Databases for Humans

pip install db==0.1.1



A more programmer friendly interface to databases inspired by Kenneth Reitz's "requests" library.

I've got a long way to go but I'm using this code in a number of projects already so I figured I'd put it out there. Also please note that this is not, and never will be, an attempt at an ORM (although it may be reasonable or even advantageous to write one on top of it).


The fundamental abstraction provided by the db library is the database handle. Each database handle represents a lazily instantiated thread-local connection to the database. This means that if you never invoke any of the query methods (item, items, etc) then no connection will ever be created.

The simpliest way to configure a database is to create an environment variable called DATABASE_URL which contains a URL describing your database, like:

export DATABASE_URL='postgres://user:pass@host:5432/db_name'

And then use from_env() like so:


The from_env() function will first look for an environment variable called ENVIRONMENT that specifies which environment you are operating in. If found, it is prepended in all uppercase to "_DATABASE_URL" to form the full name of the environment variable in which the database URL will be sought.

For example, if ENVIRONMENT were set to prod then db will expect to find the database URL in the environment variable PROD_DATABASE_URL.

If the ENVIRONMENT variable is not set then just DATABASE_URL will be used.

You can specify a different variable by passing it to from_env() like so:


You might also acquire a handle for a specific database when more than one database is configured, like so:

products_db = db.get("products")

From any handle you can obtain a new handle to the same database but with it's own new dedicated connection via cloning:

products_db_c2 = products_db.clone()

A handle provides various methods for executing queries and handling various common cases (counts, expecting exactly 1 row, want the first row back, etc).

For example, a simple query might look like:

products = products_db.items("SELECT * FROM products")

In addition a handle provides a context manager for managing the lifecycle of transactions:

with products_db.tx() as tx:
    best_product = tx.item("SELECT * FROM products ORDER BY total_sales LIMIT 1")"UPDATE products SET price = price + 0.01 WHERE product_id = %X",

The object returned (tx) within the with block is database handle scoped to the transaction.

The db library provides a standard URL-based interface to specifying database connection parameters as well as mechanisms that automatically handle best practices (e.g. specifying your primary database connection string in the environment variable DATABASE_URL, connection pools, etc).

Basic Usage

The most common scenario is a single database. The most common way to configure the database in e.g. a deployed web app would be to set an environment variable like "DATABASE_URL" to a URL that points to your database. Something like:


Once your DATABASE_URL is set up, just import the db library and the appropriate driver(s) and then use the from_env() helper to create a default database from that URL:

>>> from db_sqlite3 import db
>>> db.from_env()
<db_sqlite3.Sqlite3Driver object at 0x...>

You can pass the name of a different environment variable to from_env if you want to read from a different variable:


You may also specify an name for the database using the db_name keyword argument to from_env. This is useful when you need to access multiple databases from a single project:


Or of course combine the two:

db.from_env("PRODUCTION_DATABASE_URL", db_name="prod_db")

If you prefer to get your database URLs from someplace other than the command line then you can use .from_url() instead of .from_env():

db.from_url("sqlite3:/:memory:", db_name="temp_db")

Now that you have a default database configured, you can use db.item() to execute a query that you expect to return exactly 1 row (e.g. a SELECT statement or a stored procedure that you expect to return a single row):

>>> row = db.item("SELECT * FROM examples WHERE id = 10")

And you can access the fields by name:

>>> row.example_id
>>> row.example_name
u'This is example ID 10'

What a minute, what happened to our fundamental unit of abstraction, the database handle? Here we are just calling a method directly on the db module, aren't we?

Well, yes, the db module acts as a proxy to the default thread-local database handle for the default database, so in the most common case, you can just use the db module itself anywhere you need a database handle, like we are in these examples.

Note that the use of and db.item without an explicit transaction block will create a new transaction for each statement.

If a call to .item() returns more or less than 1 row then you will receive an UnexpectedCardinality exception:

>>> db.item("SELECT * FROM examples")
UnexpectedCardinality("blah blah")

Bind Parameters

db uses the execute_f method from the dbapiext module of Martin Blais' antiorm project to handle parameter binding, so you get all the benefits discussed in his presentation here:

The short story is that you use %X (or %(name)X for named parameters) to auto-escape values.

You can use the db.transmogrify function to get a compiled query without executing it.


To explicitly control transactions, use a with block with the transaction context manager:

>>> with db.tx() as tx:
...     row = tx.item("SELECT * FROM examples")
..."INSERT INTO examples (name) VALUES ('foo')")
>>> row.example_id

In this case, a new transaction wraps the with block. If the transaction issues a ROLLBACK statement, the with block will return with no error, but if the transaction aborts causing a rollback, then the with block will raise the appropriate exception.

The use of the individual query methods (.do, .item and .items) without an explicit transaction block results in a new transaction for each statement.

Multiple Databases

In the examples above we registered a single database driver and since then every interaction we've had with the db module has used this default driver to obtain a connection.

You can register multiple databases by providing a name for any non-default databases:

>>> db.from_url("postgresql://tweeter:pw140@localhost:5432/tweetsdb",
...             db_name="tweets")
>>> db.from_url("postgresql://dsgnr:pretty@localhost:5432/tweetsdb",
...             db_name="images")

Then access them individually later:

>>> tweets_db = db.get("tweets")
>>> images_db = db.get("images")

And use all of the same functions on them:

>>> row = tweetsdb.item("SELECT * FROM tweet_examples")
>>> row.example_id

>>> with imagesdb.tx() as tx:
...     row = tx.item("SELECT * FROM image_examples")
..."INSERT INTO image_examples (name) VALUES ('bar')")
>>> row.example_id



Drivers for the db module are very simple. They are objects which provide:

    A string defining the paramstyle, e.g. "pyformat", "qmark", etc

    A string containing the default scheme of URLs this driver is meant to
    handle (e.g. "postgresql" or "sqlite3" in "sqlite3://blah").

    A method for acquiring a new connection to the underlying database.

    A method for releasing a connection to the underlying database.

    A method for checking whether an exception from the underlying driver
    is safe to ignore.

    A method for obtaining a cursor from the given connection.

    An alternate constructor to instantiate a driver from a URL.

The db.drivers.Driver class provides an base class to make it easier to implement new drivers. Most drivers will/should extend from this class.

The two methods that MUST be implemented to make a driver useful are the from_url() class method and the acquire() method.

Driver provides a default implementation of release() which does nothing. If your driver needs to free resources when a connection is no longer in use (for example if it is a Pool driver that needs to return the connection to the pool) then you must also override this method.

Driver provides a default implementation of ignore(ex) which always returns False. If there are any exceptions that are safe to ignore in your driver then you must override this method.

Driver provides a default implementation of cursor() which delegates driver-specific cursor setup to the method setup_cursor(cursor) which has a no-op default implementation.

The Driver class provides default implementations of cursor(), ... FINISH ME.


TODO: Actually, this isn't quite implemented yet. Coming soon. But I expect it to end up something like this:

Connection pools are simply implemented as new drivers, e.g. "antipool+postgresql://user:pass@host/db?min_conn=10&max_conn=50"


Currently there are four custom exceptions that the db module might raise, all of which are a subclass of db.DBError (which currently is never raised directly):

    Raised when an attempt to access the default database is made before a
    driver is registered for the default database.

    Raised when an attempt to access a named database is made but no driver
    has been registered for that name.

    Raised when .one() or .tuple() is called and the query returns more or
    less than 1 result.  Taking suggestions for a better name before 1.0
    release sets it in stone :)

    Raised when there is no driver registered to handle the scheme of a
    database URL.