Transactions and db_session

A database transaction is a logical unit of work, which can consist of one or several queries. Transactions are atomic, which means that when a transaction makes changes to the database, either all the changes succeed when the transaction is committed, or all the changes are undone when the transaction is rolled back.

Pony provides automatic transaction management using the database session.

Working with db_session

The code which interacts with the database has to be placed within a database session. The session sets the borders of a conversation with the database. Each application thread which works with the database establishes a separate database session and uses a separate instance of an Identity Map. This Identity Map works as a cache, helping to avoid a database query when you access an object by its primary or unique key and it is already stored in the Identity Map. In order to work with the database using the database session you can use the @db_session() decorator or db_session() context manager. When the session ends it does the following actions:

  • Commits transaction if data was changed and no exceptions occurred otherwise it rolls back transaction.

  • Returns the database connection to the connection pool.

  • Clears the Identity Map cache.

If you forget to specify the db_session() where necessary, Pony will raise the exception TransactionError: db_session is required when working with the database.

Example of using the @db_session() decorator:

def check_user(username):
    return User.exists(username=username)

Example of using the db_session() context manager:

def process_request():
    with db_session:
        u = User.get(username=username)


When you work with Python’s interactive shell you don’t need to worry about the database session, because it is maintained by Pony automatically.

If you’ll try to access instance’s attributes which were not loaded from the database outside of the db_session() scope, you’ll get the DatabaseSessionIsOver exception. For example:

DatabaseSessionIsOver: Cannot load attribute Customer[3].name: the database session is over

This happens because by this moment the connection to the database is already returned to the connection pool, transaction is closed and we cannot send any queries to the database.

When Pony reads objects from the database it puts those objects to the Identity Map. Later, when you update an object’s attributes, create or delete an object, the changes will be accumulated in the Identity Map first. The changes will be saved in the database on transaction commit or before calling the following methods: select(), get(), exists(), execute().

db_session and the transaction scope

Usually you will have a single transaction within the db_session(). There is no explicit command for starting a transaction. A transaction begins with the first SQL query sent to the database. Before sending the first query, Pony gets a database connection from the connection pool. Any following SQL queries will be executed in the context of the same transaction.


Python driver for SQLite doesn’t start a transaction on a SELECT statement. It only begins a transaction on a statement which can modify the database: INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE. Other drivers start a transaction on any SQL statement, including SELECT.

A transaction ends when it is committed or rolled back using commit() or rollback() calls or implicitly by leaving the db_session() scope.

def func():
    # a new transaction is started
    p = Product[123]
    p.price += 10
    # commit() will be done automatically
    # database session cache will be cleared automatically
    # database connection will be returned to the pool

Several transactions within the same db_session

If you need to have more than one transaction within the same database session you can call commit() or rollback() at any time during the session, and then the next query will start a new transaction. The Identity Map keeps data after the manual commit(), but if you call rollback() the cache will be cleared.

def func1():
    p1 = Product[123]
    p1.price += 10
    commit()          # the first transaction is committed
    p2 = Product[456] # a new transaction is started
    p2.price -= 10

Nested db_session

If you enter the db_session() scope recursively, for example by calling a function which is decorated with the db_session() decorator from another function which is decorated with db_session(), Pony will not create a new session, but will share the same session for both functions. The database session ends on leaving the scope of the outermost db_session() decorator or context manager.

What if inner db_session() has different settings? For example, the outer one is a default db_session() and the inner one is defined as db_session(optimistic=False)?

Currently Pony checks inner db_session() options, and does one of the following:

  1. If inner db_session() uses options incompatible with the outer db_session() (ddl=True or serializable=True), Pony throws an exception.

  2. For sql_debug option Pony uses new sql_debug option value inside the inner db_session() and restores it when returning to the outer db_session().

  3. Other options (strict, optimistic, immediate and retry) are ignored for the inner db_session().

If rollback() is called inside inner db_session(), it will be applied to the outer db_session().

Some databases support nested transactions, but at the moment Pony doesn’t support this.

db_session cache

Pony caches data at several stages for increasing performance. It caches:

  • The results of a generator expression translation. If the same generator expression query is used several times within the program, it will be translated to SQL only once. This cache is global for entire program, not only for a single database session.

  • Objects which were created or loaded from the database. Pony keeps these objects in the Identity Map. This cache is cleared on leaving the db_session() scope or on transaction rollback.

  • Query results. Pony returns the query result from the cache if the same query is called with the same parameters once again. This cache is cleared once any of entity instances is changed. This cache is cleared on leaving the db_session() scope or on transaction rollback.

Using db_session with generator functions or coroutines

The @db_session() decorator can be used with generator functions or coroutines too. The generator function is the function that contains the yield keyword inside it. The coroutine is a function which is defined using the async def or decorated with @asyncio.coroutine.

