Automated testing of database rollback scripts in rails

My current project has a
CruiseControl.rb build
dedicated to testing our database rollback scripts. Since this does not
seem to be a common practice, I thought that I would share our

The setup:

We have one DDL file
and one DML
file per release. These are written using rails migration syntax, but we
hand over only SQL to the client for
releasing. The client wants a rollback script for each release to
rollback the database schema and data (as much as possible) to the
previous release.

The problem:

Rollback scripts are hand created and prone to bugs, so we wanted to
test them.

Our solution:

We set up a cruise loop specifically designed to test the rollback
script. Our criteria for determining if the rollback was successful is:

  • The schema of the old version matches the schema of the rolled back
  • The content tables are identical to the old versions. These are
    tables full of static data that we show on the page. They change
    with each release as the web pages evolve.
  • We can run the old version of the tests against the rolled
    back database.

Say the team is currently working on release 3. Here is what the cruise
build loop does:

  1. Builds the database to release 2 by running each version of the
    DDL and DML in
    succession (eg, DDL v1, DML v1, DDL v2, DML v2)
  2. Dumps the database schema to a file using “rake db:schema:dump”
  3. Copies the static data tables to backup tables, eg: content ->
  4. Builds the database to release 3 (DDL v3, DML v3)
  5. Runs the rollback script
  6. Dumps the database schema again and compares it with the saved file
    from step #2
  7. Checks that the static tables match the backups (content and
    content_last_release are identical)
  8. Runs the test suite from the release 2 branch on the current


When comparing the content tables, it is tempting to write code that
pulls the data from both tables as arrays and then does an

content = [..]
content_last_release = [..]
assert_equal content_last_release, content

However, when this assertion fails, the output will be two huge arrays
that are mostly similar. It is very hard to look at the output and
figure out what is different. We used code like this instead:

content = [..]
content_last_release = [..]
assert_equal [], content - content_last_release
assert_equal [], content_last_release - content

Now, only the differences are displayed when it fails.

The Results

The cruise loop has been incredibly helpful. We found numerous bugs in
the rollback script. Additionally, we no longer forget to update it when
we make database changes.

Obviously, there is always some data that cannot be rolled back. The
rolled back database will not be identical to the database before the
upgrade. However, this cruise loop ensures that it is as similar as

Paul Gross

Paul Gross

I'm a lead software developer in Seattle working for Braintree Payments.

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