Database upgrade problem with DevExpress XPO, NHibernate, and Entity Framework

devexpress entity-framework nhibernate upgrade xpo


What is the best practice for upgrading the database using ORM (DevExpress XPO, NHibernate or MS Entity Framework)?

I'm starting a new project and have to pick an ORM. The development process requires of releasing intermediate test builds quite often and likely that each build will have changes in the database structure. Each new version has to upgrade the DB gently to keep current data.

For old solutions I would provide a set of SQL scripts for upgrading the database from v1 to v2, from v2 to v3, etc. and execute them sequentially.

But how is it going to work for ORM? Should I still write SQL scripts to upgrade the DB?

I understand that simple adding new fields wouldn't cause a problem (e.g. see UpdateSchema() method for XPO), but what if I have to split a table and reallocate current records into 2 new tables?

5/21/2012 4:21:20 AM

Accepted Answer

I can't comment on the other ORM's, but I have used DevExpress XPO for a corporate treasury application since 2007. The schema changes a little with every release but there have also been some big schema changes over the years as well. A somewhat extended version of the default XPO upgrade mechanism has comfortably catered for all the changes.

There is good basic information here about upgrading XPO applications.

  • DevExpress provide a DBUpdater tool to assist you with the task of upgrading production environments. You can extend this tool to cater for additional requirements. In my application, we have added some options for logging, preview with rollback, etc.

  • Each module has virtual UpdateDatabaseBeforeSchemaUpdate() and UpdateDatabaseAfterSchemaUpdate() methods. You can significantly control the upgrade process within these.

As you mention, some of the upgrade will be handled automatically by XPO (e.g., adding a new column), but some things need additional control such as initialising the new column with a default value for existing records.

For instance, let's say MyNewField has been added to the MyEntity XPO class in version 2.0 of your application. Let's say it should default to a value of 3 for existing records. XPO will handle the creation of the new column but existing records will be NULL. (If you specify a default value in the XPO class it would only pertain to new records). In order to correct the value for existing records you would add something like the following to entity module's overridden UpdateDatabaseAfterSchemaUpdate():

public override void UpdateDatabaseAfterUpdateSchema()
    if (CurrentDBVersion < new Version(2, 0, 0, 0))
            "UPDATE [MyEntity] SET [MyNewField] = 3 WHERE [MyNewField] IS NULL");

(You could also use ObjectSpace.GetObjects<MyEntity>() and a foreach if you prefer to avoid the direct SQL.)

In your more extreme example of splitting a table in two, you can use the same method, but you would override UpdateDatabaseBeforeUpdateSchema() instead, run the SQL to split the table, let XPO perform any other schema updates and, if necessary, populate any default values in the UpdateDatabaseAfterUpdateSchema().

You will find that you bump into constraint problems e.g., foreign key violations so you might find you need to write some general routines such as DropAllForeignKeyConstraints() as part of the UpdateDatabaseBeforeUpdateSchema(). Sometimes you find that XPO already provide something, sometimes not. Missing constraints and indexes will get regenerated in the schema update. (In my experience switching a master data table's primary key turned out to be the hardest update routine to get right.)

By default the calls all happen in an SQL transaction so if anything fails it should all roll back.

The developers need to be aware of when a change to the domain model is likely to cause a problem with the underlying schema.

For testing, we keep a few old customer databases and run a bunch of before-and-after tests as part of the build process to make sure that existing customers are able to upgrade properly whatever version they are upgrading from. In production whenever we run into a problem upgrading, the problem data is added into this test library to prevent similar problems in the future.

We are dealing with major international companies and banks. The customers are quite happy with the result. In situations where a corporate's DBA needs to sign off on the changes, they don't seem to mind having a command line tool to do the upgrade rather than a script.

6/15/2012 11:04:08 AM

Popular Answer

How is it going to work for ORM? Should I still write SQL scripts to upgrade the DB?

Clear answer of this question should be on Programmer's stackexchange thread - What are the criteria for evaluating an ORM for.NET?, there i got simple answer for your question that you asked and matches with my experience with ORM while developing some project with Entity framework and Code smith ORM templates.

How does the ORM manages changes in the data model? what if I have to split a table and reallocate current records into 2 new tables?

Some can update the DB automatically within a certain measure, other don't do anything and you'll have to do the dirty work yourself; other provide a framework for handling change that lets you control database updates. That means every couple of days someone needs to spend an hour updating the model to add a table or change datatypes that are changing


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