Migrations can manage the evolution of a schema used by several physical databases. It‘s a solution to the common problem of adding a field to make a new feature work in your local database, but being unsure of how to push that change to other developers and to the production server. With migrations, you can describe the transformations in self-contained classes that can be checked into version control systems and executed against another database that might be one, two, or five versions behind.

Example of a simple migration:

  class AddSsl < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      add_column :accounts, :ssl_enabled, :boolean, :default => 1

    def self.down
      remove_column :accounts, :ssl_enabled

This migration will add a boolean flag to the accounts table and remove it if you‘re backing out of the migration. It shows how all migrations have two class methods up and down that describes the transformations required to implement or remove the migration. These methods can consist of both the migration specific methods like add_column and remove_column, but may also contain regular Ruby code for generating data needed for the transformations.

Example of a more complex migration that also needs to initialize data:

  class AddSystemSettings < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      create_table :system_settings do |t|
        t.string  :name
        t.string  :label
        t.text  :value
        t.string  :type
        t.integer  :position

      SystemSetting.create :name => "notice", :label => "Use notice?", :value => 1

    def self.down
      drop_table :system_settings

This migration first adds the system_settings table, then creates the very first row in it using the Active Record model that relies on the table. It also uses the more advanced create_table syntax where you can specify a complete table schema in one block call.

Available transformations

  • create_table(name, options) Creates a table called name and makes the table object available to a block that can then add columns to it, following the same format as add_column. See example above. The options hash is for fragments like "DEFAULT CHARSET=UTF-8" that are appended to the create table definition.
  • drop_table(name): Drops the table called name.
  • rename_table(old_name, new_name): Renames the table called old_name to new_name.
  • add_column(table_name, column_name, type, options): Adds a new column to the table called table_name named column_name specified to be one of the following types: :string, :text, :integer, :float, :decimal, :datetime, :timestamp, :time, :date, :binary, :boolean. A default value can be specified by passing an options hash like { :default => 11 }. Other options include :limit and :null (e.g. { :limit => 50, :null => false }) — see ActiveRecord::ConnectionAdapters::TableDefinition#column for details.
  • rename_column(table_name, column_name, new_column_name): Renames a column but keeps the type and content.
  • change_column(table_name, column_name, type, options): Changes the column to a different type using the same parameters as add_column.
  • remove_column(table_name, column_name): Removes the column named column_name from the table called table_name.
  • add_index(table_name, column_names, options): Adds a new index with the name of the column. Other options include :name and :unique (e.g. { :name => "users_name_index", :unique => true }).
  • remove_index(table_name, index_name): Removes the index specified by index_name.

Irreversible transformations

Some transformations are destructive in a manner that cannot be reversed. Migrations of that kind should raise an ActiveRecord::IrreversibleMigration exception in their down method.

Running migrations from within Rails

The Rails package has several tools to help create and apply migrations.

To generate a new migration, you can use

  script/generate migration MyNewMigration

where MyNewMigration is the name of your migration. The generator will create an empty migration file nnn_my_new_migration.rb in the db/migrate/ directory where nnn is the next largest migration number.

You may then edit the self.up and self.down methods of MyNewMigration.

There is a special syntactic shortcut to generate migrations that add fields to a table.

  script/generate migration add_fieldname_to_tablename fieldname:string

This will generate the file nnn_add_fieldname_to_tablename, which will look like this:

  class AddFieldnameToTablename < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      add_column :tablenames, :fieldname, :string

    def self.down
      remove_column :tablenames, :fieldname

To run migrations against the currently configured database, use rake db:migrate. This will update the database by running all of the pending migrations, creating the schema_migrations table (see "About the schema_migrations table" section below) if missing. It will also invoke the db:schema:dump task, which will update your db/schema.rb file to match the structure of your database.

To roll the database back to a previous migration version, use rake db:migrate VERSION=X where X is the version to which you wish to downgrade. If any of the migrations throw an ActiveRecord::IrreversibleMigration exception, that step will fail and you‘ll have some manual work to do.

Database support

Migrations are currently supported in MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, SQL Server, Sybase, and Oracle (all supported databases except DB2).

