Run database tests within long-lived schemas and transactionalized containers

Problem description

OpenStack applications currently do not include a standard technique of testing database-enabled code against any number of potential database backends. The techniques that are available themselves have issues that keep them from being practical in a general sense.

  • It is common that the test suite of a particular OpenStack component is ultimately hardcoded to run on the SQLite backend. SQLite is chosen both for it’s simplicity and great speed of schema setup, but is not the actual database used in OpenStack environments. The system by which this connectivity is established is often buried and spread across multiple files, with no option to alter what database is used.

  • There is no solution to the case of the component that wishes to run hundreds of tests against a common schema, without requiring that the schema in question is built and torn down for every test. This makes it infeasible for the test suite to be run against non-SQLite backends on a regular basis, as the cost of this setup and teardown is too time consuming. A typical approach to this problem is to run tests inside of transactions which are rolled back at the end of the test, thereby allowing the schema to remain present. However, experiments with simplistic, single-database versions of this approach have failed due to the use of parallel testing, as well as being able to allow tests themselves to retain rudimental “commit/rollback” functionality without impacting the isolation of the fixture.

  • While there is a system by which an application can run a suite of tests against other backends, known as the “Opportunistic” test suite, currently the “opportunistic” suite will fix those tests against a single, alternate backend, such as MySQL or Postgresql. While a “stub” suite can be added for each desired backend so that the same tests run on each, this approach does not accommodate attempting to run the suite against new backends not anticipated by the application, and also places the responsibility on the developer to ensure that all tests which apply to variable backends include that these “stubs” are present in multitude.

  • The connection URL for “opportunistic” tests is also a fixed URL, with a hardcoded username/password and the requirement that the database is on localhost. If such a URL is connectable, it is used. This hardcoding and “opportunistic” style makes it inconvenient to control how tests run; for example, a workstation that has both MySQL and Postgresql servers running with the hardcoded username/password available cannot control a test run to only test against one or the other, or neither, of these databases; the suite will always run applicable tests against both based on their presence. It is also not possible for the developer to point the test suite at a server running on a host other than “localhost”. The scheme used by this system is also hardcoded to the notion of a user/password/hostname based configuration; it can’t work for databases that connect using a data source name or other symbolic name.

  • The system by which “opportunistic” tests create and drop databases does not offer adequate extensibility for new backends.

Proposed change

The proposed changes will in all cases ensure that total compatibility is retained for all current test setup techniques. The opportunistic system will continue to work as it does now, but offer environmental options to alter its behavior.

The key component will be the oslo/db/sqlchemy/ module, as well as the oslo/db/sqlalchemy/ module. This provision module currently contains logic which handles the creation and dropping of anonymously named databases within the Postgresql and MySQL backends. When combined with the OpportunisticFixture, it creates/drops an anonymously named database per test setup/teardown. test_base includes the base test classes and fixtures which make use of for connectivity.

These modules will be enhanced to include several new constructs, described in the following sections.


This is an extensible “backend” system, based on a base class known as the Backend and used by the provision module. Backend will encapsulate the tasks needed in order to run tests against a particular backend, including:

  • the ability to detect if a given database is available, either “opportunistically” or through environmental settings

  • the ability to create, drop, and detect the presence of “anonymously” named databases

  • the ability to produce a connection URL that will directly access this database upon connect

  • the ability to drop individual all schema objects within a database of this type.

Logic for these features can vary across backends. For SQLite, which may be using in-memory databases or file-based databases, the URL scheme is SQLite-specific and needs to be generated from an anonymous schema name in a special way. For a Postgresql database, the backend will benefit by including the feature of disconnecting all users from a target database before dropping it, or being able to handle Postgresql’s ENUM type that must be dropped explicitly when erasing the objects within a database.

Opportunistic URLs

The Backend system can report on whether or not a database of a particular backend type (e.g. MySQL, SQlite, Postgresql, etc) is available based on the “opportunistic” URL system. This system defaults to searching for a database given a fixed connectivity profile. Suppose the system includes a Backend implementation for each of: SQlite, Postgresql, and MySQL. Each of these backend implementations reports on a candidate “opportunistic” URL; a URL such as “postgresql://openstack_citest:openstack_citest@localhost” that can be tested for connectivity. Without any configuration, the system will attempt to make available “opportunstic” URLs for each BackendImpl that is implemented. In this way, the system works pretty much as it does today.

However, to make it configurable at runtime, we will enhance the role of the OS_TEST_DBAPI_ADMIN_CONNECTION environment variable. The current system allows this variable to specify a single “override” URL that is linked to the SQLite tests, but not the “opportunistic” ones. In the new system, it will allow a list of URLs, separated by a semicolon. For example, a value that allows tests to run against a specific SQLite database as well as a Postgresql database:


When an explcit OS_TEST_DBAPI_ADMIN_CONNECTION is present, those URLs determine the complete list of BackendImpls that will report themselves as available, and overrides the usually fixed “opportunistic” URLs. With this function, the list of database backends as well as their full connectivity information can be determined at runtime.


