Faster Django migrations with django-migrations-ci

Django migrations are really slow. It is an open issue for years. It was even an Google Summer of Code proposal.

For small projects, it take some seconds to run all your migrations and it is fine. A few developers can work on it for a long time. For a large project, it is not that simple.

Our largest project today has 273 Django models and did ~1000 migrations in 4 years. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes on CI, even with a lot of optimizations. Django squashmigrations command do optimizations, but could be a lot better. After a lot of squashes, it's still slow.

It was really bad for us, CI failed a lot because of timeouts or random postgres failures after some time trying to always migrate.

We tried some things to improve our CI pipeline.

Do not migrate on CI

A common advice to improve this time is to not run migrations on CI. It is fast.

You can override the MIGRATIONS_MODULES for testing:

MIGRATION_MODULES = {app.rsplit(".")[-1]: None for app in INSTALLED_APPS}

It is not really safe, because now you run migrations only on deployments, which is risky. Large projects have data migrations, migration bugs and other issues that you want to discover before production. So we added another stage to run migrations and our problem was back.

Reuse database

In the past I had to hack pytest-django setup to run less migrations. This was useful to know how to separate migrations and test steps.

I changed our pipeline to dump the migrated database to a SQL file and cached it on GitLab CI.

Some old code examples from our CI:

# Don't try to copy it, please!
if [ -f $CI_PROJECT_DIR/djangomigrations.sql ]; then
    pg_restore -h $DB_HOST -U $POSTGRES_USER -d $DB_NAME $CI_PROJECT_DIR/djangomigrations.sql
    time ./ setup_test_db
    pg_dump -F c -h $DB_HOST -U $POSTGRES_USER $DB_NAME > $CI_PROJECT_DIR/djangomigrations.sql
time ./ clone_test_db

Commands setup_test_db and clone_test_db were just a few lines of Python code, but I'll not paste it here.

# GitLab CI cache work this way.
      - "requirements.txt"
      - "*/migrations/*.py"
    - djangomigrations.sql
  when: always

Perfect! Running a migration state that already ran in the past, GitLab CI give me an SQL file with this state and I restore it to my database. It took our database migrations from minutes to just a few seconds. Works for me!


I went to DjangoCon US to talk about django-qserializer. There I had some conversations about how migrations are slow. More people had the same issue, so I started django-migrations-ci during sprint days of the event.

Using this module, it is just one extra command to setup your test database:

./ migrateci
./ test --keepdb

Following my original idea, it started using CI caching to provide a storage layer.

I implemented it to sqlite3, mysql and postgres. Never tried to implement for oracle, but it is easy to add other databases. Also, I documented how to integrate it with GitHub Actions and GitLab CI.

Partial caching

After this initial sprint, I replaced the CI caching with a custom storage, easy to integrate with anything django-storages support.

I did that to support partial migrations. It was impossible to do it with CI caching, because they don't have an API to easily choose the cache I want.

When a new migration is added, there is no migration state cached, so all migrations are processed again. To fix this use case, I wanted to get a previous state, restore from it and run only new migrations, which is reasonably fast.

Use it

Now I can say it is easy to reuse my solution and it really adds value to any project where your migrations take more than a few seconds.

Install it, configure an external storage and add a command to your CI scripts.

from storages.backends.s3boto3 import S3Boto3Storage

class MigrateCIStorage(S3Boto3Storage):
    bucket_name = "mybucket-migrateci-cache"
    region_name = "us-east-1"
$ ./ migrateci --storage-class

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