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Geoffrey Kim
Geoffrey Kim

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Understanding Object Updates in SQLAlchemy ORM

When working with SQLAlchemy, the Object-Relational Mapper (ORM) for Python, developers often encounter the choice between updating objects directly or using the update method on a query. This decision can have implications for code readability, performance, and error handling. In this post, we'll explore why direct object updates are generally preferred in SQLAlchemy ORM.

Clarity and Readability

One of the primary reasons to update objects directly is the clarity it brings to your code. When you assign new values to an object's attributes, it's immediately clear what's happening:

# Directly updating an object
my_object.attribute = new_value
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This code is straightforward and leaves little room for confusion. It's evident which object is being updated and which attributes are changing.


Atomicity is a core principle in database transactions, ensuring that a series of operations either all occur or none do. By updating the object directly and then committing the transaction, you ensure that all changes are sent to the database in one go. This atomic approach is crucial for maintaining data consistency, especially in environments with concurrent transactions.


Direct updates to the object can also lead to performance benefits. The update method on a query generates additional SQL update statements, which can introduce overhead. For simple updates, modifying the object directly avoids this extra work, making the operation faster.

Error Handling

Error handling is another area where direct updates shine. When you modify an object within the ORM's session context, SQLAlchemy can manage low-level details like transaction rollbacks in case of errors. This automatic handling simplifies your code and reduces the risk of leaving the database in an inconsistent state.

Session Synchronization

Finally, direct object updates ensure that the in-memory state of your objects remains synchronized with the database. If you use the update method on a query with synchronize_session=False, any objects already loaded into the session won't reflect the changes made in the database, potentially leading to inconsistencies.

Here's an example of how you might refactor a function to use direct object updates:

# Before: Using the update method on a query
session.query(MyModel).filter( == my_id).update({"name": "New Name"})

# After: Directly updating the object
my_object = session.query(MyModel).get(my_id) = "New Name"
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In the "After" example, the code is not only more readable but also ensures that my_object is updated both in the session and in the database after the commit.


While there are scenarios where the update method on a query is more appropriate, such as bulk updates, direct object updates in SQLAlchemy ORM are often the better choice for their simplicity, performance, and the ORM's ability to handle changes consistently. As with any tool, understanding when and how to use it is key to writing clean, efficient, and reliable code.

Happy coding!

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