Applying Agile SCM to Databases


Many applications have database components, and these components evolve in the same environment as your code and other development artifacts. This article explores some of the issues around applying version management to database development in an agile environment. The article raises more questions than it answers, and we hope that it starts a dialogue about this important, yet often neglected topic.


We are often asked how to apply version management to databases. Developers are often at a loss when it comes to this problem for reasons that are technological and cultural. Also databases present a variety of problems related to version management, and one is often tempted to solve the more visible problems while overlooking simpler problems whose solution can provide much benefit. We'll discuss this in more detail below, but the next couple of paragraphs introduce the ideas.

Many of the technological issues are somewhat obvious. Source code is often managed at the module or file level; database changes are thought about at the logical entity level. There is a vast assortment of tools that can help us to detect changes and versions for text files; these tools don't seem to provide much benefit in the database realm. While there are tools that claim to help you manage versions of databases, it seems that they don't solve the problem for many due to cost, function, or ease of use, leaving many teams with no solution. It is important to avoid the temptation to ignore the problem because you don't have "the right tool." Your team will still waste time (and hence, money) working around the issues caused by the lack of any database version management process. You may be able to address your more critical problems by using approaches similar to what you are using to version manage source code.

The cultural differences revolve around the fact that databases are often "managed" by a group of people who are different that the development group, or who have a different set of skills. While logical database modeling is similar to, say, object modeling techniques, there are differences. Also, "database people" often have a "production mindset" that is different than developers; while organizations are getting accustomed to allocating resources for developers to manage their source code in private workspaces, applying that model to databases often meets resistance.

Often two domains are more similar that they appear at first glance. Since most of the people reading this article are familiar with version management principles for source code, there are many techniques that we use every day that can help us with databases. Since databases are closely related to the source code for an application, there are many benefits to starting with a unified approach and then looking for the differences. In this article we will talk about how to apply some of the same principles and patterns that you use for source code management to this other, slightly more complicated, problem. We will also provide you with some pointers to more information about agile database modeling.

This is a domain where we don't claim to have all of the answers. What we hope to do is to provide a basis for discussion, whether among yourselves, in the CM Crossroads Forums, or on the SCM Patterns list. Through this process we hope that we can guide you to an approach that is both simple and effective.

What's Different Technology and Culture?

Changes to databases are different than changes to code in a number of ways:

  • Databases come with state; code changes only affect state when persistence is involved. If we change the database schema, we will consider tracking:
  • o What changed in the schema, what columns were added, deleted, renamed. etc.
  • o How to migrate the schema for an existing database from the old version to the new.
  • o How to migrate the data from the old database to the new.
  • Databases versioning is more complicated to manage. For code, we have many


User Comments

1 comment
OraDotNet Dev's picture

I'm note sure that the above section is the intended meaning "This is an important task, but you can view it as one that depends upon tracking changes to the schema rather than the actual act of tracking changes to the schema."

May 29, 2014 - 6:32am

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