Immutable Database Schema

Immutable Database Schema

I’m adding functionality to a mature web application and need to add a field to a database table.  I started mentally walking the path of the change and what all it touches and the required testing and review that would ensue and it’s mildly daunting.

Then a voice in my head said, “immutability.”

The field I would add is not necessarily a record field – it’s not data, it’s relationship.  Is “relationship” data?

Instead of adding a field and reviewing and refactoring everywhere the model is used, I can simply add a relationship table, create a model and use it when needed.

Slightly more code, way less review.  But I don’t know if it’s a good approach, or if anyone else has tried this, so I’m documenting this online and asking for feedback.

Do you have an opinion about this?


SUMs, Joins and COALESCE in MySQL

Recently I ran into a problem with a query. I was trying to add the sums of two columns together, one of the columns happened to be in a table that was LEFT OUTER JOINed and the result was NULL when it should not have been.

This is for a purchase ordering system and is the calculation to get the total of inventory that is in transit, taking into account partial receipts of inventory.

Here is my table structure

select SUM( po_item_qty ) - SUM( po_receipt_qty ) as on_order

from po_item

left outer join po_receipt on ( po_receipt_po_item_id = po_item_id )
left outer join po on ( po_item_po_id = po_id )
left outer join product on ( po_item_product_id = product_id )

where po_status = 'in_transit'

This produces a result of ‘NULL’ when I know perfectly good and well that I have in transit purchase orders with po_item records.

It turns out that subtracting the po_receipt_qty when there are no matching po_receipt records (LEFT OUTER JOIN records return null when missing ) turns into, for example, 100 – NULL which always returns NULL.

What I need is for this to turn into 100 – 0, returning 100.

COALESCE to the rescue!

The query that made it work:

select SUM( po_item_qty ) - COALESCE( SUM( po_receipt_qty ) ,0 ) as on_order

from po_item

left outer join po_receipt on ( po_receipt_po_item_id = po_item_id )
left outer join po on ( po_item_po_id = po_id )
left outer join product on ( po_item_product_id = product_id )

where po_status = 'in_transit'

Database and Error Logging in a Well-Structured Web Application


You have a well-written web application. It’s throwing exceptions, you’re handling the exceptions.  You’re starting db transactions and committing or rolling them back.  You are logging exceptions and errors to your database for forensics and review.

Two to three years pass, the web application, because it’s well written, modular and de-coupled, has grown and you’ve added new features – perhaps even released several major updates – suddenly you realize that not all logging is getting recorded.  Somehow, through the complexity of exception handling and commits and rollbacks you have gotten to the point where you are accidentally rolling your logging inserts back.  You may have alerted the dev team but there’s nothing recorded for them to review.

I have good news.

There is a solution.  It’s simple, and obvious (perhaps so obvious you’ve already taken this step yourself).

Use a different database connection. Transactions are connection specific.  Rolling back on your main database connection will leave your logging connection untouched.

If you’re going to use a different database connection, you might as well take the time to move your logging to a separate database as a best practice.

You should also employ lazy connecting – don’t connect to your logging db unless you need to log something.


Make sure you know which db connection to use if you’re using mysql and need the last insert id from an auto-increment logging table id.

Software PIE – A Tasty Best Practice

I’ve written a lot of program code.  I’ve written complete programs.  I’ve written code only to throw it away.  I’ve taken over projects where my recommendation was to start over – the code was that bad.  This has led me to ponder…

What makes code bad or good.

There’s no pat answer. Software development is both an art and a science, and anyone who tries to sway you to one camp over the other is either an artist or a scientist.

I’m coming up on the 3 year mark on a project that has grown and had tons of features added to it.  This means this topic has been on my mind a lot as I’ve been pondering the science of chaos management since changing software is nothing but chaos.

I’d like to present three practices that have helped me over the last decade, and more specifically over the last three years to keep chaos damped – manageable. These are not the only practices that will help manage changing software requirements, but I believe that they are very implementable and will give measurable results.

You may agree or disagree with me – I welcome all levelheaded comments – if you’re here to pick a fight, your comment will be deleted without remorse.

I use an acronym for these 3 ideas: PIE.

Positive Comparison Logic

For the love of all that is good in this world, please do not use negative logic names for functions that return boolean values. Consider the following two examples:

Good Example

if ( isValid() )
    // do amazing things here

Bad Example

if ( ! isInvalid() == false )
    // do something here that may or may not actually be needed...

Which would you rather maintain? The first example can be understood with a literal glance.

Inclusive queries

Include more fields and tables in your queries.  Reduce trips to db, reduce maintenance later (no need to go back and edit queries later). If you really need to optimize a query, you can do so after initial development is done. The development process is not the time for pinching performance pennies – make your life easier, make the life of template developers easier: make more, not less data available in result sets. At the very least, give an option to do a low/full detail query as in the following example.

Example using tgsf’s query class

class someModel
    public function fetch( $record_id, $fullDetail = false )
        $q = query::factory()
            ->from( 'txn' )
            ->join( 'account', 'account_id = txn_account_id' )
            ->join( 'bank_account',  'bank_account_id = txn_bank_account_id' )
            ->where( 'txn_id = :txn_id' )
            ->bindValue( 'txn_id', $txn_id, ptINT );

        if ( $fullDetail )
            $q->join( 'entity', 'account_entity_id = entity_id' );
            $q->join( 'login', 'entity_login_id = login_id' );
            $q->join( 'account_type', 'account_type_id = account_account_type_id' );
            $q->join( 'login_related', 'txn_login_related_id=login_related_id' );
            $q->join( 'cost_table', 'login_related_cost_table_id=cost_table_id' );

        return $q

Bonus tip Call functions with boolean arguments with the var name embedded in your call. This creates self-documenting code

$model = new someModel();
$model->fetch( 123, $fullDetail = true );

The query generated by the example code


LEFT OUTER JOIN account ON ( account_id = txn_account_id )
LEFT OUTER JOIN bank_account ON ( bank_account_id = txn_bank_account_id )
LEFT OUTER JOIN entity ON ( account_entity_id = entity_id )
LEFT OUTER JOIN login ON ( entity_login_id = login_id )
LEFT OUTER JOIN account_type ON ( account_type_id = account_account_type_id )
LEFT OUTER JOIN login_related ON ( txn_login_related_id=login_related_id )
LEFT OUTER JOIN cost_table ON ( login_related_cost_table_id=cost_table_id )

WHERE 1=1 AND txn_id = :txn_id 

Explicit field names

This is accomplished by a structured naming approach to fields. What is the point of having 50 tables all with a field named ‘id’? At some point you’ll be aliasing or renaming that field in the application layer – all over the place. Again, what’s the point?

I’ve been using, and will use until I die, the following methodology of database structure.

  • Descriptive table names. The shorter the better – make it the best but shortest name you can, but do not abbreviate unless it’s a generally accepted abbreviation in the general population of non-developers. eg: PO for purchase order, TXN for transaction, etc.
  • Descriptive field names. Same logic, but make sure you can tell what the field is used for.
  • Field names will be prefixed with the table name. This means that in the user table, the primary key might be: user_id. other fields: user_username, user_email, etc.
  • If you do decide to do this you have to always abide by it or you’ll hate it. If you have to look up how/if you abbreviated the table name prefix on the fields of different tables you’ll hate it. Doing so is a huge mistake.

In conclusion

I’ve been using these approaches successfully since 2009 – many many changes later have proven the last 2 to be the most valuable – saving me tons of time, making it easy to write queries and work with the database. Other developers who have worked on the project have commented how they like the database structure and how it “just makes sense.”

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these approaches – if you use them, if you hate them (please tell me why).