Setting Django model fields automatically using Oracle Database sequences

Using Django model method decorators to set field values using Oracle Database sequences or other SQL with multi-database support.

By Merit Open Source and Technology on November 11, 2020

Photo by Jon Tyson

Oracle Database not required! The following will detail working with things like sequences in Oracle database but the decorator and general approach can be used in any database supported by Django.


Use the set_sql_for_field decorator below on your model’s save() method to get/set a sequence or any other arbitrary SQL.

An imperfect database for an imperfect world

Sometimes when working with existing or legacy databases you might run into less-than-perfect implementations of things like primary keys.

Could be that when the database was created the database management system (DBMS) didn’t support things like AUTO_INCREMENT (MySQL) or IDENTITY (Oracle Database 12+). It could also be that those responsible had good reason to manually manage things or maybe didn’t know of a different way of doing things.

Let’s say for reasons beyond this blog post that you cannot alter the existing databases/tables.

Generating Django models

We’ll assume you’ve got your DATABASES setup correctly in Django’s settings and want to generate a model for the following Oracle Database table:

-- example from:

CREATE TABLE department (

ALTER TABLE department ADD (


To generate the Django model for this table:

python inspectdb department > department/

You should have a model that looks like:

# departments/
from django.db import models

class Department(models.Model):
    department_id = models.IntegerField(primary_key=True)
    description = models.CharField(max_length=50)

    class Meta:
        db_table = 'department'
        managed = False

We’ve got the necessary model code but we can’t save our model without errors! We need to get the next sequence and use it as the DEPARTMENT_ID when creating a new department.

Adding our Django model method decorator

Create/edit in the root of your project/app and add:

import functools

def set_sql_for_field(field, sql):
    Decorator for to set SQL for field if empty.


    class LegacyModel(models.Model):
        col1 = models.IntegerField(primary_key=True)
        col2 = models.IntegerField()

        @set_sql_for_field('col1', 'select col1_seq.nextval from dual')
        @set_sql_for_field('col2', 'select 1+max(col2) from legacy_model')
        def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
            super().save(*args, **kwargs)

    When this model is saved col1 and col2 will be set (if empty) to the output
    of the provided SQL within the schema/database of the model's app.
    def decorator(model_save_func):
        def wrapper(obj, *args, **kwargs):
            assert hasattr(obj, field), (
                'set_sql_for_field was given a field that does not exist on '
                'the model. Double-check model fields and decorators for '
                f'{obj.__class__}.{field} and SQL {sql}'

            if getattr(obj, field) is None:
                # Multi-DB safe! Get DB for class from default manager.
                database = obj.__class__._default_manager.db

                from django.db import connections
                with connections[database].cursor() as cursor:
                    setattr(obj, field, cursor.fetchone()[0])

            return model_save_func(obj, *args, **kwargs)
        return wrapper
    return decorator

Update the departments model to use our new decorator:

# departments/
from django.db import models
from myapp.models import set_sql_for_field

class Department(models.Model):
    department_id = models.IntegerField(primary_key=True)
    description = models.CharField(max_length=50)

    class Meta:
        db_table = 'department'
        managed = False

    @set_sql_for_field('department_id', 'select dept_seq.nextval from dual')
    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        super().save(*args, **kwargs)

That’s it! Whenever we save our model the field department_id will be set using the next sequence from the database and it even works if we have multiple databases in our Django settings.

What about triggers?

It’s possible there is already a trigger on the table that will get/set the sequence when NULL:

-- example from:
WHEN (new.department_id IS NULL)
  :new.department_id := dept_seq.NEXTVAL;

That’s awesome but it can also lead to some weird issues/errors in Django (e.g., admin showing “None” when saving). If the trigger is setup to check NULL no harm in setting it ourselves but you should always check triggers for any tables when setting up new models in Django.

Advanced model method decorator usage

Let’s say you have a table without a primary key and without sequence, identity or auto_increment:


You look at some of the code using it and see that the TYPE_KEY was being set using this SQL:

select 1+max(type_key) from dept_type;

Run inspectdb like we did above and add our new decorator to get the final model:

# departments/
from django.db import models
from myapp.models import set_sql_for_field

class DepartmentType(models.Model):
    type_key = models.IntegerField(primary_key=True)
    descr = models.CharField(max_length=50)

    class Meta:
        db_table = 'dept_type'
        managed = False

    @set_sql_for_field('type_key', 'select 1+max(type_key) from dept_type')
    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        super().save(*args, **kwargs)

That’s all there is to it. We set primary_key on the type_key field to tell Django not to use the automatic id field (see

Additional model/field considerations

Depending on your models you may want to set certain fields as read-only in the Django admin or Django REST Framework to avoid them being set directly:

# departments/
from django.contrib import admin
from myapp.departments.models import DepartmentType

class DepartmentTypeAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
    list_display = ('__str__', 'type_key', )
    readonly_fields = ('type_key', )
    search_fields = ('=type_key', 'descr', )

# departments/
from rest_framework.serializers import ModelSerializer
from myapp.departments.models import DepartmentType

class DepartmentTypeSerializer(ModelSerializer):
    class Meta:
        fields = '__all__'
        model = DepartmentType
        read_only_fields = ['type_key']

Closing thoughts

When starting fresh try to follow best practices for your DBMS and lean on the default mechanisms your DBMS provides for working with primary keys and IDs.

In Oracle Database, that might be using IDENTITY which uses sequences under the hood but has additional features like one-per-table and sane defaults (more at In other systems that might be AUTO_INCREMENT, AUTOINCREMENT or something comparable.

There are absolutely times you may need to abandon auto-incrementing primary keys but if you get to that point you don’t need us telling you how you should do things!

For the times you can’t start fresh or have had to get a bit more creative hopefully something like set_sql_for_field can help!

Have a better way? Disagree? Let us know!

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