v6.1.7
More at rubyonrails.org: More Ruby on Rails

Multiple Databases with Active Record

This guide covers using multiple databases with your Rails application.

After reading this guide you will know:

As an application grows in popularity and usage you'll need to scale the application to support your new users and their data. One way in which your application may need to scale is on the database level. Rails now has support for multiple databases so you don't have to store your data all in one place.

At this time the following features are supported:

  • Multiple writer databases and a replica for each
  • Automatic connection switching for the model you're working with
  • Automatic swapping between the writer and replica depending on the HTTP verb and recent writes
  • Rails tasks for creating, dropping, migrating, and interacting with the multiple databases

The following features are not (yet) supported:

  • Automatic swapping for horizontal sharding
  • Joining across clusters
  • Load balancing replicas
  • Dumping schema caches for multiple databases

1 Setting up your application

While Rails tries to do most of the work for you there are still some steps you'll need to do to get your application ready for multiple databases.

Let's say we have an application with a single writer database and we need to add a new database for some new tables we're adding. The name of the new database will be "animals".

The database.yml looks like this:

production:
  database: my_primary_database
  username: root
  password: <%= ENV['ROOT_PASSWORD'] %>
  adapter: mysql2

Let's add a replica for the first configuration, and a second database called animals and a replica for that as well. To do this we need to change our database.yml from a 2-tier to a 3-tier config.

If a primary configuration is provided this will be used as the "default" configuration. If there is no configuration named "primary" Rails will use the first configuration for an environment. The default configurations will use the default Rails filenames. For example primary configurations will use schema.rb for the schema file whereas all other entries will use [CONFIGURATION_NAMESPACE]_schema.rb for the filename.

production:
  primary:
    database: my_primary_database
    username: root
    password: <%= ENV['ROOT_PASSWORD'] %>
    adapter: mysql2
  primary_replica:
    database: my_primary_database
    username: root_readonly
    password: <%= ENV['ROOT_READONLY_PASSWORD'] %>
    adapter: mysql2
    replica: true
  animals:
    database: my_animals_database
    username: animals_root
    password: <%= ENV['ANIMALS_ROOT_PASSWORD'] %>
    adapter: mysql2
    migrations_paths: db/animals_migrate
  animals_replica:
    database: my_animals_database
    username: animals_readonly
    password: <%= ENV['ANIMALS_READONLY_PASSWORD'] %>
    adapter: mysql2
    replica: true

When using multiple databases there are a few important settings.

First, the database name for the primary and primary_replica should be the same because they contain the same data. This is also the case for animals and animals_replica.

Second, the username for the writers and replicas should be different, and the replica user's permissions should be set to only read and not write.

When using a replica database you need to add a replica: true entry to the replica in the database.yml. This is because Rails otherwise has no way of knowing which one is a replica and which one is the writer.

Lastly, for new writer databases you need to set the migrations_paths to the directory where you will store migrations for that database. We'll look more at migrations_paths later on in this guide.

Now that we have a new database, let's set up the connection model. In order to use the new database we need to create a new abstract class and connect to the animals databases.

class AnimalsRecord < ApplicationRecord
  self.abstract_class = true

  connects_to database: { writing: :animals, reading: :animals_replica }
end

Then we need to update ApplicationRecord to be aware of our new replica.

class ApplicationRecord < ActiveRecord::Base
  self.abstract_class = true

  connects_to database: { writing: :primary, reading: :primary_replica }
end

Classes that connect to primary/primary_replica can inherit from ApplicationRecord like standard Rails applications:

class Person < ApplicationRecord
end

By default Rails expects the database roles to be writing and reading for the primary and replica respectively. If you have a legacy system you may already have roles set up that you don't want to change. In that case you can set a new role name in your application config.

config.active_record.writing_role = :default
config.active_record.reading_role = :readonly

It's important to connect to your database in a single model and then inherit from that model for the tables rather than connect multiple individual models to the same database. Database clients have a limit to the number of open connections there can be and if you do this it will multiply the number of connections you have since Rails uses the model class name for the connection specification name.

Now that we have the database.yml and the new model set up it's time to create the databases. Rails 6.0 ships with all the rails tasks you need to use multiple databases in Rails.