More examples

Not all migrations change the schema. Some just fix the data:

  class RemoveEmptyTags < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      Tag.find(:all).each { |tag| tag.destroy if tag.pages.empty? }

    def self.down
      # not much we can do to restore deleted data
      raise ActiveRecord::IrreversibleMigration, "Can't recover the deleted tags"

Others remove columns when they migrate up instead of down:

  class RemoveUnnecessaryItemAttributes < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      remove_column :items, :incomplete_items_count
      remove_column :items, :completed_items_count

    def self.down
      add_column :items, :incomplete_items_count
      add_column :items, :completed_items_count

And sometimes you need to do something in SQL not abstracted directly by migrations:

  class MakeJoinUnique < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      execute "ALTER TABLE `pages_linked_pages` ADD UNIQUE `page_id_linked_page_id` (`page_id`,`linked_page_id`)"

    def self.down
      execute "ALTER TABLE `pages_linked_pages` DROP INDEX `page_id_linked_page_id`"

Using a model after changing its table

Sometimes you‘ll want to add a column in a migration and populate it immediately after. In that case, you‘ll need to make a call to Base#reset_column_information in order to ensure that the model has the latest column data from after the new column was added. Example:

  class AddPeopleSalary < ActiveRecord::Migration
    def self.up
      add_column :people, :salary, :integer
      Person.find(:all).each do |p|
        p.update_attribute :salary, SalaryCalculator.compute(p)

Controlling verbosity

By default, migrations will describe the actions they are taking, writing them to the console as they happen, along with benchmarks describing how long each step took.

You can quiet them down by setting ActiveRecord::Migration.verbose = false.

You can also insert your own messages and benchmarks by using the say_with_time method:

  def self.up
    say_with_time "Updating salaries..." do
      Person.find(:all).each do |p|
        p.update_attribute :salary, SalaryCalculator.compute(p)

The phrase "Updating salaries…" would then be printed, along with the benchmark for the block when the block completes.

About the schema_migrations table

Rails versions 2.0 and prior used to create a table called schema_info when using migrations. This table contained the version of the schema as of the last applied migration.

Starting with Rails 2.1, the schema_info table is (automatically) replaced by the schema_migrations table, which contains the version numbers of all the migrations applied.

As a result, it is now possible to add migration files that are numbered lower than the current schema version: when migrating up, those never-applied "interleaved" migrations will be automatically applied, and when migrating down, never-applied "interleaved" migrations will be skipped.

Timestamped Migrations

By default, Rails generates migrations that look like:


The prefix is a generation timestamp (in UTC).

If you‘d prefer to use numeric prefixes, you can turn timestamped migrations off by setting:

   config.active_record.timestamped_migrations = false

In environment.rb.

Public Class methods
     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 315
315:       def announce(message)
316:         text = "#{@version} #{name}: #{message}"
317:         length = [0, 75 - text.length].max
318:         write "== %s %s" % [text, "=" * length]
319:       end
method_missing(method, *arguments, &block)
     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 341
341:       def method_missing(method, *arguments, &block)
342:         arg_list = arguments.map(&:inspect) * ', '
344:         say_with_time "#{method}(#{arg_list})" do
345:           unless arguments.empty? || method == :execute
346:             arguments[0] = Migrator.proper_table_name(arguments.first)
347:           end
348:           ActiveRecord::Base.connection.send(method, *arguments, &block)
349:         end
350:       end

Execute this migration in the named direction

     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 273
273:       def migrate(direction)
274:         return unless respond_to?(direction)
276:         case direction
277:           when :up   then announce "migrating"
278:           when :down then announce "reverting"
279:         end
281:         result = nil
282:         time = Benchmark.measure { result = send("#{direction}_without_benchmarks") }
284:         case direction
285:           when :up   then announce "migrated (%.4fs)" % time.real; write
286:           when :down then announce "reverted (%.4fs)" % time.real; write
287:         end
289:         result
290:       end
say(message, subitem=false)
     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 321
321:       def say(message, subitem=false)
322:         write "#{subitem ? "   ->" : "--"} #{message}"
323:       end
say_with_time(message) {|| ...}
     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 325
325:       def say_with_time(message)
326:         say(message)
327:         result = nil
328:         time = Benchmark.measure { result = yield }
329:         say "%.4fs" % time.real, :subitem
330:         say("#{result} rows", :subitem) if result.is_a?(Integer)
331:         result
332:       end
suppress_messages() {|| ...}
     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 334
334:       def suppress_messages
335:         save, self.verbose = verbose, false
336:         yield
337:       ensure
338:         self.verbose = save
339:       end
     # File vendor/rails/activerecord/lib/active_record/migration.rb, line 311
311:       def write(text="")
312:         puts(text) if verbose
313:       end