Database migrations


This document details how to generate database migrations as part of a new feature or bugfix. For info on how to apply existing database migrations, refer to the documentation for the nova-manage db sync and nova-manage api_db sync commands in nova-manage. For info on the general upgrade process for a nova deployment, refer to Upgrades.

A typical nova deployments consists of an “API” database and one or more cell-specific “main” databases. Occasionally these databases will require schema or data migrations.

Schema migrations

Changed in version 24.0.0: (Xena)

The database migration engine was changed from sqlalchemy-migrate to alembic.

Changed in version 28.0.0: (Bobcat)

The legacy sqlalchemy-migrate-based database migrations were removed.

The alembic database migration tool is used to manage schema migrations in nova. The migration files and related metadata can be found in nova/db/api/migrations (for the API database) and nova/db/main/migrations (for the main database(s)). As discussed in Upgrades, these can be run by end users using the nova-manage api_db sync and nova-manage db sync commands, respectively.


There were also legacy migrations provided in the legacy_migrations subdirectory for both the API and main databases. These were provided to facilitate upgrades from pre-Xena (24.0.0) deployments. They were removed in the 28.0.0 (Bobcat) release.

The best reference for alembic is the alembic documentation, but a small example is provided here. You can create the migration either manually or automatically. Manual generation might be necessary for some corner cases such as renamed tables but auto-generation will typically handle your issues. Examples of both are provided below. In both examples, we’re going to demonstrate how you could add a new model, Foo, to the main database.

diff --git nova/db/main/ nova/db/main/
index 7eab643e14..8f70bcdaca 100644
--- nova/db/main/
+++ nova/db/main/
@@ -73,6 +73,16 @@ def MediumText():
         sqlalchemy.dialects.mysql.MEDIUMTEXT(), 'mysql')

+class Foo(BASE, models.SoftDeleteMixin):
+    """A test-only model."""
+    __tablename__ = 'foo'
+    id = sa.Column(sa.Integer, primary_key=True)
+    uuid = sa.Column(sa.String(36), nullable=True)
+    bar = sa.Column(sa.String(255))
 class Service(BASE, models.SoftDeleteMixin):
     """Represents a running service on a host."""

(you might not be able to apply the diff above cleanly - this is just a demo).

Auto-generating migration scripts

In order for alembic to compare the migrations with the underlying models, it require a database that it can inspect and compare the models against. As such, we first need to create a working database. We’ll bypass nova-manage for this and go straight to the alembic CLI. The alembic.ini file provided in the migrations directories for both databases is helpfully configured to use an SQLite database by default (nova.db for the main database and nova_api.db for the API database). Create this database and apply the current schema, as dictated by the current migration scripts:

$ tox -e venv -- alembic -c nova/db/main/alembic.ini \
    upgrade head

Once done, you should notice the new nova.db file in the root of the repo. Now, let’s generate the new revision:

$ tox -e venv -- alembic -c nova/db/main/alembic.ini \
    revision -m "Add foo model" --autogenerate

This will create a new file in nova/db/main/migrations with add_foo_model in the name including (hopefully!) the necessary changes to add the new Foo model. You must inspect this file once created, since there’s a chance you’ll be missing imports or something else which will need to be manually corrected. Once you’ve inspected this file and made any required changes, you can apply the migration and make sure it works:

$ tox -e venv -- alembic -c nova/db/main/alembic.ini \
    upgrade head

Manually generating migration scripts

For trickier migrations or things that alembic doesn’t understand, you may need to manually create a migration script. This is very similar to the auto-generation step, with the exception being that you don’t need to have a database in place beforehand. As such, you can simply run:

$ tox -e venv -- alembic -c nova/db/main/alembic.ini \
    revision -m "Add foo model"

As before, this will create a new file in nova/db/main/migrations with add_foo_model in the name. You can simply modify this to make whatever changes are necessary. Once done, you can apply the migration and make sure it works:

$ tox -e venv -- alembic -c nova/db/main/alembic.ini \
    upgrade head

Data migrations

As discussed in Upgrades, online data migrations occur in two places:

  • Inline migrations that occur as part of normal run-time activity as data is read in the old format and written in the new format.

  • Background online migrations that are performed using nova-manage to complete transformations that will not occur incidentally due to normal runtime activity.

Inline data migrations

Inline data migrations are arguably the easier of the two to implement. Almost all of nova’s database models correspond to an oslo.versionedobject (o.vo) or part of one. These o.vos load their data from the underlying database by implementing the obj_load_attr method. By modifying this method, it’s possible to detect missing changes to the data - for example, a missing field - modify the data, save it back to the database, and finally return an object with the newly updated data. Change I6cd206542fdd28f3ef551dcc727f4cb35a53f6a3 provides a fully worked example of this approach.

The main advantage of these is that they are completely transparent to the operator who does not have to take any additional steps to upgrade their deployment: the database updates should happen at runtime as data is pulled from the database. The main disadvantage of this approach is that some records may not be frequently pulled from the database, meaning they never have a chance to get updated. This can prevent the eventual removal of the inline migration in a future release. To avoid this issue, you should inspect the object to see if it’s something that will be loaded as part of a standard runtime operation - for example, on startup or as part of a background task - and if necessary add a blocking online migration in a later release to catch and migrate the laggards.

Online data migrations

Unlike inline data migrations, online data migrations require operator involvement. They are run using the nova-manage db online_data_migrations command which, as noted in nova-manage, this should be run straight after upgrading to a new release once the database schema migrations have been applied and the code updated. Online migrations can be blocking, in that it will be necessary to apply given migrations while running N code before upgrading to N+1. Change I44919422c48570f2647f2325ff895255fc2adf27 provides a fully worked example of this approach.

The advantages and disadvantages of this approach are the inverse of those of the inline data migrations approach. While they can be used to ensure an data migration is actually applied, they require operator involvement and can prevent upgrades until fully applied.