You can run bin/rails -T to see all the commands you're able to run. You should see the following:

$ bin/rails -T
rails db:create                          # Creates the database from DATABASE_URL or config/database.yml for the ...
rails db:create:animals                  # Create animals database for current environment
rails db:create:primary                  # Create primary database for current environment
rails db:drop                            # Drops the database from DATABASE_URL or config/database.yml for the cu...
rails db:drop:animals                    # Drop animals database for current environment
rails db:drop:primary                    # Drop primary database for current environment
rails db:migrate                         # Migrate the database (options: VERSION=x, VERBOSE=false, SCOPE=blog)
rails db:migrate:animals                 # Migrate animals database for current environment
rails db:migrate:primary                 # Migrate primary database for current environment
rails db:migrate:status                  # Display status of migrations
rails db:migrate:status:animals          # Display status of migrations for animals database
rails db:migrate:status:primary          # Display status of migrations for primary database
rails db:rollback                        # Rolls the schema back to the previous version (specify steps w/ STEP=n)
rails db:rollback:animals                # Rollback animals database for current environment (specify steps w/ STEP=n)
rails db:rollback:primary                # Rollback primary database for current environment (specify steps w/ STEP=n)
rails db:schema:dump                     # Creates a database schema file (either db/schema.rb or db/structure.sql  ...
rails db:schema:dump:animals             # Creates a database schema file (either db/schema.rb or db/structure.sql  ...
rails db:schema:dump:primary             # Creates a db/schema.rb file that is portable against any DB supported  ...
rails db:schema:load                     # Loads a database schema file (either db/schema.rb or db/structure.sql  ...
rails db:schema:load:animals             # Loads a database schema file (either db/schema.rb or db/structure.sql  ...
rails db:schema:load:primary             # Loads a database schema file (either db/schema.rb or db/structure.sql  ...

Running a command like bin/rails db:create will create both the primary and animals databases. Note that there is no command for creating the users and you'll need to do that manually to support the readonly users for your replicas. If you want to create just the animals database you can run bin/rails db:create:animals.

2 Generators and Migrations

Migrations for multiple databases should live in their own folders prefixed with the name of the database key in the configuration.

You also need to set the migrations_paths in the database configurations to tell Rails where to find the migrations.

For example the animals database would look for migrations in the db/animals_migrate directory and primary would look in db/migrate. Rails generators now take a --database option so that the file is generated in the correct directory. The command can be run like so:

$ bin/rails generate migration CreateDogs name:string --database animals

If you are using Rails generators, the scaffold and model generators will create the abstract class for you. Simply pass the database key to the command line

$ bin/rails generate scaffold Dog name:string --database animals

A class with the database name and Record will be created. In this example the database is Animals so we end up with AnimalsRecord:

class AnimalsRecord < ApplicationRecord
  self.abstract_class = true

  connects_to database: { writing: :animals }
end

The generated model will automatically inherit from AnimalsRecord.

class Dog < AnimalsRecord
end

Note: Since Rails doesn't know which database is the replica for your writer you will need to add this to the abstract class after you're done.

Rails will only generate the new class once. It will not be overwritten by new scaffolds or deleted if the scaffold is deleted.

If you already have an abstract class and its name differs from AnimalsRecord you can pass the --parent option to indicate you want a different abstract class:

$ bin/rails generate scaffold Dog name:string --database animals --parent Animals::Record

This will skip generating AnimalsRecord since you've indicated to Rails that you want to use a different parent class.

3 Activating automatic connection switching

Finally, in order to use the read-only replica in your application you'll need to activate the middleware for automatic switching.

Automatic switching allows the application to switch from the writer to replica or replica to writer based on the HTTP verb and whether there was a recent write.

If the application is receiving a POST, PUT, DELETE, or PATCH request the application will automatically write to the writer database. For the specified time after the write, the application will read from the primary. For a GET or HEAD request the application will read from the replica unless there was a recent write.

To activate the automatic connection switching middleware, add or uncomment the following lines in your application config.

config.active_record.database_selector = { delay: 2.seconds }
config.active_record.database_resolver = ActiveRecord::Middleware::DatabaseSelector::Resolver
config.active_record.database_resolver_context = ActiveRecord::Middleware::DatabaseSelector::Resolver::Session

Rails guarantees "read your own write" and will send your GET or HEAD request to the writer if it's within the delay window. By default the delay is set to 2 seconds. You should change this based on your database infrastructure. Rails doesn't guarantee "read a recent write" for other users within the delay window and will send GET and HEAD requests to the replicas unless they wrote recently.

The automatic connection switching in Rails is relatively primitive and deliberately doesn't do a whole lot. The goal is a system that demonstrates how to do automatic connection switching that was flexible enough to be customizable by app developers.

The setup in Rails allows you to easily change how the switching is done and what parameters it's based on. Let's say you want to use a cookie instead of a session to decide when to swap connections. You can write your own class:

class MyCookieResolver
  # code for your cookie class
end

And then pass it to the middleware:

config.active_record.database_selector = { delay: 2.seconds }
config.active_record.database_resolver = ActiveRecord::Middleware::DatabaseSelector::Resolver
config.active_record.database_resolver_context = MyCookieResolver

4 Using manual connection switching

There are some cases where you may want your application to connect to a writer or a replica and the automatic connection switching isn't adequate. For example, you may know that for a particular request you always want to send the request to a replica, even when you are in a POST request path.

To do this Rails provides a connected_to method that will switch to the connection you need.

