Migration Style Guide

When writing migrations for GitLab, you have to take into account that these will be ran by hundreds of thousands of organizations of all sizes, some with many years of data in their database.

In addition, having to take a server offline for a an upgrade small or big is a big burden for most organizations. For this reason it is important that your migrations are written carefully, can be applied online and adhere to the style guide below.

Migrations should not require GitLab installations to be taken offline unless absolutely necessary. If a migration requires downtime this should be clearly mentioned during the review process as well as being documented in the monthly release post.

When writing your migrations, also consider that databases might have stale data or inconsistencies and guard for that. Try to make as little assumptions as possible about the state of the database.

Please don't depend on GitLab specific code since it can change in future versions. If needed copy-paste GitLab code into the migration to make it forward compatible.

Comments in the migration

Each migration you write needs to have the two following pieces of information as comments.

Online, Offline, errors?

First, you need to provide information on whether the migration can be applied:

  1. online without errors (works on previous version and new one)
  2. online with errors on old instances after migrating
  3. online with errors on new instances while migrating
  4. offline (needs to happen without app servers to prevent db corruption)

For example:

# rubocop:disable all
# Migration type: online without errors (works on previous version and new one)
class MyMigration < ActiveRecord::Migration

It is always preferable to have a migration run online. If you expect the migration to take particularly long (for instance, if it loops through all notes), this is valuable information to add.

If you don't provide the information it means that a migration is safe to run online.


Your migration should be reversible. This is very important, as it should be possible to downgrade in case of a vulnerability or bugs.

In your migration, add a comment describing how the reversibility of the migration was tested.

Removing indices

If you need to remove index, please add a condition like in following example:

remove_index :namespaces, column: :name if index_exists?(:namespaces, :name)

Adding indices

If you need to add an unique index please keep in mind there is possibility of existing duplicates. If it is possible write a separate migration for handling this situation. It can be just removing or removing with overwriting all references to these duplicates depend on situation.

When adding an index make sure to use the method add_concurrent_index instead of the regular add_index method. The add_concurrent_index method automatically creates concurrent indexes when using PostgreSQL, removing the need for downtime. To use this method you must disable transactions by calling the method disable_ddl_transaction! in the body of your migration class like so:

class MyMigration < ActiveRecord::Migration
  include Gitlab::Database::MigrationHelpers

  def change


Adding Columns With Default Values

When adding columns with default values you should use the method add_column_with_default. This method ensures the table is updated without requiring downtime. This method is not reversible so you must manually define the up and down methods in your migration class.

For example, to add the column foo to the projects table with a default value of 10 you'd write the following:

class MyMigration < ActiveRecord::Migration
  include Gitlab::Database::MigrationHelpers

  def up
    add_column_with_default(:projects, :foo, :integer, default: 10)

  def down
    remove_column(:projects, :foo)


Make sure that your migration works with MySQL and PostgreSQL with data. An empty database does not guarantee that your migration is correct.

Make sure your migration can be reversed.

Data migration

Please prefer Arel and plain SQL over usual ActiveRecord syntax. In case of using plain SQL you need to quote all input manually with quote_string helper.

Example with Arel:

users = Arel::Table.new(:users)

#update other tables with these results

Example with plain SQL and quote_string helper:

select_all("SELECT name, COUNT(id) as cnt FROM tags GROUP BY name HAVING COUNT(id) > 1").each do |tag|
  tag_name = quote_string(tag["name"])
  duplicate_ids = select_all("SELECT id FROM tags WHERE name = '#{tag_name}'").map{|tag| tag["id"]}
  origin_tag_id = duplicate_ids.first
  duplicate_ids.delete origin_tag_id

  execute("UPDATE taggings SET tag_id = #{origin_tag_id} WHERE tag_id IN(#{duplicate_ids.join(",")})")
  execute("DELETE FROM tags WHERE id IN(#{duplicate_ids.join(",")})")