Jinja2 Cache Busting URLs in Python

Cache busting is a technique the gives web developers a compromise between asset load speeds and new features. In this article, we’ll discuss a pure Python way of implementing this feature in your Jinja2 templates.

What is “caching”

NOTE: This article will not cover HTML cache headers, proxy settings, etc.

Everything you see on a web page is loaded from somewhere. That “somewhere” could be a VPS in the cloud, a CDN service like CloudFlare, your machine, and so on. We’ll call these things “assets”. Assets are images and text files used to tell your browser how the page you are looking at should look. These are mostly things that don’t really change too often.

Since assets don’t change often, you can really speed up page loading by using something called “cache”. Serving files from the webserver can be really slow, especially if it’s a very popular website, or your internet connection is slow. The good news is that if you have visited that page recently, some or all of the assets will already be on your computer.

This all happens without much input from you, the user. Your browser will cache by default (unless using something like Tor Browser). Even if you have your browser cache disabled, the assets may be cached by a service like CloudFlare. That’s out of your control.

Quick loading is great, but what happens when the version of cute-puppy.jpg you have in your cache is different from what’s on the server? You’ll continue to see the same old boring puppy image. FOMO anyone?

There’s also evidence that search engines prioritize websites that use very long cache times (e.g. Google’s own Page Insights tool). A nice article on how caching works can be found here: https://jakearchibald.com/2016/caching-best-practices/

Busting the cache

Web developers use a technique called “cache busting” to ensure that any change to cute-puppy.jpg is immediately seen by users. They get around any “cache” mechanism by generally taking 1 of these approaches:

  • Change the filename: Instead of cute-puppy.jpg, they’ll use something like cute-puppy-v1.jpg. If the change the content, they’ll change the name to cute-puppy-v2.jpg.
  • Change the URL: Instead of using /static/images/cute-puppy.jpg in HTML, they’ll use something like /static/images/cute-puppy.jpg?v1.

The idea is the same. Any change a developer makes to the “asset” will cause viewers to download the updated file.

I prefer the second method. I think this is cleaner, and causes less overall churn in my source code control.

Pre-calculate vs JIT

The way I see it, you have two options here: 1) Use a build step to version your assets; 2) perform a “just in time” calculation when the resource is requested. This really depends on your process, but I don’t see a downside to pre-calculating a version. This method should also perform much better under load. Admittedly, I’m too lazy to measure it, so YMMV.

I decided to create a script that calculated the CRC32 for each of my static images and store the result in a JSON file. I load that file at the start of my script. This works great! It does, however, cause a lookup to occur each time the Jinja2 template is rendered. Jinja2 is pretty good a caching rendered templates (moar cache!), so I think that’s fine.

NOTE: You could also dynamically create this table at application start. I chose not to just to keep the start process simple and clean.

Here’s my Python function to calculate the CRC32 for each of my images:

import zlib
def build():
    Builds the release files
    # Calculates and stores the CRC32 for all images in 'static/images'
    outfile = os.path.join(THIS_DIR, 'app', 'cachbuster.json')
    image_dir = os.path.join(THIS_DIR, 'html', 'static', 'images')
    result = {}
    for root, dirs, files in os.walk(image_dir):
        for fname in files:
            fpath = root + '/' + fname
            relpath = fpath[len(image_dir) + 1:].replace('\\', '/')
            prev = 0
            for line in open(fpath, 'rb'):
                prev = zlib.crc32(line, prev)
            result[relpath] = '%x' % (prev & 0xFFFFFFFF)

    with open(outfile, 'wb') as fh:
        fh.write(json.dumps(result, sort_keys=True, indent=4, separators=(',', ': ')))

The fancy relpath thing is so the output is more manageable (more on that later). The file output looks a little like this:

    "about-us.jpg": "8212d43f",
    "favicon.ico": "be79d92e",
    "slider/title-img-01.jpg": "5849f6f0",
    "slider/title-img-02.jpg": "a66c8271",
    "slider/title-img-03.jpg": "2e2cbe84"


Jinja2 is a templating tool used by many Python-based web development frameworks (like Flask and bottle.py). It’s really quite handy when it comes to creating a single HTML file using nice OO concepts like inheritance.


The first thing we want to do is to add a custom Jinja2 filter. This is the thing that will compare some input to our JSON data and return a URL.

CACHEBUSTER = json.loads(open(THIS_DIR + '/cachbuster.json', 'rb').read())

CACHEBUSTER is just the data that was calculated during our build step.

def imageloader(partial_path):
    Returns the path with a cachbuster tag if found, or the path otherwise.
    if partial_path in CACHEBUSTER:
        return '/static/images/' + partial_path + '?' + CACHEBUSTER[partial_path]

    return '/static/images/' + partial_path

The function imageloader is the thing that we’ll use in our Jinja2 templates. This function accepts a single input, partial_path. We check for the existence of that path in our pre-compiled CRC32 data. If we find it, we return a URL with the calculation appended as a “query”. If not, we’ll assume that the path is relative to /static/images/.

Using our data file from above:

>>> print imageloader('slider/title-img-01.jpg')
>>> print imageloader('someimage.jpg')

All good! Any time we make a change to slider/title-img-01.jpg, the calculation will change, and we’ll get a new URL. Any item that’s not pre-calculated will be returned like normal.

The last part is to tell Jinja2 about this new filter in app.py.

jinja2_loader = jinja2.FileSystemLoader(TEMPLATE_DIR)
jinja2_env = jinja2.Environment(autoescape=True, loader=jinja2_loader)
jinja2_env.filters['imageloader'] = imageloader

The magic is line number 3. That tells Jinja2 to call our imageloader() function any time it sees a filter named imageloader.

Template Use

Here’s how I use the new filter inside a template:

<img src="{{'slider/title-img-01.jpg' | imageloader}}" alt="Title slider image 1">

'slider/title-img-01.jpg' gets passed to our function, which returns '/static/images/slider/title-img-01.jpg?5849f6f0'. That whole string then goes into the template, resulting in this:

<img src="/static/images/slider/title-img-01.jpg?5849f6f0" alt="Title slider image 1">

Perfect! As long as we keep generating our JSON file during our build process, the templates will always point to the latest asset without regard to our cache settings.

Where to go from here

I showed you how I cache-bust the images from one of my websites. This is done in pure Python, without other tools like Grunt. If you are already using compile tools, you may as well find out how they do cache-busting. But what fun is that?

This can be extended to your other assets. For example, why not to your .css and .js too? That excersize is left up to the reader ;)

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