong time to start. Now I have a better handle on Python, and I thought about a week or so ago that I’d try again.

Deciding on Flask and Not Django or Bottle or Whatever Else

As it happened with the first time, googling turned up a lot of “should I learn Flask or Django” results and I wavered between the two, and installed both, and then once again decided to focus on Flask.

The decision isn’t that simple to make because lots of people say different things, but I’ll boil them down to two main factions.

One faction says to learn Django because it is sort of standardised. It’s like a set meal. You get burger, fries, soft drink, all together in a sensible, familiar package. As a result, it is also complicated and has a steep learning curve. But, community support is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than Flask’s! That counts for a lot.

The other faction says to learn Flask because it’s flexible and easier to learn. That means, though, that it’s not like a set meal at all. What it looks like is someone giving you all the raw ingredients of the meal and you have to put it all together yourself. So, you have to learn how to build a burger, and then how to make fries just the way you like, and then the soft drink. People say it’s not that hard, but the people who say that seem to mainly be experts, or those with computing backgrounds, or those with money for boot camps and advisors and teachers. Obviously, it’s not hard for them. Plus, community support is very thin compared to Django’s.

There are other factions, but these are generally the two loudest voices. After a lot of going back-and-forth, deciding, re-deciding, indecision, paralysis, doubt, existential crisis, I settled on Flask because a few people said it’ll be easier to learn Django after Flask. And more importantly, I needed to focus somewhere, and it might be easier to start with what other people claim is easier.

Easy?

Once beginners start asking questions like, how do we use Python on the web, the answer is bound to be: learn a framework. Remember, at this point, beginners haven’t much of an inkling what Flask is, or even what a web framework is. Everything we read about frameworks online seems to make sense, but only in a sort of hazy, somewhat figurative manner. In other words, it’s likely that experts think they’ve explained it clearly, and beginners think they sort of understand, but there’s a massive gap between the two, and few people see it. Nonetheless, the only way is forward, right?

But the jump from basic/intermediate Python to learning a framework like Flask is HUGE. This will become very apparent when beginners start on the tutorial everyone suggests: Miguel Grinberg’s Mega Flask Tutorial.

This tutorial is spectacularly bad for beginners.

The tutorial doesn’t explain a lot of things, including precisely where Python code connects with its equivalents in the HTML templates. You might say that should be obvious. But it’s obvious for people with a much larger store of knowledge than beginners.

At the same time, the tutorial involves a lot of code connected to each other across many files, in ways that we cannot understand at a glance. Some functions require ostensibly unrelated code inserted into views.py, models.py, config.py, and one or two others. That’s super confusing for beginners.

By the time we reach the part where we write the login page, we give up. Especially because at that point, we have to decide between the chapter from the older tutorial, and the newer one on OAuth that isn’t very clearly connected to the older tutorial. And if we screw either up, we don’t know how to continue with the rest of the mega tutorial.

It Gets Cloudier

At that point, we start looking for other tutorials. A bunch of these want us to start on Droplet (we have to pay for it), Heroku, or other similar services. Only here do we usually get the first mentions of Flask being problematic on Windows, and we’re not sure what that means.

So, we’re stuck. We don’t want to pay for Droplet. And we are scared that if we go with Heroku, we might go off on another difficult tangent with more difficult stuff to learn. We begin to wonder if there’s another tutorial, or if there are ways to work around this.

What do we do next? I don’t quite know yet.

How to Learn Flask

Evidently, there is a big portion of knowledge missing between basic/intermediate Python and Flask. But I don’t know what it is and nobody seems to proffer good estimates. So, I’m going to try two methods people have intimated in the usual overly optimistic terms. “Just do it!” doesn’t cut it, guys.

The first is the project-based method: I know I want to build a chat website, and I have a rough design for it. I know I want to have some development for ecommerce under my belt so I can build a career from it. So it makes sense to start with these two.

The second is to try and break up Flask into small and manageable parts and learn those parts. This is somewhat problematic. People say you can do anything with Flask. That means we don’t know where to begin. It’s like saying, you can do anything you want, so what do you want to do? Well, I want to solve poverty. Maybe I want world peace too. But what are the small tiny manageable parts to those problems? It might be impossible to see. We might get there by iterating through lots and lots of smaller and smaller problems though.

You see how unhelpful it is as a pedagogical guide to tell beginners you can do anything with Flask and then send them to difficult tutorials?

In part 2, if there is a part 2, I will talk about how I got on with this.

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