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If you need to setup database migrations that work both locally and on Heroku in Python, these steps may be helpful.

For a recent project, I wanted to be able to manage the database schema. I’m not using an ORM, however the migration features in SQLAlchemy turn out to be quite useful.

  1. Install the SQLAlchemy migration package, by adding the following to requirements.txt.

    # Migrations
    sqlalchemy-migrate>=0.7.2
    

    and update:

    pip install -r requirements.txt
    
  2. Create a repository for database migrations

    migrate create db "Cihui"
    

    This creates a directory db/ where the code and migrations will reside.

  3. Update the migrate script to use Heroku DB url

    #!/usr/bin/env python
    
    from migrate.versioning.shell import main
    import os
    
    if __name__ == '__main__':
        db_url = os.environ.get('DATABASE_URL', 'postgresql://localhost:5432/cihui')
        db_url = db_url.replace('postgres:', 'postgresql:', 1)
        main(url=db_url, debug='False', repository='db')
    

    This should allow you to run migrations locally or on Heroku. There was a warning message on Heroku for the url starting with postgres rather than postgresql, thus the replace line.

  4. Update Procfile

    This sets up a few useful targets to run on Heroku and locally using foreman.

    db_init:  python db/manage.py version_control
    db_version:  python db/manage.py db_version
    migrate: python db/manage.py upgrade
    
  5. To migrate locally

    foreman run init_db # first time
    foreman run migrate
    
  6. To run on Heroku

    heroku run db_init
    heroku run migrate
    
  7. Write migrations as SQL

    I prefer to manually write the migrations, and SQLAlchemy has great support for this. Refer to their docs for details.

    python db/manage.py script_sql postgresql 'add list table'
    

    This generates an upgrade and downgrade sql script in db/versions with an appropriate version number.

  8. Test the migration:

    python db/manage.py test
    

    Runs upgrade and then downgrade on a single version.

  9. DB access to Heroku

    Console access is available via:

    heroku pg:psql
    

    Useful for checking specific values or fixing broken migrations.

I’m still iterating on this project, so may change some things around as I go. For the moment, this allowed me to manage the database schema easily in multiple databases.