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How do I run Rails database migrations?

The short and naive answer is that you create a Kubernetes ‘Job’ yaml file, using your rails application Docker image, and run rails db:migrate

Here is an example

This approach may work for your service, but there are potential issues that you should be aware of. In particular, kubernetes makes no guarantees about when your job will run, in relation to when the rest of your service starts.

So, it is possible for your application containers to be replaced with the latest version before your migration job has run. In this case, there will be a period of time when your updated application code may try to interact with the database while it is still in the ‘old’ state (e.g. before your migration added a new column). This might cause users to see errors.

Alternatively, it is possible that your migration job will complete before all of your application pods have been replaced with pods running the latest code. So, you might have application code which expects to see the old database structure, but which are running against an updated database. If your migration removed a column, or otherwise updated the database in ways which are incompatible with the old version of the application code, then this could cause users to see errors.

These problems are not unique to Kubernetes. They occur in any scenario where a mismatch between the state of your database and the state of your application code can cause errors.

In the majority of cases, the window during which errors might occur is likely to be so brief that no users will be affected, but it is worth being aware of, even if you decide to just accept that it might happen.

Some strategies to protect against this include:

  • If planned downtime is a possibility, put the service into maintenance mode before the migration, and bring it back into service when you are confident that the application code and the database are both in the appropriate state.
  • Create a healthcheck endpoint in your application code which tests the state of the database and fails if the database structure is not as expected, so that kubernetes does not start any new application pods until after the migration has completed (although this will not prevent problems if the new database structure is incompatible with the old application code).
  • Break your migration into several stages such that, at every stage, your application code works with both the current and next/previous state of the database.

Do not run migrations on container startup

A pattern to avoid is having your application container start up using a command like this:

bundle exec rails db:migrate && bundle exec rails server

In general, you should avoid overloading container startup in this way. If your container takes a long time to start up (e.g. if the migration task takes a long time to complete, in this example) then the cluster might assume your pod has failed, and it will kill it and start a new one. In the worst cases, this can cause your application to go into a crash loop such that it never starts at all.

Keep your containers dedicated to a single purpose and, if you need to run one-off jobs, use a dedicated job or other kubernetes object to do so.

Further reading

The following StackOverflow threads discuss these issues:

This page was last reviewed on 10 August 2021. It needs to be reviewed again on 10 November 2021 .
This page was set to be reviewed before 10 November 2021. This might mean the content is out of date.