Minimal database schema migrations tool

database, schema, migrations, postgresql, postgres, cassandra
pip install mschematool==0.9.1



mschematool is a simple tool for managing database migrations. Migrations are native SQL/CQL scripts or Python modules. Configuration is a Python module. More details:

  • migrations are ordered using lexicographical comparison. Sample suggested filenames:
    • m20140615133521_add_column_author.sql
  • information about executed migrations is stored inside a database for which migrations were executed in a simple table with file names and execution time only (it can be manually modified if needed)
  • a configuration module can specify multiple database connections

Why the tool was created when similar already exist? Actually they have drawbacks that make them unsuitable for some scenarios, like: no support for native SQL format, Java installation requirement, no support for multiple databases, lack of robustness.

Supported databases

  • PostgreSQL
  • Apache Cassandra
  • SQLite3


The tool is available as a Python 2.7 package, so the simplest method to install it is using pip (or easy_install):

$ sudo pip install mschematool

This step will not install packages needed for using specific databases:

  • for PostgreSQL, psycopg2 Python package must be installed
  • for Cassandra, cassandra-driver Python package must be installed. The tool also requires access to local Cassandra installation (see the next point).


Configuration file is a Python module listing available databases and migration files locations. The following example lists two PostgreSQL databases:

        'default': {
            'migrations_dir': './migrations/',
            'engine': 'postgres',
            'dsn': 'host= dbname=mtutorial',

        'other': {
            'migrations_dir': './migrations_other/',
            'engine': 'postgres',
            'dsn': 'host= dbname=mother',
            'after_sync': 'pg_dump -s mother > /tmp/mother_schema.sql',
            'migration_table': 'mother_migrations',

LOG_FILE = '/tmp/mtest1.log'

For each "dbnick" (a short database name - default and other in the example) a dictionary specifies a database. The following entries are common to all engines (not only PostgreSQL):

  • migrations_dir is a directory with migrations files (note that it's usually not a good idea to use a relative path here).
  • engine specifies database type.
  • after_sync optionally specifies a shell command to run after a migration is synced (executed). In the case of other database a schema dump is performed.
  • LOG_FILE is an optional global paremeter that specifies a log file which will record all the executed commands and other information useful for debugging.

PostgreSQL specific options

The migration_table option allows implementing a "migration table per schema" use case by configuring multiple DATABASES pointing to the same database, but differing in migration_table.

Sqlite3 specific options

An example sqlite3 config:

import os.path
import sqlite3

BASE_DIR = os.path.dirname(os.path.realpath(__file__))

        'default': {
            'migrations_dir': os.path.join(BASE_DIR, 'migrations'),
            'engine': 'sqlite3',
            'database': os.path.join(BASE_DIR, 'db.sqlite3'),
            'connect_kwargs': {
                'detect_types': sqlite3.PARSE_DECLTYPES,
  • connect_kwargs is a dictionary with keyword arguments specifying special options to sqlite3.connect. For example, if you pass 'uri': true, the database keyword will be interpreted as an URI instead of a filename (which allows you to pass various other options for controlling sqlite3).

Cassandra specific options

An example Cassandra config:

import os.path

BASE_DIR = os.path.dirname(os.path.realpath(__file__))

        'cass_default': {
            'migrations_dir': os.path.join(BASE_DIR, 'cass1'),
            'engine': 'cassandra',
            'cqlsh_path': '/opt/cassandra/bin/cqlsh',
            'pylib_path': '/opt/cassandra/pylib',
            'keyspace': 'migrations',
            'cluster_kwargs': {
                'contact_points': [''],
                'port': 9042,

  • cqlsh_path is a path to the cqlsh binary which is a part of Cassandra installaion.
  • pylib_path is a path to pylib subdirectory of a local Cassandra installation.
  • keyspace is a name of a keyspace in which migration column family (table) should be stored. You should create it manually, eg.: CREATE KEYSPACE IF NOT EXISTS migrations WITH REPLICATION = { 'class' : 'SimpleStrategy', 'replication_factor' : 3 };
  • cluster_kwargs is a dictionary with keyword arguments specifying a database connection (they are __init__ arguments for the Cluster Python class), as specified here:

Specifying configuration file

Path to a configuration module can be specified using --config option or MSCHEMATOOL_CONFIG environment variable:


(again, it's better to use an absolute path so the mschematool command will work from any directory).


The tutorial uses the configuration with PostgreSQL databases, listed above (the usage of a Cassandra database looks identical, except .sql file extension should be replaced with .cql). The commands will work when executed from example subdirectory of the repository and when is specified as the configuration.

Assuming the mtutorial Postgres database is created, we first need to initialize it - create the table migration for storing names of executed migrations.

