Intro

In a hurry? Skip to the minimal working example below!

So this is probably something that seasoned Flask webapp devs will find trivial, especially if they're also well-acquainted with WSGI itself (the Python web server standard that Flask and the other popular synchronous Python web frameworks comply with).

But my background is not like that. I've only occasionally used Flask for a project here and there over the years (and I've been really happy with it, since it delivers on its promise of being "micro" and keeps out of the way most of the time). I learned it mostly through its own docs. I've been aware that WSGI is a thing, but it never occurred to me I should learn more about it, it always felt like the Flask docs (should) cover everything I need.

Which they did, except for the issue mentioned in the title of the article: transparently mounting the app under a URL prefix. Up until yesterday (when I found out basically by sheer luck that this is addressed by the WSGI standard that Flask conforms to), I had no idea what the proper way to do it in Flask was. I never could find any guidance in the Flask docs; as far as I know, I don't think the idiomatic solution I'll be discussing below is covered in there (and I've tried searching them again now that I know what I'm looking for). So I always resorted to clunky workarounds in order to achieve this.

I'm fairly sure I'm not the only person like this -- a happy occasional user of Flask whose one major frustration has been having to manually smuggle URL prefixes into his routes. If you have a similar background, then may Google be more clement than it was to me and rank this article on the first page of its results when you hit this particular roadblock ;)

If you're a Flask / WSGI whiz, then your reaction will probably be "But of course this is how it's done!" So in order to get something out of this article, you can instead muse upon the relative merits and drawbacks of splitting up technical documentation in a way that's well-organized / clearly delineated / methodical / logical (= Flask info in Flask docs, WSGI info in WSGI docs) vs. in a way that's useful and accessible even to occasional users, beginners etc. (= Flask docs might want to cover the parts of WSGI that a budding Flask dev might want to care about, even though that means duplicating information).

The problem

As you're prototyping and developing a Flask app, routing is pretty easy and straightforward:

@app.route("/login", methods=["GET", "POST"])
def login_func():
    ...

But when the time comes to deploy it, you often realize you need to mount it under a URL prefix, e.g. /my-app. For the route above, that means that you want to trigger it when users navigate to example.com/my-app/login, not example.com/login. And similarly, you want this prefix added when generating internal redirects or links in your templates.

So you think to yourself, this is surely such a common use case that there's definitely an example how to do this directly in Flask's Quickstart. Or failing that, definitely somewhere in the docs.

So you search the docs for a reasonable query like "url prefix", which sounds like what you're interested in, and you learn about blueprints, which is where stuff starts to become confusing. Blueprints are for making reusable application components and they support registering at a URL prefix and/or a subdomain.

They're also a fairly advanced feature useful in more complicated apps, so they sort of go against the grain of your expectations with Flask. You likely picked up Flask because you liked that a simple app can consist of just a single Python module and a few lines of code, but now it looks like if you want to run it in production in a flexible way, you'll need to learn about blueprints and rewrite it as one? Because it sure doesn't look like vanilla Flask apps support URL prefixes, the docs don't mention any promising leads...

So you end up deciding to roll your own homegrown solution, which might be configurable but still boilerplate-y if you still have some mental energy left to invest into the problem:

PREFIX = "/my-app"

@app.route(f"{PREFIX}/login", methods=["GET", "POST"])
def login_func():
    ...

Or it might just be hardcoded to show you really don't care anymore, if you've just lost an hour searching for a Flask feature that would handle this in a civilized manner, and/or reading up on blueprints (before giving up):

@app.route("/my-app/login", methods=["GET", "POST"])
def login_func():
    ...

If that sounds like you (and it certainly sounds like me), then boy do I have good news for you :) Turns out there actually is a right way to do it!

The idiomatic solution

The title of the article hints at the reason why the right way to do it is so hard to figure out: it turns out that deploying a Flask app under a URL prefix isn't actually a feature of Flask per se, it's a feature of the Python WSGI standard that Flask conforms to. So that's probably why the way to achieve this isn't described in the Flask docs themselves, because I suppose you're expected to read up on the available WSGI knobs and handles separately...? Frankly, I don't think that's a realistic expectation :) I think this information would make a great addition to the Flask docs, maybe even directly in the Quickstart section.

So what's the trick? The trick is to set the rather quirkily/quaintly named SCRIPT_NAME environment variable prior to starting the web server running the app. If you set SCRIPT_NAME=/my-app, WSGI guarantees that the web server running your app will strip this prefix from incoming URLs, and add it to outgoing URLs (redirects, in-app links in templates). That's it, no need to modify your app at all, whether to add a configurable or hardcoded prefix to all the routes, or to rewrite it as a blueprint. Nice.


EDIT: As u/james_pic points out over on Reddit, reading SCRIPT_NAME from an env var is actually not required by the WSGI spec, it's a convenience feature provided by some WSGI servers, e.g. Gunicorn.


Caveats

Because of course, there are a few issues you might run into.

Flask's builtin web server ignores SCRIPT_NAME


EDIT: As should be clear from the previous edit, Flask's builtin web server only ignores the SCRIPT_NAME env var. It works perfectly well with the SCRIPT_NAME WSGI variable, which however requires quite a bit more work to set up. You need to add WSGI routing middleware to your application, e.g. like this:

from werkzeug.middleware.dispatcher import DispatcherMiddleware
from werkzeug.wrappers import Response

app.wsgi_app = DispatcherMiddleware(
    Response('Not Found', status=404),
    {'/my-app': app.wsgi_app}
)

Presumably, you'd make the actual value of the prefix part of the app's config.