ActiveRecord::Base.connected_to(role: :reading) do
  # all code in this block will be connected to the reading role
end

The "role" in the connected_to call looks up the connections that are connected on that connection handler (or role). The reading connection handler will hold all the connections that were connected via connects_to with the role name of reading.

Note that connected_to with a role will look up an existing connection and switch using the connection specification name. This means that if you pass an unknown role like connected_to(role: :nonexistent) you will get an error that says ActiveRecord::ConnectionNotEstablished (No connection pool for 'ActiveRecord::Base' found for the 'nonexistent' role.)

5 Horizontal sharding

Horizontal sharding is when you split up your database to reduce the number of rows on each database server, but maintain the same schema across "shards". This is commonly called "multi-tenant" sharding.

The API for supporting horizontal sharding in Rails is similar to the multiple database / vertical sharding API that's existed since Rails 6.0.

Shards are declared in the three-tier config like this:

production:
  primary:
    database: my_primary_database
    adapter: mysql2
  primary_replica:
    database: my_primary_database
    adapter: mysql2
    replica: true
  primary_shard_one:
    database: my_primary_shard_one
    adapter: mysql2
  primary_shard_one_replica:
    database: my_primary_shard_one
    adapter: mysql2
    replica: true

Models are then connected with the connects_to API via the shards key:

class ApplicationRecord < ActiveRecord::Base
  self.abstract_class = true

  connects_to shards: {
    default: { writing: :primary, reading: :primary_replica },
    shard_one: { writing: :primary_shard_one, reading: :primary_shard_one_replica }
  }
end

Then models can swap connections manually via the connected_to API. If using sharding both a role and shard must be passed:

ActiveRecord::Base.connected_to(role: :writing, shard: :default) do
  @id = Person.create! # Creates a record in shard default
end

ActiveRecord::Base.connected_to(role: :writing, shard: :shard_one) do
  Person.find(@id) # Can't find record, doesn't exist because it was created
                   # in the default shard
end

The horizontal sharding API also supports read replicas. You can swap the role and the shard with the connected_to API.

ActiveRecord::Base.connected_to(role: :reading, shard: :shard_one) do
  Person.first # Lookup record from read replica of shard one
end

6 Granular Database Connection Switching

In Rails 6.1 it's possible to switch connections for one database instead of all databases globally. To use this feature you must first set config.active_record.legacy_connection_handling to false in your application configuration. The majority of applications should not need to make any other changes since the public APIs have the same behavior.

With legacy_connection_handling set to false, any abstract connection class will be able to switch connections without affecting other connections. This is useful for switching your AnimalsRecord queries to read from the replica while ensuring your ApplicationRecord queries go to the primary.

AnimalsRecord.connected_to(role: :reading) do
  Dog.first # Reads from animals_replica
  Person.first  # Reads from primary
end

It's also possible to swap connections granularly for shards.

AnimalsRecord.connected_to(role: :reading, shard: :shard_one) do
  Dog.first # Will read from shard_one_replica. If no connection exists for shard_one_replica,
  # a ConnectionNotEstablished error will be raised
  Person.first # Will read from primary writer
end

To switch only the primary database cluster use ApplicationRecord:

ApplicationRecord.connected_to(role: :reading, shard: :shard_one) do
  Person.first # Reads from primary_shard_one_replica
  Dog.first # Reads from animals_primary
end

ActiveRecord::Base.connected_to maintains the ability to switch connections globally.

7 Caveats

7.1 Automatic swapping for horizontal sharding

While Rails now supports an API for connecting to and swapping connections of shards, it does not yet support an automatic swapping strategy. Any shard swapping will need to be done manually in your app via a middleware or around_action.

7.2 Load Balancing Replicas

Rails also doesn't support automatic load balancing of replicas. This is very dependent on your infrastructure. We may implement basic, primitive load balancing in the future, but for an application at scale this should be something your application handles outside of Rails.

7.3 Joining Across Databases

Applications cannot join across databases. At the moment applications will need to manually write two selects and split the joins themselves. In a future version Rails will split the joins for you.

7.4 Schema Cache

If you use a schema cache and multiple databases you'll need to write an initializer that loads the schema cache from your app. This wasn't an issue we could resolve in time for Rails 6.0 but hope to have it in a future version soon.

Feedback

You're encouraged to help improve the quality of this guide.

Please contribute if you see any typos or factual errors. To get started, you can read our documentation contributions section.

You may also find incomplete content or stuff that is not up to date. Please do add any missing documentation for main. Make sure to check Edge Guides first to verify if the issues are already fixed or not on the main branch. Check the Ruby on Rails Guides Guidelines for style and conventions.

If for whatever reason you spot something to fix but cannot patch it yourself, please open an issue.

And last but not least, any kind of discussion regarding Ruby on Rails documentation is very welcome on the rubyonrails-docs mailing list.