$ mschematool default init_db

All commands are specified this way - the first argument is a "dbnick" from a config, the second is an actual command (run mschematool --help to see a short summary of commands).

Now given that we have a few migration files:

$ ls migrations 

we want to execute ("sync") them. But let's first check what the tool thinks is not executed yet:

$ mschematool default to_sync

Ok, so it sees all the migrations, so let's execute some SQL and Python:

$ mschematool default sync   
Executing m20140615132455_create_article.sql
Executing m20140615133521_add_column_author.sql

And now no migration should be waiting for an execution:

$ mschematool default to_sync

sync command executes all migrations that weren't yet executed. To execute a single migration without executing all the other available for syncing, use force_sync_single:

$ mschematool default force_sync_single m20140615132455_create_article.sql

For more fine-grained control, the table migration can be modified manually. The content is simple:

$ psql mtutorial -c 'SELECT * FROM migration'
                 file                  |          executed          
 m20140615133521_add_column_author.sql | 2014-06-15 19:19:42.100535        | 2014-06-15 19:19:42.101006
(2 rows)


An SQL migration is a file with SQL statements. All statements are executed within a single database transaction. It means that when one of statements fail, all the changes made by previous statements are ROLLBACKed and a migration isn't recorded as executed.

WARNING. Due to sqlite3 module behaviour Sqlite migrations might not work as described above.

A CQL migration (Apache Cassandra) is a file with CQL statements delimited with a ; character. When execution of a statement fails, a migration isn't recorded as executed, but changes made by previous statements aren't canceled (due to no support for transactions).

A Python migration is a file with migrate method that accepts a connection object:

  • for Postgres, it's a DBAPI 2.0 connection. When an exception does not happen during execution, COMMIT is issued on a connection, so it isn't necessary to call commit() inside migrate().
  • for Cassandra, it's a Cluster instance.

A migration is marked as executed when no exception is raised.

Example Postgres migrations

$ cat migrations/m20140615132455_create_article.sql
CREATE TABLE article (id int, body text);
CREATE INDEX ON article(id);

$ cat migrations/ 
def migrate(connection):
    cur = connection.cursor()
    for i in range(10):
        cur.execute("""INSERT INTO article (id, body) VALUES (%s, %s)""", [i, str(i)])

Example Cassandra migrations

$ cat m20140615132456_init2.cql 
CREATE KEYSPACE IF NOT EXISTS mtest WITH REPLICATION = { 'class' : 'SimpleStrategy', 'replication_factor' : 1 };
CREATE TABLE (name text, PRIMARY KEY(name));

$ cat
def migrate(cluster):
    session = cluster.connect('mtest')
    session.execute("""INSERT INTO article (id, body) VALUES (%s, %s)""", [10, 'xx'])

Creating new migrations

A helper print_new command is available for creating new migration files - it just prints a suggested migration file name based on a description, using the current UTC date and time as a timestamp:

$ mschematool default print_new 'more changes'    

The m prefix makes a Python module implementing a migration to have a valid name (it can't start with a digit). However, the tool will see all filenames ending with sql, cql, py, so you can use a different naming convention. Moreover, the migrations are sorted using ordinary lexicographical comparison, so instead of a timestamp, other ordering mechanisms can be used (sequences like 001.sql 002.sql 003.sql, or two-component names like branchA_001.sql branchB_001.sql).

Dealing with dialect differences

If you support multiple SQL databases in your project, you can have a single directory with migrations specified for multiple DATABASES in the config. You can then use engine-specific filename extensions. Migrations having the .sql extension will be seen by all SQL engines. Migration filenames ending with an engine's name will be seen by the engine only.

For example, if you have these files:


a postgres engine will execute 001.sql 002.postgres, while an sqlite3 engine will execute 001.sql 002.sqlite3 003.sqlite3

Python files are always executed for every supported database. If you need to know for which engine an execution is perfomed, specify a second argument to the migrate function:

def migrate(connection, db_config):
    if db_config['engine'] == 'postgres':
        # ...

The db_config argument is a dictionary specified in DATABASES for which the execution is performed.

Note than in most cases, you won't have to detect an engine, because most databases support the common API, from PEP 0249.

Contributing and extending

Most of the functionality is implemented in subclasses of MigrationsRepository and MigrationsExecutor in mschematool/ file.

MigrationsRepository represents a repository of migrations available for execution, with the default implementation DirRepository, which is just a directory with files. You might want to create an alternative implemention if you need something more sophisticated.

MigrationsExecutor represents a part that deals with executing migrations and storing results in a table. If you want to add support for a new database, you should implement a subclass of this class (see the modules inside the executors package for examples).

For running integration tests see tests/ docstrings (warning: running tests might destroy existing databases or tables).