The provision module will call upon Backend in order to produce a “provisioning” system that works at three levels: database, schema, and transaction. The management of these three levels of resource will be maintained over the span of any number of tests.

A “database” will typically be maintained on a per-backend basis over the span of all tests run within a single Python process. By ensuring that an anonymous database is created per process for a given backend, the test suite can be safely run in parallel with no danger of concurrent tests colliding with each other. The current approach is that this database is created and dropped per-test; allowing the same database to persist across all tests in a run will reduce load and complexity.

A “schema” consists of a set of tables and other schema constructs that are created within a database. The vast majority of OpenStack applications run their tests within a single schema corresponding to their models. Most of these tests only need to exercise data manipulation within these schemas; a second class of test, the “migration” test, is less common and requires that it actually create and drop components of these schemas.

To support tests that exercise data manipulation within a fixed schema, the provisioning system will call upon an app-specific “create schema” hook when a newly created database is about to be used, within the scope of a so-called “schema scope”. This schema will then remain in place as long as additional tests which also specify the same scope continue to be invoked. A “schema scope” is a string symbolic name that any number of tests can refer to, to state that they all run within the same schema. For example, if four different test suites in Nova all stated that their “SCHEMA_SCOPE” is “nova-cells”, and these suites all referred to a “create schema” function that generated the nova model, the “create schema” function would be invoked just once, and then all four test suites would be run fully against the target database. The cleanup of data changes made by these tests is achieved using transaction rollbacks, rather than by dropping the whole database.

To support tests that are testing schema migrations and wish to create and drop their own schema elements, those tests specify a “SCHEMA_SCOPE” of None; the provisioning system will provide to these tests an empty database, and upon release of the provision, a DROP will be performed for any schema objects that still remain.

A “transaction” is an optional unit that is built up and torn down on a per-test basis. This feature is used when the test base specifies that it wishes to have “transactional” support, which is implied when a non-None “SCHEMA_SCOPE” is specified. This feature makes use of SQLAlchemy’s Engine and Connection system in order to produce a mock “transaction” environment transparently provided to the test. Within this environment, any calls to “commit” the transaction don’t actually commit for real. Tests are given the ability to emit rollbacks that work by also wrapping the environment within a SAVEPOINT. This is based on a technique that is commonly used with SQLAlchemy and is presented in various forms within the documentation as well as in talks; in this case, the technique will be enhanced to work not just at the ORM level but at the Core level as well, so that even applications that use the Core directly can participate in the transactionalized environment.

The SQLite backend has long had issues with SAVEPOINT, however in support of this feature, the backend is repaired in oslo.db using recent hooks; see for the review.

Fixture Integration

The provisioning system will be integrated into the test suite by taking advantage of the testresources library, which provides a system of allocating resources that may last across the span of multiple tests. testresources works by maintaining the state of various resources within a dependency tree, that is tracked as many tests proceed. Only when a given resource reports itself as “dirty” is it torn down for the next test, and the final teardown only occurs once that resource is no longer needed.

Tests that use testresources by default will function normally, however the resources that they require will be fully created and dropped on a per-test basis, unless additional steps are taken which are specific to the testtools package. The tests therefore will remain compatible with any style of test runner, however the optimization or resources require the use of the testr or testtools runner, or with some extra work, the standard Python unittest runner.

In order to optimise resources among multiple tests, the tests must be assembled into the OptimisingTestSuite object provided by testresources. Integration of OptimisingTestSuite typically requires that the unittest-supported load_tests() directive be stated either within an individual test module, or at the package level (e.g., which will replace the usual system of test discovery with one which assembles the tests into a master OptimisingTestSuite. It is assumed that we will be able to provide a single oslo.db directive that can be dropped into the top-level file of a test suite as a whole in order to provide this effect.

In order to integrate with testresources, the concepts of “database”, “schema”, and “transaction” will be implemented as individual test resource object types.


Scenarios refers to the use of a tool like testscenarios, so that individual tests can be run multiple times against different backends. The existing Opportunistic fixture system will be enhanced such that the “DRIVER” attribute, which refers right now to a single type of database backend, can refer to a set of types. Each test will then be run against those drivers that are deemed to be available by the Backend system.

Usage within Actual Tests

Real world tests take advantage of the system by using oslo.db.sqlalchemy.DbTestCase. This test case superclass acts much like it always has, providing self.session and self.engine members to use for database connectivity. However, the class can now mark via class-level annotations which databases it is appropriate towards, and what schema. For example, Nova can suggest a test suite against the Nova schema and to run against SQLite, Postgresql, and MySQL as follows:

class SomeNovatest(DbTestCase):

    SCHEMA_SCOPE = "nova-cells"
    DRIVER = ('sqlite', 'postgresql', 'mysql')

    def generate_schema(self, engine):
        """Generate schema objects to be used within a test."""


    def test_something(self):
        # do an actual test

The above class specifies how schemas are to be generated within the generate_schema() method, which is called upon by the provisioning system to produce a schema corresponding to the “nova-cells” schema scope. As many test suites may use the same generate_schema() method, it is probably best to link generate_schema() with SCHEMA_SCOPE="nova-cells" on a common mixin.

