Who should read this Guide?

This Users’ Guide provides a technical overview and reference for the Cheetah template system. Knowledge of Python and object-oriented programming is assumed. The emphasis in this Guide is on features useful in a wide variety of situations. Information on less common situations and troubleshooting tips are gradually being moved to the Cheetah FAQ. There is also a Cheetah Developer’s Guide for those who want to know what goes on under the hood.

What is Cheetah?

Cheetah is a Python-powered template engine and code generator. It may be used as a standalone utility or combined with other tools. Cheetah has many potential uses, but web developers looking for a viable alternative to ASP, JSP, PHP and PSP are expected to be its principle user group.


  • generates HTML, SGML, XML, SQL, Postscript, form email, LaTeX, or any other text-based format. It has also been used to produce Python, Java and PHP source code.
  • cleanly separates content, graphic design, and program code. This leads to highly modular, flexible, and reusable site architectures; faster development time; and HTML and program code that is easier to understand and maintain. It is particularly well suited for team efforts.
  • blends the power and flexibility of Python with a simple template language that non-programmers can understand.
  • gives template writers full access in their templates to any Python data structure, module, function, object, or method.
  • makes code reuse easy by providing an object-oriented interface to templates that is accessible from Python code or other Cheetah templates. One template can subclass another and selectively reimplement sections of it. A compiled template is a Python class, so it can subclass a pure Python class and vice-versa.
  • provides a simple yet powerful caching mechanism

Like its namesake, Cheetah is fast, flexible and powerful.

What is the philosophy behind Cheetah?

Cheetah’s design was guided by these principles:

  • Python for the back end, Cheetah for the front end. Cheetah was designed to complement Python, not replace it.

  • Cheetah’s core syntax should be easy for non-programmers to learn.

  • Cheetah should make code reuse easy by providing an object-oriented interface to templates that is accessible from Python code or other Cheetah templates.

  • Python objects, functions, and other data structures should be fully accessible in Cheetah.

  • Cheetah should provide flow control and error handling. Logic that belongs in the front end shouldn’t be relegated to the back end simply because it’s complex.

  • It should be easy to separate content, graphic design, and program code, but also easy to integrate them.

    A clean separation makes it easier for a team of content writers, HTML/graphic designers, and programmers to work together without stepping on each other’s toes and polluting each other’s work. The HTML framework and the content it contains are two separate things, and analytical calculations (program code) is a third thing. Each team member should be able to concentrate on their specialty and to implement their changes without having to go through one of the others (i.e., the dreaded “webmaster bottleneck”).

    While it should be easy to develop content, graphics and program code separately, it should be easy to integrate them together into a website. In particular, it should be easy:

    • for programmers to create reusable components and functions that are accessible and understandable to designers.
    • for designers to mark out placeholders for content and dynamic components in their templates.
    • for designers to soft-code aspects of their design that are either repeated in several places or are subject to change.
    • for designers to reuse and extend existing templates and thus minimize duplication of effort and code.
    • and, of course, for content writers to use the templates that designers have created.

Why Cheetah doesn’t use HTML-style tags

Cheetah does not use HTML/XML-style tags like some other template languages for the following reasons: Cheetah is not limited to HTML, HTML-style tags are hard to distinguish from real HTML tags, HTML-style tags are not visible in rendered HTML when something goes wrong, HTML-style tags often lead to invalid HTML (e.g., <img src="<template-directive>">), Cheetah tags are less verbose and easier to understand than HTML-style tags, and HTML-style tags aren’t compatible with most WYSIWYG editors

Besides being much more compact, Cheetah also has some advantages over languages that put information inside the HTML tags, such as Zope Page Templates or PHP: HTML or XML-bound languages do not work well with other languages, While ZPT-like syntaxes work well in many ways with WYSIWYG HTML editors, they also give up a significant advantage of those editors - concrete editing of the document. When logic is hidden away in (largely inaccessible) tags it is hard to understand a page simply by viewing it, and it is hard to confirm or modify that logic.

