Django custom model field for an unsigned BIGINT data type

Web 2.0 social media platforms tend to think “big”. They hence often use big integers (8 bytes / 64 bits long instead of just 4 bytes / 32 bits like a normal integer) for user IDs (or sometimes message IDs) to be prepared for even the most extreme potential future growth of their user base. Usually, these big integers are unsigned, allowing for up to 18’446’744’073’709’551’615 UIDs to be stored (which is probably enough to register the inhabitants of quite a few other blue planets too ;).

Facebook, with currently more than 300 million active users, also usesĀ  a 64 bit unsigned integer for storing user IDs and expects Facebook applications to be able to handle this. Of course, 300 M user IDs would still easily fit into a 32 bit unsigned integer, but Facebook already goes beyond the 32 bit limit by issuing 15 digit UIDs like 100’000’xxx’xxx’xxx to registered test users (which allows Facebook to better distinguish between test accounts and real accounts).

Now if you happen to use Django to build your Facebook application, this fact needs special attention as Django doesn’t support 64 bit integer field types for its ORM models by default. As a Django developer, you could thus resort to using a CharField for storing Facebook UIDs (which would be odd) or, better, define a custom model field you can use in your models instead of IntegerField. Fortunately, Django offers an elegant way to define custom model fields. You can write your custom PositiveBigIntegerField by simply subclassing (extending, inheriting from) models.PositiveIntegerField:

So, in your models.py add the following code:

from django.db import models
from django.db.models.fields import PositiveIntegerField

class PositiveBigIntegerField(PositiveIntegerField):
    """Represents MySQL's unsigned BIGINT data type (works with MySQL only!)"""
    empty_strings_allowed = False

    def get_internal_type(self):
        return "PositiveBigIntegerField"

    def db_type(self):
        # This is how MySQL defines 64 bit unsigned integer data types
        return "bigint UNSIGNED"

class Mytest(models.Model):
    """Just a test model"""

    huge_id = PositiveBigIntegerField()

    def __unicode__(self):
        return u'id: %s, huge_id: %s' % (self.id, self.huge_id)

(NB: The “Mytest” class is just for testing the PositiveIntegerField definition, it’s not part of the PositiveIntegerField definition.)

Note that this solution only works for MySQL as a database backend (as MySQL supports the “bigint UNSIGNED” data type for columns which isn’t defined in the SQL standard).

For testing, define a “Mytest” model as shown above and execute “python manager.py syncdb” to create a new myapp_mytest table with an unsigned bigint(20) column named huge_id. Register this new model “Mytest” in admin.py, restart runserver and you’ll be able to enter 64 bit integer values through Django’s admin application.

The only minor “issue” is that Django admin’s CSS class (.vIntegerField) used for HTML form input fields representing integer values defines the width as “5em” which is a bit too narrow to display the entire 64 bit integer. This can be adjusted however (e.g. by writing your own ModelForm and telling ModelAdmin to use that, see the Django admin documentation and the Widget.attrs documentation).

P.S. Note that for Django to be able to access and use a “bigint UNSIGNED” data type, you don’t necessarily need to define a PositiveBigIntegerField and adjust your models. Instead, you could simply adjust the column type in MySQL accordingly as a quick-fix. If you use syncdb (like most Django devs) and want it to create your tables and columns correctly however, defining a custom model type as described is the way to go and strongly recommended for consistency and QA.

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