(Code sample courtesy of u/james_pic over on Reddit, thank you!)


When you find out about SCRIPT_NAME, your first intuition is to test if it indeed does what you need with Flask's builtin dev server, because, well, that's what you use for development. Unfortunately, it turns out that Flask's server couldn't care less about this env var, which might lead you to (wrongly) conclude that you're on the wrong path. I actually think this happened to me a few years back because I feel like I've tinkered with SCRIPT_NAME before, only to conclude it doesn't seem to do anything.

The fix: just use a fully-featured production WSGI server that supports reading this configuration from an environment variable, e.g. Gunicorn. I promise SCRIPT_NAME works there.

Alternatively, add some routing middleware of the kind sketched above to your app.

Is this one of the reasons why Flask's builtin server warns "This is a development server. Do not use it in a production deployment"? I'd always thought it was for performance / stability / security reasons, but it looks like it also just isn't (fully) WSGI-compliant.

Use url_for to generate internal links

I.e. instead of writing href="/login" in your templates or redirect("/login") in your view functions, write href="{{ url_for('login_func') }}" and redirect(url_for("login_func")). This will make sure the URLs are correctly prefixed with SCRIPT_NAME, if applicable.

This is recommended as best practice by the Flask docs anyway, so it's not like it's additional hoops to jump through. Interestingly, this section in the Flask docs is the closest they brush with discussing mounting the app under a URL prefix. They tell you:

If your application is placed outside the URL root, for example, in /myapplication instead of /, url_for() properly handles that for you.

But they don't tell you how to place your application outside the URL root in the first place, which is kind of maddening. If you open the link to the url_for() docs, you are further teased with mentions of APPLICATION_ROOT and SERVER_NAME configuration values, which sound a lot like the kind of setting you were looking for, except the docs immediately dash your hopes and remain silent about what you really want, i.e. the SCRIPT_NAME env var:

Configuration values APPLICATION_ROOT and SERVER_NAME are only used when generating URLs outside of a request context.

I remember tearing my hair out in despair at this point of digging through the Flask docs and trying in vain (of course) to tinker with those configuration values a few years back.


EDIT: Again, after reading u/james_pic's very helpful and insightful comment on Reddit, I've realized the Flask docs technically do contain information which can help you figure this out, in the Application Dispatching section, specifically under Dispatch by Path.

The trouble is that the section is introduced by the following sentence:

Application dispatching is the process of combining multiple Flask applications on the WSGI level.

Which sounds like it's once again a more advanced topic (kind of like blueprints) meant for people who are trying to run multiple apps under the same WSGI server at the same time (which you're not). The code examples are fairly complex to match, so at first sight, it doesn't look like this is what you should be spending your time reading if you just need to figure out something as basic as running your app under a URL prefix in production.


Don't strip the prefix in your reverse proxy config

If you're configuring your Flask app under a URL prefix, it's probably running behind a reverse proxy of some sort (Nginx, Apache, etc.). Reverse proxies can be configured to strip these prefixes when relaying requests to individual apps, but don't do this!

You want to leave the handling of the prefix to the WSGI server running your app, because the WSGI server has intimate knowledge about the app (it knows it can expect the app to talk WSGI), so it can be smart about how exactly prefix handling should be done. By contrast, the reverse proxy has very little information about your app -- it can rewrite incoming URLs in request headers fairly easily, but that's about it, it can hardly rewrite outgoing URLs in response bodies, that would be non-trivial. That's what sprinkling url_for()s where appropriate throughout your app is for (see previous section).

So make sure your reverse proxy leaves the prefix alone. As an example, for Nginx, you don't want this, which would get rid of the /my-app/ prefix:

location /my-app/ {
    proxy_pass http://127.0.0.1:8000/;
    # ...
}

Instead, you want this:

location /my-app/ {
    proxy_pass http://127.0.0.1:8000/my-app/;
    # ...                            ^^^^^^^
}

Minimal working example

Let's wrap up with a runnable demo. Put this in app.py:

from flask import Flask, url_for

app = Flask(__name__)

@app.route("/")
def index():
    return url_for("index")

Run the app with a WSGI-compliant web server, e.g. Gunicorn (again, not Flask's builtin dev server, see above), while setting the SCRIPT_NAME env var:

$ SCRIPT_NAME=/my-app gunicorn app:app

Now try accessing / with curl:

$ curl localhost:8000/

You should get an internal server error. If you inspect the traceback in the window where the app is running, you'll see this was due to the fact that the expected /my-app prefix wasn't found, so try adding it:

$ curl localhost:8000/my-app/
/my-app/

Now everything works, even though your app's source code is clean and blissfully unaware of any prefix. Gunicorn strips away the prefix from the request before passing it on to your app's router, and url_for takes care of adding the prefix back into any internal link generated by your app, as you can see in the output (/my-app/ instead of /).

Just to confirm Flask's builtin development server doesn't properly handle read SCRIPT_NAME from the environment -- run the app with it:

$ FLASK_APP=app SCRIPT_NAME=/my-app flask run

The prefix is ignored, which means that accessing / works (which we don't want):

$ curl localhost:5000/
/

And /my-app/ unfortunately doesn't:

$ curl localhost:5000/my-app/
# outputs Flask's default 404 message

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