Rails: Is it bad to have an irreversible migration?

If you are dealing with production-grade systems then yes, it is very bad. If it is your own pet project, then anything is allowed (if nothing else, it will be a learning experience 🙂 though chances are that sooner rather than later, even in a pet project, you will find yourself having put a cross over a reverse migration only to have to undo that migration a few days later, be it via rake or manually.)

In a production scenario, you should always make the effort to write and test a reversible migration in the eventuality that you go through it in production, then discover a bug which forces you to roll back (code and schema) to some previous revision (pending some non-trivial fix — and an otherwise unusable production system.)

Reverse migrations range from mostly trivial (removing columns or tables that were added during migration, and/or changing column types, etc.) to somewhat more involved (execute of JOINed INSERTs or UPDATEs), but nothing is so complex as to justify “sweeping it under the rug”. If nothing else, forcing yourself to think of ways to achieve reverse migrations can give you new insight into the very problem that your forward migration is fixing.

You might occasionally run into a situation where a forward migration removes a feature, resulting in data being discarded from the database. For obvious reasons, the reverse migration cannot resuscitate discarded data. Although one could, in such cases, recommend having the forward migration automatically save the data or keep it around in the eventuality of rollback as an alternative to outright failure (save to yml, copy/move to a special table, etc.), you don’t have to, as the time required to test such an automated procedure could exceed the time required to restore the data manually (should the need arise.) But even in such cases, instead of just failing, you can always make the reverse migration conditionally and temporarily fail pending some user action (i.e. test for the existence of some required table that has to be restored manually; if missing, output “I have failed because I cannot recreate table XYZ from nothingness; manually restore table XYZ from backup then run me again, and I will not fail you!”)

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