Don’t be afraid of writing migrations


Django’s migration framework evolved a lot since it first release with 1.7. Heaps of bugs have been fixed and numerous features added.

However, there are still lots of things that can be improved to make migrations faster, some tasks more convenient to use, and some tasks even possible. One thing in particular is the makemigrations management command that automatically outputs the required migrations when you changed a model. But there are things makemigrations just can’t do. In those cases you need to write migrations by hand.

Writing migrations may sound scary, but in this blog post and the related talk I want to explain why you don’t need to be afraid of writing migrations. I provide 3 recipes, an easy, and intermediate and a more complex one, which you can use for to get a feeling for how migrations work and how to solve problems you encounter in your own projects. Be advised that some of the recipes may only work with PostgreSQL. SQLite doesn’t enforce ForeignKey integrity and on MySQL you’re screwed when migrations fail. I didn’t try Oracle.

General Layout

Before I go into any details or internals, let me explain the general layout of a migration:

from django.db import migrations

class Migration(migrations.Migration):
    dependencies = []
    operations = []

You start off with a class called Migration inheriting from django.db.migrations.Migration.

You then have an attribute dependencies which is a list of 2-tuples pointing to other migrations which this migration depends on. As an example, when you have a “Profile” model with a ForeignKey to a “User” model, the user database table needs to exist before the profile table can point to the user table.

The “operations” attribute holds a list of migration operations, such as CreateModel, AddField, or AlterField. These operations will be run in order when you apply a migration file.