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Automatic migration planning for Django


  • Django is a Python web framework, with a built-in ORM.
  • Atlas is an open-source tool for inspecting, planning, linting and executing schema changes to your database.
  • Developers using Django can use Atlas to automatically plan schema migrations for them.

Automatic migration planning for Django

Django is the most popular web framework in the Python community. It includes a built-in ORM which allows users to describe their data model using Python classes. Migrations are then created using the python makemigrations command, which can be applied to the database using python migrate.

Among the many ORMs available in our industry, Django's automatic migration is one of the most powerful and robust. It can handle a wide range of schema changes, including adding new tables, adding new columns, changing column types, and more. However, having been created in 2014, a very different era in software engineering, it naturally has some limitations.

Some of the limitations of Django's migration system include:

  • Database Features. Because it was created to provide interoperability across database engines, Django's migration system is centered around the "lowest common denominator" of database features. More advanced features such as Triggers, Views, and Stored Procedures have very limited support and require developers to jump through all kinds of hoops to use them.
  • Ensuring Migration Safety. Migrations are a risky business. If you're not careful, you can easily cause data loss or a production outage. Django's migration system does not provide a native way to ensure that a migration is safe to apply.
  • Modern Deployments. Django does not provide native integration with modern deployment practices such as GitOps or Infrastructure-as-Code.

Atlas, on the other hand, lets you manage your Django applications using the Database Schema-as-Code paradigm. This means that you can use Atlas to automatically plan schema migrations for your Django project, and then apply them to your database. Using Atlas, you can enjoy automatic migration planning, automatic code review and integrations with your favorite CI/CD tools.

How it works

Atlas works by planning migrations from the database's current state to the desired state.

In the context of versioned migrations, the current state can be thought of as the database schema that would have been created by applying all previous migration scripts.

The desired schema of your application can be provided to Atlas via an External Schema Datasource, which is any program that can output a SQL schema definition to stdout.

To use Atlas with Django, users can utilize the Django Atlas Provider which is a small program that can be used to load the schema of a Django project into Atlas.

In this guide, we will show how Atlas can be used to automatically plan schema migrations for Django users.


If you don't have a Django project handy, check out the Django getting started page

Using the Atlas Django Provider

In this guide, we will use the Django Atlas Provider to automatically plan schema migrations for a Django project.


To download and install the latest release of the Atlas CLI, simply run the following in your terminal:

curl -sSf | sh

Start Python virtual environment if you haven't already:

python3 -m venv venv
source venv/bin/activate

Install the provider by running:

pip install atlas-provider-django


Add the provider to your Django project's INSTALLED_APPS in


In your project directory, where file is located, create a new file named atlas.hcl with the following contents:

data "external_schema" "django" {
program = [
"--dialect", "mysql" // mariadb | postgresql | sqlite | mssql

// if you want to only load a subset of your app models, you can specify the apps by adding
// "--apps", "app1", "app2", "app3"

env "django" {
src = data.external_schema.django.url
dev = "docker://mysql/8/dev"
migration {
dir = "file://migrations"
format {
migrate {
diff = "{{ sql . \" \" }}"


Atlas supports a versioned migrations workflow, where each change to the database is versioned and recorded in a migration file. You can use the atlas migrate diff command to automatically generate a migration file that will migrate the database from its latest revision to the current Django schema.

Suppose we have installed app named polls, with the following models in our polls/ file:

from django.db import models

class Question(models.Model):
question_text = models.CharField(max_length=200)
pub_date = models.DateTimeField("date published")

class Choice(models.Model):
question = models.ForeignKey(Question, on_delete=models.CASCADE)
choice_text = models.CharField(max_length=200)
votes = models.IntegerField(default=0)

We can generate a migration file by running this command:

atlas migrate diff --env django

Running this command will generate files similar to this in the migrations directory:

|-- 20240126104629.sql
`-- atlas.sum

0 directories, 2 files

Examining the contents of 20240126104629.sql:

-- Create "polls_question" table
CREATE TABLE `polls_question` (
`question_text` varchar(200) NOT NULL,
`pub_date` datetime(6) NOT NULL,
) CHARSET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_0900_ai_ci;
-- Create "polls_choice" table
CREATE TABLE `polls_choice` (
`choice_text` varchar(200) NOT NULL,
`votes` int NOT NULL,
`question_id` bigint NOT NULL,
INDEX `polls_choice_question_id_c5b4b260_fk_polls_question_id` (`question_id`),
CONSTRAINT `polls_choice_question_id_c5b4b260_fk_polls_question_id` FOREIGN KEY (`question_id`) REFERENCES `polls_question` (`id`) ON UPDATE NO ACTION ON DELETE NO ACTION
) CHARSET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_0900_ai_ci;

Amazing! Atlas automatically generated a migration file that will create the polls_question and polls_choice tables in our database. Next, alter the Question class to add a new question_type field:

class Question(models.Model):
question_text = models.CharField(max_length=200)
+ question_type = models.CharField(max_length=20, null=True)
pub_date = models.DateTimeField("date published")

Re-run this command:

atlas migrate diff --env django

Observe a new migration file is generated:

-- Modify "polls_question" table
ALTER TABLE `polls_question` ADD COLUMN `question_type` varchar(20) NULL;


In this guide we demonstrated how projects using Django can use Atlas to automatically plan schema migrations based only on their data model. To learn more about executing migrations against your production database, read the documentation for the migrate apply command.

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