Glance Expand/Contract migrations with Alembic

This spec outlines the motivation and implementation details for porting Glance database migrations from SQLAlchemy-based scripts to Alembic.

Problem description

Existing database migrations are implemented in Glance using SQLAlchemy- migrate scripts. This approach makes designing migrations for rolling upgrades ([1] & [2]) extremely uncomfortable. The expand and contract migrations would have to be created in strict sequential order with all of the latter following all of the former. This places unnecessary restrictions on the order of migrations and becomes very error prone as multiple schema changes are introduced in a single cycle. Essentially, using SQLAlchemy-migrate constrains expand and contract migrations to be run atomically and does not easily facilitate separating them into phases as required during rolling upgrades.

Proposed change

We are proposing to port the migration flows to be handled by Alembic [3]. There are numerous benefits to this change. Alembic allows labeling the various migration scripts with designated branch names (e.g. expand and contract), which makes it easier to group the two types of changes and run them separately.

Another benefit is that Alembic migrations are chained in the manner of linked list. This is accomplished by explicitly specifying revision dependencies in each migration script. This will allow developers to get away from dependence on numeric ordering of migration scripts and obviate the need for placeholder migrations for retroactive backports, of the like: 023_placeholder. To facilitate this feature, a new naming convention is proposed for migration scripts:


Additionally, Alembic supports automatic generation of migration scripts using SQLAlchemy’s ORM. In the future, developers are encouraged to utilize this feature to minimize their interaction with the underlying DBMS and rely on the Python code to define the new schema.


The best aleternative available is to continue using SQLAlchemy-migrate scripts. The downsides of this appropach are outlined in the Problem description section above.

Data model impact


REST API impact


Security impact


Notifications impact


Other end user impact


Performance Impact

Performance of existing offline migration flows is not expected to be impacted in a signifficant way.

Other deployer impact

The API of the glance-manage command-line utility remains backwards compatible. However, the operators will notice that the db_version command returns a named head revision rather than a number. This change will be documented. Additionally, the operators will need to be made aware of the new db_expand, db_contract, and db_data_migrate APIs in the glance-manage command-line utility. Refer to the Documentation Impact section below.

Developer impact

Going forward, any time a database schema change is implemented, developers will need to create Alembic migration scripts conforming to the established naming convention and making sure to link each new revision to the appropriate down revision.


A new alembic_migrations folder is added under glance/db/sqlalchemy This folder will contain all the necessary code to implement Alembic based migrations, including:

  • Alembic configuration and environment files. For details see: Migration Environment

  • helper scripts for creating initial Glance DB schema

  • versions directory, containing migration scripts added in different release cycles


Primary assignee:

hemanthm abashmak

Work Items

  1. Implement Alembic migration infrastructure and scripts for existing database migrations (up to Newton).

  2. Introduce expand/contract migrations for new Ocata features [4].

  3. Update the glance-manage utility to utilize Alembic for db_sync and related commands. Add db_expand and db_contract commands to prepare for rolling upgrades.


  • A new Python module will be added to Glance’s requirements list:

    • alembic - version 0.8.7 or hihger


Existing and new database migration tests (unit and functional) will be ported and/or added to exercise the updated glance-manage utility and test the integrity of Alembic-based migration scripts.

Documentation Impact

The new database version names resulting from the move to Alembic will need to be documented to make developers aware of the change to db_version output.

Also, as part of the drive to enable the assert:supports-zero-downtime -upgrade tag [5], this change will introduce and implement new API methods for the glance-manage utility: db_expand, db_contract, and db_data_migrate. These will need to be thoroughly documented and their usage explained in the glance-manage reference as well as the upgrade guide. It is advised to wait until Glance is able to assert the zero-downtime upgrade tag to add documentation for the new commands.