Replace your Django database with PlanetScale
Alex Nnakweu
Alex Nnakweu
8/11/2022
Tutorials5 min read

Replace your Django database with PlanetScale

Almost every deployed backend web server encounters scalability challenges at some point.

Often, they appear in the form of slow database queries resulting from an increased number of system users. More users generally make for increased reads and writes, which can be especially detrimental to databases deployed on bare metal servers with concrete capacities and workloads. The traditional answer has been to upgrade the servers.

However, the perpetual process of trying to optimize database capacities can take up a lot of time and focus.

PlanetScale, a serverless MySQL-compatible database, aims to solve that problem. PlanetScale is built on Vitess, the technology that was built to scale YouTube in its early days. In addition to scalability, you also get:

In this article, you’ll learn how to replace your Django application's database with PlanetScale. This example uses dbsqlite3, but can be extended to most other options.

Setting up the database#

PlanetScale is a MySQL-compatible serverless database. This means that it manages all of the scaling concerns that have long burdened developers. As a developer who uses PlanetScale, you no longer have to worry about provisioning new instances or increasing database capacity to keep pace with workloads.

With PlanetScale, you only need to sign up, create your database via the included dashboard or CLI, create a database branch, and connect to it. This demonstration will use the PlanetScale CLI, but you can also use the dashboard if you prefer.

Before following this tutorial, you need to set up a basic Django database application with SQLite 3. Clone this demo repository, which will be used throughout the tutorial.

Note: You need to generate a secret key and add it in server/backend/settings.py.

Let’s create your database.

  1. Go to the PlanetScale dashboard and click "New database" > "Create new database".

  2. Give your database a name and select the region closest to you or your application.

    PlanetScale dashboard - Create a database
  3. This will spin up your new database with a development branch called main.

    This is an isolated development database that you can use to apply your schema, which we’ll do throughout this tutorial. Once finished, you can promote it to production, where it will be highly available, protected from direct schema changes, and backed up daily.

  4. You can now connect the database on the main branch to your Django application. Click "Connect" > select "Django" from the "Connect with" dropdown > and if the password is blurred, click "New password".

  5. Copy these credentials or leave this tab open, as you’ll need to use them soon.

    PlanetScale dashboard - Database credentials

Connecting to PlanetScale in Django#

If you haven’t already, clone the sample repository, and follow the instructions in the README to get it running.

In server/backend/settings.py file (or main.py), replace the imports section up top with:

Python
import os
import MySQLdb
import pymysql

pymysql.install_as_MySQLdb()

You’ll also need to install the python-dotenv, mysqlclient, and PyMySQL packages to enable connecting to your database for local development:

Terminal
pipenv install python-dotenv mysqlclient PyMySQL

Next, open server/backend/_init_.py and add the following:

Python
import pymysql
pymysql.install_as_MySQLdb()

Now, open server/manage.py and add the following after the imports to reference your .env file:

Python
from dotenv import load_dotenv
load_dotenv()

Finally, if you haven’t already, create a .env file to store all of your database connection credentials.

You can now replace the sqlite3 database in the Django application with the PlanetScale connection credentials.

Since PlanetScale doesn’t support foreign key constraints, you’ll need to set up the custom PlanetScale database wrapper for Django. This will disable the foreign key syntax for Django migrations.

To do this, you can pull the repo directly from GitHub and include it in the server directory:

Terminal
git clone https://github.com/planetscale/django_psdb_engine.git

Your settings.py file should now include the PlanetScale database wrapper as shown below:

Python
DATABASES = {
  'default': {
    'ENGINE': 'django_psdb_engine',
    'NAME': os.environ.get('DB_NAME'),
    'HOST': os.environ.get('DB_HOST'),
    'PORT': os.environ.get('DB_PORT'),
    'USER': os.environ.get('DB_USER'),
    'PASSWORD': os.environ.get('DB_PASSWORD'),
    'OPTIONS': {'ssl': {'ca': os.environ.get('MYSQL_ATTR_SSL_CA')}}
  }
}

Next, paste your PlanetScale credentials that you copied earlier into your .env file:

DB_HOST=xxxxxxxxxxx.eu-west-3.psdb.cloud
DB_PORT=3306
DB_DATABASE=demo-database
DB_USER=xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
DB_PASSWORD=pscale_pw_xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
MYSQL_ATTR_SSL_CA=/etc/ssl/cert.pem

Your application should now be connected to your PlanetScale development branch, main. Let’s run some migrations to add the schema.

Run Django migrations#

You can now run your Django migrations as usual with:

Python
python manage.py migrate

Note that this also runs the default Django migrations.

This adds the schema to your PlanetScale database branch. You can double check that it was adding in the PlanetScale dashboard by clicking "Branches" > main > "Schema".

Restart the application with:

Terminal
python manage.py runserver

Add data#

You’re now ready to test your demo application. Click the "Add your details" button, fill out the form, and click "Save".

Django application - add user form

The user information you just added was written to the PlanetScale database, which is being queried to output the data in your application, as shown below.

Django application - user overview list

Promote to production#

When you're finished making development changes, you can promote this main branch to production. Go to the main branch overview page in the dashboard, click "Promote a branch to production", and click "Promote branch".

Your production branch is backed up daily, protected from direct schema changes, and highly available. Whenever you need to make another schema change, you’ll create a new development branch off of production, make your schema changes there, and open up a deploy request to merge those changes into your production database.

Conclusion#

As you’ve seen first-hand, the PlanetScale workflow is straightforward and enables you to quickly provision new database environments for both development and production. You’ve also seen the ease with which you can replace an existing database with PlanetScale.