Give me an example!

Here’s a very simple example that illustrates some of Cheetah’s basic syntax:


#for $client in $clients
<TD>$client.surname, $client.firstname</TD>
<TD><A HREF="mailto:$">$</A></TD>
#end for


Compare this with PSP:


<% for client in clients: %>
<TD><%=client['surname']%>, <%=client['firstname']%></TD>
<TD><A HREF="mailto:<%=client['email']%>"><%=client['email']%></A></TD>


Section gettingStarted.tutorial has a more typical example that shows how to get the plug-in values into Cheetah, and section howWorks.cheetah-compile explains how to turn your template definition into an object-oriented Python module.

Give me an example of a Webware servlet!

This example uses an HTML form to ask the user’s name, then invokes itself again to display a personalized friendly greeting.

<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>My Template-Servlet</TITLE></HEAD><BODY>
#set $name = $request.field('name', None)
#if $name
Hello $name
Name: <INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="name"><BR>
<INPUT TYPE="submit">
#end if

To try it out for yourself on a Webware system:

  1. copy the template definition to a file test.tmpl in your Webware servlet directory.
  2. Run cheetah compile test.tmpl. This produces (a .py template module) in the same directory.
  3. In your web browser, go to, using whatever site and directory is appropriate.

At the first request, field ‘name’ will be blank (false) so the “#else” portion will execute and present a form. You type your name and press submit. The form invokes the same page. Now ‘name’ is true so the “#if” portion executes, which displays the greeting. The “#set” directive creates a local variable that lasts while the template is being filled.

How mature is Cheetah?

Cheetah is stable, production quality, post-beta code. Cheetah’s syntax, semantics and performance have been generally stable since a performance overhaul in mid 2001. Most of the changes since October 2001 have been in response to specific requests by production sites, things they need that we hadn’t considered.

As of summer 2003, we are putting in the final touches before the 1.0 release.

Where can I get news?

Cheetah releases can be obtained from the Cheetah website

If you encounter difficulties, or are unsure about how to do something, please post a detailed message to the bug tracker <>.

How can I contribute?

Cheetah is the work of many volunteers. If you use Cheetah please share your experiences, tricks, customizations, and frustrations.

Bug reports and patches

If you think there is a bug in Cheetah, send a message to the e-mail list with the following information:

  1. a description of what you were trying to do and what happened
  2. all tracebacks and error output
  3. your version of Cheetah
  4. your version of Python
  5. your operating system
  6. whether you have changed anything in the Cheetah installation

Template libraries and function libraries

We hope to build up a framework of Template libraries (see section libraries.templates) to distribute with Cheetah and would appreciate any contributions.

Test cases

Cheetah is packaged with a regression testing suite that is run with each new release to ensure that everything is working as expected and that recent changes haven’t broken anything. The test cases are in the Cheetah.Tests module. If you find a reproduceable bug please consider writing a test case that will pass only when the bug is fixed. Send any new test cases to the email list with the subject-line “new test case for Cheetah.”


Help spread the word … recommend it to others, write articles about it, etc.


Cheetah is one of several templating frameworks that grew out of a ‘templates’ thread on the Webware For Python email list. Tavis Rudd, Mike Orr, Chuck Esterbrook and Ian Bicking are the core developers.

We’d like to thank the following people for contributing valuable advice, code and encouragement: Geoff Talvola, Jeff Johnson, Graham Dumpleton, Clark C. Evans, Craig Kattner, Franz Geiger, Geir Magnusson, Tom Schwaller, Rober Kuzelj, Jay Love, Terrel Shumway, Sasa Zivkov, Arkaitz Bitorika, Jeremiah Bellomy, Baruch Even, Paul Boddie, Stephan Diehl, Chui Tey, Michael Halle, Edmund Lian and Aaron Held.

The Velocity, WebMacro and Smarty projects provided inspiration and design ideas. Cheetah has benefitted from the creativity and energy of their developers. Thank you.