The migrator API

How to run ALTER statements and complex table migrations.

You can write migrations manually by using customStatement() in a migration callback. However, the callbacks also give you an instance of Migrator as a parameter. This class knows about the target schema of the database and can be used to create, drop and alter most elements in your schema.

Migrating views, triggers and indices

When changing the definition of a view, a trigger or an index, the easiest way to update the database schema is to drop and re-create the element. With the Migrator API, this is just a matter of calling await drop(element) followed by await create(element), where element is the trigger, view or index to update.

Note that the definition of a Dart-defined view might change without modifications to the view class itself. This is because columns from a table are referenced with a getter. When renaming a column through .named('name') in a table definition without renaming the getter, the view definition in Dart stays the same but the CREATE VIEW statement changes.

A headache-free solution to this problem is to just re-create all views in a migration, for which the Migrator provides the recreateAllViews method.

Complex migrations

Sqlite has builtin statements for simple changes, like adding columns or dropping entire tables. More complex migrations require a 12-step procedure that involves creating a copy of the table and copying over data from the old table. Drift 2.4 introduced the TableMigration API to automate most of this procedure, making it easier and safer to use.

To start the migration, drift will create a new instance of the table with the current schema. Next, it will copy over rows from the old table. In most cases, for instance when changing column types, we can't just copy over each row without changing its content. Here, you can use a columnTransformer to apply a per-row transformation. The columnTransformer is a map from columns to the sql expression that will be used to copy the column from the old table. For instance, if we wanted to cast a column before copying it, we could use:

columnTransformer: {
  todos.category: todos.category.cast<int>(),

Internally, drift will use a INSERT INTO SELECT statement to copy old data. In this case, it would look like INSERT INTO temporary_todos_copy SELECT id, title, content, CAST(category AS INT) FROM todos. As you can see, drift will use the expression from the columnTransformer map and fall back to just copying the column otherwise. If you're introducing new columns in a table migration, be sure to include them in the newColumns parameter of TableMigration. Drift will ensure that those columns have a default value or a transformation in columnTransformer. Of course, drift won't attempt to copy newColumns from the old table either.

Regardless of whether you're implementing complex migrations with TableMigration or by running a custom sequence of statements, we strongly recommend to write integration tests covering your migrations. This helps to avoid data loss caused by errors in a migration.

Here are some examples demonstrating common usages of the table migration api:

Changing the type of a column

Let's say the category column in Todos used to be a non-nullable text() column that we're now changing to a nullable int. For simplicity, we assume that category always contained integers, they were just stored in a text column that we now want to adapt.

class Todos extends Table {
  IntColumn get id => integer().autoIncrement()();
  TextColumn get title => text().withLength(min: 6, max: 10)();
  TextColumn get content => text().named('body')();
-  IntColumn get category => text()();
+  IntColumn get category => integer().nullable()();

After re-running your build and incrementing the schema version, you can write a migration:

return MigrationStrategy(
  onUpgrade: (m, old, to) async {
    if (old <= yourOldVersion) {
      await m.alterTable(
        TableMigration(todos, columnTransformer: {
          todos.category: todos.category.cast<int>(),

The important part here is the columnTransformer - a map from columns to expressions that will be used to copy the old data. The values in that map refer to the old table, so we can use todos.category.cast<int>() to copy old rows and transform their category. All columns that aren't present in columnTransformer will be copied from the old table without any transformation.

Changing column constraints

When you're changing columns constraints in a way that's compatible to existing data (e.g. changing non-nullable columns to nullable columns), you can just copy over data without applying any transformation:

await m.alterTable(TableMigration(todos));

Deleting columns

Deleting a column that's not referenced by a foreign key constraint is easy too:

await m.alterTable(TableMigration(yourTable));

To delete a column referenced by a foreign key, you'd have to migrate the referencing tables first.

Renaming columns

If you're renaming a column in Dart, note that the easiest way is to just rename the getter and use named: TextColumn newName => text().named('old_name')(). That is fully backwards compatible and doesn't require a migration.

If you know your app runs on sqlite 3.25.0 or later (it does if you're using sqlite3_flutter_libs), you can also use the renameColumn api in Migrator:

m.renameColumn(yourTable, 'old_column_name', yourTable.newColumn);

If you do want to change the actual column name in a table, you can write a columnTransformer to use an old column with a different name:

await m.alterTable(
    columnTransformer: {
      yourTable.newColumn: const CustomExpression('old_column_name')