Learning from Failure: Overcoming Database Schema Migration Challenges in Backend Development

5 min read

It was a dark and stormy night before Christmas 2022, and the team of developers at a small startup project were huddled around their computers, frantically trying to deploy their latest backend application to the production servers. They had spent months developing the application, testing it on their development servers, and ironing out the bugs. Now, it was time to go live.

But as they began the deployment process, they quickly realized that there were issues with their database schema migration scripts. Something was missing or messed up, and scripts were working differently from the testing environment. The team was at a loss as to what to do, and tensions were running high.

The problem, it turned out, was that the team had not properly tested their migration scripts before attempting to deploy the application. They had assumed that the scripts that had worked perfectly on their development servers would work just as well on the production servers. But this assumption had proven to be a costly mistake.

The team quickly realized that they needed to take a step back and re-evaluate their schema migration process. They began to look at the issues they were facing and try to identify the root causes of the issues.

One of the main issues they identified was that they were using a manual migration process that was prone to human error. Each team member was responsible for writing their own migration scripts, and there was no oversight or accountability for mistakes or oversights.

Another issue was that the team was using a homegrown migration tool that was not well-suited for their needs. The tool was clunky, difficult to use, and lacked many of the features that they needed to ensure a smooth migration process.

With these issues in mind, the team decided to think of options for improving their database schema migration process. They began to research different migration tools and solutions, looking for something that would be reliable, flexible, and easy to use.

After much deliberation and recounting the budget, the team settled on another recent startup project from DBInvent. Their database schema migration tool is called Schema Guard and comes with the same features as Liquibase and Flyway but costs less. They were drawn to Schema Guard's native support for PostgreSQL, its excellent documentation and support questions asked by developers. Maybe because it’s also a startup and not a big company. Its version control system helps them to track changes effectively and share the changes scripts via GitHub when necessary.

With Schema Guard in hand, the team began to overhaul their database schema migration process. They started by creating a set of migration scripts using Declarative definition in YAML format mixed with old plain SQL scripts, which would be executed in a controlled and automated fashion.

They also implemented a review process for the migration scripts, in which each script was reviewed and tested by multiple team members before being executed on the production servers. This helped to catch any errors or oversights before they caused downtime or other issues.

As they continued to develop and test their application, the team found that Schema Guard was a game-changer for their database schema evolution process. The tool was reliable, flexible, and easy to use, and it helped them to avoid many issues they had faced with their previous migration process.

In the end, the team was able to successfully deploy their next backend application version after New Year to the production servers, thanks to the improvements they had made to their database schema migration process. The application was running smoothly, and they had avoided any major issues or downtime.

Looking back on the experience, the team realized that their previous migration process had been a liability for their development efforts. By investing in a reliable and flexible migration tool like Schema Guard, they have been able to streamline their development process and avoid many of the issues that had plagued them in the past.

As the storm clouds cleared and the sun began to rise on a new day, the team realized that they had learned an important lesson about the importance of proper testing and preparation before deploying to production servers. They knew that they couldn't afford to take shortcuts or assume that everything would work perfectly without proper testing and planning.

Over the next few months, the team continued to use Schema Guard to manage their database schema changes. And they found that it was a reliable and easy-to-use tool that helped them to streamline their development process.

They also began to share their experiences with other development teams within the neighboring startup company, encouraging them to adopt similar processes and tools for managing their database schema migrations. The team knew that sharing their experiences and best practices could help other teams avoid the same pitfalls they had faced, and ultimately lead to more successful and efficient development efforts.

As time passed, the team continued to develop and refine their application, rolling out new features and improvements on a regular basis. And with Schema Guard by their side, they knew that they could continue to make changes to their database schema with confidence, knowing that they had a reliable and flexible migration tool to help them manage the process.