If inside such a generator function or coroutine you’ll try to use the db_session context manager, it will not work properly, because in Python context managers cannot intercept generator suspension. Instead, you need to wrap you generator function or coroutine with the @db_session decorator.

In other words, don’t do this:

def my_generator(x):
    with db_session: # it won't work here!
        obj = MyEntity.get(id=x)
        yield obj

Do this instead:

def my_generator( x ):
    obj = MyEntity.get(id=x)
    yield obj

With regular functions, the @db_session() decorator works as a scope. When your program leaves the db_session() scope, Pony finishes the transaction by performing commit (or rollback) and clears the db_session cache.

In case of a generator, the program can reenter the generator code for several times. In this case, when your program leaves the generator code, the db_session is not over, but suspended and Pony doesn’t clear the cache. In the same time, we don’t know if the program will come back to this generator code again. That is why you have to explicitly commit or rollback current transaction before the program leaves the generator on yield. On regular functions Pony calls commit() or rollback() automatically on leaving the db_session() scope.

In essence, here is the difference when using db_session() with generator functions:

  1. You have to call commit() or rollback() before the yield expression explicitly.

  2. Pony doesn’t clear the transaction cache, so you can continue using loaded objects when coming back to the same generator.

  3. With a generator function, the db_session() can be used only as a decorator, not a context manager. This is because in Python the context manager cannot understand that it was left on yield.

  4. The db_session() parameters, such as retry, serializable cannot be used with generator functions. The only parameter that can be used in this case is immediate.

Parameters of db_session

As it was mentioned above db_session() can be used as a decorator or a context manager. It can receive parameters which are described in the API Reference.

Working with multiple databases

Pony can work with several databases simultaneously. In the example below we use PostgreSQL for storing user information and MySQL for storing information about addresses:

db1 = Database()

class User(db1.Entity):

db1.bind('postgres', ...)

db2 = Database()

class Address(db2.Entity):

db2.bind('mysql', ...)

def do_something(user_id, address_id):
    u = User[user_id]
    a = Address[address_id]

On exiting from the do_something() function Pony will perform commit() or rollback() to both databases. If you need to commit to one database before exiting from the function you can use db1.commit() or db2.commit() methods.

Functions for working with transactions

There are three upper level functions that you can use for working with transactions:

Also there are three corresponding functions of the Database object:

If you work with one database, there is no difference between using an upper level or the Database object methods.

Optimistic concurrency control

By default Pony uses the optimistic concurrency control concept for increasing performance. With this concept, Pony doesn’t acquire locks on database rows. Instead it verifies that no other transaction has modified the data it has read or is trying to modify. If the check reveals conflicting modifications, the committing transaction gets the exception OptimisticCheckError, 'Object XYZ was updated outside of current transaction' and rolls back.

What should we do with this situation? First of all, this behavior is normal for databases which implement the MVCC pattern (e.g. Postgres, Oracle). For example, in Postgres, you will get the following error when a concurrent transaction changed the same data:

ERROR:  could not serialize access due to concurrent update

The current transaction rolls back, but it can be restarted. In order to restart the transaction automatically, you can use the retry parameter of the db_session() decorator (see more details about it later in this chapter).

How Pony does the optimistic check? For this purpose Pony tracks access to attributes of each object. If the user’s code reads or modifies an object’s attribute, Pony then will check if this attribute value remains the same in the database on commit. This approach guarantees that there will be no lost updates, the situation when during the current transaction another transaction changed the same object and then our transaction overrides the data without knowing there were changes.

During the optimistic check Pony verifies only those attributes which were read or written by the user. Also when Pony updates an object, it updates only those attributes which were changed by the user. This way it is possible to have two concurrent transactions which change different attributes of the same object and both of them succeed.

Generally the optimistic concurrency control increases the performance because transactions can complete without the expense of managing locks or without having transactions wait for other transactions’ lock to clear. This approach shows very good results when conflicts are rare and our application reads data more often then writes.

However, if contention for writing data is frequent, the cost of repeatedly restarting transactions hurts performance. In this case the pessimistic locking can be more appropriate.

If you need to turn the optimistic concurrency control for an attribute off, you can use the optimistic option or volatile option.

Pessimistic locking

Sometimes we need to lock an object in the database in order to prevent other transactions from modifying the same record. Within the database such a lock should be done using the SELECT FOR UPDATE query. In order to generate such a lock using Pony you should call the Query.for_update() method:

select(p for p in Product if p.price > 100).for_update()

The query above selects all instances of Product with the price greater than 100 and locks the corresponding rows in the database. The lock will be released upon commit or rollback of current transaction.

If you need to lock a single object, you can use the get_for_update method of an entity:


When you trying to lock an object using for_update() and it is already locked by another transaction, your request will need to wait until the row-level lock is released. To prevent the operation from waiting for other transactions to commit, use the nowait=True option:

select(p for p in Product if p.price > 100).for_update(nowait=True)
# or
Product.get_for_update(id=123, nowait=True)

In this case, if a selected row(s) cannot be locked immediately, the request reports an error, rather than waiting.