In order to integrate with testresources, the above set of directives will be used to compute the full set of test resource manager objects to be delivered via the .resources hook; this is an attribute that’s bound to the DbTestCase class itself which testresources looks for in order to determine what kinds of resource objects are needed for the specific test. The implementation uses a Python descriptor for .resources so that its value is dynamically determined on a per-test basis.


The decision to use testresources is made against two other variants that don’t use it. All three variants are discussed here.

  • The testresources library provides a means of spanning resources across tests that integrates with the mechanics of the standard Python unittest.TestSuite object, as well as the load_tests() hook which is used to estalibish TestSuite objects into a single OptimisingTestSuite. These mechanics are not fully or at all available in other commonly used test runners, including nose and py.test.

    Advantages to testresources include that it is the standard system that goes along with the other use of testtools, and provides a sophisticated system of organizing tests to make the best use of resources declared by each. It’s test manager API sets up a clear system of declaration and dependency between the various types of resource proposed in the provisioning system.

    Disadvantages are that the optimising behavior is only available with a testtools-style run, or with a unittest-style run if additional steps are taken to integrate OptimisingTestSuite, as unittest itself does not appear to honor a package-level load_tests() hook.

    Still to be resolved are some remaining issues with the load_tests() hook as implemented in the top-level file when the “start” directory is that directory itself; it seems that the load_tests() hook is skipped in this case, and may require that oslo.db’s own tests are reorganized such that all tests can be loaded from named packages. However note that this issue is not a blocker; the load_tests() hook works fine as placed within specific test modules or within files that are loaded as packages, which is the case for the vast majority of openstack tests suites.

  • Maintain awareness of test suite start/end per process using the Testr “instance provision” hooks. These hooks allow a set of fixed database names to be generated before tests run, to provide this name to the provisioning system within each subprocess, and finally after all test suites are finished, to emit a DROP for each database name on all available backends. The system can create databases lazily and only drop those which actually got created.

    The configuration looks like this:

    instance_provision=${PYTHON:-python} -m oslo.db.sqlalchemy.provision echo $INSTANCE_COUNT
    instance_dispose=${PYTHON:-python} -m oslo.db.sqlalchemy.provision drop --conditional $INSTANCE_IDS

    The “instance provision” hook does not actually create any databases; only string names of databases that will be used if a database of a particular backend is requested during the test run. The “instance dispose” hook then delivers these names to the “drop” command, which will drop the named database on all possible backends if it is shown to exist; else the name is skipped.

    This system runs mostly as efficiently as the testresources system, and still degrades gracefully when using other test runners.

    The advantage to this system is that it is independent of the mechanics of unittest, and has only very simplistic hooks within testr which can easily be made to work with other test runners as well. It also does not require any package- or module-level load_tests() hooks and does not involve any changes to the ordering of tests.

    Disadvantages include that it is more of a “homegrown” approach that reinvents a lot of what testresources already does. It may be more advantageous to look into enhancing testresources itself to be more easily integrated with other kinds of test runners.

  • Maintain awareness of test suite start/end process by ensuring that the suite always runs within a special shell script that essentially runs the same commands and environmental settings as the testr hook.

    This system is similar to that of using testr hooks, and both systems can coexist.

    The disadvantages include not just those of the testr approach but also that shell scripts are complicated and ad-hoc, so in that sense there’s even more code being reinvented here.

Impact on Existing APIs

Test suites which wish to take advantage of this system will need to base themselves on the new mechanics of DbTestCase, and to rework any existing systems they have of setting up connections or schemas to work within the new system. They will also need some kind of module- or package-level load_tests() directive in order to load up the OptimisingTestSuite system.

Security impact


Performance Impact

A key deliverable of this blueprint is to significantly improve performance for test suites that wish to run many tests against a common schema on heterogeneous database backends.

Configuration Impact

The configuration of the test runner may be impacted based on integration approach. The changes should be deliverable to gate runs without any direct changes to gates.

Developer Impact

Developers should be aware of the DbTestCase base fixture, its implications, and will want to use it for tests that work against the database in a serious way.

Testing Impact

The individual components of the system will have their own tests within oslo.db, to ensure database setup/teardown as well as to ensure that the transactional container works as expected.



Mike Bayer has already prototyped everything except scenario support, based on the use of testresources.

Robert Collins is also contributing towards issues observed in ensuring that testtools loads up all Python packages as packages, so that the load_tests() hook runs in all cases.



Work Items

  • Build out provisioning system and backend system. This is already complete including the integration with testresources.

  • build out the test scenarios integration - still a TODO

  • implement the means by which load_tests() will be integrated, this is complete.

  • documentation




Nova, Neutron and Keystone might be good starts.



Anticipated API Stabilization


Documentation Impact

Docstrings regarding DbTestCase.


Testresources and testscenarios.


Original bug:

Current prototypes:,n,z


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.