Configuring a Version Counter

The Mapper supports management of a version id column, which is a single table column that increments or otherwise updates its value each time an UPDATE to the mapped table occurs. This value is checked each time the ORM emits an UPDATE or DELETE against the row to ensure that the value held in memory matches the database value.

Warning

Because the versioning feature relies upon comparison of the in memory record of an object, the feature only applies to the Session.flush() process, where the ORM flushes individual in-memory rows to the database. It does not take effect when performing a multirow UPDATE or DELETE using Query.update() or Query.delete() methods, as these methods only emit an UPDATE or DELETE statement but otherwise do not have direct access to the contents of those rows being affected.

The purpose of this feature is to detect when two concurrent transactions are modifying the same row at roughly the same time, or alternatively to provide a guard against the usage of a “stale” row in a system that might be re-using data from a previous transaction without refreshing (e.g. if one sets expire_on_commit=False with a Session, it is possible to re-use the data from a previous transaction).

Simple Version Counting

The most straightforward way to track versions is to add an integer column to the mapped table, then establish it as the version_id_col within the mapper options:

class User(Base):
    __tablename__ = "user"

    id = mapped_column(Integer, primary_key=True)
    version_id = mapped_column(Integer, nullable=False)
    name = mapped_column(String(50), nullable=False)

    __mapper_args__ = {"version_id_col": version_id}

Note

It is strongly recommended that the version_id column be made NOT NULL. The versioning feature does not support a NULL value in the versioning column.

Above, the User mapping tracks integer versions using the column version_id. When an object of type User is first flushed, the version_id column will be given a value of “1”. Then, an UPDATE of the table later on will always be emitted in a manner similar to the following:

UPDATE user SET version_id=:version_id, name=:name
WHERE user.id = :user_id AND user.version_id = :user_version_id
-- {"name": "new name", "version_id": 2, "user_id": 1, "user_version_id": 1}

The above UPDATE statement is updating the row that not only matches user.id = 1, it also is requiring that user.version_id = 1, where “1” is the last version identifier we’ve been known to use on this object. If a transaction elsewhere has modified the row independently, this version id will no longer match, and the UPDATE statement will report that no rows matched; this is the condition that SQLAlchemy tests, that exactly one row matched our UPDATE (or DELETE) statement. If zero rows match, that indicates our version of the data is stale, and a StaleDataError is raised.

Custom Version Counters / Types

Other kinds of values or counters can be used for versioning. Common types include dates and GUIDs. When using an alternate type or counter scheme, SQLAlchemy provides a hook for this scheme using the version_id_generator argument, which accepts a version generation callable. This callable is passed the value of the current known version, and is expected to return the subsequent version.

For example, if we wanted to track the versioning of our User class using a randomly generated GUID, we could do this (note that some backends support a native GUID type, but we illustrate here using a simple string):

import uuid


class User(Base):
    __tablename__ = "user"

    id = mapped_column(Integer, primary_key=True)
    version_uuid = mapped_column(String(32), nullable=False)
    name = mapped_column(String(50), nullable=False)

    __mapper_args__ = {
        "version_id_col": version_uuid,
        "version_id_generator": lambda version: uuid.uuid4().hex,
    }

The persistence engine will call upon uuid.uuid4() each time a User object is subject to an INSERT or an UPDATE. In this case, our version generation function can disregard the incoming value of version, as the uuid4() function generates identifiers without any prerequisite value. If we were using a sequential versioning scheme such as numeric or a special character system, we could make use of the given version in order to help determine the subsequent value.

Server Side Version Counters

The version_id_generator can also be configured to rely upon a value that is generated by the database. In this case, the database would need some means of generating new identifiers when a row is subject to an INSERT as well as with an UPDATE. For the UPDATE case, typically an update trigger is needed, unless the database in question supports some other native version identifier. The PostgreSQL database in particular supports a system column called xmin which provides UPDATE versioning. We can make use of the PostgreSQL xmin column to version our User class as follows:

from sqlalchemy import FetchedValue


class User(Base):
    __tablename__ = "user"

    id = mapped_column(Integer, primary_key=True)
    name = mapped_column(String(50), nullable=False)
    xmin = mapped_column("xmin", String, system=True, server_default=FetchedValue())

    __mapper_args__ = {"version_id_col": xmin, "version_id_generator": False}

With the above mapping, the ORM will rely upon the xmin column for automatically providing the new value of the version id counter.

The ORM typically does not actively fetch the values of database-generated values when it emits an INSERT or UPDATE, instead leaving these columns as “expired” and to be fetched when they are next accessed, unless the eager_defaults Mapper flag is set. However, when a server side version column is used, the ORM needs to actively fetch the newly generated value. This is so that the version counter is set up before any concurrent transaction may update it again. This fetching is also best done simultaneously within the INSERT or UPDATE statement using RETURNING, otherwise if emitting a SELECT statement afterwards, there is still a potential race condition where the version counter may change before it can be fetched.

When the target database supports RETURNING, an INSERT statement for our User class will look like this:

INSERT INTO "user" (name) VALUES (%(name)s) RETURNING "user".id, "user".xmin
-- {'name': 'ed'}

Where above, the ORM can acquire any newly generated primary key values along with server-generated version identifiers in one statement. When the backend does not support RETURNING, an additional SELECT must be emitted for every INSERT and UPDATE, which is much less efficient, and also introduces the possibility of missed version counters:

INSERT INTO "user" (name) VALUES (%(name)s)
-- {'name': 'ed'}

SELECT "user".version_id AS user_version_id FROM "user" where
"user".id = :param_1
-- {"param_1": 1}

It is strongly recommended that server side version counters only be used when absolutely necessary and only on backends that support RETURNING, currently PostgreSQL, Oracle, MariaDB 10.5, SQLite 3.35, and SQL Server.

New in version 0.9.0: Support for server side version identifier tracking.

Programmatic or Conditional Version Counters

When version_id_generator is set to False, we can also programmatically (and conditionally) set the version identifier on our object in the same way we assign any other mapped attribute. Such as if we used our UUID example, but set version_id_generator to False, we can set the version identifier at our choosing:

import uuid


class User(Base):
    __tablename__ = "user"

    id = mapped_column(Integer, primary_key=True)
    version_uuid = mapped_column(String(32), nullable=False)
    name = mapped_column(String(50), nullable=False)

    __mapper_args__ = {"version_id_col": version_uuid, "version_id_generator": False}


u1 = User(name="u1", version_uuid=uuid.uuid4())

session.add(u1)

session.commit()

u1.name = "u2"
u1.version_uuid = uuid.uuid4()

session.commit()

We can update our User object without incrementing the version counter as well; the value of the counter will remain unchanged, and the UPDATE statement will still check against the previous value. This may be useful for schemes where only certain classes of UPDATE are sensitive to concurrency issues:

# will leave version_uuid unchanged
u1.name = "u3"
session.commit()

New in version 0.9.0: Support for programmatic and conditional version identifier tracking.