Agnostic Database Migrations is a database migration tool that is agnostic to:

  • database system
  • programming language
  • object/relational mapper (ORMs)
  • build system
  • merging source code branches
  • workflow

Favoring convention over configuration, Agnostic is lightweight and conceptually simple.

Stop stressing about migrations and start using Agnostic!

Quick Start

Ok, Mr. or Mrs. Impatient, you don’t want to read 14 pages of dry, technical documentation. You just want to see what it can do, right?

We will assume that you already have a running application that uses a database named myapp. This application has a single table called customer:

CREATE TABLE customer (
    name character varying(255),
    address character varying(255),
    home_phone character varying(255)


One of the beautiful features of Agnostic is that doesn’t care how you got to this point, or what tools you use to build your database. You can build your database with a SQL script, an ORM, or even the butterfly effect. Agnostic won’t get jealous.

Now your customers are demanding a few features, and these new features require changes to the existing database structure:

  1. Add a cell_phone column.
  2. Add a nickname column.

Let’s see how we can do this with Agnostic.

First, create a directory to hold the migrations. We will name the directory migrations. (You could name it something else, but that would take a few extra minutes to explain, and this wouldn’t be a “quick” start.)

~/myapp $ mkdir migrations

Next, bootstrap the migrations system. This step creates a table inside your database to hold metadata about migrations.

~/myapp $ agnostic -t postgres -u myuser -d mydb bootstrap
Migration table created.

Now, write SQL scripts for each of the changes and save them in the migrations folder.

~/myapp $ cat > migrations/add_nickname.sql
ALTER TABLE customer ADD nickname VARCHR(255);

~/myapp $ cat > migrations/add_cell_phone.sql
ALTER TABLE customer ADD cell_phone VARCHAR(255);

Finally, run the migrations:

~/myapp $ agnostic -t postgres -u myuser -d mydb migrate
Backing up database "myapp" to "/tmp/tmprhty1nc7".
About to run 2 migrations in database "myapp":
 * Running migration add_cell_phone (1/2)
 * Running migration add_nickname (2/2)
Migration failed because:
failed to run external tool "psql" (exit 3):
ERROR:  type "varchr" does not exist
LINE 1: ALTER TABLE customer ADD nickname VARCHR(255);

Will try to restore from backup…
Restored from backup.

Ruh roh! The first migration ran fine, but it looks like the second migration has a typo: VARCHR instead of VARCHAR. Luckily, Agnostic automatically backs up your database before running migrations. In the event of a failure, it automatically restores from that backup so that you don’t get stuck in an in-between state.


You can disable Agnostic’s automatic backup/restore behavior with the --no-backup flag.

Let’s fix the typo and run it again.

~/myapp $ sed -i 's:VARCHR:VARCHAR:' migrations/add_nickname.sql
ALTER TABLE customer ADD nickname VARCHAR(255);

~/myapp $ agnostic -t postgres -u myuser -d mydb migrate
Backing up database "myapp" to "/tmp/tmpm8glpgaa".
About to run 2 migrations in database "myapp":
 * Running migration add_cell_phone (1/2)
 * Running migration add_nickname (2/2)
Migrations completed successfully.
Removing backup "/tmp/tmpm8glpgaa".

Sweet! You’re done…

Agnostic keeps track of what migrations have already been applied, so we can easily run future migrations without accidentally re-executing previous migrations.

~/myapp $ cat > migrations/drop_nickname.sql
ALTER TABLE customer DROP nickname;

~/myapp $ agnostic -t postgres -u myuser -d mydb list
Name           | Status    | Started At          | Completed At
add_cell_phone | succeeded | 2015-05-23 21:09:33 | 2015-05-23 21:09:34
add_nickname   | succeeded | 2015-05-23 21:09:34 | 2015-05-23 21:09:34
drop_nickname  | pending   | N/A                 | N/A

~/myapp $ agnostic -t postgres -u myuser -d mydb migrate
Backing up database "myapp" to "/tmp/tmpiq5fhnh6".
About to run 1 migration in database "myapp":
 * Running migration drop_nickname (1/1)
Migrations completed successfully.
Removing backup "/tmp/tmpiq5fhnh6".

Easy peasy, right?


If you’re new to migrations, or coming from a different migrations system, you may be wondering what exactly is meant by “agnostic database migrations”.

When you develop and deploy an application that is backed up by a relational database, you will eventually need to deploy a new version of that application that expects a slightly different, improved database structure. In most production use cases, it’s not acceptable to just drop the database and rebuild it. Instead, you must modify the existing database to match what the application expects, and you need to do so without corrupting or destroying any of your production data.

On small projects, you might be able to handle this process manually: you write a SQL script for each new release and then you run that script whenever you need to deploy an upgraded version.

On large projects, however, you’ll find that it quickly grows to be a bigger problem that you can reasonably manage. It becomes very difficult to ensure that all of your environments have exactly the same database structure; the bugs that arise from having slightly different database structures in different places (imagine a missing foreign key constraint) cause corrupted data to build up slowly over time and eventually turn into a nightmarish debugging scenario.


There are a lot of options for database migrations:

(This is just a sample of the many tools out there.)

Why are there so many different migration tools?

The main reason that there are so many tools is that—for some strange reason—the developers think that each programming language or ORM needs its own separate migration tool. These solutions are simultaneously over-engineered and too restrictive.

Consider the Alembic tutorial as an example:

  1. Run alembic init to intialize a directory structure, including an env.py configuration file.
  2. You also need an alembic.ini file, which contains 20 configuration directives by default.
  3. Edit a Mako template file in order to customize automatically generated migrations. (You have free time to learn Mako, right?)
  4. Run alembic revision -m foo to create a template for a new migration script.
  5. Write the migration script in Python, using the Alembic API. (You have time to learn that API, right?)
  6. Write an upgrade() method for the migration, and you may write a downgrade() method as well. (Just keep in mind that downgrading won’t work at all if you have even a single migration that doesn’t implement downgrade().)

As if you didn’t have already have enough complex things to learn, memorize, and operate, these migration systems expect you to read 100 pages of documentation just so you can manage migrations. Hopefully you’re not thinking about using a different ORM or programming language on your next project—you’ll have to learn a whole new migrations system, too!

In contrast, consider Agnostic:

  • Open source.
  • Lightweight.
  • Not tied to a specific programming lanuage.
  • Not tied to a specific ORM.
  • Not tied to a specific database system.
  • Migrations written in pure SQL.
  • No configuration files.
  • High automated test coverage.

Agnostic is a migrations system you can use on all of your projects.


Agnostic is released under an MIT license.