The main disadvantage of pessimistic locking is performance degradation because of the expense of database locks and limiting concurrency.

How Pony avoids lost updates

Lower isolation levels increase the ability of many users to access data at the same time, but it also can lead to database anomalies such as lost updates.

Let’s consider an example. Say we have two accounts. We need to provide a function which can transfer money from one account to another. During the transfer we check if the account has enough funds.

Let’s say we are using Django ORM for this task. Below if one of the possible ways of implementing such a function:

def transfer_money(account_id1, account_id2, amount):
    account1 = Account.objects.get(pk=account_id1)
    account2 = Account.objects.get(pk=account_id2)
    if amount > account1.amount:    # validation
        raise ValueError("Not enough funds")
    account1.amount -= amount
    account2.amount += amount

By default in Django, each save() is performed in a separate transaction. If after the first save() there will be a failure, the amount will just disappear. Even if there will be no failure, if another transaction will try to get the account statement in between of two save() operations, the result will be wrong. In order to avoid such problems, both operations should be combined in one transaction. We can do that by decorating the function with the @transaction.atomic decorator.

But even in this case we can encounter a problem. If two bank branches will try to transfer the full amount to different accounts at the same time, both operations will be performed. Each function will pass the validation and finally one transaction will override the results of another one. This anomaly is called “lost update”.

There are three ways to prevent such anomaly:

  • Use the SERIALIZABLE isolation level


  • Use optimistic checks

If you use the SERIALIZABLE isolation level, the database will not allow to commit the second transaction by throwing an exception during commit. The disadvantage of such approach is that this level requires more system resources.

If you use SELECT FOR UPDATE then the transaction which hits the database first will lock the row and another transaction will wait.

The optimistic check doesn’t require more system resources and doesn’t lock the database rows. It eliminates the lost update anomaly by ensuring that the data wasn’t changed between the moment when we read it from the database and the commit operation.

The only way to avoid the lost update anomaly in Django is using the SELECT FOR UPDATE and you should use it explicitly. If you forget to do that or if you don’t realize that the problem of lost update exists with your business logic, your data can be lost.

Pony allows using all three approaches, having the third one, optimistic checks, turned on by default. This way Pony avoids the lost update anomaly completely. Also using the optimistic checks allows the highest concurrency because it doesn’t lock the database and doesn’t require extra resources.

The similar function for transferring money would look this way in Pony:

The SERIALIZABLE approach:

def transfer_money(account_id1, account_id2, amount):
    account1 = Account[account_id1]
    account2 = Account[account_id2]
    if amount > account1.amount:
        raise ValueError("Not enough funds")
    account1.amount -= amount
    account2.amount += amount


def transfer_money(account_id1, account_id2, amount):
    account1 = Account.get_for_update(id=account_id1)
    account2 = Account.get_for_update(id=account_id2)
    if amount > account1.amount:
        raise ValueError("Not enough funds")
    account1.amount -= amount
    account2.amount += amount

The optimistic check approach:

def transfer_money(account_id1, account_id2, amount):
    account1 = Account[account_id1]
    account2 = Account[account_id2]
    if amount > account1.amount:
        raise ValueError("Not enough funds")
    account1.amount -= amount
    account2.amount += amount

The last approach is used by default in Pony and you don’t need to add anything else explicitly.

Transaction isolation levels and database peculiarities

See the API Reference for more details on this topic.

Handling disruptions

On db.bind(...) Pony opens connection to the database and then store it in a thread-local connection pool.

When application code enters db_session and makes a query, Pony takes already opened connection from the pool and use it. After exiting db_session, connection is returned to the pool. If you enable logging, you will see RELEASE CONNECTION message from Pony. It means that the connection is not closed, but was returned to the connection pool.

Sometimes connection is closed by database server, for example when database server was restarted. After that a previously opened connection becomes invalid. If such disconnect happens, most probably it was between db_sessions, but sometimes it may happens right during active db_session. Pony is prepared to such situations, and may reconnect to the database in an intelligent matter.

If Pony executes a query and receive an error that connection is closed, it check the state of db_session in order to know was any updates already sent to the database during current db_session. If db_session just started, or all queries were just SELECTs, Pony assumes it is safe to re-open connection under the hood and continue the same db_session as if nothing unusual is happened. But if some updates were already sent to the database during active db_session before the previous connection becomes invalid, it means these updates are lost, and it is impossible to continue this db_session. Then Pony throws an exception.

But in most cases Pony is able to reconnect silently so application code don’t notice anything.

If you want to close connection which is stored in the connection pool, you can perform db.disconnect() call, see disconnect(). In multi-threaded application this needs to be done in each thread separately.